Sunday, July 29, 2012

Will We Let Our Children "Learn Like an 8 Month Old"

I have been spending the weekend with my 8 month old grand daughter Gabriela and it's been a revelation. Every part of Gabriela is in constant motion. She crawls, rolls over, stands up, claps her hands and is right on the verge of walking.. She has endless curiosity about objects. She picks them up, tears them, throws them, and puts them in her mouth, all the while making noises that sound more and more like words. Learning for Gabriela, is constant and is an immensely physical process, sometimes bringing her frustration, sometimes bringing her joy, but always keeping her stimulated. The purity of her quest of knowledge is awe inspiring and elemental. Yet is was also, in the light of dominant trends in education in the US, profoundly depressing. More and more, what educational reformers are doing, is making children spend their entire day in school sitting still preparing from tests which require uniform responses. The natural processes through which children learn, which are profoundly physical, are being suppressed, not only taking all the joy our of our classroom, but inhibiting the kind of self discovery that goes to the core of a child's being. Children of all ages need to touch things, take them apart, throw them, and imagine new uses for them. They need to explore how their bodies work, and make lots of noise. That is why schools which take away sports, and gym, and arts and music and hand on science to turn learning into pure memorization are injuring young people for life. They are quite literally committing a crime against the nation's children.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Hypocrisy of Current Initiatives to "Improve Teacher Quality" Now that school reformers like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Arne Duncan have spent at least ten years blaming teachers and teachers unions for the alleged failures of America's public schools, and forcing or bribing, schools systems around the country to institute teacher evaluation systems which are largely based on student test scores, they want to launch initiatives to "improve teacher quality." How they propose to do that when teacher morale is the lowest in recorded history and talented teachers are leaving the profession in droves is a mystery to me. Look at Teach for America. For the last twenty years, this organization had recruited top students at the nation's stop colleges, not to become teachers for life, but to become "education leaders" and "advocates" and seek positions, whether in education or the private sector, which command far more power and status and money than teachers receive. As a resiult, TFA has done NOTHING to improve the quality of the teaching profession. And their policies are symptomatic of an ideological trap that all Education Reformers have fallen into. You cannot "improve teacher quality" without instituting policies which give teachers more power over their professional lives- which would mean repealing virtually every educational reform policy instituted since No Child Left Behind. You can't have it both ways. Stick to current policies and teaching will remain a revolving door, low status profession, that proud talented people will avoid.

Now that school reformers like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Arne Duncan have spent at least ten years blaming teachers and teachers unions for the alleged failures of America's public schools, and forcing or bribing, schools systems around the country to institute teacher evaluation systems which are largely based on student test scores, they want to launch initiatives to "improve teacher quality." How they propose to do that when teacher morale is the lowest in recorded history and talented teachers are leaving the profession in droves is a mystery to me. Look at Teach for America. For the last twenty years, this organization had recruited top students at the nation's stop colleges, not to become teachers for life, but to become "education leaders" and "advocates" and seek positions, whether in education or the private sector, which command far more power and status and money than teachers receive. As a resiult, TFA has done NOTHING to improve the quality of the teaching profession. And their policies are symptomatic of an ideological trap that all Education Reformers have fallen into. You cannot "improve teacher quality" without instituting policies which give teachers more power over their professional lives- which would mean repealing virtually every educational reform policy instituted since No Child Left Behind. You can't have it both ways. Stick to current policies and teaching will remain a revolving door, low status profession, that proud talented people will avoid.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Not Every Bronx Tale Has a Geoffrey Canada Ending

