Friday, May 31, 2013


More and more teachers, students and parents are saying "No". "No" to school closings. "No" to Common Core. "No" to field tests. "No" to charter school co-locations. "No" to knocking down schools to build luxury housing. "No" to firing the best veteran teachers because a schools has been deemed "failing." "No" to teacher evaluations based on student test scores. They are saying 'No" in cities, suburbs and small towns, whether they are Black, White, Latino or "Other" and whatever their political party affiliations are, or once were. There is a revolution from the bottom up to challenge the "coup d'etat" from the top down that has shaped education policy in this country for the last twelve years.

Can We Overcome Political Divisions in Fighting Testing and Common Core?

There has been a lot of very bitter debate in the last 24 hours, on some facebook pages, about whether progressives should work with conservatives in resistance to the Common Core Standards and excessive testing in the public schools, and vice versa. In the interests of clarity, and perhaps unity, let me make my own position on these issues clear.

I became active on education issues because I saw teachers and teachers unions under attack and gradually widened my focus because I saw the same forces demonizing teachers trying to shove high stakes tests into the public schools that would transform them into centers of child abuse. The more I looked into this, the more I saw the cause to be a small number of extremely powerful corporations and individuals who over the past thirty years had monopolized an extraordinary portion of the nation's wealth and were able to capture the leadership of both political parties. I also saw that concentration of wealth, and corruption of the political process, as leading to a steady erosion of civil liberties and the creation of a police surveillance state. Because of this, I was very open to the prospect of conservatives and libertarians fighting against excessive testing of the public schools because what I saw happening was creating an stifling atmosphere of regimentation and control and riding roughshod over the rights of students, teachers and parents. People joining that fight because of fear of centralized government authority had to join together with people fighting excessive corporate power for this movement to gain traction, given the money and power that the Testing/Common Core Juggernaut can command, And that is why I was so excited about the atmosphere of last night’s event in New Hyde Park and the broad based coalition in the group Parents and Core Teachers Against the Common Core

But everyone involved, to keep this going, has to focus on sustaining it’s character as a big tent movement which includes people on many portions of the political spectrum For me, that means a few things. First of all, in defending students and families, we have to be careful not to attack teachers and teachers unions. I started as defender of teachers and while I am extremely critical of leadership of the major teachers unions, I think the unions themselves are an important counterweight to the illegitimate and uncontrolled power of large corporations. Secondly, while I support people who home school, I am against school vouchers and attempts to privatize the public school system. This movement will thrive if it defends local control of public schools and parent rights within that system, it will fall apart tomorrow if it supports vouchers and privatization. Third, we should not try to run people out of the movement who disagree with us

This big tent philosophy has always been central to my role as an educator. As a professor, I always make my views clear, but am sure to tell students I am not trying to "convert" them to my point of view, but make them more informed in defending their own. This also effects how I operate as a political organizer. I have major disagreements with people on Freedomworks on questions of vouchers and privatization, but also have a good friend on Freedomworks with whom I find common ground on drug policy, civil liberties and US intervention abroad. So we agree to disagree on education while we try to work together on the other issues. Here, our issue is defending our children and our public schools. We have to agree to disagree about the other things, or our schools and children will become a nightmare of testing surveillance and top down control. Can we be disciplined enough to do that. I certainly hope so

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Common Core Forum in New Hyde Park- "Democracy Is Coming, to the U.S.A."

  Yesterday's Common Core Forum in New Hyde Park, a Long Island suburb just east of Queens, was one of the most inspiring events I have attended in some time, and one which shows some of the new directions political activism is taking at a time when  bi-partisan School Reform are deluging our public schools with high stakes tests, the latest aligned to a national initiative called the Common Core Standards.

 It was not the size of the crowd, over 125 people, and the intelligence and passion of the speakers and organizers- Teacher/Author Kris Nielsen, Students Rights Attorney Nick Agro, and Parent Activist Jeanine Baxter Cozzetti-- that made this event unusual, it was where it took place and who was there. In the last five years, I have been at protest rallies in lower Manhattan connected to Occupy wall street, at African American church in Queens helping organizing a campaign to fix up long abandoned buildings, and in Bronx meeting halls joining protests against abusive police practices, but last night was the first time I was part of a protest of suburban, middle class parents who displayed the same fierce determination and capacity for creative protest that these other groups did.  Those of us who have been social justice activists for a long time have our own kinds of stereotypes and expectations of what  protesters look like and few of them would have described the people gathered last night at the New Hyde Park Elks Club- who looked like, and were, a cross sections of parents and teachers from middle class Long Island Communities.

