Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is Lost When Teaching as a Lifetime Calling is Undermined: A Personal Reflection

Today, teachers, from elementary school through the university, are the targets of a ferocious effort to force them to conform to private sector norms of accountability, productivity, and market driven competition. The assault takes two major forms- an effort to quantify student leaning so that teacher effectiveness can be easily judged; and an effort to weaken or eliminate teacher tenure so that teachers can be removed, or rewarded, based on their effectiveness/ The goal of these reforms is to have teachers work under conditions which more closely resemble those of workers in the private sector and to place them under fierce and continuous pressure to improve their productivity. The underlying assumption is that our educational system is expensive and inefficient, undermining the competitiveness of the American economy in the global marketplace This argument, I have discovered, has an irresistible appeal to those who have spent their lives in the private sector, especially those who have risen to the top through what they believe are their own talents and abilities. They see teacher tenure as a luxury the society can no longer afford, as it rewards inefficiency and retards innovation. Their views have found an echo I the policies of both major parties so teachers, at all level, will have to justify themselves on the basis of regular performance assessments whose content is dictated by federal and state governments rather than teachers own professional associations. Most teachers, especially the most talented and committed ones, view these reforms with horror, Not only are they extremely skeptical of the private sector’s vaunted “efficiency,” a legitimate concern given the astronomical compensation private companies give their executives, they fear that way classroom learning will be assessed erase those aspects of classroom teaching which make it life changing for student and teacher, and in the process, turn teaching into a revolving door profession. This is not a idle concern. Every teaching evaluation instrument I know treats the individual class as a self contained entity, and tries to measure or assess what learning took place only during the time that class met. But the best teachers I know don’t just try to promote mastery of a fixed body of material, they try to impart ways of thinking, and ways of seeing the world, that will influence their students long after they leave any particular class. And to promote that dimension of “lifetime learning.” they remain in touch with their students long after they leave their classes, and even draw upon former students to help teach current ones. These lifelong connections are among the most important things that keep great teachers in the classroom., yet I have never seen a policy maker so much as mention them in their proposals for how to improve American schools I know this all sounds very abstract, even self-serving to people who have not been teachers so I want to give a few examples from my own experience. I have been teaching nearly 45 years, starting first with high school students in the Columbia Upward Bound Program moving on to undergraduates and graduate students at Fordham University. Both of my parents were lifetime educators in the New York City public schools so I had a model of professionalism and dedication to draw upon. But I also brought my own political experiences, my research on Black History and passion for racial justice into the classroom and viewed my students as people I was trying to empower as well as to teach. Because of the subject matter I was teaching, African American History, and the time I was teaching it, the late 60’s and early 70’s, there was no scripted curriculum for what I was doing. I invented my courses as I went along, with the help other young scholars in the field, and gave my students great freedom to interpret the material. My courses incorporated room for debates and performances, used music as guide to historical understanding,, and produced class publications. I also spent time with my students outside of class, playing ball with them, attending cultural events and demonstrations, meeting them for one on one tutoring sessions when necessary. The result was that I developed connections with some of my students that lasted a lifetime How these connections helped my students I can only speculate, but they had a tremendous effect on my own effectiveness as a scholar and teacher.. Here are some examples of how my own pedagogy has been enhanced by the activities of former students with whom I have remained in touch, some for more than forty years One of the first students I ever taught in the Columbia Upward Bound Program, William Wright, had as great an influence on my life as any professor I had in college. William was on the Board of Governors of the Institute of Afro-American Studies at Fordham, as a student representative, when it took the momentous step of hiring me as a faculty member in 1970. Even though I was probably the first white faculty member ever hired by a Black Studies program, this department has remained my home for the last 42 years, and a great home it has been.. But that wasn’t all. When my book “White Boy: A Memoir” came out in 2002, William, who was then news director of BET, commissioned a three minute special on my book, which led to numerous speaking opportunities at universities and broadcast media. But most importantly, William’s daughter, Patricia Wright, who was an undergraduate and graduate student at Fordham, became the first graduate assistant of the research project I founded, the Bronx African American History Project and was instrumental in organizing a huge benefit concert, featuring the Bronx’s greatest doo wop singers, that attracted more than 700 people and put the BAAHP on the map, locally and nationally, as an innovative community history project But there’s more. Two of the first students I taught at Fordham in the fall of 1970 and 1971, and whom I got to know as fellow activists in the Fordham anti-war movement, Kathy Palmer and Sally Dunford, are still active in the Bronx, Kathy as a teacher at a local elementary school, Sally as a housing organizer and community advocate/.. When I was supervising senior theses this year, each proved instrumental in advising my students on the issues they were investigating. And this was not the first time I called on them for help as an advisor on student projects or for help with my research. Kathy has been enormously helpful in setting up interviews for the Bronx African American History Project, and Sally has spoken in my classes and employed students as interns in her housing group. Finally, the Bronx African American History Project, which is now one of the premier community based oral history projects in the nation, has grown and flourished because of the generosity of two groups, Bronx residents, past and present, who want to see their stories told and stereotypes about the Bronx defused, and former students in our Department who are proud to see the lessons they learned incorporated into a ground breaking research initiative. Without the individual contributions of our students, some who go back to the 70’s, some who graduated only a year or two ago, the Bronx African American History Project, which now has conducted over 300 oral history interviews, could not exist in its current form. We are not talking about a small number of people. At least a hundred former students are regular BAAHP supporters, a remarkable total for a Department as small as ours, but a tribute to the way our Department faculty have approached their teaching as a mission, not just a job, and have built relationships with students that have lasted a lifetime. I share these stories not just to explain how my former students have enhanced my life personally and professionally, but to affirm the value of honoring teaching as a lifelong profession, of giving teachers the autonomy to decide what takes place in their classrooms and of viewing classroom learning through the lens of relationship building as well as skill instruction. Current reforms, if taken to their logical conclusion, will undermine all of those goals and make our schools places where inquiry and imagination are stifled, and students and teachers are always looking over their shoulder to see if they have violated some rule. If that happens, something very precious in our lives will have been lost. May 29,2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Nominee for Book of the Year by a Rising Young Scholar- Theresa Runstetler’s