In his memoir, Fist, Knife Stick Gun, Geoffrey Canada describes growing up on Union Avenue in the Morrisania section of the Bronx as a harrowing experience- a place where bullies terrorized young people and where no institutions , certainly not the local public schools, offered refuge or protection. It was only when Canada’s family moved to the suburbs that he was able to find a modicum of safety and was able to find a school which could inspire him and where his talents could develop. This Bronx experience, Canada claims, inspired his future work as an educator, including his pioneering efforts to develop a holistic model of child development through the Harlem Children’s Zone which insulated young people from the violent world ready to claim them and gave them a mixture of education and social services which would enable them surmount numerous hurdles, academic and personal, and emerge college ready upon graduation from high school. As a coach, and community organizer as well as an historian, I find much to admire in Canada’s model. But unlike Canada, I am not as quick to write off our urban public school system as a failure, and the teachers in it as heartless, insensitive, and more concerned with protecting their jobs than helping the young people they work with. And ironically, some of my reluctance to accept Canada’s analysis comes from having done extensive oral histories from people who grew up in the same neighborhood that Canada did, and sometimes on the same block. To put the matter bluntly, I have interviewed at least 40 people who grew up within 5 blocks of where Canada did, who attended local public schools, and participated in after school programs in local schools, churches and community centers, who became successful professionals in a wide range of fields ranging from journalism and the arts to education and social work. Among those I interviewed who fit that category are Amsterdam News sportswriter Howie Evans, musicians Valerie Capers and Jimmy Owens, film maker Brent Owens, community center director Frank Bolden, insurance executive Joseph Orange, talent agent Bess Pruitt, and current and former school principals Harriet McFeeters, Henry Pruitt, and Paul Cannon ( current principal of PS 140) All of these individuals, in their oral histories, describe encounters with very tough kids and neighborhood gangs, one of them, Evans, was actually in a gang; but each of them were able to find teachers in the local public schools who nurtured their talents and when necessary protected them from harm. Some were regular classroom teachers, others were coaches and music teachers, a few ran after school programs in public schools or local parks. One individual, Vincent Tibbs, the director of the night center at a local elementary school, PS 99, received mention in numerous oral histories for running a program which sponsored dances, talent shows, and sports leagues; Howie Evans actually credits Mr Tibbs with saving his life by refusing to let him leave the center to participate in a gang fight. The positive experiences these individuals had in schools and community centers led a number of them to decide to become teachers, social workers, and school administrators when they grew up, many of them in neighborhoods similar to the ones they grew up in. One of them, Paul Cannon, runs a remarkable public school about 6 Blocks from where Canada grew up which is open 7 days a week, has Sunday basketball for neighborhood parents, and where the entire school culture, including an innovative “Old School Museum” is organized to honor community history. In short, not everyone who grew up in Morrisania felt so abandoned by the local public school system that they had to circumvent it entirely in order to nurture, inspire and protect young people living in low income communities. The Canada model is an intriguing one, but it is not the only vehicle we have to educate children in poor and working class families. Some public schools were effective when Canada was growing up and some are as effective, or more effective, right now than Canada’s Promise Academy, even without the extra funding.

The Coming Crisis in American Universities

During the next 10 years, as the student loan bubble collapses, our universities are likely to go through a wrenching transition comparable to what our basic industries went through in the 80's and 90's and our public educational system is going through today. Many undergraduate colleges and professionals schools will no longer be economically viable and will be forced to close their doors-others will be forced to undergo enormous shrinkage. As this takes place, Facutty tenure will come under fierce attack and trend toward using low wage, party time academic labor will become dominant in all but a small number of elite private universities. And following what takes place in American business, those in charge of administering this transition will see their compensation rise, while those who do teaching and research will see their salaries plummet and their job security disappear. This will complete the transition of the United States of America to a low wage nation ruled by a small elite of owners and managers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Day Without Testing

Jessie Turner, a founder of the Save Our Schools Movement, is calling on parents, students, and teachers throughout the country to mark May 1 2013 as "A Day Without Testing." I think this is a great idea! Here is Jesse's declaration below. Let's make this a national movement! Jesse Turner Here is a thought for people: What if next May 1st everyone walks out of school, and holds a public teach-in? What if students, parents and teachers worked together for a teach-in day of without testing? What if students spent next May 1st learning for the sake of learning? What if no politicians were invited? What if Arne Duncan was not invited? What if no hedge fund mangers were invited? What if children, parents, teachers read together for enjoyment? What if we painted community murals? What would happen if we celebrated music and dance on that day without testing? What would happen if we practiced our democratic right to march, to assemble, and protest this madness that spent 1.2 trillion dollars on testing and standards? What if children, parents, and teachers shouted class size matters? What if the people shouted poverty matters? What if we registered new voters, and educated all voters on that day about how school reform should be more than a race? What if we did this in every city, town, village in the nation? What if everyone demanded main stream media cover it? What if we boycotted any company that supports more testing? What if grandmas', grandpas', guardians, uncle, Tio(s) aunts, Tia(s), our bothers and sisters joined us? What if we all banded together for one day without testing? My thinking is that day would change the world. I'll be there, Jesse The Walking Man Turne

