Friday, August 31, 2012

Why I Continue to Remain Hopeful Despite Evidence to the Contrary

Today, I am oddly hopeful that the some, perhaps many, people will not accept the grim future being prepared for them, a future of austerity, low paying insecure work relentless surveillance, crushing debt. and elite monopolization of the nation’s wealth and income.I say this not only because of the movements that occurred last fall, and now are reinventing themselves off the radar screen, but because of hundreds of conversations I am having with people, some in person, some through email and social media, which suggest that a society where the few control, manage and exploit the many is not their idea of what America is or what they want their own future to be. And this is a feeling which crosses party lines, and divisions of race gender and age. Many people look at where their lives are heading and feel profound dismay. And they may be angry enough and proud enough to do something about it I am not suggesting that their dissatisfaction will always be expressed peacefully, or constructively. I think we are likely to see all kinds of violent outbursts, some individual, some collective as life becomes more insecure for a growing number of people. But- and I believe this with every core of my being- we are going to see people coming together to prevent themselves from losing what little they have while the few live untouched by hardship. For the next few months, our attention will be diverted by the drama of elections, with peoples hopes and fears being projected onto political candidates. But once the elections are over, and current trends toward immiseration and economic stagnation continue unchecked, and quite possibly, accelerate, you will begin to see people decided to take their future in their own hands, in their workplaces, in their neighborhoods, in their schools, in the streets, and in city halls, state houses and the Congress. And this time, it will be much more broadly based than the Occupy movement and much more difficult to suppress, peaceful, militant, but with an undercurrent of rage embodied in violent outbursts that will be occurring spontaneously because of the pressure that people will find themselves under I plan will be there with the peaceful protesters, raising issues and demanding solutions, but I will not not turn my back on those, who in frustration and desperation turn to violence, or allow authorities to use their oubursts to justify a further expansion of police power and the prison industrial complex which is already the largest in the world. These will be hard times and challenging times, but the greatest danger is silence and compliance, not resistance. And I think more and more people are ready to accept this

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Message To My Teacher Friends At The Start of a New School Year

The start of a new school year is normally an exciting time. Teachers are busy decorating their classrooms, preparing their lessons, reconnecting with colleagues, imagining what they are going to say that first day when they meet their students. But this year, teachers will have many other things on their minds. We live in a society where every important group- politicians, business leaders, media pundits, even Hollywood film personalities- are quick to blame teachers, not only for the alleged failures of our schools, but the failure of our society to reduce poverty and Inequality. But if that public demonization isn’t enough, almost every public school system in the nation is engaging in experiments in behavior modification using teachers as guinea pigs, rating teachers on the basis of students test scores, deluging their classrooms with consultants, promising to reward them for improved student performance, or fire them if they fail to produce it. Not only do these strategies turn the classroom into a zone of continuous stress, they create an adversarial relationship between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and between teachers in the same school, and sometimes in the same grade whose performance is rated against one another. As the child of two public school teachers and the husband of a public school principal and as a scholar who has spent a great deal of time in Bronx schools working with teachers on community history projects, I am enraged by these policies. And I am here to tell you this: The very fact that you continue to work and serve your students under these conditions makes you our nation’s unsung heroes! Because you understand something that the billionaires and econometricians shaping education policy won’t recognize-that the magic in the classroom, whether it comes in the form of teaching someone to read, nurturing a musical or artistic skill, inspiring someone to do research on their family or community- comes from connecting with individual children, not by sticking to a prepackaged formula And connecting with those children means appreciating everything they bring to the classroom, some of which might make learning harder, some of which might be the key to inspiring them. It is making this connection, sometimes in the face of what seems like insuperable odds, that keeps teachers up and night, and wakes them up in the morning fired up with enthusiasm and determination. Those who rate you and measure you, those who hold you up to ridicule, those who seek to turn parents and the general public against you, have no conception of the emotions that teaching involves or the pride you feel when you get through to young people and give them the confidence to do things they thought were beyond them. I would say “forgive them, for they no not what they do” but that isn’t entirely true. All to many of the people attacking you and telling you how to do your jobs are doing so for narrow personal gain, either because they think it will help them get elected, or they hope to profit from privatizing what was once a public trust But in spite of the forces arrayed against you, do not give up or give in, because you are all that stands i between our children dehumanization . There is no metric that can measure love, there is no metric that can measure compassion, there is no metric that can measure imagination, there is no metric that can measure humor. You are our hope, You are our future. Stay true, stay strong. Someday the nation will recognize that your vision, and your best practices, are the only sure path to improving our schools

