Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Message to Teachers As I Approach My 70th Birthday

When I think about the war on teachers and teaching currently being waged by business leaders and politicians, I think about where our best traditions come from and draw strength from the images that come to mind: I see Socrates; I see African griots conveying the history of whole peoples in verse; I see Jesus imparting his disciples with a vision that would change the world; I see Harriet Tubman telling desperate slaves how best to escape in a brush arbor deep in the woods. Many of the most important figures in our collective history were teachers. So my fellow teachers, think of this precious legacy the next time an editorial writer or politician denigrates what you do; or a state education department tries to get you to implement a directive that violates your professional conscience. They may have the money and power, but history is on your side. You erase teaching; you erase civilization

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Woodie Guthrie Warned Us- A Poem

They died
on plantations
in mines
on road gangs
on the docks
picking fruit
building canals railroads and levees
erecting bridges and skyscrapers
jumping out of the windows of textile factories
Black and white,
Male and female.
Slavic and Italian
Irish and Jewish
Mexican and Chinese
Jamaican and Puerto Rican
people from every part of the world
Creating a nation,
that could belong to all
or be controlled by the few
which will it be?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Nativism, Racism and the Trump Candidacy

Although I am fiercely opposed to Donald Trump's immigration policies, I do not think he is an American version of a fascist dictator. Rather, I see him as the latest version of a long line of Nativist politicians, going back to the 1830's, who have used fears of immigrants and outsiders to advance their political careers. Their targets over the years have varied, starting with Irish Catholics in the early 19th Century, moving on to Asians, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans. In almost every instance, their words have coincided with acts of violence against targeted groups, ranging from burning of churches and convents, to expulsion of entire communities from towns and cities ( directed against Chinese residents the American West in late 19th Century) to the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as an anti-immigrant group after WWI. This is my concern about Mr. Trump's rhetoric. It has the potential to turn large groups of Americans against one another, leading to violent conflicts at public events, pitting neighbor against neighbor. This is not something new to American history It has happened before, many times. It left scars, some recent, some more ancient, on almost everyone living in the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in, where the vast majority of the people were Jewish, Italian, Irish and Black. I do not wish to see these wounds open again.
I am hoping against hope that when Mr Trump becomes the Republican presidential candidate, he will de-emphasize racially and religiously targeted attacks on immigrants. If he doesn't. we are about to head down a very dangerous road, one which we have traveled before, always with the most painful consequences..

Friday, May 13, 2016

Courageous Speech to Her School Board by An Upstate NY Teacher

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.--Coco Chanel

Something I certainly haven't been able to do with any ease up until these last two years. Still it is difficult. Especially when public or private voicings of discontent are viewed in our school community as whining, retaliatory, or even mean-spirited. As many of you here have witnessed, there's a tidal wave of emotions related to decisions made by our school
District that teachers and parents alike believe to not be in line with the educational mission of our district or best educational practices based on collective experience and research.

Many of us parents and teachers have been told publicly and privately that the board does not like to micromanage. While this can be appreciated on one level, I would still like an explanation as to why our board refuses to exercise their board authority which states" in all cases were laws and regulations of the state commissioner of education do not provide, permit, or prohibit, the board shall consider itself the agent responsible for establishing and appraising educational matters and activities."

On behalf of my fellow parents and colleagues I would like to re-offer some of the top educational matters and activities that are believed to be in need of appraising and establishing by our board.

1. Reinvest in the smaller class size model. This investment, is proven through research and even recommended by the state, especially in schools of high poverty. Great education dividends should be expected in the very near future if this were to be established. With such a fiscally prudent board, I believe it would be clear to you that investing monies on things like a district app or community education before taking care of the needs of our most vulnerable students would be the priority. I can tell you that many of my student's parents still use trac phones without internet support and would be excluded from using the resource anyway.