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Vision for Urban Education

As everyone knows, I am extremely critical of current trends in education policy which involve deluging schools with standardized tests and rating teachers, administrators and whole institutions based on test result. Such policies result in school disengagement on the part of students, destroy teacher morale, and magnify health problems in poor and working class communities by crowding out exercise and the arts. Given my criticism of existing policies, skeptics have a right to ask-“What do you want to see urban schools doing that they are not doing now.” So let me take the time to lay out my own vision of what kind of things urban schools should be doing that will promote student engagement, parent involvement, teacher excitement, and transform schools into centers of community empowerment Portions of what I am talking about are already being done by schools all over the country. I invite you to see what Professor Henry Taylor and his colleagues are doing to embed schools on the East Side of Buffalo into a larger program of community development; to visit Urban Academy on the East Side of Manhattan, an innovative multiracial high school that is project based rather than test based, and PS 140 in the South Bronx a school which has developed a museum devoted to community history; but it would be difficult to broadly implement what I recommend unless Federal and state educational policies give schools far more freedom to experiment, and reverse the current emphasis on high stakes testing. Basically, I would like to see urban schools emphasize community involvement, artistic expression, and physical and emotional health on the part of their students. We have to end the pretense that poverty- reflected in homelessness and housing overcrowding, poor nutrition, high levels of violence and stress- are not factors shaping students academic engagement and performance. Schools should be places where young people know they are going to be fed, nurtured, protected, loved and have their confidence built up in many spheres of life and where parents and community members can go to discuss and solve broader community problems. This means in the first instant, that schools be open from the crack of dawn till 9 or ten in the evening and open to community groups for public meetings, as well as for concerts, festivals and recreational activities. But it also means that we should emphasize activities now deemed “expendable” in test driven . To that end, I would like the following. 1 .That at least an hour of every school day be devoted to recreation and physical activity, whether it be recess, physical education classes or school sports. 2. That at least an hour of every school day be devoted to the arts, be it music, theater, visual arts, poetry and creative writing. 3. That urban agriculture and health education be made an integral part of schools curricula, fueling hands on science instruction, and promoting the development of the production of fresh food in communities which are food deserts. If it were up to me, every urban school would have it’s own indoor and outdoor gardens which grow food, 4. That a portion of social studies curriculum should involve an analysis of community history and an in depth look at community issues, and give students credit for internships with community organizations or involvement in community development projects 5. That every school should be open 3-6 PM for supervised activity which includes all of the above elements, as well as quiet study time for students who don’t have tat at home. Think of what life would be like in working class communities if schools were organized this way. Young people would eat better, be healthier, have lower levels of stress, and develop their talents in ways which build up their self-confidence and promote community solidarity and economic development. They would also dramatically lower school drop out rates, reduce violence, and, over time, improve cognitive and analytical skills often neglected by the kind of rote learning and test prep taking place now. Instead of policing, constricting, and testing young people into submission, we need to unleash their creativity and imaginations and tap their idealism to improve life for everyone around them Doesn’t this sound better than current policies, which result in turning schools into zones of fear and stress for all concerned July 20, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Historian Vincent Harding Reflects on What Constitutes Great Teaching at an Urban Public High Schooll