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Where You Will Find the Democratic Spirit This Fall

This fall, you won’t find the Democratic spirit in the activities of either major political party, each, in its own way in the thrall of Big Corporations and Big Money. But that spirit is alive throughout the country, on the ground, among people possessing a wide variety of experiences and political views. You can find it among housing activists and occupiers around the nation who are fighting evictions and foreclosures, organizing rent strikes, putting homeless families in some of the huge number of abandoned commercial and residential buildings that can be found all over the country, and forming residential communes and cooperatives among the growing number of Americans who can’t find decent paying work. You can find it among the young Ron Paul supporters who are continuing their fight to reform draconian drug laws, shrink the prison industrial complex, defend civil liberties, reduce the US military presence abroad and expose the sweetheart relationship between government regulators and financial industries. You can find it among teacher activists around the nation, and their parent allies, who are fighting the takeover of the nation’s public schools by profit making entities and the imposition of a test- obsessed approach to learning that stifles student creativity and threatens the health and well being by the nation’s public school students by crowding out recess, play, regular exercise, sports and the arts. You can find it in the food activists around the nation who are fighting the proliferation of genetically engineered crops, and creating their own grass roots experiments in productionof healthy food, not only in the nation’s rural areas, but in cities where disinvestment and the current economic crisis have left us with large stretches of abandoned land which can easily be transformed into gardens and farms. You can find it in community groups and civil rights organizations around the nation which are challenging racial profiling, stop and frisk, and at times, the use of deadly force by law enforcement to keep young people of color intimidated and unable to move freely throughout the towns and cities where they live. You can find it people of every ethnic group and political persuasion who are doubling and tripling up in houses and apartments none of them can afford individually, who take in relatives and friends who have become homeless and/or unemployed, and whose generosity eases the effect of an economic crisis that has been far more devastating in its impact on many Americans that our political leaders and commercial media have been willing to say. You can find it among women fighting attacks on reproductive rights, defending organization's promoting women's sexual health, challenging violence against women in the media and real life, and creating new forms of women's media and cultural expression that assure that women's voices will not be marginalized. You can find it in young people who are developing innovative barter systems for everything ranging from housing to food to child care to transportation to information technology and home repair services, circumventing a cash economy in a society where more and more people have found themselves cash poor. These signs of popular initiative are all around us, if we care to look. They are the real hope of the future in a country where the mainstream economic and political systems have been rendered stagnant by a concentration of wealth at the top that exceeds anything we have seen in this country for more than 80 years.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

R.I.P Rich Klimmer- Reflections on Passion, Heroism and Elections Past and Present