Theresa Runstedlter’s book on the Global Impact of Jack Johnaon , Rebel Sojourner is my nominee for book of the year by a rising young scholar ( along with my colleague Oneka Labennett;s book on West Indian girls and consumer culture She’s Mad Real) I picked up the book wondering why someone was writing another biography of Jack Johnson, but found myself on a journey on how “race: was lived and commodified in Australia, England, France, Cuba, and Mexico- the countries where Jack Johnson lived and fought when he went into exile. Each nation had it’s own niche in the odyssey of colonialism and imperialism, each had its own way of weaving race it into its national narrative, and each in its own way was challenged by Jack Johnson’s ascendancy as world heavyweight champion and his conquest of white fighters at a time when white supremacy was being challenged worldwide.: What Therea Runstetler has done is show, through her ground breaking research, how Jack Johnson became a symbol of agency and rebellion for people of color globally, and how this simultaneously challenged hierarchical relationships in the metropole and the colonies, and created new possibilities for the exoticization and commodification of “Blackness.” In a world in upheaval, torn by a world war, Jack Johnson was as important as Marcus Garvey in showing that Blacks, and all colonial people, were capable of making history on their own terns, and was as subject as Garvey to strategies of containment and neutralization in many different countries. The most fascinating chapters to me were on France, where Blacks were allowed sexual and civic freedoms that white Americans found appalling, but were seen through the lens of astonishingly demeaning stereotypes, and Mexico, which at that historic moment was seen by Blacks as a refuge from an ascendant Jim Crow and where revolutionary plots were imagined, if not actually launched, to take back Texas and the Southwest through joint action by Mexicans, Blacks and Native Americans! Everywhere Johnson fought or lived, he provoked a national debate, and sometimes a national crisis, about how far liberties should be extended to people of African descent within their borders and in some cases, their empires. And in documenting this impact by a “mere prizefighter,”, Runstetler not only affirms the growing political significance of sport on a global scale, she provides a window into a moment in the history of imperialism and colonialism where colonial subjects are challenging their subordination .more clearly than any scholar have read in recent years. What put the icing on the cake for me, in terms of Runstetler’s argument for Johson’s significance, is her quotes from Ho Chi Minh’s writings, in a French leftist newspaper, about how Johnson’s victories promotes rebellion against colonial subordination. But her book is by no means a simple narrative of justice triumphant, because the forces of commodification and containment were right there to capture rebellious impulses and direct them into channels which created new opportunities for profit and allowed old hierarchies to take new forms For anyone interested in colonialism, imperialism, race, and the global impact of sport, this book is a must read May 25, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gentrification Policing in Park Slope- The Trauma of Brittany Rowley