  But these folks were as fired up as any group I have ever seen about what they perceive- in my view correctly- as an bi-partisan attempt to hijack their children's education and squeeze every ounce of joy and creativity out it, and they were ready for action.  After participating in the April test revolt and Opt Out movement the group had organized phone ins and mail ins to state education officials, delegations and flash mobs to greet local politicians  and had launched a Facebook page, Parents and Teachers Against the Common Core, which had attracted 2000 members  And they were no where near done. The purpose of the forum was to enroll new people in their circle of activism, and large groups of people came to the front after it was over to do just that The main leaders of the group, Sara Wotowa and Jeanine Baxter-Cozzetti, both parents of young children,are two of the most brilliant and creative organizers I have met, even though they had little past experience as political activists.  And what they have created is truly unique. They have created a movement that has brought together Republicans, Democrats and Independents, conservatives, libertarians, liberals, and progressives- all of them horrified at the collusion of Big Government and Big Business in deluging the public schools with high stakes tests that elites would never let their own children take!!!   They have organized a  movement  around the defense of children's  right to an education where joy and creativity and inspired teaching are  valued  and promoted, and captured the imagination of thousands of parents and teachers who previously felt helpless to resist Federal and State policies 
which seemed determined to snuff those out in the name of meeting global economic competition.

    I do not know where this movement is headed and what it will accomplish, but I will say this- if Bill Gates and David Coleman, and Arne Duncan and Andrew Cuomo think Common Core Standards are going to be implemented in the public schools of New York State without significant push back and resistance, they'd better wake up and smell the cappuchino!

As Jeanine Baxter Cozzetti likes to put it "GAME ON!!"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What It Will Take to Defeat Billionaire Supported School Reform

 I will never show the slightest respect for people whose control over Education Policy comes, not from years spent in the classroom, but from their possession of, or access to, great wealth.  I will not defer to them, obey their instructions, nor even give them the benefit of civility. I will treat them as architects of a coup d'etat against   democracy, as profiteers, and worst of all, as abusers of teachers and children.

 Unfortunately, this group now includes the vast majority of those making key decisions about teaching and schools, some of them in official positions, others manipulating policy behind the scenes.  Because the real players in education policy do not hold elected office, those most impacted by them-- teachers, students, and parents, can't count on normal political channels to work. Their best weapons will be the tried and true methods of direct action-- strikes and boycotts- coupled with a national epidemic of test resistance and opting out..

  Exposure matters. Research matters. Blogs and editorials matter. Marches, demonstrations, and rallies matter. But ultimately, the School Reform Juggernaut can only be stopped by actions which bring the machine to a grinding halt. Some of these are have already been set in motion. Others are yet to be developed

Game On!!


Monday, May 27, 2013

Other People’s Children (O.P.C) A Notorious Phd Jam to Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P”

We’re the ones who set School Policy
From Arne Duncan to Michelle Rhee
Tests and Common Core are all we see
But only for those who are O.P.C.

More Tests for O.P.C
Yeah You Know Me

More Tests for O.P C
I’m Michelle Rhee

More Tests for O.P.C
That’s What Gates Tells Me

More Tests for O.P.C.
So Pearson Makes Money

We’re the richest, the slickest
Buying politician’s wolf tickets
Selling Common Core for a broker’s fee
Finding Captive markets in O.P.C.

More Tests for O.P.C
Yeah You Know Me

More Tests for O.P C
I’m Michelle Rhee

More Tests for O.P.C
That’s What Gates Tells Me

More Tests for O.P.C.
So Pearson Makes Money

Another Brick in the Wall - A Connecticut Teachers Rant!

We don't need no ed reformers
We don't need no tests no more
The lack of knowledge in the classroom
We don't need no data wall

Hey Reformers
Just go and leave our school

All in all we're just another
soul searching light

We don't need no politicians
We don't need no laws at all
The noose of power is so ugly
We don't need your voice no more

Hey Politicians
Just get out of our classroom

All in all we're just another
soul searching light

We don't need no corporate types
We don't need their callous cash
Their money buys our very thoughts
Go take your big bucks out the door

Hey Big Business
Just leave our schools alone

All in all we're just another
soul searching light

All in all we're just another
soul left in fright

All in all we're just another
brick in the wall


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Who Has Done the Most Damage to Public Education in the US- A Notorious Phd Poll

Here are the poll results. It was done on Facebook over a period of five hours, one person, one vote

Worst is First

1.  Bill Gates     25 votes
2.  Barack Obama  17 votes
3.  Arne Duncan  10 votes
4.  Eli Broad  6 votes
5.  Jeb Bush  5 votes
6.  Michelle Rhee  4 votes
7   Michael Bloomberg and David Coleman  2 votes each
9.  Rick Perry, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, Milton Friedman, and the Koch Brothers, 1 vote each

