Friday, September 30, 2016

Data Dictatorship: How the Police State Has Invaded Graduate School Applications

Note: This was written by a brilliant graduate applicant who chooses to remain anonymous. Read it and weep!

Merriam-Webster defines the term “excess” as “an amount that is more than the usual or necessary amount.” A second, but equally fitting definition, includes “behavior that is considered wrong because it goes beyond what is usual, normal, and proper.” I would certainly describe the inordinate amount of security measures imposed on me during my recent experience sitting for the GRE exam as excessive—to say the least.

But it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Security is a good thing. As a prospective graduate student, I am expected to be quiet, follow orders, and take my exam. I am not to find any part of the security protocol uncomfortable or disconcerting. I could (and did), but I know I wouldn’t dare express my discomfort, as that would mean the end of my ambition to attend graduate school and earn a doctorate. Even if I had chosen to opt-out that morning and choose another testing center (which like Voldemort, need not be named), the security measures for high-stakes testing would remain the same. I am required to present GRE scores in my applications to graduate programs, and as such, forced to accept all of the requirements regarding test day. But what happens when security measures intended to discourage inequity infringe on a student’s right to privacy? What happens when test center protocol intended to facilitate a successful test day, hinder it?

Before I begin a general overview of the process, it is imperative to point out that the proctors at the testing center were helpful and ready to answer any questions I may have had. The draconian policies that they are required to enforce, however, is a different matter entirely. 

First, I was asked to familiarize myself (quickly) with all of the test center’s policies and copy a statement in which I promise not share the content of my exam—a standard part of any “official” exam. Then, I was monitored as I placed my items in my designated locker and only allowed to keep my ID with me. No writing materials (fine), but no water either (even if you were to bring a spill-proof water bottle). Test-takers waited in line as proctors called each of us one by one through an unremarkable metal detector. All of the above were procedures that did not feel intrusive, yet. 

Next, my clothes were examined in case I decided to bring prohibited materials. In essence, I was required to give myself a pat-down as proctors supervised. I had to lift the ankles of my pants so my calves and the tops of my shoes were visible, next my shirt sleeves, and then I had to open and shake every single pocket to prove they were empty. Yes, even the impractical hidden pocket on the inside part of the band on my exercise leggings that I forgot existed (it is big enough to fit a quarter and that’s about it), as one of the proctors so gently reminded me. Then I was led to a hallway in which nervous hopefuls were required to wait outside their particular testing labs until they were “processed.” I sat on a bench outside the lab I spent the next 5 hours in, fidgeting with my fingers until I watched another test-taker being processed in front of me. He was required to prove his identity with a series of personal questions, provide his ID, signature, and his fingerprints (yes, even his fingerprints), all the while the proctor in charge constantly checked his face against the photo on his ID. Next, he was instructed to stand against the wall as his photo was taken and added to the testing center’s database. As he signed in, the last step in the pre-lab process which seemed to last a lifetime, it was then that I noticed the endless sea of security cameras lining the wall. They took note of every student; every movement; every breath. Not only was there surveillance in each hallway, but at each station, monitoring not only the whole lab as an overview, but each student taking an exam. It was then my heart started to pound with the knowledge that I would be watched, literally, the entire time I was taking the exam. And if they noticed any “suspicious” behavior (which was vaguely defined in and of itself) they had every right to enter the lab and, in a manner of speaking, apprehend me. What was even their definition of “suspicious” behavior. As someone prone to anxiety and medically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I naturally began to worry. What if my neck hurt and I turned my head in a certain direction? Would Big Brother watching think I was trying to cheat?

Was I in a testing center or correctional facility?

And then it was my turn to be “processed.”

I shook the entire time—it felt like a dream. Not only was I about the take the exam I had prepared for months in advance, but instead of facilitating optimism, I felt hunted by the test center, like I was in a psychological experiment studying how spot a cheater. I no longer was a dedicated student with a passion for learning hoping to join the ranks of academia—I was an untrustworthy, culpable youth.

