Thursday, December 31, 2015

"We Are Not Alone" a Guest Post by Pamela Lewis

It’s a few days after Christmas.  Videos of children frenziedly shucking wrapping paper, ribbon and boxes for the gifts held inside fill my Facebook and Instagram feed with intentions to warm hearts and elicit joy.  My heart yields to the endearing spectacles of cuteness overload, temporarily anesthetizing the nagging ache in my soul that subsides only in moments like this.  Just yesterday, after having had a few days to nurse the feeling almost away, as I had chosen to not spend my well-deserved teacher holiday break thinking about the many instances that would cause such a flare up, it was back at it again.  Tamir Rice’s killer would not be indicted.  I knew I shouldn’t have been surprised, but with all the media attention, the protests, somehow I had been fooled into believing in a different outcome.  Beautifully wrapped presents can be deceiving.  I had been expecting something sparkly, but unwrapped dirt-tasting chewing gum instead. 
Annoyed that I had been forced to confront our nation’s ugliest scar during the most wonderful time of the year, I took to Facebook to bask in some holiday cheer, and as I already reported, the beauty of innocent children prevailed, and my heartache waned temporarily.  Until—yep, there had to be an “until.”  Until, I watched a video of two adorable little white girls unwrapping gifts from “Uncle Seth and Aunt Cynthia,” as their mother stated on the video.  All hope of something sparkly gone at the sight of two brown baby doll faces staring back at them.  The older girl, first genuinely confused, then, obviously irritated at the thought of a black doll as a gift.  Showing the gift to her mother, she tilts her little head, giving her mom a face as if to say, “Seriously, mom?”  When her mom continues with a straight face, she immediately puts on her big girl britches and feigns gratitude, though her disgust makes her portrayal hardly believable.  Her baby sister on the other hand, makes no qualms about her repulsion.  She begins to cry white tears of self-pity, which soon become fury, rejecting the doll all together by throwing it back into the bag.  Included in this video are the sounds of their mother’s guffaws, suggesting that despite Uncle Seth’s and Aunt Cynthia’s attempt toward teaching tolerance, she would use their gift as a gag, a trick: dirt-tasting chewing gum.  Her decision to film their reaction, indicative of her expectation of let down, spoke volumes as to what she taught and didn’t teach her children; her choice to laugh rather than to use their response as a teachable moment toward tolerance and inclusion suggestive of her own belief in white supremacy.   It seemed Uncle Seth and Aunt Cynthia   were well aware of their sister’s archaic ideologies, and decided to confront it, once and for all. 
It had only been the second time I had ever even heard of a white person giving a black doll to a white little girl, yet within that same hour, I’d spotted in my news feed several white dolls under trees inside the homes of black families.  The first time I heard of a white person doing something so “ridiculous” was in a story that my former co-teacher had shared.  As she recalled, her mother bought one of her fellow white classmates a black doll for her birthday.
“What happened when you gave your friend the doll at her party?” I asked, eager to know their reaction.
“They laughed,” she recalled, smoothing her hair, and chuckling a bit herself.  “They laughed.” 
Choosing blackness was laughable to white folk.  Meanwhile, we chose whiteness: dolls for our kids, weave for our heads, contacts for our eyes, bleach for our skin, all of the time.  Though my co-teacher never understood her mother’s purpose for buying a black doll, she, like Aunt Cynthia and Uncle Seth, whether intentionally or not, forced my co-teacher’s classmates to confront the truth about themselves, and the world we live in; gift-giving has that ability.
Still bummed about the video and the lack of indictment, I turned off the television and logged off of Facebook, immersing myself in long abandoned household chores.  The pile of mail that was busting the seams of the bin that contained it was calling my name.  A parcel with maroon Fordham University letterhead arrived.  I feverishly ripped through the envelope, anxious to see what was inside.  I knew the Fordham Press Spring 2016 catalog was due, and I had been informed that my book would be the lead title.  I oohed and ahhed at the cover art of the catalog, which gleamed with images of twinkling lights.   I flipped open my sparkly gift and there my book was on the very first page,  the image I had posed for, my face out of view, just my more casual than business tee-shirt and blazer combination, and the two dolls that my brown hands held up toward the reader.  One can faintly make out the name Phyllis on my shirt, the first on the list of names of black women writers paid homage to in one hundred percent cotton.  Identical in everything but color, and positioning, the dolls stared back at the reader, my take on the Clark Doll Experiment of 1939.  Instead of putting the dolls at equal distances from the reader, however, the doll is thrust toward the reader’s gaze, forcing the reader to focus on her, leaving the white doll behind, the camera lens intentionally leaving the latter a blur.  The words, “Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City” and my name in bold white letters.  I knew the catalog had been sent to others.  I imagined their surprise.
This is a special time that we live in, one in which historical moments are being born, deep emotions are felt, and tragic possibilities are imaginable all within surprising moments of hope.  In many ways, we are still held down by a horrid history, trapped in white supremacist thinking.  Yet, we can always find comfort in knowing that there will always be those who seek to confront ugly truths, to challenge tradition, and who fight every day to shed this awful legacy of injustice.  We are not alone.  Rest in Power, Tamir.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Are We Becoming What We Have Been Taught to Fear?

Within the last year, two novels set in Nazi Occupied France- "All the Light We Cannot See" and "The Nightingale"- have become national best sellers. Now, a symbol of teacher resistance in Nazi-Occupied Norway-the Paper Clip- is being adopted by teachers in the US who feel under attack.
Is this accidental? I hardly think so. Many working class and middle class Americans who have watched their living standards plummet and their jobs be destroyed feel like THEY are under a kind of occupation by soulless and greedy elites. While it may be extreme to call it "Fascism," there are elements of that system visible in the convergence of government and corporate power, the militarization of police, the destruction of unions, rapid gentrification in cities, the erosion of civil liberties and attacks on vulnerable groups by people seeking public office. When you add to this the acquittal of those responsible for the deaths of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, you have a sense that government and corporate power in the US represent a Colossus that rules over the lives of ordinary citizens, one which they are powerless to resist.
Am I exaggerating? Perhaps. But the popularity of novels and symbols forged in resistance to Nazi occupation, at the very least, should be a warning that something here has gone terribly wrong and that many people in this country feel powerless and vulnerable and fearful.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Is The Paper Clip Revolution?