My Letter to a Westchester Reporter About Common Core State Standards

Hi Collette

I am a professor at Fordham University who has spent a lot of time in 
Bronx schools helping their teachers and students do community history 
projects. I am against the Common CORE State Standards because they are being 
used by education officials , here as in other states,to increase the 
number of tests in our public schools in every grade and every subject, 
making teachers fearful- because their job security is dependent on 
test results- and students miserable. What you are doing is creating 
an epidemic of fearful, joyless instruction in our public schools. This 
does not train people for 21st century jobs in a dynamic world economy. 
It beats down a generation of children so they will not be disappointed 
by the low wage jobs that await them

If these standards are so wonderful, why is NO TOP PRIVATE SCHOOL IN 
THE STATE adopting them? These schools give teachers and students 
freedom to explore, to play, to immerse themselves in the arts, to take 
trips, to do science experiments, to let their imaginations soar. What 
Common CORE does is force public school students, in the name of 
mastery and proficiency, to sit at their desks all day studying for 
tests. It institutionalizes a two tier education system in our state, 
and in our nation.

What we need in this country is to listen to teachers, students and 
parents about what they think will make schools better. I am sure they 
would call for less tests, more arts, more physical activity, and more 
hands on activities that make children want to go to school and 
teachers build careers in our public school system. Right now, we are 
making schools a hell for students and a revolving door for teachers. 
This was already happening before Common Core. Common Core will make 
the testing mania that much worse


Mark Naison

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fourteen Words that Are Cursing America's Children- A Connecticut Teacher Speaks About Common Core

Fourteen Words that are Cursing America’s Children

 Words do matter. They do have life. They do have power. They can hurt 
our souls and bring us down or they can heal our hearts and raise us up. 
They can cause us to love and they can cause us to hate. We can take 
words and use them to spur us to actions or we can take words and use 
them to spur others to act in ways we desire. Words are power and words 
give and take life.

With that said, I want us to examine these 14 words that are shaping the 
future of American education. These words were spoken by Common Core 
wizard David Coleman at a NY State Department of Education presentation, 
in April of 2011:

“…people really don't give a s*** about what you feel or what you 

If you replace the “you” with “students” and the “people” with 
“teachers” we now have a pedagogical statement that truly shatters my 
heart. Now it reads:

…teachers really don’t give a s*** about what students feel or what 
students think.

Let’s paraphrase this educational dogma less explicitly and reveal a 
sense of Coleman’s message to America’s educators:

Teachers should not care about what students feel or think.

Is it just me, or is this the antithesis to what a good teacher should 
be doing? A mere decade ago, the mantra “It’s All About the Kids” 
pervaded everything that was being done in my CT district. Almost before 
my eyes, we are now teaching in a time where the mantra has changed to 
“It’s All About the Data.”

Now I do not have anything against data teams and data sheets and data 
collection. But data is just that – DATA, NUMBERS, lifeless characters 
on a page. Good data can inform our instruction. It can reveal 
deficiencies and strengths in our teaching. It can help kids improve. 
But it’s just an inanimate tool. Each one of my students is much more 
than a placeholder on a spreadsheet.

If we accept Coleman’s directive and not care about what our students 
are actually thinking and feeling, then, I guess, it is easier for some 
teachers and administrators to view their students as just data. It’s 
like being a piece of merchandise in a retail store. The student is just 
inventory and the worth of the student is determined by the value in the 
spreadsheet. If the student isn’t making a profit, then the student 
should be reduced in value and eventually written off the books. This is 
a chilling way of looking at our young people.

My hope on this Sunday morning is that each and every educator, 
administrator, and parent would come to their senses and see just what 
is happening to our children in our schools. With one voice, we must all 
speak out and say that our kids have hearts, minds, bodies, emotions, 
talents, questions, and needs that must be valued. Our kids deserve to 
be seen and they need to be heard. With one voice, let us all proclaim 
these fourteen words and turn a curse into a blessing over America’s 

Teachers, parents and administrators must deeply care about what our 
students feel and think.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Barack Obama and Booker T.Washington- An Uncanny Resemblance

The more closely I scrutinize the words and actions of Barack Obama, the more i am convinced that the figure in African American History he resembles the most is Booker T Washington. Like Mr. Washington, President Obama has a penchant for dressing down working class Black people, holding their culture up to ridicule and insisting they must improve their "behavior" to win respect; and also like Mr Washington, he seems comfortable interacting with, and seeking the advice of, the nation's wealthiest and most powerful people. To be fair, Mr Washington registered major accomplishments and so has President Obama, but neither figure should be regarded as a civil rights or human rights leader in the fullest meaning of those terms, because neither cast their lot with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable section of the African American community or gave much weight to speaking harsh truths about injustice. They are quintessential self-made people who see their accomplishments validating the American Dream. But perhaps there were more casualties along their path to the top than either were willing to recognize

Erasing History in Chicago and Other Places- The Long Term Significance of School Closings