For the record, I would never condone cheating or the notion that responses to instances of academic dishonestly should be lax and that measures should not be taken to prevent cheaters from getting away with cheating in the first place. But fingerprints? Cameras following your every move, including your own personal one never leaving your station for 5 hours recording every second you bite your nails, wipe the nervous sweat off your brow? And what about the fact I don’t even know the exact conditions of the video recording and what exactly the test center does with that recording? If it was my own error missing the policy, I will fully own up to it, but I can’t say I like the idea of the test center having a five-hour long recording of me taking my exam. How long do they have it for? Do they delete it after the test is complete or do they save it for a rainy day, waiting to catch the next cheater? Such a policy was not made clear.

Of further note, when I left for a 10-minute bathroom break, I was required to sign out. To return, I had to walk through the metal detector for a second time, pat myself down and demonstrate my clothing was still free of prohibited materials, and wait until I was allowed to continue taking my exam.

While I scored well above average on the exam, I know that my performance was certainly affected by the intimidating environment. On average, I scored significantly higher (about 15-20 points) on practice exams made directly by the makers of the test (thus, the type of test prep program is not a variable here). I caught myself thinking about the multitude of cameras on me more often than I cared to, ensuring I refrained from doing anything “suspicious,” which I never intended on doing (nor would ever) in the first place.

Sure, one can argue that it is difficult to secure a student against intimidation and nerves on the day of an important exam. Moreover, I fully acknowledge that such security measures would not exist if students had taken advantage of what previously must have been less stringent policies. However, like many policies and measures intended to “help,” they can often be implemented to the point of exaggeration and excess; to the point where they do not help, but hinder. What’s to stop high-stakes test centers from demanding a saliva sample, once fingerprints are not enough? They could simply employ the same problematic logic (the same logic that is too reminiscent of the motives behind the PATRIOT Act and unencumbered NSA surveillance) once someone nefarious figures out how to dupe the system again. Cue further invasion of privacy.

Yet like every one of my fellow test-takers, I was required to be complacent that the test center had taken such care to ensure an honest and fair experience. I will need to be obedient once more when I sit for the exam a second time, hoping that an acclamation to such drastic security measures (not unlike a US military station in Iraq, as one ex-marine on the net has likened the test center surveillance to) will not intimidate me.

Unfortunately, I need that official score report to be the scholar I dream of becoming. The price? Complacency. While the official score is supposed to be a measure of intelligence, it conveniently refuses to reflect how inimical the ordeal of the high-stakes testing center experience is to a student’s success. 

Note  Here is telling testimony of a former marine who claimed the surveillance he saw at his testing center was military-grade--another pretty important piece to read! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Nothing New In Charter Schools

When I was growing up I was not that well behaved. I got in fights in school and in the streets, refused to listen to my parents, and threw temper tantrums when my parents punished me or confined me to my room..
When direct physical discipline (spanking, slapping my face, washing my mouth out with soap) didn't work, my parents pulled out what they thought was their most potent threat
: "If you don't shape up, Mister, we are going to send you to Yeshiva or Military School."
That ALWAYS got my attention. The last thing I wanted to do was to be sent to a place where corporal punishment and zero tolerance discipline prevailed.
And as I recalled those "conversations," which I am sure took place in the homes of my Italian friends with Catholic school as substitute for Yeshiva, I thought about the "no excuses" charter schools like K.I.P.P, Success Academies, and Uncommon Schools which are being currently being touted as the "solution" to educational inequality.
And what I concluded is this- Such schools have ALWAYS existed, in some form, as options for frustrated parents, but they
never served the majority of students and won't be able to do that now
Because there is no "one size fits all" discipline that works for every child and every family, any more than there is a one size fits all curriculum or pedagogy.
Charter schools, as the reincarnation of military school and religious schools, work for some families, but to make them the model for all school does a terrible disservice to teachers, students and families who want a freer and less intimidating educational atmosphere.

