Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why I Am Looking Forward to the New Year

I am starting to really look forward to 2017. I see a groundswell of resistance to bigotry and fear; a movement built and sustained at the local level in a way which makes people of all backgrounds feel welcome in our communities This will not be associated with any political party and political leader. It will be truly grassroots. And it will be unstoppable. I know my students will be on board for this. But so will many other people all over this nation. Hatred and negativity will not prevail. We will not let our vision of the country be determined by leaders who seek to divide us or people who target their own neighbors for intimidation and abuse. We have accomplished too much to go backwards. We will stand up for the best in our heritage and fight for a better future for everyone.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Paladino Affair is a Test of Our National Character

Let's get real. Carl Paladino is not an aberration or an outlier. About a third of the people in the country have racial attitudes resembling his, which they normally only share with close friends and family members or reveal in the relative anonyminity of socia media. Vulgar images and comments about the President and the First Lady, based on stubbornly persistent racial stereotypes, have been visible for some time to anyone who looked, listened or read bumper stickers, bathroom graffiti, or facebook and twitter posts.
But for a school board member and state leader of the Trump campaign to express those ugly feelings so openly presents a challenge to the 2/3 of the country who do NOT share those views. What are you going to do about this? Are you going to accept such racist bile coming out of the shadows and deforming our public discourse? Or are you going to clamp down hard on those who express those sentiments and remove them from positions of influence?
This isn't about free speech in any conventional sense. Mr Paladino has every right to denounce the President's policies in the most emotional even inflammatory fashion. But to use eroticized and racialized animal imagery in wishing for his death, and doing even worse for the first lady, crosses a line that no public official should be able to cross and still retain their job.
Such remarks are an incitement to civic violence. They make the society ungovernable.
But if the 2/3 of the nation decides to remain silent, we will head to that very dangerous place.
This is a test of our national character.Are we going to fail it?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Racial Disparities in the Drug War and the Election of Donald Trump

This semester, several of my students did research papers on the Drug War and police strategies used to pursue it. In all these papers, one point got across loud and clear-- that policing and incarcerating Black people in numbers disproportionate to their involvement in criminal activity, benefited many people who weren't directly targeted, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs with good salaries and benefits at a time when unionized industrial jobs were leaving the country.
The Racialized Drug War, whatever the array of motives that gave rise to it, therefore ended up becoming a jobs program for working class whites- not only in urban areas and suburbs where expanded police forces were concentrated, but in rural areas where new prisons were built to hold those swept up by the drug raids
This helps explain the immense hostility among working class and middle class whites to the Black Lives Matter movement- a hostility that contributed significantly to Donald Trump's victory in the last Presidential election
Black Lives Matter not only put the work of individual police officers under greater scrutiny; it called for long term reforms which might, if implemented, significantly reduce the need for police and prisons.
Those reforms would not only threaten the interests of real estate developers gentrifying our cities and reduce revenue produced by arrests for non violent offenses; it could lead to significant job losses in communities where prisons are located or suburbs where police officers live.
Challenging racially targeted, militarized policing, unfortunately, threatens many many people's livelihoods and interests
The election of Donald Trump was no accident..

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why Betsy DeVos, if Confirmed will be "Arne Duncan on Steroids"

When Ronald Reagan ran for President, one of the key components of his platform was abolishing the US Department of Education. Yet three years after he was elected, my student Ariana Cipriani points out, his administration issued a report "A Nation at Risk" that called for increased federal control of education!
The same thing could easily happen in the next few years with Betsy DeVos appointment as Secretary of Education. The kind of policies she supports, and which have been implemented in Michigan- vouchers, school privatization, de-funding of public schools in favor charter schools- will be fiercely resisted in states like New York, Washington, and Massachusetts. The only way to get traction for such policies in those states is to use federal funds and mandates to force their implementation, something which will require INCREASING the power of the federal government in education policy.
In short, Betsy Devos appointment promises the exact OPPOSITE of the position Donald Trump took in his campaign, which was to reduce if not eliminate federal control of education policy.
What we are likely to see, if she is confirmed, is Arne Duncan on Steroids- an aggressive proponent of charters and market driven education reform willing to use the full power of the federal government to force compliance with her ideas on state governments and local school districts.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Counterrevolution That Preceded The Non Violent Civil Rights Movement