The Chicago School closings are part and parcel of a strategy for remaking the American metropolis as a center for spatial and economic transformations which will further cement economic inequality. One key component of this
strategy is demographic inversion- moving the poor out of the center city into the periphery, where they will no longer be able to physically or politically threaten the global elites who will be working and playing in the redeveloped Center. This process is already well under way in cities like New York, Chicago, Washington and Milwaukee- with the result being that more poor people now live in suburbs than in cities- but for poor people who remain in cities, the elite's preferred strategy is intrusive, "stop and frisk" policing  and the transformation of public schools into  sites of draconian discipline  where compliance and obedience are the preferred behaviors, strategies taken to the highest point of perfection by some of the nation's most celebrated charter schools.

 Where do school closings fit in this elaborate strategy to scatter and neutralize the poor? Public schools in poor neighborhoods, even those whose test scores mark them as "failing," are important centers of community life, places where different generations of people interact and mark their connection to historical space.  They contain memories of families raised, community arts forms celebrated, sports victories won, powerful friendships forged. If you ignore those experiences and reduce the school to its failures, you erase a communities history and make that community easier to divide and disperse

 Underlying School Closings is a world view which marks off residents of poor communities, not just the schools in them as failures, people who have to be dispersed, incarcerated, disciplined and divided for the Global Metropolis to prosper

It reveals the profound moral bankruptcy and cynicism pervading neo-liberal economic policies, whether they have a Democratic or Republican facade

Erasing History

The Chicago School closings are part and parcel of a strategy for remaking the American metropolis as a center for spatial and economic transformations which will further cement economic inequality. One key component of this strategy is demographic inversion- moving the poor out of the center city into the periphery, where they will no longer be able to physically or politically threaten the global elites who will be working and playing in the redeveloped Center. This process is already well under way in cities like New York, Chicago, Washington and Milwaukee- with the result being that more poor people now live in suburbs than in cities- but for poor people who remain in cities, the elite's preferred strategy is intrusive, "stop and frisk" policing  and the transformation of public schools into  sites of draconian discipline  where compliance and obedience are the preferred behaviors, strategies taken to the highest point of perfection by some of the nation's most celebrated charter schools.

 Where do school closings fit in this elaborate strategy to scatter and neutralize the poor? Public schools in poor neighborhoods, even those whose test scores mark them as "failing," are important centers of community life, places where different generations of people interact and mark their connection to historical space.  They contain memories of families raised, community arts forms celebrated, sports victories won, powerful friendships forged. If you ignore those experiences and reduce the school to its failures, you erase a communities history and make that community easier to divide and disperse

 Underlying School Closings is a world view which marks off residents of poor communities, not just the schools in them as failures, people who have to be dispersed, incarcerated, disciplined and divided for the Global Metropolis to prosper

It reveals the profound moral bankruptcy and cynicism pervading neo-liberal economic policies, whether they have a Democratic or Republican facade

Message To Those Fighting School Closings in Chicago

This morning, I send out Love and Solidarity to my sisters and brothers in Chicago who put their bodies on line to resist the closing of 49 Chicago public schools by Rahm Emmanuel and an unelected School Board- schools overwhelmingly located in the City's Black and Latino neighborhoods. The moral example you have set up speaking truth to power will inspire others to resist the Corporate Education Juggernaut and will be remembered as an historic moment when the utter bankruptcy of the Nation's Education policies were exposed. Dictators normally like their worst deeds to take place under the cover of silence. Your actions have made sure that justice loving people will neither forgive nor forget what was done to Chicago's children and neighborhoods by those who place profit and power over children's well being. If this can be done to Chicago's children, no one's children are safe. Thank you for standing up for all of us. We will carry the fight to our common enemies in every corner of this nation.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Teacher From Upstate NY Explains Why She is Leaving the Profession She Loves

Judi M. Carter Martin
 I'm retiring early. I started teaching later in life and LOVED LOVED LOVED it! Until now. We are taking a huge cut in pay by my retiring, and I still want to work, but I'm not a statistician, my kids aren't little data pieces, and New York is trying to tell me how to each and even what words to say when I teach. I'm done, sadly. This is my 23rd year of teaching, 9 in Iowa, and 14 in upstate New York. I saw some former beloved students yesterday, my husband was watching my interactions with them, and he asked me afterward if I really wanted to retire - that I was just such a natural with these kids. I said that's true, but these were kids from BEFORE - from the time when I was allowed to teach and be creative and the kids enjoyed the classroom. And he said he knows

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Notorious Phd "Activists Curriculum!" Take That Common CORE!!!

One of these days, I am going to write an "Activists Curriculum" which will show how students can learn more organizing protests than they can sitting at a desk in school trying to memorize material.