The paper clip became a symbol of resistance in Nazi Occupied Norway. Thousands of Norwegian teachers who refused to teach the fascist curriculum were sent to prison camps. The resistance of these teachers, as well as over 200,000 parents caused the government to abandon their plan. We as educators have decided to use this symbol to catalyze resistance to the privatization, corruption and profiteering that threaten to destroy public education in the United States. Hence we are launching "The Paper Clip Revolution"
This group will generate symbols that are easily duplicated and displayed to build resistance and morale among teachers students and parents and to undermine the parasites and bullies who have hijacked education policy We will also propose actions that make use of those symbols to give power back to educators.
One portion of this effort will be Honey Badger Squads, groups of retirees, parents and professors who will confront and challenge superintendents and principals who harass and humiliate teachers and students.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Will Hillary Clinton Throw Teachers in High Poverty Schools Under the Bus?

When I was doing community history projects in Bronx schools -they were all pushed out when the testing mania struck and the Bloomberg Administration started assigning schools letter grades - I met some incredible teachers in schools whose test scores marked them as troubled or "failing." Most of them were women; many of them Black and Latino; quite a few were products of neighborhoods similar to the ones they were teaching in. When presented with an opportunity to add excitement and energy to their classes with innovative history research; they took what I put before them and reinvented it in creative projects that reached students and their families in ways I could never have imagined.
So, when I hear that Hilary Clinton plans to close public schools throughout the nation whose performance is "below average," I think of those Bronx teachers. Basically, she is willing to throw them, and teachers like them under the bus because they chose to teach in high poverty schools. Nothing could be more unfair or more counterproductive. Some of the best teachers in the country work in schools where students don't test well. They nurture; they inspire; they protect and guide students whose lives are filled with hardship. Punishing them for their choice is the height of cynicism.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Race To the Top Redux

When the full accounting of the Obama Administration's Race to The Top is made, the following questions will have to be answered
How many schools were closed?
How many great teachers were fired or forced into retirement?
How many teachers still on the job were placed under a doctors care because test based accountability had destroyed their self-confidence
How many communities experienced sharp declines in the number of teachers of color working in their schools?
How many new charter schools were created which were embroiled in controversy because of financial irregularities or abusive practices?
How many lucrative contracts were extended to test companies and consulting firms?
How many students were deprived of recess, physical education and the arts because they were forced to prepare for tests?
How many special needs or ELL students were unable to graduate because requirements were suddenly raised?
How many families with young children were filled with stress because testing had taken over their lives?

The policy was created with hopes of achieving great equity. As the above suggests, the Collateral Damage may have well exceeded the gains

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Little BAT History from Notorious Phd

Now that the Badass Teachers Association has become a non profit organization, I wanted to review a little BAT history so that my own involvement and disengagement can be more easily understood
1. As the excerpt below indicates, I came up with the idea for the Badass Teachers Association as a fundraising device for a Bronx organization called the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective in early spring 2012, All we did was produce tee shirts for sale. No organization was created:
Rebel Diaz
March 27, 2012 •
You know about the BTA???? FInd out. Its The Badass Teachers Association!!! Here's Dr. Mark Naison explaining it.
BTA t-shirts on sale now help raise funds for The RDACBX
2. The Badass Teachers Association was created as a Facebook page on June 14 2013 by me and Priscilla Sanstead. I certainly had no idea that it would turn into an actual organization. Credit for creating the organization goes to Priscilla and to Marla Kilfoyle who developed the entire organizational structure which allowed BATS to grow precipitously over the next year. I did a lot of the writing for the group, but they were the ones who ran the day to day operations and put countless hours into building it. I could never in a million years have done what they did.
3. I left the BATS voluntarily in the Fall of 2014 after a group of internal disagreements with the other founders. I do not regret leaving the group as it gave me more freedom to work on other issues which were and still are important to me. I DO regret some of the bad feeling which led to my departure and still persists with some people in the organization.
4. The current group of leaders DESERVE to be leading BATS. They did the grunt work to build the group. Moreover, most of them are public school teachers and they are the ones who should be leading an organization which seeks to empower teachers.
5. Even if I had remained in BATS, I would have had to leave when it became a non profit organization because I had some bad experiences with activist organizations which became non-profits. This is a personal judgment rather than a political one. I wish BATS well in its current manifestation and support many of their initiatives,
That's it. I am very happy with where I am! And hope that the hard feelings that occurred when I left BATS will fade over time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Exposing Young People to Beauty Is Giving them Hope:

I was driving in from Eastern Long Island this morning listening to James Taylor and Carol King and when "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and "Up On the Roof" came on, I felt tears coming into my eyes.
And it got me to thinking. Rock and Roll songs like those, with their dense and uplifting harmonies, represented my first exposure to real beauty and gave me something to aspire to and guide myself by when maneuvering a rough Brooklyn childhood.
See, there wasn't all that much beauty in my surroundings. My family life was tense, with demanding parents constantly pushing me to my limits, and neighborhood "friends" who were constantly mocking me and provoking me into fights because I did well in school. I was a tough kid with a high pain tolerance, and a good enough athlete so that everyone wanted me on their team, but I basically had concluded, by the time I was 10 , that life was hard, and I was going to have to kick everyone's ass to get by
But then rock and roll hit my neighborhood when i was an 11 year old fifth grader, and it gave me a new sense of possibilities as well as a new sonic universe. Song's like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love' "All I Have to Do Is Dream" :Maybe" and "Teenager in Love" brought harmony into my world along with the possibility of love, at a time when neither seemed within reach. More importantly it made me think that people just like me could actually create beautiful music, because the people singing these songs looked just like a lot of the kids, Black or white, that I saw around Brooklyn.
Soon, I was obsessed with this kind of music. I listened to it, danced to it (yes we slow danced in those days) and sang it whenever I could. Rock and roll started to define me as much as the sports I played. And I found myself become becoming someone who, in the most unlikely of places, appreciated beauty and aspired to love.
What a gift that was. Rock and roll became an integral part of my life and it helped open me up to other things- from civil. rights activism, to powerful friendships, and eventually, to deep romance. Until I was more than 20 years old, i met almost all the women I dated at rock and roll parties or dances and my first love relationship began there too.
So in conclusion. Here is what I hope. That every child, no matter how hard their life. be exposed to beauty so that they can look beyond their immediate circumstances and dream of a better day. If they don't get it at home or in church or mosque or synagogue, let them get it in school.
Treat arts education as a lifeline, not an extravagance. Beauty, as much as knowledge, is at the core of what makes us human

The Hidden Costs of Gentrification and Rising Rents on Educational Opportunity

It is tempting to think with the crack epidemic having passed and violence levels down in most, but not all, inner city and poor communities, we have a precious moment of opportunity to rebuild public schools in those areas, but there is another kind of destabilization taking place, less dramatic, but almost as devastating, in the form of gentrification and rising rents, As investors have discovered neighborhoods they once avoided, hundreds of thousands of families are finding themselves priced out of rental units, forced to double and triple up with other families, take in boarders, or move out of the city entirely. Children living in communities where rent rises far exceed incomes not only have to move on multiple occasions, they are often tense, sleep deprived, and/or fearful of physical or sexual violence that can come from living in crowded conditions with strangers.
The impact on schools is enormous. Not only are there thousands of students who move from school to school or have irregular attendance, there are countless others who come to school tense, fearful, needy and unable to concentrate.
So widespread is this problem that one group of school leaders- largely, but not entirely concentrated in charter schools- has decided that mass suspensions and expulsions of students who create problems is the only way to create a positive atmosphere for learning. But that approach only destabilizes schools which try to serve every student.
The bottom line, there can be no serious progress in achieving education equity without stabilizing the housing market and providing decent shelter for low income families.
And the entire education reform movement based on school closings and charters and test based accountability is destined to not only fail, but make conditions worse.

The Cold Reality Facing Public School Parents

This is the cold reality every public school parent must face.
You love your children. They- and I mean those shaping education policy- don't
They see your children as profit centers, subjects of experiments with software and technology, providers of data points necessary to shape national policy, malleable objects for the pursuit of political ambitions and the shaping of careers in educational consulting and school management..
And that is only now.
In the future, they see your children as the labor force necessary to assure that their children, who almost all attend private school, will not find their elite status challenged or management prerogatives challenged.
Find me a policy maker who loves and cares about your children the way you do.
That is why you are in a war to create and in some cases to defend schools that will treat your children the way you would want them to be treated.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Fordham Alum Comments on How the University has Changed Since the 1970's

Being asked to describe the difference between the Fordham of 1975 to the Fordham of 2015 ,to those in a position to make significant change , was unexpectedly an emotional one. As I answered tough questions which required specific detailed examples, I had to walk through my experience and relationships with not only fellow students,friends and faculty, but the community which Fordham had created for us on and off campus. I lived on campus, worked on campus, participated in social events on and off campus, as we felt as though we were one big family with mutual respect .
As a Biology major,I recall my professors, having an open door policy and were interested in not only your grade,but who you were as a person.My job working with students in local high schools as tutor counselor was because of a program on Fordhams campus,The first Physician assistant I ever met, practiced at an office on the Grand Concourse, where I worked on
Saturdays .I went on to gain invaluable experience about this profession and made friends with the late Dr Milton Reisch and his wife a PA , until his death a few years ago . My challenging Biology degree was reinforced by everything Fordham introduced, exposed and taught us on and off campus . Our education was rich as a result of all of the components which made up the Fordham community.
As I spoke, a senior student present at the meeting looked at me in awe, mentioning that she wished that she had that experience,while the freshman disclosed that she has considered transferring given some of the incidents she experienced .
One thing is clear-something very important and valuable has been lost over time at Fordham We as alumni, faculty, students, and friends of the Fordham community must remain energized, vigilant and intolerant of those things which have blemished the University,as there is so much which could be created out of these opportunities to dialogue with each other , with administration and with the community .‪#‎zerotolerance‬

Monday, December 14, 2015

Abusive and Humiliating Educational Policies Targeting Children of the Poor

The most bizarre and humiliating treatment of children is now being routinely practiced in the nation's poorest communities; ranging from the zero tolerance disciplinary practices of some of the nation's best known charter chains; to the virtual elimination of arts sports and recess by schools taken into receivership and/or threatened with closure. If middle class parents want to see what education profiteers have in mind for their children if they are not vigilant, they should look into what is going on in inner city charter schools or schools in cities like Newark or Camden or Detroit which have been taken over by the state. It is unconscionable that the children of the poor have been used as guinea pigs for educational experimentation which takes the joy out of learning and removes creativity and relationship from teaching. Sadly, this grisly process continues unabated even in states like NY where more middle class districts have won some relief through Opting Out.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Racial Tensions at Fordham are a Harbinger of What Gentrification Might Mean for the Bronx