As people around the nation wonder how their communities and causes will be affected by the Presidency of Donald Trump, it is important to remember a time not that long ago when a similar attack was launched on efforts to challenge patterns of white supremacy and class inequality which have done so much to shape our history.
The time was the late 1940's during the beginning years of the Cold War. The winds of change were blowing through the South. Multiracial trade unions in places like Memphis, Bessemer Alabama, and Winston Salem were starting to bring white and black workers together improve living standards for both, while coalitions of civil rights groups and the left were challenging restrictions on voting and launching law suits against segregated schools. There were even grass roots movement challenging lynching and the sexual abuse of Black women, also led by the left.
But in response to fears of desegregation coupled with the anti-Communist hysteria inspired by the Cold War, a resurgent white supremacist movement swept through the Southern states, taking the form of a new mass movement called "the White Citizens Councils." Virtually every  civil rights and pro labor initiative in the South came under attack. Multiracial unions were destroyed, weakened, or forced into silence. Interracial organizations with left wing influence were suppressed, their leaders called before Congressional committees to expose "Communist ties." Dissenters were harassed, imprisoned, forced to leave the South, or quarantined in their own homes.
The damage was great. People like Rosa Parks, a militant anti-rape activist and voter registration organizer had to go underground, resurfacing as the "sweet old Black lady" of Montgomery Bus Boycott fame. My hero and mentor Rev Claude Williams, a prophetic voice of interracial unionism in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama, had crosses burned on his lawn, his dogs shots and killed, and death threats made so often he could not hold interracial meetings at his Alabama farm for nearly 15 years, until the non violent civil rights movement opened up space.
It took a whole new generation of protesters, coming from the Black church and the Black colleges, using the untested philosophy of non violent direct action, to restore the momentum for social change that had been created by the labor movement and the left in the late 1940's
I say this to remind us of two things
1. We have experienced counterrevolution before. It is brutal, ugly and can extract a terrible price on people and movements
2. The counterrevolution will ultimately fail. New forces will arise to move history forward again
Let us not underestimate the difficulties that await us. But let us not give in to forces of resignation and defeat. Justice will ultimately prevail if we stay true to our values and beliefs.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hope Lies in the Unexpected: An Inspirational Story

I have an inspirational story for you. It goes back to a time many years ago when for me, as for many battle scarred 60's idealists , the future looked grim. Maybe it will help people who feel beaten down by the recent election see some glimmer of hope on the horizon, perhaps from a place they never expected.
The year was 1972. I was having a hard time. The movement i was part of in the 60's had splintered into factions, some which had embraced a kind of violence I could not endorse. Several fomer friends and political associates had blown themselves up in a town house in Greenwich Village; other were on wanted posters you could see in any post office I was glad I never went down the path they had chosen, but seeing their pictures plastered all over by the FBI sent chills through me
Work was also stressful I had just started teaching at Fordham in the Institute of Afro American Studies and trying to figure out how I would navigate being the first white faculty member to teach in a Black Studies Prorgram in NYC, if not the whole country I loved the students in my classes and the people I taught with, but there were some students not in my classes who had been bitterly opposed to my appointment and facing them- and sometimes facing them down- on a daily basis was challenging
My personal life was also a mess. The relationship that had shaped my life for nearly 6 years, with a beautiful Black woman passionately devoted to helping people in need, who had been the first person I had fallen in love with, was breaking up and I was wondering who I would be without her by my side, especially since I had been adopted by her entire family.
In the midst of all this, a friend of mine decided to try to set me up with someone who was sitting in on a class he was teaching at the New School. i reluctantly went along, gave a lecture in the class and after a half a bottle of bourbon decided to ask the person out on a date
That person's name was Liz. As i looked across her at the table of the restaurant where I took her- I think it was Umberto's Clam house- I thought about how different she seemed from the woman I had been seeing for six years. She was gorgeous, but she looked like the captain of the cheerleading team in high school that I had been afraid to ask out Unlike my former girlfriend, the product of a working class Black family in Georgia, she had grown up in comfortable circumstances and had opportunities few Black people and not that many white people, had enjoyed growing up.
It would be hard to have been more skeptical about where this was going than I was the first half hour of our date, yet over time, I would fall in love with, this woman, who had a depth of intellect and character equal to anyone i had ever met. Not only would the former cheerleader captain, who many people know as Liz Phillips turn out to be the best life partner and parent anyone could dream of having, she would turn into one of the great education leaders of New York City, and New York state
In 1972, I feared the most meaningful parts of my life might be ending. In truth, I was on the cusp of a new beginning.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Turning Tragedy Into Opportunity-The Creation of Fordham's Bronx Course and the #BronxHistoryCollaborative