Writing Skills Component

A. Drafting Leaflets
B. Writing Petitions
C. Developing Press Releases
D. Producing Position Papers for Legislative Hearings

Public Speaking Component

A. Speaking at Rallies
B. Testifying at Hearings
C. Answering Questions At Press Conferences
D. Giving Lectures to School And Community Groups
E. Holding Small Group Seminars That Develop Positions on Issues

Research Component

A. Reviewing Legislation that Reflects on the Issues you are Organizing Around
B. Looking up Arguments on Various Sides of the Issues You Address
C. Reading books and Articles Which Help You Understand the Issues in More Depth

Social Media Component

A. Create A Facebook Page for your Movement
B. Develop Your Own Blog
C. Use Twitter to Communicate With People in Your Movement

Physical Education Component

A. Marching Through the Streets In Support of the Issues You Are Fighting For
B. Climbing Up the Steps of State Houses and City Halls to Speak to Officials
C. (Optional) Running Away from Police When they Try to Break Up Your Protest!

I guarantee you learn more from this Curriculum than studying for any test!!!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Don't Underestimate the Creativity of Young People- A Hip Hop Story

Today in the United States, a soul crushing regime of testing and zero tolerance discipline policies is descending on the nation's public schools. Students from pre-K up are being tested and evaluated with great regularity to make them "college and career ready," at the expense of things they love like art and music and school trips,  and their natural impulses to play and dream and rebel are being met with extreme punitive measures ranging from docking kindergartners from  shaking their butt at a fellow student to arresting a high school student for wearing a hat in the hall.  The people developing these policies claim they are doing this to turn America's youth into a globally competitive labor force, but whether or not that is their goal ( some think this is just a profit grab for test and technology companies!) the result is that America's young people are increasingly facing schools that are turning into grim and joyless places where disciplining students and breaking their spirits seem to be more important than inspiring them with a love of learning.

Parents and teachers are legitimately fearful that a whole generation of the nation's youth will be crushed by these measures. And they are right to be both indignant and alarmed.   But the students who are the targets of these policies may be less malleable than the power that be think!  The students test boycotts and marches currently taking place in Chicago and Philadelphia are a sign of emerging student resistance, but if history is any guide that resistance is likely to get much much broader and take forms that no one could predict.

I want to tell a little story that illustrates why it is never wise to underestimate young people's creativity. It might have a few lessons for us today.

The scene is the Bronx in the early and mid 70's. Young people there are living in communities that have been abandoned by government and private capital. Landlords are abandoning their building and torching them for the insurance money   Fire houses are closing while neighborhoods are burning. The parks budget has been cut in half, and the great after school programs that were once the pride of NYC public schools have been shut down. 

 But one of the worst things that happening was the shutting down of the great music programs in NYC middle schools and high schools. For two generations, young people who made the band or orchestra in junior high could take home musical instruments to practice, and got instruction from teachers who were themselves great musicians. Now those instruments were locked in school basements, and the music teachers fired or reassigned to other jobs. Young people in the Bronx whose parents or older siblings had become great jazz, or salsa, or rhythm and blues musicians  were now denied the same training. There were fears that the music might shut down entirely

 But the young people of the Bronx surprised the world. Denied the opportunity to learn to play instruments, they created a new form of music using two turn tables and a mixer that would revolutionize the world! Starting in community centers of housing projects DJ's, many of them from West Indian origins, figured out how to take the most percussive instrumental sections of records and have them blend seamlessly into one another for 10-15 straight minutes, creating hyper-danceable tracks that droves Bronx young people wild. Then, taking advantage of  over taxed police forces, they took their parties into parks and schoolyards getting electricity from the bottom of lamp posts. Soon, there were competing parties all over the Bronx and DJ's launched another innovation- getting poetically gifted young people to rhyme over the beats!   Before you knew it the sheer brilliance of these young people had spawned new dance styles representing a mixture of martial arts, and the moves of great Latin dancers and James Brown!  The word soon spread to Harlem and Brooklyn and the punk scene in Lower Manhattan and that global phenomenon known as Hip Hop was born.

 Created by young people who the rest of the world had abandoned and written off.

 Today, things may seem grim in our schools today. but be prepared to be surprised again.  Young people will not be silenced and their natural creativity will NOT be erased

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Culture of Suspicion in America's Schools.

Because children do not dream of becoming obedient workers for America's largest corporations, a culture of suspicion now dominates American education. From Pre-K on, educators are being asked to identifying signs of apathy, indifference, rebelliousness, or fantasy life in children and punish, drill or drug these traits out of them so they can absorb and regurgitate the information required to make them " college and career ready." This instrumentalist view of education, institutionalized in the Common CORE standards, marginalizes imagination and play and only legitimizes art, music and exercise if they can be converted into verifiable results. "Rigor" is the guiding word and under its umbrella childhood is being stolen from students as young as 4 or 5. 