What is happening at Fordham may be best contextualized in a conversation about Gentrification in the Bronx. Now that Bronx residents and community groups have almost completely rebuilt once abandoned and decayed neighborhoods, and crack era violence has diminished, the Bronx has suddenly become attractive to developers and investors and, along with it, to upper class parents looking for a safe place to send their children to college. Not only does this mean possible displacement of long term residents, it means the arrival of people who do not understand the boroughs history, appreciate its culture, or respect its long time residents. Fordham, in recent years, has recruited students from all over the nation, some of whom live in off campus apartments, who come from homogeneous all white suburbs and look at their Bronx neighbors with ill disguised contempt. Some are changed by what they learn in their courses, or what they experience when performing community service, but all too many go through four years without having their initial attitudes and prejudices affected one iota.
The racial incidents currently taking place on the Fordham campus represent a preview of what is likely to happen in Bronx neighborhoods which experience an influx of high income residents as a result of the construction of market level housing. Nothing we have seen in other boroughs, or at Fordham,suggests these people will be good neighbors and respect the sacrifices so many Bronxites made to rebuild their communities.
They are likely to treat long time residents as invisible or objects of contempt.
It is time for the entire population of the Bronx, including educators, community leaders and activists, to take a good hard look at the sudden infusion of investment capital and wealthy individuals in to the borough and assess what this means for the future of the borough.
Action on many fronts may be necessary to protect Bronx residents and communities.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fordham, Gentrification and the University's Role in the Bronx

Fordham used to have a great reputation in the Bronx because it helped save the neighborhoods of the Northwest Bronx from the arson and disinvestment that swept through the Southern sections of the borough. But as the danger of disinvestment faded, in large part because of the heroic efforts of the community groups Fordham helped, the University gradually shifted its target recruitment area from the New York metropolitan area to the entire nation, bringing in a more affluent student population than it had traditionally targeted. This helped raise the university's academic profile and US News and World Report ranking, but in the process increased the gap, in race and class and culture, between Fordham's student population and the population of the Bronx, a gap symbolized by the gates surrounding the campus and the University's increasingly large and vigilant security force.
Now, the Fordham is at a crossroads. With Gentrification and Displacement, rather than Disinvestment, becoming the major danger facing the Bronx, which way will Fordham go? Will it change course by recruiting more low and moderate income students, embrace the culture of Bronx communities, and make Bronx residents feel more welcome on the Fordham campus or will it continue to bring large number of people who have little respect for the Bronx into the campus and surrounding neighborhoods while doing little to sensitize them to their surroundings?
The economic interests and academic ambitions of the University, not the racism of university administrators- who for the most part are genuinely horrified by recent racist acts- have put it add odds with the interests of surrounding communities. Getting Fordham to change course and truly embrace the people and culture of the Bronx will take heroic efforts over the course of many years
The time to start that effort is now

Friday, December 11, 2015

White Student Yells "Black Sluts Matter" At 3 Black Female Fordham Students

This just was posted by one of my students! Unbelievable. Fordham is in DEEP Trouble!! As is our entire nation
Monica Joy
3 hrs · New York, NY ·
Last night as I was leaving an off campus apartment with two other black female students, a white student began to repeatedly yell "Black sluts matter!" at us out of his window. He proceeded to proclaim "I am a racist!" and curse at us. It's ironic how people's true attitudes come out during a time of consistent organizing and dialogue on race in the Fordham community. When the minority decides to take a stand, the majority will go through great lengths to shut us down-like drawing hate symbols on campus and chanting white power.
It is critical for us to remind ourselves of our oppression. In the words of Assata Shakur, "The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows... But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave." I am no slave, but this society treats me as one as a working class black woman. I refuse to be intimated into silence and inaction. Incidents like these drive me to continue my work for the liberation of my people and that of all oppressed peoples because our struggles are connected. The system that allows for the police killings of unarmed blacks is the same system that supports the occupation in Palestine and the unlivable wages of workers across the world. We must unite and fight back. Fordham students, it is our duty to fight for our justice-do not be afraid to stand up and speak out. ‪#‎fordhamspeaksup‬:

An "Affirmative Action" Story to Bring Us Back to Reality

Just a heads up: the number of alumni children (legacies); recruited athletes ( most of whom are white and play non-revenue sports) and students whose parents pay full tuition far outnumber the "under represented minorities" as beneficiaries of Preferential Admissions Policies at top universities. Yet it is only Race Based affirmative action which prompts outrage and lawsuits.
To illustrate this point, let me point to a real life incident when my son Eric was pitching and winning a championship game against Long Island Lutheran
Eric was having a great day on the mound so the first based umpire said to his coach Walter Paller, "that kid is really good. Where is he going to college When Walter said "Yale" the umpire said "Wow, he must be really smart." The Long Island Lutheran first baseman then entered the conversation " Not necessarily," he said. "My friend is dumb as s..t. But she's a great volleyball player so she is going to Yale."
A book by Bowen and Shapiro called "The Game of Life" documents preferential treatment for athletes at top colleges in excruciating detail. As does a book by called "Color and Money" which documents huge preferences for children of the wealthy
Making it seem like admissions preferences for Blacks and Latinos are the only departure from an otherwise meritorcratic admissions system is not only unfair, it is so inaccurate as to be more like a bad joke.
As i tell my white students, you are much more likely to have been "bumped" from admission to Princeton by a white hockey player from New England than a Dominican student from the Bronx.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Muslims in the Bronx; Rebuilding Communities, Defying Stereotypes