At this time 4 years ago ( August 2008), one of my best friends, Rich Klimmer, a college organizer for the AFT, moved into a hotel in Philadelphia to help coordinate the labor campaign for Obama in the state of Pennsylvania. Richie, a tough working class kid from Chicago who had played basketball at Marquette, approached this campaign as if it might be the last of his life because in fact it was. The survivor of more than 60 surgeries, including a leg amputation, who had to go to dialysis four days a week for acute kidney failure, Richie believed that labor's future in the US depended in electing Barack Obama and decided to use his considerable skills to assure this happened in a key swing state. Richie called the Pennsylvania campaign "class struggle against racism" because it involved convincing white workers throughout the state, many of whom had lived in neighborhoods where blacks were not welcome, to vote for a black candidate. Almost every day, I heard a new story from Richie about heroic efforts of union members going door to door and alternately facing down angry racists and finding people ready to vote for Obama. The campaign, in the eyes of Richie, and almost everyone he worked with, was a crusade to persuade working people to place their class interests about their racial prejudices. Often bedridden, Richie viewed this campaign as almost a mirror of his own experience growing up in a white ethnic neighborhood in Chicago and realizing that his future as a ballplayer involved sharing that experience with people who he had been taught to hate and fear. Richie believed with all his heart that white working class racism was not something immutable and unchangeable because it is something he had overcome himself. And his passion energized those around him Richie worked out of that hotel room for three straight months and it was not until the last few days that he was confident of the outcome. Unfortunately, on election night, Richie was in the hospital, but we still share the joy of an Obama victory through cell phone One year later, Richie was dead, but not before we had put his recollections of the campaign on tape. I still have the eight hours of interviews about the campaign that we recorded. Someday I will figure out what to do with them But as we move into the final three months of this Presidential campaign, I wonder what Richie would think about the Obama Administration, and labor's stake in this election. Whether he would feel the same passion, the same energy, the same sense that the conscience of the American working class, as well as its future, was at stake in this election as the last one. As for me, I just feel a huge gaping hole inside me, both for the disappointments of the last three years, and the loss of a friend who was also a hero R.I. P. Rich Klimmer. Pride of the American Working Class, Warrior for Justice

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Park Slope My Children Grew Up In

I would not trade the Park Slope my children grew up in- which was not always 'safe," which was diverse in race and class, where new residents, many of them political activists, worked inside local churches with longtime residents as well as building their own institutions; where Catholic school and public school kids came together in local sports programs; where there were almost no upscale restaurants and a big treat was having a family night out in places like "Snooky's" or "Circles," and where housing was affordable enough so that you could buy a brownstone on two teachers salaries- for any neighborhood in the country. I could not think of a better place to bring up two children as athletes, as caring people, and citizens of a multiracial society who had in depth exposure to people of different backgrounds in school, on the streets and in the sports programs they participated in

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Bronx's Role as a Stie of Unparalleled Musical Creativity