Think of what is going on. In our schools, children are being asked to justify their existence in term of their value to the government and the nation's largest corporations. They no longer belong to their parents, but worse of all, they no longer belong to themselves! They are being denied the space to chart their own paths--to explore, to dream, to stumble, to fall, to love and to create. I hate to use a cliche, but this to me, looks like fascism

There. I said it. Take a good look at what is going on in our schools and tell me I am wrong.

What I Did on a Typical Day a PS 91 in Brooklyn in the 1950's- All Thing Which No Longer Exist

Just to give you an idea of how schools have changed, and not for the better, I want to give you an idea of the non-classroom things I did  in a typical day at PS 91 in Brooklyn when I was in 5th Grade (1957)

First thing I did, at 8 AM, I went to the corner of Maple Street and Kingston Avenue where, as a Lieutenant in the Safety Patrol, I helped younger children cross the street heading to school

8:30 AM. I run to school where I have 15 minutes left to play bunch ball in the schoolyard before I head off to class

11:30  I run to Maple Street where I help younger students cross the street, and then grab a quick lunch

1:30 PM. As a member of the school audio visual squad, I help show a film in a 2nd grade class

3 PM I run to Maple Street to help students cross the street going home

7 PM. I return to PS 91, head to the gym, and play two hours of basketball and nok hockey.

In between these activities, I went to class, and did homework. Schoolwork was sometimes boring, but because I had so much physical activity, and so much outside of class responsibility, I paid attention enough to learn most of what they were teaching me.  And no body needed to drug me, even though I was a tough rebellious kid who would probably today be classified O.D.D. ( Oppositional Defiance Disorder). The school figured out a way to use my restless energy as an asset to the community, rather than something that would undermine it

Today, the dominant trend in education policy is to increase class time, reduce play and exercise time, and limit student responsibility to absorbing information.  And when students can't adopt to this routine, they drug them or marginalize them

I think the model I was exposed to worked better. It certainly did for me. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Have Bullying and Intimidation Become the American Way

During the last month, I have gotten a very disturbing window into the way vulnerable people are treated who dare to question policies of powerful organizations, even when they do so in a polite and respectful manner

First, I found myself fielding complaint after complaint about threats, intimidation and punitive treatment of children who had decided to Opt Out of State tests given during the last two weeks of April in New York State. Students as young at 8 were made to stare silently ahead while their fellow students took the test, while older students were threatened with exclusion from honors classes, school teams, proms and school trips as a consequence of Opting Out. One 9 year old on the verge of undergoing brain surgery even visited by a teacher demanding he take a test while in his hospital bed. Parents also received threats. One parent was told she would be barred from school grounds for protesting treatment of her Opting Out son and a lawyer in one Long Island school district lawyer threatened to sue Opting Out parents for revenues lost by the state as a result of children refusing to take tests. I found myself scrambling to find civil liberties lawyers for these children and families, and was able to make some headway, but the cruelty displayed by some school officials left me deeply shaken

Then, yesterday, I received a call from a wonderful second grade teacher I work with in the Bronx who had been thrown down, hand cuffed and thrown in a cell at a local precinct because he had dared to ask a policemen gathered at busy Bronx intersection why they were there in such numbers. In addition to this manhandling, he was insulted and mocked for daring to ask police what they were doing and then insisting that he actually had rights such as being read charges before being arrested and making a phone call! Once again, I found myself scrambling to get him the numbers of civil liberties lawyers who might represent him, who ironically, turned out be the same lawyers whose numbers I gave to Opting Out families

What's going on here? Why are people who respectfully disagree with the actions of public officials subject to threats and abusive treatment? Is this how a democratic society should function, or have we so accommodated to economic autocracy and the concentration of wealth among the few that we erase the substance of democratic citizenship and ride roughshod of what is left of our Constitutional rights

Police Abuse in the Bronx- A Teacher's Story

" Yesterday, I was forcibly taken into custody today by the police. I am angry. I'm also a peaceful second grade teacher that does nto have a record and this is my story:

I was riding my bike to go to a meeting on Grand Concourse. I got to a busy intersection. As I was walking my bicycle across the street toward Poe Park, I noticed a large (20+) group of police officers. I was curious about the large police presence, so I asked one of the officers, “What is happening? Is everything ok?” One officer in the crowd stated, “I can help.” A different officer said, “Get off the sidewalk.” I muttered, “Ok” and began to walk away when one of the officers shouted, “Didn’t you hear me?” Before I could respond, he threw me to the ground, while about 3 other officers were surrounding me. I asked, “What did I do?” The officer that threw me down said, “Shut up, Stupid!” At that point, he put handcuffs on me very tightly. I said, “You’re hurting me!” He said, “Shut up” and picked me up and threw me against the police car, while holding my face against the side of the car. I said, “You cannot bring me anywhere without charging me and reading my rights.” I made my body limp, while one officer held me up. Another police officer then started searching me by looking in my pockets. I said, “You have no right to search me. Stop searching me.” He laughed and threw me in the back of the car. I still had my bicycle helmet on. It was choking me. I said, “I can’t breathe.” An officer sat me up and unbuckled the helmet strap. I asked again, “What am I charged with?” The officer that took me into custody, along with his partner, told me to shut up. I asked if I had any rights and they said, “Shut up.” I asked, “Can I make a phone call?” They said, “Shut up.” I said, “I would like to make a phone call.” The police officers both said, “You can make a call at the station.” 