The following is an excerpt of an interview that we did for the Bronx African American History Project with Historian and Civil Rights activist Dr Vincent Harding at Morris HS in the South Bronx, from which Dr Harding graduated a valedictorian in 1948. In it, he reflects on great teachers who influenced his life, and how his experience at Morris affected his future scholarship and activism ( e.g. his work with Dr King at the Albany Georgia and Birmingham Alabama protests, his founding of the Institute of the Black World, and his word as an advisor to the film series “Eyes on the Prize). Needless to say, his reflections have a certain relevance to current policy debates about what makes a great teacher. MN. What I would like to do, if it’s OK is turn to your high school experience. When we were talking before we went on tape, you said there were a number of memorable teachers you had at Morris. Could you talk to us a little about your Morris experience. VH. That’s a very important matter. When I first was applying to high school, I started out thinking that I was going to apply to the School of Aviation Technology, but someone wise told me that’s probably not what you want to do, because that was more a technical school than anything else. And my next goal was Stuyvesant ( a prestigious exam school). I had a tremendous amount invested in going to Stuyvesant because of the reputation of the school and because I was supposed to be a pretty bright person. And it was a marvelous experience for me to be to be rejected because even though I did well in math, I was not as good in math as some of the other applicants and so Stuyvesant was out. The next place I thought I should apply was Clinton,, and it was only after Clinton said “ No, you are not in our area” that I considered Morris. Its was kind of a last choice. And I was soon disappointed that I was being sent to Morris because I had heard that Morris was not nearly as good as these other palaces and it was a disappointment for a while. But as I said to you earlier, Mark, for me Morris played an absolutely crucial part in shaping my identity and my sense of purpose in the world. When I came to the school for this interview, I was very happy to see the name Jacob Bernstein, the Morris principal when I was there, on the wall, because I remember him saying often that what he wanted to do was make Morris a real United Nations. He used that phrase often. And that whole idea of seeing diversity as something you’re not forced into or trying to avoid, but something you welcome and try to shape into its best possibilities was a very important matter to me. Morris was an important counterpart for me to the church in Harlem I attended, Victory Tabernacle Church, and together they gave me the key elements of citizenship in a truly democratic society. Because what I had at Victory was a solid African American base from which I could move. I didn’t stay there. I moved into the more diverse world that Morris represented. So that whole idea of moving from a particular cultural based into a larger society, into which you can bring something powerful out of that base, is something we Americans have to learn to do better Now as for teachers, the most important teacher I had a Morris was a biology teacher. I never had her in a course, but she was my advisor, thank God. Her name was Ellen Bursler. I don’t know how long she had been a biology teacher, but she provided something to be of tremendous importance, and that is that Mrs Bursler loved me. I was more than just a number on her list of advisees. She really came to the point where I knew she cared about me. And she got to know my mother, and my mother appreciated her, and she helped me find part time and summer jobs because she knew that if I really wanted to go to college, I not only needed income, but exposure to a wider world-all that was part of her role as teacher. In my mind, I keep coming back to the image of her address in the upper left hand corner of the letters she constantly sent to me even when I was in college. 975 Knowlton Avenue is what I would read. I would visit her house at times, meet her husband. She even invited me to her synagogue on a couple of occasions. She was for me the model teacher and she marked me for life through her deep concern and love for me. The second person who comes to mind is a woman who taught French, Helen Prevost And the impact she had on me was a little unusual. When I came to Morris, I had this side vision of myself as an athlete of some sort because in Junior High School, I had been on the softball team. I always had enjoyed sports very much. But when I came to Morris, I acquired an interest in journalism and thought that I would like to write for the school paper, the “Morris Piper.” And it turned out that in this particular period, at the end of my first year at Morris, the tryouts for the Piper and the tryouts for the basketball team were on the same afternoon. And for reasons I don’t fully understand, maybe knowing what she would say, I went to Mrs Prevost, with whom I had been friendly, and asked “ Mrs Prevost, could you help me decide what I should do. Both of these tryouts are at the same time.” And she said “Basketball you can enjoy but for a very short time. Writing, journalism, you can do those your entire life.’ So I ended up going to the Piper and Mrs Prevost was very important to me because going into journalism turned out to be a very important direction for me in my life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Be Careful What You Blame on Hip Hop

Before hip hop ever became commercially popular ( mid 80's) the Bronx, where hip hop began, had experienced 1. A heroin epidemic exacerbated by the Vietnam War 2. A wave of arson and disinvestment that had destroyed much of the housing stock in the South West portion of the bronx and had left many once thriving neighborhoods look like they had experienced aerial bombardment 3. A city fiscal crisis which led to the removal of the great music programs form the Bronx's public schools, the elimination of night centers and after school programs in the area's elementary schools and the cutting of Parks and Recreation budgets in half, eliminating the position of recreation supervisor in the Bronx's vest pocket parks 4. A series of riots during the 1977 Blackout which destroyed scores of stores in the Bronx's key commercial districts Given these multiple tragedies-- all of them "post civil rights" that beset the Bronx ( and soon would hit, in one form or another every industrial city inn the nation) can we really blame hip hop for having more elements of nihilism and cynicism than earlier forms of African American popular music? We should also remember that hip hop has always had a prophetic, inspirational side (the music of Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, Lauren Hill, and underground rappers such as Akua Naru and Rebel Diaz) and that white suburban males have been the largest audience for the most violent, misogynistic music This is not say that commercial hip hop should be exonerated from the a sharp critique of its lyrical content,but we should be careful of assigning too much blame to hip hop for the multiple tragedies that have befallen the poor and people of color in the US in the last 40 years