For more than sixty years, the Bronx has been the site of a tradition of musical creativity unmatched for its quality and diversity by any community in the nation, and quite possibly the world. Beginning with Jazz, Afro-Cuban music, and Doo-Wop in the 40's and 50's, moving on to Funk and Salsa in the 60's and early 70's, then on to Hip Hop in the 70's 80' and 90's and today to bachata, hip life and cumbia, the Bronx has been a place where musical traditions evolved and fused in communities where people from many different cultural traditions lived in close proximity. In the 1940's and 1950's the migration of African Americans, Afro Caribbeans and Puerto Ricans into neighborhoods of the Bronx already inhabited by Irish, Italian and Jewish residents created a climate in which jazz, rhythm and blues, and Afro-Cuban music were performed and appreciated not only by people of the ethnic groups among which these forms originated, but by youth of every background. The result was an explosion of musical creativity, nurtured in clubs and theaters, schools and churches, and the community centers of public housing projects, remarkable for its hybridity. The Bronx was a place where the greatest Latin bands regularly employed Black musicians, where jazz artists played Latin numbers and employed Latin percussionists, and where doo wop ( a term for urban harmonic singing without instrumental accompaniment) and rhythm and blues singers often created harmonies to Latin and Caribbean rhythms. But more importantly, many Bronx communities, in the 1950's and 1960's were places where cultural and musical traditions were shared on a grass roots level. To be from those neighborhoods, whether you were Black, White or Latino, meant you danced Latin and sang in the urban harmonic style, and had a special appreciation for artists, like the Drifters, Joe Bataan, Mongo Santamaria or Jimmy Castor, who fused the two.traditions In the late 60's and early 70's a new group of migrants- this time from Jamaica and other Islands of the Anglophone Caribbean- produced another revolution in Bronx music history. Bringing with them a musical culture featuring sound systems with giant speakers, and toasting over beats, DJ's like Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambatta, all from Caribbean families, created a compulsively danceable music by fusing the most percussive sections of funk and latin records into long extended instrumental passages that captured the imagination of a generation of Bronx youth from every cultural background. Calling their music hip hop, these dj's inspired a revolution in dance, graphic arts and poetic lyricism that soon swept the nation and the world. You can go to Berlin, Tokyo, Rio, Cape Town or Guaralajara and put on Grandmaster Flash's :"The Message" and people will know the words, and move their bodies to the beats. This music, spawned during hard times when the Bronx faced arson, disinvestment, and withdrawl of city services, remains the music of choice of disfranchised youth throughout the world and is still actively being produced and performed in Bronx neighborhoods. But those neighborhoods have hardly been static, either culturally or musically. In the last thirty years, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, West Africa, and Mexico have come in large numbers to the Bronx, bringing new musical traditions to contribute to the borough's cultural mix. A great example of this is the Dominican musical group Aventura," who, when high school students in the Bronx, took a folk music from their country of origin called :"bachata" fused it with R and B and Hip Hop, and became one of the most popular latin combos in the world, capable of filling Madison Square Garden 4 straight nights, The same kind of cultural fusion is taking place in Bronx neighborhoods with West African and Mexican youth, and it is only a matter of time before artists drawing upon their musical traditions break into the mainstream. The Bronx today remains the same kind of laboratory for cultural and musical experimentation it was in the past-- with the new, hip life and bachata and cumbia- thriving side by side with the old- salsa, and hip hop and Latin Jazz.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More on History and the 2012 Elections

I agree with my longtime friend and colleague Dr Henry Taylor that the Left has to have an electoral strategy. During the 1930's, the fate of the labor movement during key strikes was profoundly influenced by who held political office and how they used, or refused to use police, the national guard, and the US Army to break strikes and suppress unions. The CIO would not have been able to organize effectively in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, if there weren't pro-labor Mayors and Governors who refused to use police power the way it had been used to break strikes in the late 19th Century and during and After WW I. This is why the CP worked so hard to elect pro-labor Democratic Party candidates in 1936, even at the expense of their own leaders who were running on the Communist ticket. Therefore, I have no problem, in principle, with people on the Left putting their energies into electing Democratic Party candidates, if they think it will help build, or protect, grass roots movements for racial and economic justice. But the current situation, as another friend indicated, is not precisely comparable to the 1930's because this time the Democratic Party actually TOOK THE LEAD in suppressing the most important grass roots economic justice movement, the Occupy Movement; and has aggressively promoted the privatization of public education. Someone has to make the case, in hard headed terms, that supporting Obama and the Democrats will create MORE space for organizing rather than less. So I agree with Dr Taylor in principle, but in terms of this election, I think progressives should be very careful not to relinquish important initiatives to elect candidates who may well try to extinguish the movements they are embedded in

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Ryan Nomination, The Obama Re-Election Campaign and the Left

When the Communist Party and other leftists decided it was a priority to elect President Roosevelt in 1936, they didn't slow down their labor organizing and civil rights agitation- they escalated it. The Committee Of Industrial Organizations ( CIO), founded in 1935, conducted aggressive organizing drives in the automobile, steel, and electrical industries during 1936,many of them spearheaded by radicals, and the sit down strike movement, culminating during the Flint strike, actually began during the Presidential elections. Obama supporters who want progressives to take precious energies away from grass roots movements to re-elect the president are, whether intentionally or not, sabotaging long term possibilities of democratic change. And they are NOT following the example of radicals from the Depression Era who built the industrial labor movement. Let us remember that the Occupy Movement, the most important grass roots Democratic upsurge in recent US History, was suppressed by Democratic Mayors with the White House's tacit support,, probably because they feared it would jeopardize the President's chance of winning a second term. So we are now in the unenviable position of having no major grass roots upsurge to accompany the Obama re-election campaign. Preventing a Right Wing/Republican capture of the Presidency is a laudable goal, but not at the cost of discrediting, undermining, and suppressing grass roots movements independent of the Democratic Party and the wealthy elites who control it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fourth Avenue Blues- A Brooklyn Story