If you want to get a sense of the diversity of Muslim America, and the peaceful atmosphere of most Muslim American communities, there is no better place to do this than the Bronx. There are now tens of thousands of people who consider themselves Muslim living in the Bronx. Appearance wise, they have little in common. They come from Albania, and look indistinguishable from most Eastern Europeans. They come from West African countries like Gambia, Togo and Mali, where the majority of the population practices Islam, as well as Ghana, which is majority Christian. And more and more are coming to the Bronx from South Asian countries like Pakistan and Bengladesh. The arrival of these Muslim immigrants has coincided with a dramatic revival of once deteriorated Bronx neighborhoods and they have contributed to the revival by opening businesses, purchasing homes and sending their children to local public schools, where more than a few have become outstanding students and gone on to attend schools like Fordham. I have been lucky enough to have many of these second generation Bronx/Muslim immigrant children in my classes and their insight and work ethic and compassion for all victims of injustice has been an inspiration to me
Given what I have seen in Bronx schools and neighborhoods, and in my own classes, the attacks on Islam I see in both commercial and social media seem wildly disconnected from reality. There has not been one terrorist incident in the Bronx that has been connected to Muslim immigrants . There is not one recorded incident of Bronx Muslims attacking their Christian ( or Jewish) neighbors, calling them "infidels" or promoting violence against them. In fact there have been many Bronx Imams, led by the brilliant Sheikh Moussa Drammeh who runs an Islamic Community Center near Parkchester, who have been involved in and even led interfaith unity efforts.
Overwhelmingly, Muslim immigrants and their children have had a postiive impact on Bronx schools and communities.. Why should they be tarred with the brush of :"terrorist" or Isis supporter when they have done nothing but try to live peacefully with their neighbors?
One final comment should be made; Muslims in the Bronx like their Christian and Jewish neighbors, do not always practice every tenet of their religion. Many are secular in appearance and diet. Many do not attend Mosque regularly or participate in the daily prayers. Many, when they marry, marry Christians and Jews
In short, they are like very other immigrant group which has come to the US. They follow our laws, attend our schools, become active citizens, and over time change and are changed by the communities they live in.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On Racism and Xenophobia

The thing about racism, xenophobia and ethnic cleasing that most people don't understand is that while it usually starts out with abstractions which make large groups of people "the enemy" it ultimately comes down to what happens to your neighbor, your co worker, the student in your class,or the owner of a business you frequent who is a member of the unfortunate group being demonized. Will they be harassed, publicly humiliated, deprived of work, placed in camps and detention centers, even killed? Because that is where mass demonization of groups often heads- crosses burned, yellow stars sown on jackets, windows of businesses smashed, people taken off to camps or murdered before your eyes. Do not think it cannot happen here. It DID happen here- to African Americans, Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans- and it is happening to religious and ethnic minorities in many parts of the world now. What I hope for is that people think long and hard about what it would mean for their community and their networks of friends and neighbors if a group of people are singled out by race or religion or national origin as a danger to the safety of everyone else. There is no place I know of in the world where that doesn't turn ugly really fast and present people with moral choices they never imagined when they started down that path.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Why ESEA Must Be Fought by People on the Left as Well as on the Right

There was a time when you needed the power of the federal government to counteract local tyrannies shaped by racist electoral practices and corporate control of local governments No more. Today, it is the federal government which is controlled lock stock and barrel by large corporations, insuring that any federal policy will contribute to their enrichment and an expansion of their power. A defense of federal power is no longer a "progressive" position. In education, it has led to disastrous consequences ranging from the mindless impositions of test driven curricula and assessments, to the destruction and privatization of public education in many of the nation's cities. This is why I am utterly opposed to the passage of ESEA legislation currently being debated in the Senate. Given the powerful corporate interests ready to move into action in every section of the nation to seize the federal dollars this legislation will appropriate, it is incumbent upon parents and teachers to try to prevent its passage and then to organize massive resistance through an expansion of opt out and rolling one day strikes by teachers, whether they are endorsed by unions or not.

Do not trust your elected officials to protect your interests. They are no more immune to the big money interests shaping this legislation than the last two Presidents,

What Teaching Means to Me

I can only do so much to change the course of history at my own University, much less in my neighborhood, my city, my state or the nation. But what I can do is use my classroom as a place where students can discover the power of their own voice, in the light of what others have done before them, and provide an example of a teacher, a parent and a citizen, who deals with difficult issues without fear, and with a commitment to an ideal of fairness that crosses lines of race, gender party and ideology. i am no saint; I am not a model human being. I have huge flaws which almost anyone who knows me can see pretty quickly. But I have a true passion for helping young people become more confident, more inquisitive, more in touch with their own strengths, and more determined to make their mark on the world. And, if I work really hard, and am there through the hard times as well as the good times, my students-- and former students --will not only inspire me, they will make it hard to sleep because I am so excited about what the next day will bring.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The War on Public Education in Broward County Florida- A Guest Post by Terry Pruess


Things I plan to say to my leaders with my local and national community of public education supporters listening in...

Let’s NOT be  “The Last Honeypot for Wallstreet.”

I have been a loyal, dedicated, caring, hard-working, responsible, dependable, trustworthy, “highly effective” career public educator for 3 decades, Teacher of the Year at Olsen Middle School and a Hispanic Teacher of the Year in Broward. I have been held in high regard and been a leader in three counties: L.A., Dade and Broward. I’ve also been a vocal advocate of student, teacher and parent rights in all the leadership roles I’ve held... As such, I know fully that my opinions will not be met with any repercussions or retaliation.
Some teachers, however, fear that they will be harmed for speaking out, brought up on some false charges, sent off to “Teacher Jail’ or “The Book Depository”…cast out to another school on the far end of the county to teach an unfamiliar subject until they are broken down and leave the profession on their own, marked via “gotcha” evaluations systems as “ineffective,” or even marginalized as a lone disgruntled voice. I’ve seen and heard it all from one coast to another as I have evolved in education advocacy, but those things can not worry me today because this letter is about JUSTICE for our children and communities. 
I have been, along with thousands of colleagues, far too “highly effective” to need to worry about retaliation. Right?  I am stealing this term from the hands legislators and our imposed evaluation system of Marzano because it fits too many teachers I know, far more than the shamefully low 5%SBBC’s flawed evaluation system officially produced for Broward County… among the lowest in the state of Florida!  
So, let me begin…

How we got to this point is not always clear to those of us who are working daily in the trenches, giving love, support, encouragement and a quality education to the students of Broward County. But we do sense that something is very wrong. We know that many complaints come into our union stating that our teachers cannot teach creatively, that they are losing autonomy in the classroom, that they are being asked to teach to the test and we all know that this is not REAL education. 

Parents know this! Educators know this! Students know this!