Brittany Rowley, who claims she was tackled, cursed out and roughed up by police after an alleged shoplifting incident at a store in Park Slope, attends the girls High School, St. Saviour's right across the street from my house. Perhaps a third, possibly half of the students at St Saviour's are Black, yet virtually none of them live in Park Slope which has undergone a vast change in economic and racial composition in the last twenty years. The block on which I live, which was once multiracial ( Donald Byrd owned a brownstone half a block down) now has NO Black and Latino families, and only a small number of Black and Latino residents, and the same is true of most of the surrounding blocks including the ones adjoining the store which leveled the shoplifting accusation. This basically means that the neighborhood only has a significant of Black and Latino young people during the day, when the come in to attend local schools, particularly St. Saviour's and the schools in what was one John Jay HS. Given that dynamic, how the police dealt with those two young women- which has NEVER happened to any white kids I know who live in Park Slope over the last thirty years, even those who got in trouble- reflects a perception of young Blacks and Latinos as outsiders in a gentrifying neighborhood. If they thought they were local residents, with educated and wealthy parents, they would have handled the incident entirely differently. They might have run after the young women, but they would never have tackled them, cursed them out and threatened them. What we have here, in my opinion, is GENTRIFICATION POLICING, a double standard for how you deal with young people from the neighborhood, and how you deal with those who are seen as outsiders and potential threats to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the marker of outsider status for the police was racial, leading them to traumatize a young Black woman who had done nothing wrong. All I can say is one thing. If this is good police work, why does it never happen to white people? As someone who loves seeing all the bright young women, half women of color attending the school across the street, and welcoming so many students from that school to Fordham, I am sick about this, just sick

Testing,Teacher Ratings and School Competition Turning the US into East Germany

As today's NY Times reveals, teachers at one of my favorite elementary schools in the city have been accused by a teachers at a neighboring junior high school of cheating on 5th Grade tests. They decided to call for an investigation after their own teacher ratings had dropped and the school was attacked in the newspaper after the teacher ratings were published. This kind of pitting of teachers against teachers and schools against schools is a logical outcome of using scores on high stakes tests to judge teacher effectiveness and introducing "competition" to public education, the official policy of the US Department of Education and its "Race to the Top" initiative. Since teacher effectiveness, under the value added schema, is judged grade to grade, and since teachers jobs will depend on those ratings, it will result in teachers carefully scrutinizing the performance of students in grades below them and looking carefully for irregularities, whether that is within their own school , or another school The result, teachers become a kind of Education Stasi, ready to report their colleagues to the authorities if they do anything to jeopardize their status. So much for collegiality, so much for cooperation, so much for collective effort. The result is a climate of fear and mutual suspicion that will make a mockery of the kind of values that best promote learning and democratic citizenship. As I wrote in my letter to the principal of the school being investigated: "A system that turns teachers into informers to protect the integrity oftests and ratings which were bogus to begin with is profoundly anddeeply immoral" The misuse of high stakes testing is making our schools a nightmare for students teachers and administrators When will the madness stop?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fault Lines in the Plutocracy and the Police Surveillance State