When Liz and I first moved to Park Slope in 1976, our preferred route from our old neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was to take the West Side Highway to the Brooklyn Bridge, go straight on Boerum Place to Atlantic Avenue, then take Atlantic to 4th Avenue where would make a right and take 4th Avenue down to 3rd street and make a left, which would take us into the portion of the Slope where the half of a brownstone we just purchased was located. The journey along 4th Avenue was a trop in itself. There was no street in Manhattan quite like 4th Avenue. Three lanes wide on each side of a raised divider, it was zoned for commercial and industrial development, and cars and trucks sped down it with lightning speed, requiring quick reflexes and a strong constitution to avoid an accident. And that wasn’t the only hazard. Groups of teenagers, most, but not all, Black and Latino, would periodically play chicken with passing vehicles, sauntering slowly across the street in defiance of lights and other traffic rules, daring you to hit them provoke a riot or a much needed insurance payout. If you didn’t have strong nerve and a sense of local urban etiquette, it could easily force you off this street onto Flatbush Avenue, where traffic never moved fast enough to produce these danger. As for me, I became expert at shining the teenagers shoes with my car, by heading straight toward them and staring them down with my legendary “ice grill.” I didn’t record a single fatality The establishments along the street told a story in themselves. In the mile from Atlantic Ave to Third Avnue, there were at least five small tire repair stores, all run by Latino men, at least as many Pentacostal Churches, several places where homeless people could line up to get food, and apply for jobs; multiple bodegas, several taxi depots, and several large home repair outlets that served people from all over Brooklyn, interspersed with vacant lots filled with weeds and an occasional abandoned warehouse. As for food choices, one lonely McDonald’s stood among the pizzerias, fried chicken stores,(one of them serving Halal food), run down coffee shops, and small Spanish restaurants. The landscape was working class Brooklyn Americana, with a street atmosphere reflecting the increasing presence of Black and Latino families in what was once a heavily Italian area. If you turned up 3rd Street to head towards Prospect Park you saw remnants of the Italian presence in the form of a group of very tough looking swarthy young white men holding forth on the corner of 5th Avenue, wearing wife beater tee shirts and sporting tattoos on arms honed by years of lifting weights. Their conversations were loud, filled with hand gestures and constant threats, sometimes made toward one another, sometimes made toward the universe, and sometimes, you were sure at the people in your car. I always found myself silently praying that there would be a green light when I got to that corner, or the red light would last a very long time. The only time I had seen white guys that tough was on the detention floor of the Brooklyn House of Detention when I had spent three days there in 1969. Two other aspects of this landscape were worth noting. First was the Junior High School across the street from that infamous corner, JHS 51, or ‘Fifty Ones as it was known in the neighborhood, which took all comers irregardless of race, class and ethnicity. Both of my children, Sara and Eric, would eventually attend that school, play on the school’s basketball teams, and learn to navigate the urban landscape with considerable aplomb, all though my son Eric would periodically have to pay a “hat and backpack tax” to the students from John Jay HS who would swoop down and confiscate their property. The other landmark was Second Street between 4th and 5th Avenues which was entirely composed of vacant lots except for two five story tenements that had been left standing after an arson abandonment cycle swept through the neighborhood. Yes, there were abandoned buildings all over Park Slope,and not only near 4th Avenue. There were abandoned buildings on Garfield Place between 7th and 6th Avnues and along 7th Avenue south of 9th Street. This is why struggling hippie professionals like us ( a college professor and a book editor, both under 30) could afford to buy a house in this area Now segue to 2012. Fourth avenue still has lots of traffic, but no one has played chicken with the cars for at least fifteen years. The tire repair shops and pentacostal churches are gone, replaced by one luxury condo after another, some of them upwards of ten stories in height,all of them filled with young professionals who have moved to the area from Manhattan, or in some cases, Europe and South America. Fourth Avenue still has food places, but except near Atlantic Avenue, they are all cafes, bars, pastry and bagel stores, some with arrangements for outdoor seating, and a few upscale diners. As for Fifth Avenue, the young Italian men are long gone, second street has been rebuilt with luxury condos, “fifty ones” is a majority white school, and bars and restaurants serving an upscale clientele are everywhere. And as for me, I feel like a fish out of water in this “paradise” of Urban Revitalization. I miss the excitement, and yes the fear, that came from being in a place where none of our problems and cruelties were hidden, where you had to face the reality of a race and class divided city every day where you lived. And if you could survive it, and take ownership of it, and bring up your kids in it, your children would be ready for anything when they grew up. I miss the 4th Avenue of old. I just hope there are people who took a lot of pictures so it doesn’t entirely fade from memory August 11, 2015 .