We know that mandates from above affect your decisions as leaders, and that some may seem insurmountable, but… there is NO way that we can continue on this path and say that we are truly serving our students, our loyal employees, and our communities. We know that your intent is to provide a quality education in our public school system so we are asking that you listen more to the teachers, parents, students and education experts.  

 is taking up more time than ever in our history. More funds are going to computers to be used for testing and test prep products than ever before. While budgets for testing, computers, and charter schools sky rocket, a large number of our teachers who have dedicated their lives to education have been slammed and insulted by the presumed funding shortfalls and the unrealistic guidelines of Florida Laws… like SB736. This law effectively strips away the hard won gains which put teachers on a reasonably predictive salary step schedule in the past. 

Prior to this law’s assault, there were other assaults on Broward educators and our economic strength. I will share my story because it is similar to many and relevant to Broward County... 

I worked tirelessly to gain every possible accolade as an accomplished “HIGHLY EFFECTIVE”teacher, then… I studied hard to earn National Board Certification. The promise of $10,000-$12,000.00 per year was bestowed upon me after much toil and effort for earning this distinguished honor. I became a mentor teacher, a Nova Southeastern University-South Florida Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a workshop facilitator. I went to many schools, helped many teachers and shared my talents. I was respected for my insights and accomplishments in journaling programs and behavior management among the “Drop Out Prevention” population which I gladly shared. I could make students LOVE to write and received some of the highest writing scores in the county… I felt proud. I was compensated professionally, not by my high test scores, but in ways that made a difference in my life and the lives of others, impacting the growth of student learning and teacher development. During this time, I even wrote a book, Voices in the Hall, about the complex lives of the at-risk students I was working with, whose stories, as revealed through their own writing, profoundly influenced the course of my life, my view of humanity and the beliefs I held as an educator.  National Board Certification was a pinnacle in the careers of many educators and we developed a sophisticated network of communication, mentorship and service to others that extended locally and nationally. Those were the happiest, most rewarding, and most productive years of my career… Then… POOF!  It was gone!  I felt defrauded and stripped of my previously lauded educational worth. In the same year, due to budget cuts, many Broward teachers lost their 6th period supplements and were asked to do the same work in less time, and with less compensation, often with more students per period. In my experience I lost over $20,000.00 in one year… a financial hit few can survive!  I was told that National Board funding was gone and would not return. Sorry Charlie! I had laboriously worked on the equivalent of a Master’s Thesis on the theories of my practice with at-risk students as developing writers, and would never again receive the financial recognition that was tied to it and promised to me... a devastating blow for thousands of Broward teachers who still proudly sign, NBCT, behind their names. All of this was insult enough, but no one could foresee what was to come. I encountered years of frozen steps, keeping me from obtaining my long awaited $10,000.00 step increase which was due at step 20. I hoped, in vain, that it might bring some financial stability back to my home life. My total losses were now over $30,000.00 per year, and … the next un-earned step brought it to $40,000.00. During this period my husband’s health began to fail, without the once steady income I could count on as a teacher, which allowed us to take entrepreneurial risks that influenced and enhanced our community, we slowly lost our other sources income. 
We had owned Thor Design, a popular anchor Art Gallery on Harrison Street from 1990 to 2006 with an adjacent Art Studio and Functional Art Furniture Workshop. It was a place where local artists hung out and networked on a street chock full of talented artisans in every medium imaginable from furniture designers and metal workers, to potters and sophisticated, nationally recognized, painters. That emerging artist colony that we were central in nurturing, and that my teacher income helped to support with occasional seed money, got the attention of the city and serious investors, sparked the push for the CRA, birthed the art movement that brought Downtown Hollywood back as go-to social hub and an economic force, created “Art Walks” and directly influenced the name of “Arts Park,” formerly known as Young Circle.  

As business owners in Hollywood and Dania Beach for 3 decades, we fully understand just how the salary shortfalls of SBBC, the largest employer in Broward, affect our local economy. You can NOT tell ME that when you deny your teachers and other employees the pay they are due that YOU do NOT affect an entire community.  You DO, and YOU DID! 
I stuck with teaching as my husband recovered his health slowly. We raised our boys as we watched our whole world crumble around us, believing that eventually the economy would improve and my income would get back to what I had been promised, which was to be at $72,000.00 base salary after 25 years of service. But 25 years came and went, and that figure was never close to being reached as year after year, yet another excuse was found to keep from paying Broward teachers what they were due.  Like thousands of educators as “head of household” we struggled to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary… Then we had that 3% taken out for retirement funding… No worries…. SHHHH… Teachers will not complain!  Then… Enter, SB736. In what I never could have expected, lawmakers have effectively and cruelly tied our hands at the collective bargaining table, the very right we fought for when we gave up our right to STRIKE.  Does that mean we are NO LONGER a “Right to Work” state?  Our long awaited steps and expected salary increases for a lifetime of service were taken with the wave of a malevolent magic wand... GONE… After 25 years of waiting, I was informed I wouldNEVER reach the salary I had been promised and working towards all of my adult life. Meanwhile, I looked around and noticed that in less than a decade the great American Middle Class, which unions were known to build up and protect, was dwindling. Other Broward store owners, restauranteurs, and retailers my husband and I had associated with for decades were gone… favorite restaurants closed… mom and pop shops disappeared… teachers were struggling to get by with little if any disposable income… students I’d taught who were graduating from college could not easily find quality jobs… some ended up in jail… and this was a national trend!  The wealth once spread more equally to ALL Americans was rushing quickly into the hands of wealthy corporations, hedge funds and the 1%.  

I had seen the brilliant documentary by Clinton’s Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, called Inequality for All.  I came away asking myself…Why?

Why is this being allowed?

The answer was clear… The lawmakers are being “allowed!” Neither the UNIONS, nor thePEOPLE are stopping them.