When you are speaking out against injustice, in the United States of America, it is easy to get discouraged. The unprecedented concentration of great wealth in the US today has resulted in policies being adopted by both major parties which protect those who profit from an increasingly hierarchical social order and mete out harsh punishment to those who protest or are deemed unassimilable. But despite the growing linkages between corporate, government and police power, the current economic crisis is generating a legitimacy crisis for the ruling elite, first exposed by the Occupy movement, but now visible in a number of areas where policies beneficial to the elite have resulted in policies which enrage large sections of the population and might, in time, inspire broad based resistance. One of those areas is CRIMINAL JUSTICE. We all know that the United States now has 25 percent of the world prisoners and that there are 8 times as many Black men in jail as there were in 1980. Some of this is due to the racially targeted application of draconian drug laws But increasingly, it has been exacerbated by the emergence of a smothering form of zero-tolerance policing which has made all young people of color targets for interrogation, harassment, arrest, and in the most extreme instances actual murder. In gentrifying cities like New York, Chicago, and Oakland , police harassment greets young people of color wherever they turn, from the schools they attend, to the neighborhoods they live in, to downtown business districts, to the public transportation systems they use. Seen as necessary to maintain public order in the face of astronomical unemployment rates among the target population, made more galling by growing concentration of the wealthy in the center city, “stop and frisk” policies, guided by open racial profiling, have become an infuriating burden on communities of color, promoting marches, rallies, lobbying campaigns and lawsuits. The tolerance for such policies is disappearing fast- but governments cling to them because they are the only way of assuring order in the face of a toxic combination of growing poverty and growing in equality. One way or another, this policy is going to be overturned, peacefully or otherwise. Activists need to keep the pressure up here on every front. Another area is TESTING IN THE SCHOOLS. As educational policy has become a major sphere of activism by corporate leaders, bringing an unlikely alliance of liberals like Gates and Bloomberg with conservatives like the Waltons and the Koch brothers, one of the results has been a push for teacher accountability in every school district in the nation, requiring teacher evaluation to be based on student test scores. This has led to a profusion of high stakes tests in schools at a level that has left many students, teachers and parents traumatized. With incredible rapidity, whole school communities have become transformed into engines of test preparation, erasing all forms of creative teaching, crowding out the arts, recess, and school trips, and even eliminating sports and after school programs to help pay for the tests. Worse yet, the tests themselves, made by for profit companies like Pearson, are so poorly designed and arbitrarily scored as to render the whole exercise absurd, all the more so because students promotions, and teachers and principals careers, will be based on their results. This test mania has generated the beginnings of a national parents revolt on the part of people who refuse to let their children be humiliated, intimidated and made to hate schools. But rather than back off, the Ed Reformers keep expanding the scope of testing and evaluation, even demanding that kindergarten students be tested and asked to rate teacher performance. This is going to backfire- big time! Massive test resistance, first by parents, then by older students, is going to sweep through many school districts Finally, we have the FORECLOSURE crisis. There are now millions of foreclosed and abandoned private homes in the United States, and thousands of abandoned and foreclosed multiple dwellings. This is occurring at a time when millions of Americans are homeless, sleeping in cars, or living in unacceptably crowded conditions in group apartments or single family homes now housing multiple families. The contrast between the homelessness and crowding and the unused empty space is becoming a major public embarrassment, and increasingly an important political issue. Occupy groups around the country, and organizations like Take Back the Land and Organizing 4 Occupation are quietly putting families in these foreclosed homes and figuring out ways to secure their rights to the property. This movement is likely to grow quickly in coming years, not only among community groups working with homeless families, but with young college graduates without steadily employment who will be forming residential communes in these abandoned spaces. Police action is always a possibility here, but if there are enough people who engage in these tactics, and if they have legal defense teams at their disposal who can make the occupations legitimate, this may turn into a major solution to the nation’s growing housing crisis Each of these arenas of struggle may, in their early stages, seem daunting to activists, as the opposition is very powerful and very ruthless, but when you view them all in combination, you see that economic and political elites in this country are unable to manage all the crises their policies have created and that a resistance is building which may ultimately challenge the very foundations of their rule May 22, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How the Struggle Against Corporate Education Reform Resembles the Movement Against the War in Vietnam