 Having 25 students in a fifth grade class such as my own is not the same as 25 in a primary grade. If it was not possible to reduce class-size in all grades the primary grades is where this practice should begin again.

2. We would also like to request that before approving line items such as instructional consultants or other programs into the budget that all teachers have been given an opportunity to be made aware of these new programs and support consultants that are to be purchased. Start with a teacher led committee then bring it to the table with all teacher's input. By doing this you will gain important insight and be able to offer your input before hiring or purchasing programs that will impact our already financially strained district. This would be an incredible collaborative opportunity. It is believed that this practice would save the district thousands of dollars.

3. Since you are responsible for establishing and appraising educational matters and activities, I would like to appeal to you to please return the offering of skills classes especially for algebra. I have never heard a reason for continuing the elimination of the one and a half and 2 yr courses that were meant to support those who struggle and need more time to master the skills and concepts. If we are to stay true to the Canajoharie central school vision statement then let's offer all of our students multiple pathways to success. Based on research, we are in the minority locally and statewide when it comes to this practice.

I'm looking forward to seeing you all act swiftly on the policy change you're voting on tonight which is to "carry out the educational mission of the district on behalf of the resident and the community in matters of education.

Thank you.

NAACP Report: Ethnic Cleansing of African American Employees at Berkeley Unified School District


In reading this blog, if you have thought that the war on teachers and public education was something just isolated to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), you would be sorely mistaken. In writing this blog over the years I have been contacted with greater and greater frequency by high seniority and expensive teachers from all over the country who are being targeted and removed by school administrators doing the bidding of the Broad, Gates, Walton and other foundations hell bent on privatizing public education for profit and the further dumbing of America.
After attacks against senior teachers in New York City, Buffalo, D.C., Chicago, Florida and elsewhere, the latest case in point has taken place in traditionally liberal Berkeley where the President Mansour Id-Deen of the Berkeley NAACP has finally had enough of these outrageous practices. In his letter to the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) about its concerted unwarranted attack on teachers and classified staff of color being systematically attacked and removed from their careers by the new house negroes and hispanics running the BUSD into the ground, he pulls no punches in calling them out for their indefensible behavior.
Click on the following link and read Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen's 18 point attack on the BUSD's illegal behavior. Feel free to make comments and share this post with other educators around the country being savaged in the same manner:


05 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Priorities for Education Organizing in the Midst of a Presidential Election

Although many people's eyes will be on the coming Presidential election, it is very important to recognize that many of the most important struggles that shape our future will be taking place at a local level, sometimes uniting people who disagree on Presidential politics. Toward that end, let me suggest a few directions for local organizing in the field of education policy, where opportunities exist to put an end to the destructive policies that have been unleashed on the country in the name of "School Reform" since No Child Left Behind.
1. Stop Charter School Expansion. Charter schools have been presented by leaders of both parties as the solution to educational inequality. They have failed miserably in that regard. Worse yet, they have legitimized abuse of students and families, discrimination against ELL's and special needs students, and destruction of hard won labor rights of teachers. Charter schools need to be investigated, and when appropriate, disciplined if they are guilty of corruption and abusive practices, not expanded.
2. Investigate and remove Eli Broad trained Superintendents. All over the country, School Districts have hired Superintendents trained by the Eli Broad Academy who promote data driven instruction, test based evaluation of schools and teachers, and reducing of parental influence in management of school districts. At the very least, these Superintendents should be put on notice that their methods are unacceptable; if possible, they should be removed from their positions. This is another reason why it is important for coalitions of parent and teachers to take control of local school boards and push back against the "Reform" agenda which has done so much damage.
3. Put the nails in the coffin on VAM and the Common Core Standards. Two of the pillars of the Obama administration's educational policies have been test based teacher evaluations and adherence to the Common Core standards. Our schools will not be free of political interference until BOTH are defeated. In every state, keep pushing for policies that eliminate centralized data gathering and data management. Teachers should be making up standards and making up tests, not Corporations.
4. Resist any attempt to make students sit in front of computer terminals all day so that their performance can be evaluated more easily and their "progress" monitored by authorities outside their school buildings. Not only does this approach violate their civil liberties, it poses serious dangers to their health.Students must be allowed to move, to express themselves, to interact with teachers and one another during the vast majority of their school day. Competency Based Education sacrifices student on the alter of national data gathering. It should be nipped in the bud before it gets institutionalized.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Follow Buffalo's Lead And Take Over Your Local School Board!