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

You Can’t Improve Teacher Quality Without Treating Teachers With Respect and Putting a Priority on Teacher Retention

The latest obsession of the Education Reformers is improving the quality of the nation’s teaching force. This is the subject of the Gates Foundation’s newest initiative and it even shapes the publicity campaign accompanying the much ballyhooed new Hollywood film “ We Won’t Back Down,” whose main subject is how teachers unions obstruct needed changes to urban schools. However, the nation’s most important education reform organization “Teach for America,.” Whose ex Corps members provide the bulk of the staff members for groups like “Children First” and “Stand for Children as well as many charter school organizations and state education departments, has had little positive impact on teacher quality since it started 20 years ago. Although has recruited most of its corps members from the top academic tier of the nation’s top colleges, it gives little priority to teacher training, teacher mentoring, or teacher retention. As a result, less than 20 percent of Teach for America corps members remain as classroom teachers five years after their commitment up. TFA’s publicity actually encourages its recruits to become education leaders and advocates rather than teachers and as a result its Corps members get the message that teaching is actually the LEAST desirable option of those available to them after participating in this high profile, high prestige program As for other strategies to improve teacher quality, from merit pay, to rating teachers based on student test scores and firing those who fail to make the grade, none of them have succeeded in making the teaching profession more attractive, as a long term option, to talented people. Indeed, such measure, promoted at the Federal as well as local level, have undermined teacher morale to the lowest it has been on record, especially since it has been accompanied by a campaign of public demonization of teachers unprecedented in American history. How you can improve the quality of a profession by subjecting its members to public ridicule and abuse, in everything from campaign speeches, to editorials, to Hollywood films, is a mystery that I am too dense to unravel, but Education Reformers seem to see this campaign as essential to gaining the policy changes they desire But the damage has already been done. More and more, the brightest young people I know are seeking to leave the teaching profession because they can’t stand to see their jobs reduced to test prep in climate of constant surveillance and public abuse. The same is true of the best veteran teachers. It takes real courage for a teacher to keep their optimism and maintain their professional standards in this poisonous climate, and even that may not be possible unless they have a courageous administrator to defend them So unless the reformers switch gears and bring the most talented teachers and principals into the conversation, their teacher quality initiative will fail miserably. You cannot recruit and retain great teachers through coercion and intimidation. What those methods will produce is a revolving door teaching force of people who last a few years than leave, supplemented by on line teaching strategies which eliminate teachers entirely. That is where current policies are heading. And the result will be young people who lack the human touch and mentoring that helps make students better citizens and better people, as well as better learners. If you think our society is fractured now, wait till you see where THAT outcome takes us! August 6, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