Last Fall there were a series of racial incidents at Fordham that traumatized the University community. The administration responded with powerful statements that condemned what took place and reaffirmed Fordham's commitment to becoming a diverse and caring community, but it was the student response that I found most gratifying. Students in my classes, including captains of 3 important teams- Garrick Lloyd MayweatherMikela Ryan and Danielle Rowe-, came up with a "Zero Tolerance for Racism campaign, complete with armbands and stickers which gave students, faculty and staff a way of affirming their support and solidarity with those targeted by the attacks with visual symbols. At the same time, another group of students decided the University needed to address the underlying layer of contempt for the Bronx and its people that helped fuel the incidents and asked me to create a new course on Bronx History and Culture. Within two weeks, with their help, I was able to create a syllabus for the course which was approved by the appropriate committees and introduced in the Fall of 2016
It has now been nearly three months since the Bronx Course opened its doors and its impact has been profound.With the help of educators involved in NYC's test exempt high schools- the Consortium Schools- we were able to have sections of my Bronx course taught simultaneously in two Bronx High Schools with provisions made to bring students in those course onto campus to meet with my students, and students in my class to come to the high schools to be interviewed by their students or make presentations on their research. . At the same time, the Bronx course alowed me to reconnect with two of the Bronx's and the nation's greatest principals- Paul Cannon and Luis E Torres- and give Fordham students the opportuity to see how they had turned their schools into centers of energy and creativity in some of the Bronx's poorest communities.
And this boundary shattering experience will only continue to grow in influence and important. One of the two brilliant teachers involved in teaching the Bronx course Aixa Rodriguez, introducted the term the #BronxHistoryCollaborative to describe the unique interaction of college and high school students and educators taking place and set up workshops and seminars to encourage others around the city an the nation to follow our example. On March 18, 2017, there will be a Conference of the #BronxHistoryCollaborative at Paul Cannon's amazing school, PS 140. And my Department at Fordham now be offering a section of the Bronx course every semester for the next two years, two of them offered by me, one each by my brilliant graduate assistants, Damien Strecker and Lisa Betty, I will also be turning my Rock and Roll to Hip Hop course into a Bronx centered offering and training my students to be able to go into Bronx schools and talk about the Bronx's role in shaping these two important musical genres.
I offer this experience for two reasons., First to congratulate the amazing Fordham students who pushed me to create the Bronx course- Madelyn Murphy (Maddie Leigh) and Danielle Rowe. Thank you and congratulations. What you set in motion is truly making history, both at Fordham in the Bronx.
But I also offer it as a reminder to those depressed and enraged by the wave of bias incidents that have been dividing the nation during and since the election that bringing people together to repudiate and halt this outpouring of ugliness might actually end up strengthening our communities in unexpected ways.
We cannot go backwards. We cannot stand still when hate stalks the land. Let us use our creativity and ingenuity to bring out the best in our communities.That's what my Fordham students did and the results of their efforts have been profoundly gratifying,.

Friday, December 2, 2016

R.I.P. Marge Borchert

Last night, driving back to Brooklyn from Fordham after a Bronx Education Forum I learned of the sudden death of Marge Borchert, a great elementary school principal in a community near Buffalo who to me and many others, epitomized the passion, creativity and courage that we want in those given the care of our children
I am crushed.,
I never met Marge in person. But she had become someone whose insights and wisdom I had come to count on in private messages on Facebook.exchanged literally hundreds of times in the last four years. We could not be more different. She was small town. I was city. She leaned toward the conservative side' I leaned to the left. But when it came to protecting children from the machinations of the arrogant poicy makers who were deforming education policy in this country, whether housed in Washington, Albany or the offices of large foundations we were as one. I revelled in her stories of getting more than 80 percent Opt Out in her school, her love of nature and its incorporation into her school pedagogy, and her standing up to state commissioner Mary Ellen Elia when Elia visited her district.
Over time, she became a moral compass to me whose insights I depended on almost daily..
I can't believe she is gone. I never knew she was ill. I know her school and community, as well as her family, must be in mourning.
For me, she symbolized the optimistic, forward looking spirit of small town America and the ability of great educators to keep children's interest first at a time when many policians view them through a far more cynical lens.
Never did we need Marge's voice than now- when we are divided, fearful, at one another's throats, and facing even greater challenges than we had in the past.
I will always remember her voice in my ear and try, in whatever way I can, to keep her legacy alive
You may have passed from this earth Marge, but you will always be in my heart and all the children you have inspired will keep your legacy alive.,
Rest in Peace. Rest in Kindness. Rest in Love

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why Clinton Lost the Election by "George Washington"

                                                            Did Hillary Clinton throw the election?
                                                                            by George Washington

            Looking at the Clinton support from the 2008 Democratic Primary we saw an abundance of support from white working class voters.( Yet throughout the 2016 election Clinton’s support with this group all but disappeared. Not only did the support disappear but Clinton thought it proper to insult the group that gave her so much strength in the primaries. What some call a mistake I assert a sense of something more deliberate.