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Invading Army That Has Occupied America's Public Schools

When a nation is invaded by an occupying army, there are multiple responses from those who communities have been occupied. Some resist openly, at great risk; some decide to collaborate; others grimly go about their business in sullen compliance; others decide to feign compliance, but take their resistance underground. Such would be a good description of the varied resistance to the Corporate takeover of American schools, which has many of the elements of a foreign invasion. Those who have coordinated the campaign of privatization, testing and union busting that has swept through America's public schools, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg, and the like, none of whom have a background in teaching, have used the Shock and Awe tactics employed by invading armies to overwhelm opposition. They have crushed or bought off opponents, controlled public media, and found an eager army of mercenaries- Teach for America corps members- to implement their policies, which undermine the best practices of those who have spent their lives working in the nation's schools. If you freeze this Corporate takeover in time, it would look like a resounding success. Not only has the federal education bureaucracy been taken over by the invading group, one state and locality after another has adopted the policies they have proposed. Charter schools have been replacing public schools with breakneck speed; teacher evaluations based on student test scores have become the norm throughout the nation, and in school testing is multiplying while other pathways to learning are being crowded out. But one should not underestimate the extent, or the complexity of the opposition to these policies that is arising. When rules are imposed by an invading army using overwhelming force, compliance doesn't necessarily mean consent. And this is true of the testing regime the Corporate reformers are introducing, Many teachers, parents, union leaders, and school administrators secretly despise the policies being imposed on them; but see no way off opposing them with sacrificing their careers or children's welfare. But little by little, voices of resistance are appearing, some public, some private, which are not only raising doubts about the wisdom of the policies, but also building hope that some day they can be reversed. What we now have is non-violent army of resistance to Corporate Education Reform, small in number, but high in courage, morale, and vision, which is exposing the flaws of these policies on every front. And as the policies themselves become more invasive, demoralizing and counterproductive, more people are joining the opposition, some clandestinely, others publicly. The Chicago Teachers Strike mobilization,, the New York Principals and Professors petitions against high stakes testing,, the national movement to have parents opt out of high stakes testing, the student and neighborhood protests against school transformation policies, all show that the Corporate invaders have not been able to effectively pacify the territories they have occupied. And as their policies become more brutal- as poverty proliferates and the middle class shrinks, as class size mounts, and as K through 12 testing becomes the norm while all activities which foster creativity and critical thinking are discarded, resistance will grow Few battles have more significance for the future of Democracy in the United States than this one. Who knows, even some member of the Mercenary Armies recruited to implement these policies may decide to rebel.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Education and Trickle Down Segregation in Michael Bloomberg's New York