We got into the station and I asked, “What am I charged with? Why am I here?” One of the officers pressed my face against the counter. At this point, several other officers in the 52nd Precinct began laughing. One said, “Look at this wise guy.” My pockets were emptied and my backpack was searched. I said, “I am a school teacher and I am peaceful. I would like to go home. I have done nothing wrong and I demand to be let go.” One of the officers said, “You are a prisoner.” I said, “I would like to make a phone call.” Two officers then escorted me back to the cell block. I was still wearing handcuffs. They opened the door and threw me in. One of the officers said, “Get in there with the rest of the worthless nothings.” I told them that the handcuffs were cutting off my circulation. They didn’t say anything. I stayed in the cell, sitting on the floor with my circulation getting cut off for about an hour. An officer named Gomez (Badge number 17655?) asked, “How many times did the police ask you to move?” I said, “Once.” He said, “You’re really sticking to your guns.” I said, “I’d like to make a phone call.” He said, “Shut up.” 

The two officers that brought me to the station came back. They said, “You’re ready to get out.” They escorted me to the front. I said, “I want to make a phone call.” The officers said, “Quit acting so stupid. You’re going back to the cell if you keep acting so stupid.” I turned to the presiding desk officer (white shirt) and asked, “Can I make a phone call?” He said, “After you get your summons, you can make a phone call.” I said, “Let re-ask. Can I make a phone call before I get the summons?” He smiled and said to the officers with me, “He wants to make a phone call. Let him make a phone call.” The officers then grabbed me and said, “Let’s go make a phone call,” tightened the handcuffs, and threw me back in the cell. I said, “I’d like to make a phone call. Can you take these handcuffs off?” The officers walked away. 

About a half-hour later, the officers came back. Gomez said, “Do you still want to make a phone call?” I said, “Yes.” Then, he said, “There you go acting stupid again.” He turned to the others in the cell and said, “Talk some sense into this guy.” The other people in the cell suggested that I take the summons so I could go home. I said that I wanted the handcuffs off. The officers said “Shut up. Do you want to go home?” I said, “Yes.” I got back to the front desk. The presiding officer said, “You can make your phone call once you leave here. Call your lawyer then. You need to show up to court on July 26th for disorderly conduct.” I asked, “What was I arrested for?” He said, “You were not arrested. You were taken into custody to be given a summons.” I asked, “Why was I taken into custody?” The officer said, “To get a summons.” 

The two officers that took me to the station walked me out. They said, “Check to make sure that you have everything.” I did. They asked, “You good?” I said nothing. I sat on the sidewalk. One of the officers said, “I’m hungry. I want pizza.” 

I am in shock, but I know that I need to take action to rectify this injustice. I would appreciate any help that you might be able to offer

May 15, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

If You Want To Move Young People Out of Poverty, Given them Mentors, Not Tests

 Over the last ten years, I have interviewed well over 200 people about their experiences growing up in the Bronx between the 1940's and the 1980's, the large majority of them African American, smaller number Latino and white. School experiences played an important role in these interviews, and from them, I have been able to draw some conclusions that have implications for current policy discussions. One thing that came across loud and clear was that there was no "golden age" in public education for working class students, and young people of color.  The schools my informants went to were heavily tracked, and young people in the lower tracks got a far inferior education to those in the higher ones. There were also more than a few racist teachers, and others who whose teaching methods were rigid in the extreme.

Nevertheless, a good portion of my informants did manage to go on to college and achieve a foothold in the middle class coming out of Bronx public or Catholic schools and their explanation for how they did so revealed common themes. Some came from families where academic success was nurtured by taking children to museums, and concerts, and giving them music lessons; others were taken under their wing by teachers or coaches who would give them extra instruction, help them find jobs, or intervene very aggressively if they felt they were taking the wrong path or hanging out with the wrong people

  The common denominator here was the "personal touch."  Virtually everyone I interviewed who was able to move from a working class childhood to professional status had someone invest large amounts of time and energy in expanding their "cultural capital" by building their self confidence as well as their skills.  Schools as institutions did not do that- it was teachers and coaches and occasional school administrators who took it upon themselves to develop one on one relationships with children in their care who created the basis for collective social mobility.