 “The Deplorables” became not on a calling call for Anti-Hillary sentiment but also led to a movement of sort to make sure she was defeated. Women starting wearing T-Shirts called “Deplorables” to show solidarity with each other and against Clinton. But as BAR journalist Glen Ford points out “deplorables want good jobs too”.

Hillary Clinton spent a 13 year period as first lady of Arkansas. So it stands to reason she was extremely versed with this population. It also stands to reason that Clinton would have a tangible memory of the importance of this group considering the tough terrain in swing states. In sum politicians don’t make these sort of “mistakes” unless it was deliberate. We move onto the question of strategy and lack of campaign adjustments.

We have an excerpt from long time Democratic Party operative: I don’t have to make the case that blue collar voters are, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic about HRC’s positions on trade and the economy,” David Betras wrote in his 1,300 word missive, citing her struggles in recent primaries.(

Again we have Clinton abandoning her base from 2008. But wait it gets worse. Clinton was too close to Obama on the issue of NAFTA (her husbands debacle), the TPP, and earlier in the campaign she was fundamentally opposed to Glass Steagall (again another won of Bill’s debacles). And we have  wonderful column by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich: ( Clinton was to the RIGHT of Donald Trump on Glass Steagall! Not that I expect Trump to actually reinstate it. Lets examine where Clinton was in 2007 on the question of bank separation. To do this we find one of her important economic policy speeches.

We find clue in this excerpt:
 “Finally, we face new threats that neither the president nor federal regulators have adequately acknowledged or addressed. Take the risk of so-called derivatives and other new financial products that Wall Street is selling.These products offer new opportunities for investors to diversify portfolios and protect themselves against certain risks. For example, a farmer here in Iowa who's worried about the price of corn could buy a derivative that increases in value when the price of corn falls, so regardless of what happens with his crop, he has a chance to break even.But derivatives also create new risks. They can swing wildly in value. It isn't always clear who owns them or how much they are really worth. Owners don't always understand the risks, which is why even the investment banks that created them are losing billions of dollars on these derivatives. And the ripples are being felt from Wall Street to Main Street.”

Clinton slams the derivatives trade but did she go all the way and call for Glass Steagall? Mostly, the following article gives her a close enough. (

Lets look at foreign policy. We have the murder of Gaddafi: Hillary Clinton remarks on murder of Qaddafi with no trial, "We came, he saw, he died"...

Then we have the issue of Syria. Many Americans are tired of American interventionism as they no longer see the benefit. The military has been strained as their soldiers come home with blown off limbs, PTSD and other health problems. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has warned against increased engagement in Syria. (

Then behold a few weeks before the election Clinton comes out with another debacle. She calls for a no fly zone on Syria! Clinton also admitted many Syrian would be killed. ( How many Generals in the military did she piss of with this statement? More than a handful we can guarantee.

HRC was obviously talking to George Soros too much. It is past time to kick George Soros out of the Democratic Party. Soros is famous for crashing currencies. (

Finally. The tragic death of close Hillary Clinton friends under mysterious circumstances could have been enough for Madam Secretary to just want to go home and retire. Congressman Stephanie Tubbs Jones ( Arkansas Democratic Chairman Bill Gwatney. Coincidently Tubbs-Jones and Gwatney died 7 days apart. ( Democratic Party Strategist Kam Kuwata also died under mysterious circumstances. (

I don’t believe the above deaths are conspiratorial but I do believe they are enough to add grief and stress for a Presidential Candidate. In Sum combining weak banking policy, weak trade policy, hawkish foreign policy and being too close to wall st., this was a recipe for disaster. In the 2007-2008 campaign we have qualitative efforts of a strong progressive campaign to be President. The 2016 version of the Clinton campaign was 180 degrees to the opposite. We highlight this quote from a recent quote from Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer: ( We didn’t have an economic message. Presidential Politics is all about economics. Quoting the great James Carville “its the economy stupid”.  The fact through the whole campaign Hillary Clinton didn’t have an economic message is no accident. The party without a strong economic message and compelling narrative is almost always the loser.

To be fair. Clinton was essentially running on Obama’s policies which have been a dismal failure particularly in the red states. So she was essentially running on Obama’s policies and not her own. To break from Obama would be to break the party. The party which is now the bootlicker of wall st greed has no direction, no policies and no vision. I can only conclude that on a subconscious level Clinton was tired of politics and that she in fact wanted to lose. Sure she can blame the FBI email, ( she has to say this for the donors who wasted their money. However this analysis gives us a much deeper view that I believe is worth considering.