Your job as leaders of education policy in Broward and as leaders of those who serve our students, parents, employees and our community is NOT to blindly “follow the laws” our obviously oblivious legislators concoct for us with their limited understanding of the dynamic of teaching and learning. It is to fight for Broward and find solutions within the problem.  It is also to protect the well-being and integrity of our local public education system. It is your job to give the people of Broward County peace of mind, a quality education for their children, a dependable and educated population upon graduation, safe and rewarding places of employment, a means to energize the economy, and most importantly to provide quality neighborhood schools that make great neighborhoods and wonderful, nurturing places to live and raise families. Only YOU have the ability to help improve the quality of life in each and every community throughout Broward for all citizens and taxpayers. 

So… when the SBBC says things about the teacher contract negotiations and present impasse in a press release and county email alert like … “The district would not absolve the BTU of its prior agreement to year three of the grandfathered salary schedule…”  to explain why teachers cannot get a professional wage… I get very worried!  It is SBBC that must get on its knees and ask its teachers and other employees to be “ABSOLVED.”  It is the people of Broward who SBBC might petition to grant“ABSOLUTION!”  To my understanding… Broward Teachers Union has already determined that you had 7.5 million in lapsed funds last year, and do have at least 30-40 million available to put towards your debts to teachers this year.. Our community has seen how money is found and generated when needed.  We commend you for this.  Please, NOW, place teams of people on the charge to find ways to pay your debts to our community.  We can join you in taking a stand against the educational assault.  We can help you find those ways!  Let’s do it together!

Our educators and parents know that the laws that you are sometimes told you must follow are oftenill-conceived and improperly funded. Your job is NOT to just blindly follow these misguided laws which are so often NOT educationally sound… but YOUR job is to protect your electorate, your schools, your students, your employees, and your communities from the corporate greed, injudicious rulings and faulty ideals that often drive the creation of those laws, and to find solutions for Broward. We ask YOU to help us to take a stand for Broward against the national educational assault we are facing. Please listen to us as we speak to you... 

As education professionals… We love our jobs. We love to teach!  We love to inspire learning and creative thinking.  And… we love to be appreciated, trusted and paid as the educated professionals we are.

Let us teach with creativity and with honor to our practice and profession. This is what every student deserves!

This is why every teacher chose education as a career path… to serve kids and to impact their local communities.
Do not take away from us the ability to use the art and craft of teaching we happily share with the kids we love. Do not continue to require the new, ill-conceived trend of scripted, timed, packaged education, and repeated testing of students.
Please take away from us the mountain of unnecessary and overwhelming evaluation mandates, testing prep, paperwork and data collection instituted under the guise of evaluating both students and teachers. These are corporate influenced trends that continue to demoralize teachers, stress our students, stifle natural learning and will eventually bring an end to our profession and possibly to public schools as we know them, if they are allowed to continue unchecked. 

If you doubt my words... I encourage you to “FOLLOW THE MONEY!”  The cash trail of unfortunate laws and decisions crafted by politicians through… TESTING… on the backs of our young people and education professionals… with wealthy investors as benefactors will astound you.

Why is our money… our taxpayer dollars… money from OUR education coffers leaving OUR county… and the pockets and dinner tables of OUR employees and business owners and going to outside corporations that sell computers, testing, and test products?  One corporation in particular,Pearson, whose name is seen on the TESTS we hand our students… is an overseas company from England.  So why do OUR dollars from OUR children being tested go there? And it is not just OUR tax dollars in Florida… it is the tax dollars of our nation.

Please do not allow frivolous laws made by these misinformed lawmakers who listen to lobbyists, corporate investors, privateers and campaign contributors who benefit from the new “education reform” movement that drives… OUR tax dollars… away from public education to sway you!  Your DUTY is to true, artful, inspired, quality EDUCATION and that DUTY must continue to guide your decisions.REAL teaching and learning CAN NOT be replicated or replaced by computerstest prep, testing, temp teachers, massive new hires when once higher paid quality teachers flee, or VAM scores!  This is a false narrative and is driven by corporations and promoted by lawmakers. It attempts toblame teachers for the 
failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality through education. It asks Broward County to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning to guide our instruction and determine what our teachers and students are worth.  I ask you to evaluate what is really happening here and say, Enough is Enough!  You will be saying it with tens of thousands of Broward educators, SBBC employees, their spouses, friends, neighbors, loved ones, and children.

And, please, not take from us our livelihood, and our hard earned retirement benefitsafter we have given to you and to our communities a lifetime of service. We have always been dedicated to improving the lives of KIDS and the quality of public EDUCATION.  Broward’s most qualified teachers, some because they are reaching the top of the pay scale, are being shamed and muscled out by laws like SB736 and demeaning evaluations. If this is to make room for a less experienced, and less expensive work force, it may be a way to divert a few dollars to educational profiteers, but is NOT the way to sustain quality educational  and economic stability for Broward.  Are our children not worth more than this? 

Thousands of QUALITY educators have fled their jobs, or retired, and we presently have a teacher shortage approaching 200 vacant positions. This is also a national trend! Is this good for our students and our schools?  NO!

Please do not continue allow any outside forces to rob us of the pride with which we have lived our lives and the dignity and honor we were promised at the ends of our careers if we gave to you, SBBC, our talents, our knowledge, our efforts, our craft and our youth. The people of Broward County have already received these gifts willingly from us. It is not in the best interest of those you serve, or of those we serve, to devastate so many Broward families by drastically cutting our ability to teach instinctively and our ability to provide a living wage for our own families, and economic stimulus to the Broward economy.  
WE are not JUST your employees!  

Remember… we are also the parents whose children are tested, the taxpayers whose money you collect and use. WE are the voters who go to the polls and must have confidence in you.  WE are ALL those things…  We stand together, as ONE, in this initiative.  Our VOICES must join!Together, we can send a message to those who wish to defund public education and who wish to take our tax dollars out of Broward County.  