The struggle against Corporate Education Reform has chilling similarities to the struggle against the Vietnam War. Like Test Driven School Reform, the escalation of the Vietnam War initially had great bipartisan support. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by 414 to O in the House of Representatives, and 88 to 2. And like supporters of Education Reform, proponents of US military involvement in Vietnam claimed this intervention was motivated by democratic ideals. But over time, as the destructive consequences of the war were revealed, and its fundamentally undemocratic nature became clear, a protest movement began to emerge, starting slowly with teach ins at Universities, moving to large public protest marches, then to draft resistance, campus takeovers and mutiny and revolt within the US military. By the early 70's, it became politically impossible to sustain the war and a Republican president began the process of withdrawl The same is taking place in Education. As the most favored reform policies- school closings, universal imposition of high stakes testing, teacher evaluations based on those tests, attacks on teachers unions, and the replacement of public schools by charter schools, fail to improve school performance, widen test score gaps based on race and class, and create fear and stress among teachers, students and parents, the major stakeholders in public education are beginning to revolt. We see a Save Our Schools movement among teachers, a national Opt-Out movement among parents, and school walkouts by students, all in the context of a withering critique of Reform policies by the nation's leading education scholars. But this is only the early stage of what will become a wholesale revolt. Within three or four years, revolt against testing and privatization may well cripple many school systems, and force political leaders to re-evaluate their support of the policies which generate this opposition ( this is already happening in New York City) The point is that the power of the School Reform Juggernaut that does not guarantee its ultimate success. Who would have predicted that a nationalist uprising among a long colonized people could neutralize the most powerful military apparatus in the history of the world. But it happened because the US military faced a people, though lacking in advanced military equipment, who were fighting for everything they held dear- their land, their country, and their history. And Education Reformers may experience a similar outcome when facing fighting teachers fighting for their professional integrity, parents fighting for the well being of their children, and young people fighting to make school a place where they feel empowered rather than suppressed and humiliated

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Poor People Are Now America's Most Important Cash Crop

Poor people have now become America's most important cash crop. The tens of millions of people who have become poor since our agriculture became mechanized, our factories closed and our unions broke are now the basis of huge industries, creating millions of jobs, that are engaged with confining them, intimidating them, policing them and incarcerating them. Whole regions (much of upstate New York) depend on a steady supply of poor people to fill the prisons that are now their most important engine of economic growth, and a whole array of institutions have arisen from giving their children a narrow scripted curriculum, filled with tests, that is perfect to train them for low wage work in the service sector, or if they are lucky, in the military or the police. The system works so beautifully because it creates jobs for the near poor on the misery of the poor while the elite keeps its monopoly of the nation's wealth unchallenged. And the system perpetuates itself because the supply of poor people continues to grow as more sectors of the economy are privatized, globalized and deprived of union protection. Who needs cotton? Who needs steel? We have the largest growing population of poor people in the advanced world to use as a basis to create jobs and generate corporate profits! God Bless America!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Genius of Barack Obama- And Why We Must Organize Independently to keep Hope of Change Alive

This week, Barack Obama took two actions which dramatized the different faces of his Presidency-declaring his support for charter schools as centers of innovation, and announcing his support of same-sex marriage. It was hardly accidental these took place in the same week. The first, which enraged public school teachers and their supporters around the nation, appealed to President’s longtime funding base among wealthy supporters in Wall Street and Silicon Valley who not only support privatization of public schools, but stand to benefit from such policies; and the second re-energized the grass roots constituency- labor, young people, women and communities of color- that had helped catapult the President into office in 2008. They also left the Republicans boxed into a corner. The first announcement “stole their thunder” by appropriating and rebranding their own attacks on “big government” and public workers (something Bill Clinton had also been expert in); the second placed Republicans in the unenviable position of becoming typecast as exponents of bigotry, and losing the vote of independents, if they attacked the President’s position and appealed to their deeply religious core constituency. Together, the President’s actions cemented my conviction that he was one of the most brilliant politicians I have seen in my lifetime, equaled only by Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, and surpassing even his sometime rival Bill Clinton. Simultaneously assuring himself of support from some of the wealthiest people in the nation, while energizing a broad coalition of labor, people of color and globally minded , environmentally conscious youth, has been the hallmark of Barack Obama’s political genius since he first ran for the State legislature in Illinois. This strategy has not only left Republicans confused- it has encouraged them to appeal to the worst instincts of their core constituent, their racism and homophobia, thereby transforming Barack Obama into a symbol of human rights and civic decency who liberals and moderates have to support to be true to their core values As one of those progressives who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and who rallies to his defense every times he is attacked by bigots, I have a deep ambivalence toward the President’s program and real doubts about his legacy. Yes, he has successfully kept racist and xenophobic elements in the Republican party at bay, and has prevented them from imposing austerity policies that would have plunged the nation into a deep Depression ( just look at Ireland, Greece and Spain to see what “austerity” has accomplished), but he has also continued the foreign policy of his Republican predecessors, deported more immigrants than George W Bush did in either term, launched a campaign to privatize public education that was developed and vetted by his wealthiest supporters, and has failed to launch any initiatives to combat steadily growing poverty or shrink the prison industrial complex. The result- two of his core constituencies, organized labor and the Black community, are actually in a weaker position than they were when his presidency began and a disproportionate share of wealth and income continues to accrue to the top 1 Percent of the population while the middle class shrinks and more people are driven into poverty. This leaves progressives between a rock and a hard place. Given the bigotry. xenophobia, and Depression-creating austerity policies emanating from the Republican party, many of us may find ourselves voting for President Obama as a way of staving off economic catastrophe and standing up for the rights and dignity of all people. But we will do so with little hope that our actions in the voting booth will stop the relentless privatization of public resources, the lowering of wages, the shrinking of the middle class, the erosion of our civil liberties or the continuation of the police repression, unjust drug war, and racial profiling that fuels the growth of the prison industrial complex. The battle against growing inequality and the rule of the one percent must take place, primarily, in our streets, our schools, and our workplaces, in grass roots movement that build popular democracy one community, and one institution at a time. Voting is an important part of that struggle, but without huge grassroots mobilizations, politicians, the President among them, will have their actions held in check by their wealthy contributors We can have no illusions about the scenario we face. The onus for creating “Change we can believe in” is now squarely upon us May 11, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Corporate Ed Reformers Might Not Ultimately Prevail in NYC