George Washington  is a teacher/ union activist living in the Western US

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Join the Resistance

Because Donald Trump has refused to denounce the racist, fascist hate groups who have been emboldened by his election, an anti-fascist, anti-racist resistance has started to grow in this country which will eventualy involve tens of millions of people. It will be above ground and underground, involve politicians, clergy and educators, and will mobilize citizens in all walks of life. It will ultimarly be far bigger than anything we have previously seen in US History. Wherever I go, I see this resistance rising. It will be a powerful force keeping the worst excesses of the Trump administration in check, and will ultimarly give new life the dreams.of Dr King and others who fought to expand the nation's promise to all its people.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Trouble Comes to "My Hometown"; Post Election Race Conflict in the Nation's Schools

One area where the tensions of the recent election are being played out is the nation's middle schools and high schools where I have heard literally scores of stories-through friends- of fights and exchanges of insults between white students and latino students and white students and black students, some of which have led to students getting hurt. Anyone who thinks that the media are inventing this, or that George Soros is financing this, has their head up their ass. If anything, the media is underreporting this. And this isn't about hate groups. This is about kids overhearing their parents conversations and bringing it to school
None of this is new. In fact, it looks more and more like a repeat of what I saw and experienced in the Sixties, something referred to in one of Bruce Springsteen's most powerful songs "My Hometown"
.In '65 tension was running high at my high school
There was a lot of fights between the black and white
There was nothing you could do
Two cars at a light on a Saturday night in the back seat there was a gun
Words were passed in a shotgun blast
Troubled times had come to my hometown
We are heading down a dangerous path. It will require hard work from all over us to keep the violence and hatred from taking even more dangerous forms
And no, covering it up is not the answer!!!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Real Talk About Affirmative Action

At various points in the campaign, commentators have referred to Affirmative Action as one of the issues driving white working class and middle class support for the Trump campaign
There are a lot of misconceptions about Affirmative Action in college admissions which I need to clarify. It always surprises people in my classes when I present them with this information.

When it comes to admissions preferences by universities, especially by elite universities, advantages given to under-represented minorities come in a distant THIRD. Here in order of importance are the way admissions advantages are distributed

1. Admissions advantages given to children from very wealthy families who can pay full tuition and/or make contributions to the school. These advantages used to benefit only wealthy Americans, now they benefit global elites as colleges scour the globe to recruit full tuition payers. For documentation of this read Peter Schmidt's book "Color and Money:How Rich White Kids are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action." The situation is actually worse now when colleges have gone "global" to seek wealthy students

2. Recruited athletes. Every Ivy League school gives 20% of its admissions sports to recruited athletes, the vast majority of whom are white. They are in sports like volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, sailing, tennis, golf, hockey softball and swimming as well as football and basketball. My children both went to Yale on sports affirmative action- my daughter because she was ranked 37 in the nation in junior tennis; my son because he was a left handed pitcher who threw 85 miles an hour. Both were smart kids, but it was sports that got them into one of the nation's most competitive schools For documentation of this read Bowen and Shapiro "The Game of Life"

3. Underrepresented minorities, a category which keeps shifting over time. Ironically, the vast majority of those recruited for elite schools under this rubric are from middle class families.
Now, if you are wondering why Affirmative Action remains such a source of resentment among many whites, consider this: most working class and middle class white kids fall into NONE of these categories.

But overwhelmingly, their resentment is directed at the SMALLEST group among those getting admissions advantages- those falling into category three.

And so we repeat one of the most depressing themes in US History: economically disfranchised whites are much more prone to blame those below them than those above them for their plight

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Brian Crowell 2014 Resolution to the AFT Demanding Support of New Deal Economic Policies for the Present

This was a Resolution Brian Crowell wanted the American Federation of Teachers to adopt in 2014. Needless to say it got nowhere. It demanded some action on the economic conditions that fueled the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and the election of Donald Trump:
A Resolution
In light of the NeoLiberal Economic Policies that openly attack the poor and middle class, The American Federation of Teachers has formally resolved the following and ask The American Federation of Teachers to support the following:
We demand that the American Federation of Teachers adopt the following policies, taken in the spirit of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights:
We demand the right to:
Employment, with a living wage
Food, clothing and leisure
Farmers rights to a fair income
Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
Medical care
Social security
Consistent with President Franklin Roosevelt's 2nd Bill of rights, and in the light of current issues facing the nation’s teachers, we also demand the following of our unions and associations:
We Demand that AFT must fight to defend veteran teachers from being forced out of their jobs by administrative harassment.
We Demand that AFT must fight to dramatically increase the number of teachers of color in our classrooms.
We Demand that AFT must stand up as strongly to denounce Democratic politicians who attack teachers and public education as Republican Ones.
We Demand that AFT actively support Constitutional Protections for Migrant and and Documented workers and children.
We Demand that AFT actively organize to unionize retail workers, fast food workers, childcare workers, domestic workers, home care and hospice workers, and to advocate for these workers a living wage.
Consistent with The New Deal Legislation of the 1930's we Demand that AFT advocate for WPA/TVA work and employment programs to alleviate homelessness and poverty.
We Demand that NEA actively actively engage policy makers to enforce Constitutional Protections for LGBT Citizens.
We Demand that AFT actively pursue policies that protect public education from Unfair Competition from Charter Schools.
We Demand that AFT actively pursue policies that promote Equal Equality and Equal Pay For Women; without compromise.
Consistent with Farming Legislation of the 1930's, We Demand that AFT pursue policies to promote small and medium size farming in lieu of large agribusiness farming.
Consistent with The Hill Burton Act of 1946, We Demand that AFT pursue policies to fully enact a single payer health care system.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