I have been talking to some of my co-conspirators around the country and I think it is time to do what they did in Buffalo and TAKE BACK LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS from the Billionaires and the Deformers
We can do so around a very simple platform
END THE TESTING, RESTORE RECESS, and use the money saved to invest in
Community Centered Pedagogy
Fully Funded Counseling Centers and School Libraries
Vocational Education
School Based Agriculture
Are you down with me?. Are you ready to bring this fight to your local school boards and school districts.
And NONE OF THIS BS Competency Based Education where kids sit in front of computer screens all day. Kids need to run, move, express themselves, create things, work with their hands, interact with one another socially.

Friday, May 6, 2016

How Charter Schools Weaken Communities They Are Purported to Help

Every time a public school is closed and a charter school is selected to replace it, the following things happen
1. A public space for the entire community is replaced by a private space open to only charter school families.
2. Lifetime teachers with decent salaries and union protections are replaced by low paid "teacher temps" who are "employees at will" and can be fired at a school administrator's discretion
3. A school where children's rights are protected by law is replaced by one where students with behavior issues or who test poorly can be suspended indiscriminately, and where discrimination against Special Needs Students and ELL's can take place without penalty.
4. A school which is public property subject to democratic control is replaced by one where private investors, often the same one's gentrifying low income communities, have major control over school policies.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Children Need Space to Dream: Crown Heights Memories from the 1950's

I wasn't always the happiest kid in the world growing up. My relationship with my parents was always tense, and the pressure they put on me to excel academically- I skipped 2 grades and graduated from high school at 16- put me at odds with other kids in my tough Brooklyn neighborhood.
What literally saved me were two things- sports and books. Sports gave me a vehicle to release tension and win respect from the kids that were tormenting me and books gave me space to dream. And because New York in those days provided space and encouragement for children who needed dreams and fantasy to escape difficult realities, I managed to find peace in private moments that escaped me in social situations.
Let me explain. On any weekend morning, by the time I was 11 years old, you could find me in two places- at the vest pocket park shooting baskets, or at the public library taking out books.
At 7:30 AM on Saturday and Sunday morning, I turned the basketball court at the little park at the corner of East New York and Albany Avenues into my private practice space. Getting there with my basketball at 7:30 AM, before anyone else arrived, I shot hundreds of layups, hook shots, set shots, and when I reached adolescence, jump shots, imagining I was my cousin Stephen, who played basketball at Columbia, or Elgin Baylor, the NBA star I admired most. Rarely did anyone else get there till 8:30 or 9 AM so this was my private time, the place where I built up my skills and fantasize about what I could do with them. And I could do this safely because the park was never locked, and because there was an attendant there from 7 AM on.
The local library on New York Avenue just South of Kingston Avenue was an equally important refuge. The library opened at 9 AM on Saturday mornings and on days when it was too cold or rainy to play basketball, I was often the first one there. I started with books on reptiles and dinosaurs- I once wanted to be curator of the Reptile House of the Bronx Zoo- moved on to young adult sports novels by authors like John R Tunis and Claire Bee, discovered social justice fiction by Jack London and James Farrell, and by the time I graduated from high school was reading Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. All of this was done on my own, either in a corner table at the local library or behind closed doors in my apartment where my parents rarely bothered me if i was reading a book. I lost myself in those books, letting my mind soar to places where great deeds occurred or where conflicts such as the ones I experienced daily assumed larger meanings
I think of these moments now not only because they played such an important role in shaping the person I became, but because young people growing up in NY today don't have the same opportunities. Small parks are locked and unattended during early morning hours; library hours have been sharply curtailed. And children who need to find a private space through sports or books
have much more trouble finding it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Where We Should Go in Public Education in New York State Now that Testocracy is on the Defensive