While the Corporate Education Reformers may have enough money to buy off politicians, the press and some civil rights leaders, they don't have enough money to provide jobs, healthcare, decent housing, youth recreation, senior programs to the city's working class and shrinking middle class, especially in the outer boroughs. Although the elite is going full steam ahead with its program of school privatization, the wheels are falling off the neo-liberal bus, and protests are emerging around the stop and frisk and racial profiling tactics of the NYPD, cuts in transportation and senior services, evictions and foreclosures, and, in the education sphere, against school closings and charter co-locations, excessive testing, and police repression of student in high schools and the city university. None of these will stop DOE policies in the short run, but by the time Christine Quinn ( God help us) becomes our next Mayor, the level of political turmoil in the city will be of late 60's proportions and we will be able to stop some of these policies in their tracks and eventually reverse some of them. That's my scenario for where we are heading. And as someone who has been involved in protests around housing issues, civil liberties issues and racial profiling issues, I can assure you that a storm is brewing in the outer boroughs that the media haven't quite picked up on Hold on to your hats.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Quotable Quotes on Education Reform from Notorious Phd

‎"Having Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States of America, at this historic moment, is liking having Deer Appreciation Week during hunting season." "Charter schools are a substitute for public schools the same way Wal-mart and prisons were a substitute for steel mills and auto plants” “The only way MSNBC is going to speak out against privatization and excessive testing in America's schools is if Mitt Romney is elected and they become HIS policies” “Education Reform is the single most misguided and ineffective policy initiative in the United States since Prohibition.”

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Police Everywhere: The National Security State as a Daily Presence in Our Streets, Schools and Universities