  And as badly as schools were tracked and as discriminatory some of their practices were, they had a few things going for them that made this kind of mentoring possible. First was the extra curricular activities these schools offered. Until the fiscal crisis of the mid 70's, NYC public schools not only had great music programs and sports teams from middle school on up, they were open five days a week from 3-5PM and 7-9 PM for supervised activities led by teachers. These activities allowed young people to develop relationships with teachers doing things they enjoyed, as well as giving teachers a chance to get to know young people in settings where grades and tests were not involved

    Even though teaching in many of our schools may be better than it was then, I am worried that the constant testing, coupled with the threat and reality of schools closings, is removing the possibility of the kind of mentoring that was the key to young people escaping poverty in the Bronx schools of the post war era. I am not sure that testing and drilling by teachers who leave the profession after a few years is an adequate replacement for that kind of personal attention.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Thoughts on the Destruction of the Teaching Profession and Other Losses

As I watch the teaching profession be destroyed before my eyes, through bi-partisan initiatives that are difficult to fight, and through the march of technology that some view as irreversible, I am filled with anger. This after all is my life they are rendering obsolete, something that has been a source of pride and excitement for me for nearly 50 years since I first started teaching tennis at Camp Kitatinny in Dingmans Falls NJ in the summer of 1963 at age 17. The kind of freedom I experienced in teaching high school students in Upward Bound programs in the late 60's and early 70's and in teaching college students and graduate students at Fordham since 1970, is gradually simultaneously being crushed by "outcomes assessment" and scripted learning, and the replacement of tenured positions like mine with low paid adjuncts who have no job security. And what I am experiencing in universities is magnified tenfold in the nation's public schools where surveillance, supervision and assessment have truly reached Orwellian proportions, and where teachers are browbeaten into squeezing all joy out of innocent children as they force march them into passing high stakes tests. 

I hate what is going on, and will fight it with every ounce of my energy, but as a historian, I am hardly surprised to see something of value be destroyed both by the impersonal evolution of the economy and by conscious choices of policy makers. After all, I watched the Bronx burn before my eyes in the early 70's as I took the 3rd Avenue El to Fordham in the early 70's, and watched it burn some more when the El came down at I started taking the number 4 train up Jerome Avenue. These fires weren't abstract to me. They destroyed neighborhoods where I fell in love, played ball, celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas, and hung out and heard music in bars and clubs. Watching this, I felt like something precious in my memory was being desecrated, or better yet, like a limb was being violently torn from my body yet I was helpless to stop it. I joined with organizations which kept the fires from spreading to the Northern parts of the borough and began rebuilding slowly rebuilding devastated areas, but when the smoke cleared, buildings which once held 300,000 people had turned to ashes

Then, ten years later, I watched cities in America's great industrial heartland be crushed by factory closings that not only destroyed millions of jobs that paid enough to support a family, but crushed the dreams of people whose labor had helped make the US the most prosperous, and one of the most equal nations in the advanced world, leaving huge sections of once vibrant cities looking as though they had suffered aerial bombardment. As I walked through devastated sections of Detroit, Buffalo, Youngstown, Baltimore and Bridgeport, and saw factories which once employed tens of thousands of people be knocked down, I thought of the what those communities had once been during WWII and the 50's, and felt tears come into my eyes for what had been lost. once again I could do nothing.

Given these experiences, it would not surprise me for the Education Reformers to have their way and make creative teaching impossible in most American public schools. I will fight them, but I am not sure my efforts will make that much of a difference

But I will say this. I cannot and will not forgive those who profit from the destruction of other people's livelihoods, institutions and dreams. I reserve the right to resist, along with the right of memory and of moral judgment . And I will never give those up, if only out of respect for those who lives have been crushed by "impersonal" forces which they experienced in the most personal terms.

May 11, 2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why I Fight the Education Policies Promoted by Barack Obama and Bill Gates

Some days I wake up and think what right do I have to fight education policies supported by virtually every elected official and media outlet in the nation and the country's two most powerful people- Barack Obama and Bill Gates. Who am I to take this responsibility on? But when I think of the life I have led, and still lead, as a teacher, a coach, and community activist, and the joy I have derived from trying to inspire people to find their own voice, break restraints imposed by those who have little faith in their abilities, and work together to find solutions to difficult problems , I realize that I cannot let powerful people deny others the freedom that I have been given. While "freedom to learn" is not in the Bill of Rights, it is a central part of the
substance of a democratic society, and replacing it with a single script for teachers and students to follow and compelling obedience through intimidation and bribery is not something I can accede to without protest. So I resist, not just through public advocacy, but by stubbornly continuing to teach in ways which affirms student creativity and enhances student power.