As public education in New York State gets a new lease on life as a result of Betty Rosa's election as Regents Chancellor, the election of a new pro-public school majority on the Buffalo School Board, and the gradual loss of credibility of Charter Schools as a solution to education inequality, we need to start putting forward proposals to make our public schools places where children are nurtured and inspired and teachers have long and productive careers. We have been playing defense so long that it is time to switch to offense. Here are some of my proposals for programs to make public education more vital
1. Radically cut testing budgets and make sure that every school from K-12 has excellent sports and arts programs.
2. Make recess an integral part of every school day and make sure every child has access to physical education
3. Put charter schools under strict regulation and make it impossible for them to discriminate against ELL and Special Needs students or to push students who don't test well into the local public schools.
4. Make school based agriculture an integral part of the school curriculum, both to help teach science and encourage healthy eating.
5. End the requirement that all students get Regents diplomas and create multiple pathways to graduation.
6. Invest in vocational and technical education so that students who want them have career paths that do not require college education.
7. End once and for any state support for the Common Core Curriculum and take all test creation out of the hands of private companies.
8. Allow schools to apply for complete exemption from all state testing and use portfolio evaluations if parents, teachers and students want to try this pedagogical model

The following additions were proposed by S.E. Anderson

9.   Transform the K-12 curriculum to reflect the cultural and national diversity of knowledge (i.e. infuse thruout Latino/Asian/African centered curricula and pedagogy).
10.  Start a recruitment and retention campaign to transform the mainly white teaching staff to be in parity with the demographic reality of NY State's children. This would include an in-school K-12 campaign to encourage children to become educators via a tutition free college experience.

11.   Structure in direct parental and student involvement in the decision-making processes of schools, districts and regions.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Islam and US History

Many of the comments made about Muslims that I hear on the campaign trail or read on social media bear a striking resemblance to comments about Catholics made during the high point of Irish immigration to the US during the 1840's and 1850's. Catholics were described as unassimilable, loyal to a foreign power ( the Pope) and a danger to American citizens because of their determination to convert or conquer those who did not share their faith. These fears led to attacks on Catholic churches, attempts to restrict Catholic immigration and the rise of an entire political party- the Know Nothing Party- which sought to insulate the United States from Catholics destructive influence.
Over time these fears eased and Catholics became an integral part of the American social fabric, represented in every portion of the nation's leadership from the Presidency to the Supreme Court to the military to our educational institutions. I am proud to teach at an educational institution founded these once despised immigrants. But full assimilation and acceptance took a long time- over a hundred years. Along the way, many Catholics were victims of discrimination, occasionally of violence.
I am hoping we can avoid this dynamic with American Muslims. I have had the experience of working closely with the Muslim community in the Bronx and have Muslim students and colleagues that I have gotten to know quite well. And can tell you that the extraordinary diversity of the Muslims I have met defy any stereotype you have of uniformity in religious practice, political ideology, gender attitudes or relations with people of different faith. I know practicing Muslims who will not shake hands with people of a different gender; I know others who greet their friends and colleagues with a hug. I know Islamic centers which remain private spaces for those who worship there; I know Islamic centers which invite the whole neighborhood in for meals and meetings.
Islam, like Judaism, Catholicism, or Protestantism is a dynamic, evolving faith which cannot be defined by quoting passages from religious texts, or political actions taken in its name by those competing for control of resources or political power.
Those sowing hysteria about the Muslim presence in this country need to remember that similar fear mongering about Catholics or Jews, or Asians did great harm, and ultimately proved to be based more on myth than real life experience in diverse American communities.