"Trump's Walkin' on the Fighting Side of Me"- HT to Merle Haggard

I hear Trump talkin' bad,
About the way we have to live here in this country,
Insulting all our immigrants
And gripin' ' bout those who come here to be free.
And I don't mind him speaking out,
And standin' up for things that he believes in
But when Trump talks down our immigrants
He's walkin' on the fightin' side of me.
Yeah, walkin' on the fightin' side of me.
Talking down a way of life
My grandparents all came here to achieve.
If you don't love all people
Let this song I'm singin' be a warnin'.
If you're talking down our immigrants
You're walkin' on the fightin' side of me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Hamilton Remix- A Bright Ray of Sunshine Amidst a Cataclysmic Election- Guest Post By Alison Dobrick

            Today’s release of two songs on the Hamilton Mixtape a long-awaited labor of love was a bright ray of sunshine during this cataclysmic storm of an election. My Shot (Rise Up Remix), by the Roots, featuring Busta Rhymes, shows definitively that Hamilton’s multiracial, up-to-the-minute portrayal in hip hop and song of idealized, distorted history was just the beginning of its cultural power.
Hamilton has become a cultural legend in its year and a half of existence. Accolades and superlatives cannot express the musical’s brilliance, beauty, and innovation; I am joined in this opinion by so many, from the Obamas to PBS to the corporate and government institutions funding opportunities for students to experience the groundbreaking show. Yes, I am a grown adult, and yes, upon listening I very quickly developed the intense fan-ship now known throughout the internet as “Hamilaria,” symptoms of which include playing/performing the album daily in the car; spouting verses and references (admittedly, to a possibly exasperating extent); and going into significant debt for a ticket with an obstructed view. For many of us, the excellent musical provided brilliant, Americana-themed escapism, especially needed during these troubling, pre-election days.
My musical- and hip hop-loving soul was enraptured, but my mind was still bothered about the ways in which history’s portrayal in Hamilton can be considered problematic or even offensive. Activist Ishmael Reed provocatively contends that having “black actors dress up like slave traders” does not mitigate the effects of presenting history in a way “that endowed slave traders and Indian eliminators the status of deities” (Counterpunch, 8/21/15). In The Public Historian (2/16), Rutgers scholar Lyra Monteiro compellingly analyzes Hamilton’s “erasure of black history.” The horrors of slavery, and its essential, foundational nature to the economic success of our country, are only glanced from a distance in Hamilton. Worse, abolitionist impulses are aggrandized, and slave owning is ignored or even joked about (Monteiro, also a fan of the show, has provided and interesting and thorough analysis of this elision).
As a white educator aligned with the goals of #BlackLivesMatter, I did not want to shy away from the possibility that Hamilton subtly supported white supremacy by focusing on the same “Dead White Males” treated as flawless heroes in most American History textbooks and classrooms (Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen is a great source on this strong, nationalist tendency). Meanwhile, I’ve been enthralled by the work of Columbia professor Christopher Emdin, who focuses on the power of hip-hop and what he calls America’s “neo-indigenous cultures” to provide new, effective, sometimes therapeutic practices and philosophies for educators of today’s students.
Could Hamilton be a source of real, relevant learning about history, values, and life for today’s diverse students? Or was it a rendering, though in “neo-indigenous” hip hop, of elitist American history that we should all “learn important life lessons” from? My Shot (Remix) perhaps answered both of these questions in the affirmative. But these questions, the song told us, are just the beginning of understanding what Hamilton means and will mean as a masterwork of our American culture.
Inimitable creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has explicitly drawn connections between the historical and current struggles embodied in hip-hop music and his vision of Hamilton. He tweeted the lyric “I never thought I’d live past twenty. Where I come from some get half as many” in connection with the miscarriage of justice in the case of Tamir Rice. Analysts of lyrics have noted that “This is not a moment, it’s a movement” echoes the language of #BlackLivesMatter. Daveed Diggs’ verse at the BET Cypher (10/13/15) speaks volumes, in a characteristically hip hop, multi-layered, brilliant way: “Playing these dead presidents, I’m getting my reparations!”
My Shot (Remix) begins with the beat of soldiers marching, and the now-familiar strains of My Shot, but brings the musical commentary on contemporary social justice that partly inspired Hamilton full circle. Now, the revolutionary soldiers, the “young, scrappy and hungry” men who embody American hopes for freedom and democracy, are cast as today’s mistreated, misunderstood black youth: “When even role models tell us we’re born to be felons / We’re never getting’ into Harvard or Carnegie Mellon.” Now, the foundationally vital plans, poetry, and patriotism of Alexander Hamilton are compared to the way that one can never give up dreams in the face of the many obstacles he or she faces: “That’s why you hustle hard, never celebrate a holiday / That’ll be the day I coulda finally hit the lottery.” Hip hop’s mastery of using words to communicate multiple layers of meaning is on display here; Black Thought references ideas from Alexander’s refusal to “take a break” from his work in the show to today’s insistently hopeful (yet sadly desperate) widespread practice of playing the lottery daily.
Busta Rhymes’ voice, lyrics, and persona are, like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mind, incomparable. Busta’s presence on the Mixtape attests to Miranda’s deep respect for the hip hop masters who inspired him. Customary growl calmed to a stern rumble, Busta adjures listeners to “Rise Up” today, implicating himself and all of us as responsible to work to improve society: “When are folks like me and you gonna rise up? Every city, every hood, we need to rise up.” Busta’s volume and intensity rise, and marchers for civil equality, women’s liberation, and voting rights, or against police brutality and prejudice, appear in the mind’s eye as an unbroken chain of quintessential American-ness, as American as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The artists who created this remix evince passion and brilliance that make me proud to (in the words of Puerto Rican American rapper Joell Ortiz’s words, who also has a verse on the Roots’ song), “Be American, express how [I] feel, and take the credit.” Hamilton makes clear connections between history and modern life; Busta’s exhortation to “Rise Up” together and make a difference, despite the imposing odds stacked against many in society and against our society itself, could not have come at a better time.