Things About Me As A Teacher That My Students Can Count On

At a time when the teaching profession is under attack, and elected officials and business leaders are doing everything in their power to make teaching a revolving door profession, I want to identify three principals I have stood for as a teacher that I know my students can count on, and hopefully influence the kind of teachers they become if they enter the profession. 1. I will be there for my students whenever they need me, whether they are in my class or not, and throughout the course of their adult lives. Once my student, always my student. 2. I will stay at the job I love until I am no longer able to function. My students will always know where to find me. 3. I will stand up for my students, my colleagues, and the principles I believe in whether my school administration supports me or not, and whether or not my actions make my out of tune with the current political fashion in the nation. These are the principles I have lived by for the last 45 years, as a teacher, a coach, and a college professor. And I see nothing the current group of education reformers is saying which can persuade me to relinquish them Mark Naison August 5, 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How “Race to the Top” Has Magnified the Obesity Problem in Poor and Working Class Neighborhoods - A Bronx Perspective

When you walk through the gates of Fordham’s Bronx campus onto Fordham Road, you are struck with an array of sounds and images that reflect the huge contrasts with the world you just left- the noise, the traffic, the bustling crowds, the energetic presence of children, almost all of them Black and Latino. But another visual shock is the size of the people. On the Fordham campus, the vast majority of the students are slim and in shape, having bodies honed by hours in the gym as well as access to healthy food; on Fordham Road, most of the people including the children, are heavy, some to the point of obesity. This contrast in body weight is, in some way, more striking than the racial differences. It is almost as if the people of the Bronx, overwhelmingly immigrant working class, look like a different species than those who go to school at Fordham All throughout the Bronx, community activists and medical workers have been trying to address the borough’s obesity problem, intensified by poverty, lack of access to healthy food, and a dearth of affordable recreation opportunities. There are important experiments taking place in community supported agriculture, attempts to convince local food stores to sell healthier produce, green carts and farmers markets, and widespread efforts to educate young people and families about the elements of healthy eating . Little by little, the Bronx’s character as a “food desert” is being transformed, and there is some hope that within the next ten years, its residents will have far more access to fresh fruits and vegetables, some of them grown in their own neighborhoods, than they do right now. Unfortunately, progress being made on the food front is being undermined by backsliding on the recreation and exercise front thanks to education policies being promulgated in Washington and implemented by the State and City Education Departments. One of the requirements of the “Race to The Top” Initiative is that states competing for funds must rate teachers based on student test scores and close schools, and remove their staffs, if test scores fail to reach a satisfactory level. New York State just received Race to the Top money and as a result, and as a result, many schools in the City and the State are now confronting the ordeal of annual testing in a state of near panic. Nowhere is this more true than in the Bronx, where test scores are the lowest in the city, and many schools have been already closed or designated for closing. This panic, felt as much by students and parents as by the teacher s and principals fearful of losing their jobs, has resulted in a desperate effort to do everything possible to raise test scores. Not only have regular classroom sessions become monopolized by test prep, but many schools have turned recess and after school recreation programs into study halls. Nowhere is such a consequence more damaging than in the Bronx. Young people already starved for recreation opportunities in their neighborhoods, who spend huge amounts of time in front of a television set because their families are reluctant to let them play in the street, now find themselves with without any significant time for exercise in school. If you think I am exaggerating, go visit Bronx schools or speak to people who work in them. Passing tests has become the overwhelming priority, pushing aside many other wonderful things schools can do, one of which is promoting healthy lifestyles among their students. What this means is that all the wonderful efforts being made to provide healthy eating options to Bronx residents will not have anywhere near the impact it should because its young people are being deprived of recreation opportunities in their schools, not only during school hours, but after school as well Race to the Top is a very seductive title for an education initiative, but unfortunately, the young people of the Bronx, thanks to its policies, will be doing very little actual racing.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Bloomberg Legacy: Hyper-segregated Schools and Neighborhoods