The other day, I was walking to an appointment on East 125th Street in Harlem and saw an interesting sight outside the huge new building holding Promise Academy, the central institution of Geoffrey Canada’s much celebrated Harlem Children’s Zone. I saw a teacher marching about 20 children from one entrance in the building to another. All twenty children were black, dressed in uniforms of white blouses with blue trousers or skirts, and they moved through the street with discipline and purpose. This was the face of one of the city's best known charter schools I could not help but contrast with the scene I regularly see outside PS 107 on 8th Avenue between 13th and 14th Street in Park Slope when I drive by the school. There, on a typical late morning or early afternoon, I see groups of parents, virtually all white, taking their children to school or picking them up, their movements cheerful and often chaotic. The whiteness of the group never fails to stun me because in the 80’s, when my friends kids went there PS 107 was one of the most multiracial schools in the city, with its student population well over 2/3 Black and Latino. This was the face of one of the city’s high. performing public schools. The contrast between the two scenes struck me because of what it said about the direction of housing policy, education policy, and law enforcement in Michael Bloomberg’s New York and how they contribute to maximizing segregation in the city. Though the Bloomberg administration has constructed a significant amount of affordable housing and has made it a priority to give parents in poor neighborhoods more options through the development of charter schools, it has not made fostering integrated schools or communities a priority. The vast majority of affordable housing the city government has fostered through has been located in already hyper-segregated communities like the South Bronx and the vast majority of charter schools it has approved have had 100 percent Black and Latino populations, One result is that in the neighborhood where I have lived for the last 35 years, Park Slope, excellent public schools which were once 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Latino, and which had enormous income diversity, have become majority white and affluent. The loss of educational opportunity for Black Latino and working class families this evolution entails has been maximized by the city government’s approach to market level housing. Had the city government required that all market level housing designate 30 to 40 percent of all units as affordable, then the proliferation of new housing development in Park Slope would not have changed the demographic character of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood schools. But because so much of affordable housing in the city has been constructed in neighborhoods where the public schools are segregated and struggling, the opportunity to create high quality integrated public schools has been lost. This in turn affects the “choices” the city is offering working class parents and parents of color. Instead of giving them the option of sending their children to integrated public schools with top teachers, innovative curricula and excellent arts program, the city offers parents only the chance to attend highly regimented, ethnically homogeneous charter schools, some of which drive out children with special needs or children who can’t adapt to the school’s rigid discipline. What we have, at the extreme, is a Promise Academy or working class blacks, and a PS 107 for affluent whites, each committed to educational excellence, but following strategies for achieving that excellence that are totally contradictory to one another and which lead to young people of different race and class backgrounds having no contact with one another. And when you add stop and frisk to the mix, the result is an ever more segregated city. Is this the kind of environment we want our children to grow up in? It’s tine to start making the development of culturally and economically diverse communities the city’s top priority even if it undermines the city’s character as a playground for the Global Rich.. Like · · Unfollow Post · Share

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Antecedents of "Stop and Frisk"

Stop and Frisk is not new. In the Bronx in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1940's, police would stop blacks boys and adolescents when they were walking through middle class white neighborhoods and tell them they had to leave- in working class white neighborhoods, street gangs would do the job for them. Here is an excerpt of an interview I did with longtime Bronx activist Jesse Davidson dealing with racial profiling by police during his youth MN: So in other words, you would have these “islands” of racial harmony surrounded by highly segregated neighborhoods where African-Americans couldn’t move. JD: Absolutely, yes. MN: Was it unsafe to go into those neighborhoods? JD: You are talking about my young life again. For the sake of the policemen, I can tell you right now, they still leave a very bad feeling inside of me. In those days, I couldn’t walk on the concourse, two or three of us together without a police car pulling up. MN: In the late 30s early 40s, if there were more than one African-American walking on the Concourse, a police car was going to stop them. JD: Absolutely. MN: What would they say to you? JD: By the time you got over to the car, the door would open and bang you right in your stomach. The term “nigger” would come out of a policeman in a minute. Two policemen with guns, pulling out their guns when you haven’t said anything yet.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Elections and History