Every morning before 6 AM, to beat the traffic, I drive from my home in Park Slope Brooklyn to Fordham’s Bronx campus, and even at that hour, I am hit with the realization that we are a lot more “policed” than we were thirty years ago. As my route takes me to the BQE via Vanderbilt and Willoughby Avenues, I will always see a police car parked right outside Pratt, lights off, to catch motorists speeding. Sometimes I will also see a car on Vanderbilt. Then when I get to the Fordham campus, I am not only checked by security to make sure I have a valid parking permit, I notice a security vehicle driving up and down the rows of the parking garage, and at least two security cars driving up and down the roads of the campus as I walk the half mile to my office. These Fordham security people are all in uniform. Should there be a fire drill or demonstration that day, I get to see the “:white shirts”- Fordham security supervisors- coordinating the University’s actions at the event, just as I would see the NYPD “white shirts” if there was a protest outside the University’s gates. The same thing would prevail should I visit one of the Bronx schools I work with on my community history projects. At all elementary schools, I have to sign in with a security guard who sits at the main entrance to the school; in most high schools, I have to go through metal detectors manned by at least two security personnel, sometimes aided by someone from the NYPD who is carrying a gun. Should I pass through Morrisania, the Bronx neighborhood where my research has been focused, I am likely to see a white police surveillance tower set up on one of that neighborhood’s blocks, including the historic block Lymon Place, where the great community activist Hetty Fox lives, and which was often home to Sunday jam sessions in the 50’s bringing together the great jazz pianists Thelonious Monk and Elmo Hope Some of you may respond to these observations by saying “ so what”, as this level of police and private surveillance has been your reality your entire life- but as a lifelong New Yorker, aged 65, there is still something jarring about feeling you are under surveillance in your neighborhood, in your workplace, and in any school that you visit. Having had numerous disturbing encounters with police- including being beaten up by NYPD in a station house in 1969- the prospect of having police looking over my shoulder wherever I go makes me nervous. It is a gut reaction. And if I feel that, I can only imagine how young people of color feel about this smothering police presence, especially as they are the ones this presence is often placed there for. When you have this many police and security, the temptation to use them for purposes of intimidation is well nigh overwhelming. In the streets of the city, over 900,00 stop and frisk incidents took place last year, the overwhelming number of them targeting young people of color, the vast majority of them revealing no illegal activity. Most of those were done by police in twos and threes. But what has also been taking place, at least in the Bronx, is police sweeps in groups of 15 or 20 on Bronx blocks where there has been drug activity, often resulting in mass searches of young people thrown on the ground or pushed against the wall, and with adults daring to intervene being targeted as well. Here, the police quite literally assume the character of an occupying army a phenomenon hardly surprising under the auspices of a mayor who brags that the NYPD at his disposal is “:the eighth largest army in the world.” And as for schools, the security presence, as Kathleen Nolan’s book Police in the Schools reveals, and my own student’s research confirms, has taken the form of “zero tolerance” policies which see students suspended and sometimes arrested for minor acts of defiance that previously would have been ignored or handled by teachers and administrators. And the situation is not much better at Universities. At the City University, students have been repeatedly manhandled at protests by the combined presence of campus security and NYPD in numbers unimaginable thirty years ago, or for that matter any time before 9/11. While we haven’t yet had protests at Fordham as militant as those at CUNY, the security presence at student marches and rallies is far larger than it has ever been in the past Anyone who thinks this level of policing and surveillance is consistent with democratic traditions hasn’t been paying attention to what policies have accompanied this enlargement of a police presence. The overwhelming concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, the shrinking of the middle class, the compression of wages for the working class, the transformation of our great universities, and our great cities, into centers of privilege for global elites, have created levels of economic inequality unimaginable in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and has shattered hopes of economic mobility for a growing percentage of the American population. As more and more people in this country see the wealth of others paraded in their face, with little hope of attaining it, their response, whether it be individual or collective, illegal enterprise or political action, has to be contained lest the smooth operation of the economic and educational system that concentrates wealth at the top be disturbedd. The result- a police surveillance state that regularly intimidates, terrorizes and incarcerates the children of the working class and the poor, and is now fully prepared to apply its full force against the displaced children of the middle class if they decide to protests against their impending marginalization. May 6, 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Resistance Is Possible in the Spaces the 1 Percent Have Abandoned

As the 1 Percent consolidates its control of public life, with the housing market and public educational system as two of its chosen spheres, the path of resistance may have to take the form of creating alternative institutions. As a result of intensive discussions I have had with activists and my students this semester, I am now pushing for two such alternative institutions- Residential Communes , where groups of people, especially young people without decent paying work opportunities, occupy or rent out abandoned or forcelosed private houses which dot the landscape of urban, suburban and small town America, and share living expenses and tasks; and Freedom Schools, where teachers, students, and parents create alternatives to the test driven, heavily policed public schools and charter schools which are now the norm in Urban America, and are becoming the chosen model for the entire nation. The 1 Percent has the money and the power, but as they continue to drive more and more people into poverty through union busting, wage compression and crushing of small businesses, they have left in their wake hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of abandoned and foreclosed homes, apartment buildings, office buildings and shopping centers. It is in those spaces that we can create the basis of resistance by generating alternative ways of living, teaching and learning, and developing and sharing resources ranging from food to technology. Remember, there are not enough police to control us if enough of us act. We have the power in our hands to make a new world, especially since the old one is collapsing before our eyes May 2, 2011