As I was driving down 6th Street in Park Slope to head toward Manhattan, I noticed two brand new construction sites at the corner of 6th Street and 4th Avenue. But rather than be thrilled that the local economy was reviving, I was concerned that the addition of two more luxury constructions in my neighborhood were going to cement its character as a enclave for the rich and the white. The street where these buildings were once placed, and the schools that served them, were once thoroughly multiracial and mixed in class. Now, the neighborhoods two best known elementary schools, PS 321 and PS 107, which were once more than two thirds Black and Latino are more than 70 percent white, with the local middle school, JHS 51 approaching this percentage. And this transformation has been fueled by housing policy. In the last ten years, the more than fifty new constructions that been placed in once vacant lot or on converted commercial spaces in the “lower slope,” both along 4th Avenue and on side streets between 4th and 5th Avenues, have all been market rate, with no requirement that they include a percentage of affordable housing. The result- they have whitened the neighborhood- and the local public schools with breathtaking rapidity. Now officials of the Bloomberg administration would say, with some truth, that they have made huge strides in providing affordable housing for New York’s working class and lower middle class families, much of it of high quality. I have seen this for my own eyes in the South Bronx. Along Westchester Avenue, and along 161st Street and 163rd Street between Melrose Avenue and Southern Boulevard, I have seen one affordable apartment complex after another go up, while side streets in Morrisania, Melrose and Mott Haven have been filled with spanking new town houses, all of which are subsidized so that families whose income is between $30,000 a year and $70,000 a year can buy them or rent in them. There is only one problem. All of the people moving into the new “affordable housing in the South Bronx” are Black and Latino and the neighborhoods they are moving into are already hyper-segregated, with local schools that are 99 percent plus Black and Latino, few youth recreation opportunities, high rates of crime and violence, and shopping districts that provide little variety and almost no opportunities to purchase healthy produce. What you have is an approach to housing policy that increases segregation by class and race in an already divided city. And make no mistake about it, this IS city policy. Take the new constructions in Park Slope, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Williamsbugh and Bushwick. If you had placed a requirement that NO market level housing could be constructed in those areas unless 30 percent of the units were designated as affordable housing, you would have maintained the multiracial, multiclass character of those neighborhoods even through the housing boom that proceeded the 2008 crash. And it would have spilled over into schools. More and more children of color would have had the opportunity to attend schools that were diverse in class and race, that had excellent arts programs, and were supplemented by first rate neighborhood youth programs. But since the Bloomberg administration not only presumed segregation by class and race was the norm, but pursued policies which intensified that segregation, their education policies gave NO priority to racial diversity. Not only did they allow elite schools like Stuyvestant, Bronx Science and Hunter HS to become white and Asian enclaves to an even greater degree than they had been in the past, but they made their most celebrated innovation the creation of charter schools which provided what was allegedly a superior education to Black and Latino students with nary a white student present. Nowhere in the Bloomberg Department of Education was creating integrated schools, nor celebrating and preserving those that already existed, a serious priority. Segregation was presumed to be the norm, with the policy goal being to reduce gaps in performance between racial and cultural groups who lived in different neighborhoods and attended different schools What you have is a city in where white and Asian and Black and Latino young people grow up in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, have a totally different relationship to police and a totally different sense of urban social space. The first group has far more freedom of movement, less fear of crime and violence, far less terror of the police, and more options in shopping, schooling and recreation This is neither right nor inevitable. It is magnified by a Bloomberg Administration which had a development strategy which reinforced class and race segregation and an educational policy which accepted and consolidated it. This needs to be changed, beginning with the next Mayor. We should insist that all of the mayoral candidates come up with strategies for diversifying the city’s neighborhoods and schools, and require that all new market level residential construction in the city, no matter what neighborhood they are in, reserve at least 30 percent of all units for affordable housing Aug 3, 2012