Broward County teachers, like myself, on steps 17-25 have been most harshly treated for many years, placing us in dire financial situations. Lower steps have lost all hope to advance at a pace anywhere near what was promised them. Long years of service are now unforgivably ignored by SBBC.  Teachers in Broward have lost our homes, gone into foreclosure, filed bankruptcy, and still show up to teach every day wondering if we will be able to continue to provide for our own families. Held back for years by salary freezes during the recession… we were asked to be “team players”gaining little if any cost of living increases once minimal movement began. Cheated out of our standing with the school board, our peace of mind and our long awaited step increases in exchange for decades of quality work while awaiting our projected income that never came, many Broward educators have been emotionally and financially destroyed. Feeling robbed of our PAST, our FUTURE, our NOW and our DIGNITY by Broward’s application of law (SB736)  We are left unable to pay our rising food bills, taxes and insurance payments; our mortgages; our children’s college expenses;our basic needs; or even be certain of what retirement awaits us. Will it be welfare? This is NOT how WE, the parents, taxpayers, and voters want to treat the worthy educators and other employees who dedicatedly face YOUR most precious treasure… the young people of Broward County…OUR CHILDREN!  

SB736, which other Florida districts have been able to get around without devastating teacher steps and livelihoods seems to have been purposely designed to prevent some districts from providing its employees that which is owed to them.  While negotiating, decision makers in Broward either didn’t know how or did not want to find the way! This law poses a mandate to reward “highly effective”teachers on the “pay for performance schedule” to be given as much as the highest paid salary step increase within the teacher pay scale in every Florida county. While this sounds benign, it has harmed and defrauded Broward teachers, and it falsely presumes student testing as a means to determine teacher worth. This unfunded law must be challenged.
Firstly… testing is flawed.  Secondly… student testing CAN NOT determine the value of a teacher.  Thirdly… the faulty mathematical system (VAM) used to evaluate student test scores in an attempt to tie them to the value of a teacher’s teaching ability and student growth is not reliable… It FAILS students, teachers and communities.  National studies show this reform trend mostly FAILS and affects communities of poverty and communities of color.  This is unacceptable!  

A solution must be found.  

I suggest Broward serve as the state leader in finding one. This ill-conceived law that aids those who wish to defund public education through expensive tests, test scoring, test prep materials, mathematical VAM mayhem… shifting of hard earned public taxpayer dollars into private and sometimes foreign hands is a THEFT that cannot be tolerated by any self-respecting individual, and citizens in Broward will not continue to tolerate it. We hope you join us in our concern to the welfare of our students, employees and communities.  We are working tirelessly to bring this awareness to our communities!
Please lower testing and the dollars spent on it that go to wealthy corporations and pay our experienced teachers what you promised them in writing, and what they are owed.  

Please do not allow education in Broward to be… as this December 2014 Huntington Post article woefully describes it… “The Last Honeypot for Wallstreet.”

The financial industry's vigorous support of privatized education, however, aids its bottom line. Venture capitalists see big promise in the K-12 education market, estimated to be worth about $790 billion next year. Donald Cohen, executive director of think tank In the Public Interest, told The Nation, “It’s really the last honeypot for Wall Street.”

Please take whatever measures are necessary to FIND THE MONEY to stop this egregious and discriminatory practice resulting from a misguided and arbitrary law using student standardized test scores to wipe out our steps and promised salaries. This is within your power. WE expect you toFIND A WAY!

Sincerely, Terry Preuss, NBCT
NSU-SFWP Teacher Consultant
BTU Executive Board Member 2013-2016
President, Broward BATs Caucus of BTU
SBBC District Advisory Council 2011-2016
Mother, Teacher, Broward Voter, Concerned Citizen and Taxpayer

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What It Means to Be "White" In a Rapidly Changing Nation

Being "white" was once a central feature of being American. Those who were able to become "white" had the fullest range of political rights and economic opportunities the rapidly expanding nation had to offer. Those who were not were subject, at various times, to enslavement, caste segregation, racial pogroms,ghettoization,and extreme forms of discrimination. As a result, new immigrants to the country worked mightily to "become" white, with the Irish achieving this goal after the Civil War, and Southern and Eastern Europeans achieving this after World War II. Many mixed race African Americans also participated in this process by "passing,"- moving to another part of the country away from friends and relatives and re-identifying as white. The numbers of people who did that ran into the hundeds of thousands; quite possibly in the millions
Another portion of dynamic were the extreme measures the society took to assure the preservation and growth of the "white" population. Untile the Loving v Virgina decision in 1967, nearly half the states had laws banning intermarriage between whites and non whites. These laws were basically designed to assure white women had white children. And extra legal measures, including murder, were used to assure the preservation of the "white race." From the late 19th Century right up to the 1950's, Black men were routinely murdered and mutilated for having consensual relationships with white women. Such relationships were defined as "rape" under lynch law, a sign of profound fears of intermarriage, "race mixing" and the erosion of a "white" majority, whose perpetuation was seen as an essential condition of the nation's successful growth and development
Now, all these strategies of "race preservation" are starting to erode. More and more whites are marrying and having children with non whites. It is only a matter of time before the US has a majority of people who are non-European or mixed race.
In the face of these demographic changes, along with the growing political power exerted by "people of color," however you define them, many whites are feeling embattled and displaced. They see what was once defined as a powerful communal goal, preserving the "whiteness" of one's biological family and social circles, be redefined as an anachronism rather than an essential feature of national identity.
These "homogenous whites," as I call them, are a now a minority in the country, but a very angry and powerful political force, Some commit acts of violence toward Blacks and Latinos though thankfully such actions are still the exception rather than the rule. Their deep sense of alienation, their feeling they are losing THEIR country, is a major theme in talk radio as well as on some TV outlets.
And they are right. The US is no longer THEIR country. It belongs to everyone. There is no great advantage in preserving "whiteness" in one's family or social relations.
And while to some, that development seems like liberation, to others it seems like delivery into hell.
They cannot imagine living in a world without white supremacy and a white racial majority..