Alison Dobrick, Ed.D. is Associate Professor of education at William Paterson University of New Jersey, and Director of the William Paterson University Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She is currently working on HiPP (the Hamilton in Paterson Project) which brings Hamilton, hip hop education, and Paterson, NJ together for meaningful learning experiences in local history, hip hop music, and multiple literacies.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Response in the Bronx Community to "Before the Fires"

 The response of people in the Bronx and neighboring communities to "Before the Fires: An Oral History of African American Life in the Bronx from the 1930's to the 1960's" has been one of the most gratifying aspects of publishing this book. As background, "Before the Fires" is the outgrowth of a community history initiative called the "Bronx African American History Project" which has recorded more than 300 oral history interviews during its 14 years of existence. None of these interviews would have been possible without the support of community residents and community leaders who wanted their voices recorded and the response to the book has reflected the power of that community input. Since the book was published in September, my co-author and I have been hosted by two local cultural organizations- the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Bronx Music Heritage Center- two public high schools- Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom HS and Community School for Social Justice- and one African American Church- Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon. In all of these events, there has been enthusiastic audience participation in discussing the stories contained in the book, and encouragement for us to record more. Universally, people have applauded the book's appearance as a sign that their view of Bronx history- one in which Black people's community building and culturally creativity was foregrounded- could no longer be ignored. Everywhere we went, people expressed pride in the book's appearance and took ownership of it.  They urged us to get maximum publicity for it, not as a way of enhancing the reputation of the authors, but of affirming the value of the communities whose history it recorded and celebrated.

It is hard to put in words how much this experience affected both Bob Gumbs and me emotionally.It affirmed our vision of this book as a true community product, one which people whose lives were highlighted in the book could claim as a window into the world they grew up in, ans still look back upon with
great affection and respect

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Why Young Voters Should Mobilize To Keep Donald Trump from the Presidency

Donald Trump represents a grave threat to the multiracial society that so many young people embody in their daily lives and which so many of their parents and grandparents worked hard to create
He launched his drive for the Presidency in 2011 with racist attacks on President Obama by associating himself with the birther movement and employing rhetoric calling him an "Affirmative Action President" and has used his current campaign to target vulnerable groups by race, religion and nationality.
His speeches are filled with rage. They incite people to view one another with suspicion. They promote violence
We cannot afford to have a President whose language is so inflammatory and who makes so many people fearful of their fellow citizens as well as government.
I have no illusions about his opponent. But Donald Trump represents a threat to our democracy and civic order we have not seen nearly half a century.
There is no "do over" if he is elected.
We will enter uncharted territory as a nation if he is in the White House, Is that a chance you are prepared to take?.
If not. head to the polls on November 8 and make sure that Donald Trump remains in private life where his damage to our social fabric can be more easily contained.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Origins of Unlawful Teacher Discipline in the Berkeley (Cal) School District

We have a crisis of administrative attacks on teachers in Berkeley. Specifically our teachers are being falsely accused of unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance based on false pretenses. In addition classified employees are being targeted with trumped up statements of charges of misconduct also leading to termination.