While I am not one to place electing progressive candidates to office above building grass roots movements, I am also very aware that the fate of grass roots movements often depends on those who hold public office, especially those who control the power to suppress such movement through the application of armed force. Many of the most important strikes in US History-the 1877 Railroad Strikes, the Homestead Strike of 1892, the 1894 Pullman Strike, the 1919 Steel Strike- were defeated when Governors and Presidents ordered the National Guard and/or the US Army Conversely the two most important strikes of the Depression Era, the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934, which turned the Teamsters Union into a powerful national organization and the Flint Sit Down Strikes of 1936-37, which led to the unionization of General Motors and US Steel, only succeeded because progressive governors, elected with labor votes, refused to use the national guard to suppress the strike, and because President Roosevelt refused to send in the army Today’s activists need to keep these examples in mind when deciding how, or if, they should become engaged in local and national elections. No grass roots movements can succeed without taking actions which stretch the boundaries of the law. How elected officials dealt with such instances will be critical to their success. One example of this is the occupation of foreclosed and abandoned properties by Occupy groups and advocates for the homeless. All over the country, housing activists are barricading themselves in houses to prevent foreclosed families from being evicted and placing needy families in abandoned and foreclosed houses and apartment buildings. In some instances, Mayors have ordered police to evict protesters; in other instances, they have let protesters stay. How Mayors and city officials decide to act will have a critical impact on the impact of this growing movement, which addresses the failure of the private housing market Similarly, some parents and teachers are occupying schools which have been targeted for closure under federally mandated “turnaround” policies. Local officials thus far have moved to use police to suppress such actions, but if enough such actions start occurring, they may hold out for a negotiated settlement in which the community’s interests are taken into account In both of these instances, who is holding public office, and what kind of demands are made upon them during their campaigns, matters enormously. Occupy groups and allied activists know how devastating it can be when elected officials unite to suppress a movement; they now have to turn their attention to strategies which turn some elected officials into allies There is no simple formula for doing this, but it is something that has to be done. Elections matter, and influencing public officials is as important to the success of grass roots movements today as it was in the past. July 8, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lucky to Be Born When and Where I Was

Although i dodged many bullets in my life ( in a few instances literally) i realize, talking not only to my students but to people 20 years younger than me, how lucky I was to be born when I was (1946) and where I was ( Brooklyn). Although I came of age in a working class neighborhood and had parents who grew up in extreme poverty, I went to public schools which had excellent teachers and were open every day 3-5 and 7-9 for supervised recreation, had access to free zoos and museums, could go anywhere in the city by bus and subway for 15 cents, and if I did well in school could go to college free. I lived in a city where the very rich were relatively small in number, where most working people were members of unions and were living a decent life,and where kids like me thought they had a great shot at going to college or getting a good job. Part time jobs were plentiful, we had amazing sports and music, and a great cause to fight for, civil rights, if we wanted to confront the racism that still deformed the society at every turn. Life was rougher, a lot rougher, if you were Black and Latino, sexism sharply limited women's opportunities, but wealth was distributed far more equally than it was to day, the economy was expanding at an unprecedented rate and everyone i knew had hope of living better than their parents. It all seems like a dream now when I look at what is out there today. The good things in life are increasingly reserved for the rich and young people in neighborhoods like mine face an economy that offers them few opportunities unless the jump through many hoops and overcome many obstacles.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Support for the United Opt Out Challenge to Teachers Unions

The most important moment in modern labor history is when John L Lewis, David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman, frustrated with the complete inability of the American Federation of Labor to develop an effective strategy to organize the nation’s largest industrial corporations – which at that time included General Motors, General Electric, US Steel, the Ford Motor Company, Armour and Swift, Westinghouse- decided to break away from the AFL and organize their own independent labor federation, the Committee for Industrial Organization- which would organize workers by industry rather than by craft. It was under the auspices of the CIO that the Flint Sit Down strikes were organized, leading to the unionization of General Motors and US steel, and it was under the auspices of the CIO that America’s largest manufacturers- once as non union as Wal-Mart is today- were unionized , to the point where by the end of World War II, 15 million workers were members of unions, as compared to 3 million when Roosevelt assumed the presidency I say this to point out that sometimes, to save the labor movement, truly radical steps have to be taken, including forming new unions based on principles more appropriate to the challenges they face. No one is a stronger supporter of unions than I am. But if unions are betraying their membership and their mission, then radical actions should be taken to transform them. United Opt Out’s challenge to the NEA is a breath of fresh air in the current political climate. Members need to organize to have these unions fight back hard, and intelligently against the forces which are undermining public education in the United States. They should fight from within locally and nationally to have the NEA fight the imposition of high stakes testing tooth and nail. They should seek to replace current leadership if they refuse to support that goal. But though forming new unions which are more able to mount effective resistance is a last ditch alternative, and one that should not be considered until in-organization insurgency is mounted and failed, it should not be off the table either. The labor movement would not have uplifted the living standards of three generations of Americans if John L Lews has remained in the AFL and continued to work with its bankrupt strategy of craft unionism, which could not work in huge corporate conglomerates So I like what United Opt Out is saying, particularly in its revised concluding section. We need our unions. But we do not necessarily need them in their current form if they evade the most important educational and political struggles of our time.