Regarding the certificated statutes of the ed code, we feel that a crime has been committed before the district implements ca ed code 44938 and 44939c to terminate our employment. (California ed code 44938 is derived from Ca ed Code 44660 performance evaluation. Ca Ed Code 44939c requires improper conduct with student or criminal act)

District law firms specifically Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud &Romo, compile the statement of charges with administration. These charges in turn are filled with false, misleading and or fraud filled statements and or charges. These charges in turn are the basis for the termination and disciplining of employees under false pretenses. Needless to say the district law firms in question appear to be conducting a racketeering scheme as the are making financial gain from the trumped up charges. This in turn drains the resources of the school district unnecessarily. There are currently no ed code protections in the BFT or BCCE contract that address this issue in codified fashion.

Quoting Penal Code 132:

132.  Every person who upon any trial, proceeding, inquiry, or
investigation whatever, authorized or permitted by law, offers in
evidence, as genuine or true, any book, paper, document, record, or
other instrument in writing, knowing the same to have been forged or
fraudulently altered or ante-dated, is guilty of felony.

Also quoting California Penal Code 134: "
134.  Every person guilty of preparing any false or ante-dated book,
paper, record, instrument in writing, or other matter or thing, with
intent to produce it, or allow it to be produced for any fraudulent
or deceitful purpose, as genuine or true, upon any trial, proceeding,
or inquiry whatever, authorized by law, is guilty of felony."

This is a serious problem that is not only an epidemic in Berkeley but teachers are complaining about this state wide. I have appellate court case law to confirm my assertions. Here is the following case: People vs Clark. [Crim. No. 30122. Court of Appeals of California, Second Appellate District, Division Two. July 28, 1977.]

There also appears to be a material breach of the ed code. The following section makes the relevant point: California Ed Code 44112 (1),(2). The relevant statute states the following:

 (1) The activity violates a state or federal law or regulation,
including, but not limited to, corruption, malfeasance, bribery,
theft of government property, fraudulent claims, fraud, coercion,
conversion, malicious prosecution, misuse of government property, or
willful omission to perform duty.
   (2) The activity is economically wasteful or involves gross
misconduct, incompetency, or inefficiency.

In addition the Berkeley Unified School District is also violating California Ed Code 44113:

44113.  (a) An employee may not directly or indirectly use or
attempt to use the official authority or influence of the employee
for the purpose of intimidating, threatening, coercing, commanding,
or attempting to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or command any person
for the purpose of interfering with the right of that person to
disclose to an official agent matters within the scope of this
   (b) For the purpose of subdivision (a), "use of official authority
or influence" includes promising to confer or conferring any
benefit; affecting or threatening to affect any reprisal; or taking,
directing others to take, recommending, processing, or approving any
personnel action, including, but not limited to appointment,
promotion, transfer, assignment, performance evaluation, suspension,
or other disciplinary action.
   (c) For the purpose of subdivision (a), "official agent" includes
a school administrator, member of the governing board of a school
district or county board of education, county superintendent of
schools, or the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
   (d) An employee who violates subdivision (a) may be liable in an
action for civil damages brought against the employee by the offended
   (e) Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize an
individual to disclose information otherwise prohibited by or under law.

Dozens of Berkeley employees have asked me what can be done to remedy this situation. As I commingle the above referenced ed codes with the penal codes it does appear that employees should file complaints with the local police to preserve their rights and to protect against felonious assertions by district administrators and lawyers. I do believe that California Ed Codes 44110-44114 were implemented to protect employees from trumped up and false assertions
In sum, there is basically a racketeering scheme being carried out by law firms that represent school districts. The lawyers compile false charges. In turn the false charges are used to terrorize and terminate employees. The personnel actions are then rubber stamped by school boards who incorrectly assume the charges in fact are true and have merit. The cycle continues, as these same law firms acquire financial gain under false pretenses. To maintain the practice of law lawyers must maintain ethical standards. Here it is clear that these standards have been broken.

It is the ease at which teachers are placed on leave, charged and terminated that is at issue. If the NUC/NUP is not challenged and the author of the document not challenged the teachers are in effect accepting the allegations as true. The financial motive for lawyers and administrators to do the following dubious acts are clear. If we dont attack the lawyers in a penal way the crimes against public education will continue.

John Doe
Social Science Credential
Special Education Credential