Jose Fernandez and the American Dream

I have never seen more TV commentators become emotional than when covering the passing of Marlin's pitcher Jose Fernandez,, including Mets announcer Keith Hernandez, a notoriously tough, hard edged person. Tears are still being shed when talking about him all over sports television, three days after his untimely passing
It is not just that Fernandez was the best young pitcher in baseball, someone who put up Koufax like numbers ( he was an astonishing 29-2 at Marlin's Stadium), that he played with joy and enthusiasm, that he was loved by his teammates and everyone in the greater Miami community who met him; that his smile not only lit up the room but the stadium
It was that for his baseball peers and many others he symbolized the wonderful qualities that Latino immigrants have brought to this country at a time when their presence here has been made the subject of negative attention during a Presidential campaign
Jose Fernandez did not come here "legally" He risked his life 4 times before he finally made it to this country by boat. He came because despite all its injustices and problems, the United States represented the hope of a better life for him and his family. And he repaid his debt to this country by working hard, cultivating his skills and sharing his joy in being here with everyone around him
Is there anyone else who symbolizes the American Dream more than Jose Fernandez?
Hello Donald Trump. Are you listening?
The people you are attacking are some of the people who are working the hardest to "Make America Great"
Jose Fernandez certainly was. Rest in Peace my Cuban brother

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Donald Trump and "Hamilton's" America

After watching Donald Trump in the debates, I thought he was more pathetic than dangerous. Here was a 70 year old man, and not a particularly healthy one at that, convinced he was on a sacred mission to "save" his country, who was running out of time and whose powers were failing. Yes, he is a demagogue and a bully who appeals to some of the worst instincts in people, but he could not bully Hillary Clinton and, if by some chance he is elected President, will not be able to bully elected officials, educators, religious leaders, people in the arts, or ordinary citizens who find his plans and rhetoric abhorrent..
If Donald Trump were 40 years old and presenting the same message, I would be a lot more scared.
But he is 70 years old and represents a fading past, not the future, We are and will remain a multiracial society, one that welcomes immigrants, one where peoples and cultures mix, one where people who are stimatized because of their identities will be supported and defended by many of their fellow citizens.
The America that made "Hamilton" the most popular Broadway show in years is not disappearing because of Mr Trump's ascendency. We are are strong, we are resilent, and in the long run we will prevail.
And that is true whether or not Donald Trump is elected President.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Notorious Phd Analysis of the Debate

Donald Trump did not lose any support last night. He touched all the key talking points that have attracted supporters to him- jobs and companies leaving, immigration and law and order, Clinton email scandals.
However, Hillary Clinton's hugely confident performance, and Trump's interruptions, bullying and babbling in the later stages of the debate, will help Clinton win over undecided voters and mobilize people who are anti-Trump but skeptical of her.
This debate decisively stopped the free fall that had beset the Clinton campaign and raised many questions about Mr Trump's fitness to be President, especially on foreign policy issues. And it was Trump's health and stamina that suddenly became questionable, not Clinton's.
ALSO, for the record, Mr Trump flat out LIED about murder rates in NYC going up under Mayor Bill DeBlasio when stop and frisk rates were sharply diminished. ( see my earlier post)*
Nothing was settled last night, but the Clinton camp must be very very happy.

*Trump, Stop and Frisk and the NYC Murder Rate-
What the f..k is Donald Trump talking about regarding murders going up in NYC under Bill DeBlasio, who has reduced stop and frisks by the NYPD
Below are the number of murders in NYC, according to the NYPD website!
Bill DeBlasio was Mayor for all of 2015!
1990-- 2,262
1993-- 1927
1998-- 629
2001-- 649
This guy does need someone to FACT CHECK FOR HIM.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Dems, this Election, and Attacks on Public Education:

If Hillary Clinton loses this election, as well she might, I hope analysts will look to the 8 year long war on teachers and public education as a factor, waged not only by Barack Oabma and Arne Duncan, but teacher hating politicians like Rahm Emmanuel, Andrew Cuomo, and Dannel Malloy, supported even by people on the "left" of the Democratic Party like Al Franken- a huge Teach for America supporter- and Elizabeth Warren- a defender of test based teacher evaluations. And while, as my friend Jonathan Massey predicts, many teachers will still ultimately vote for Hillary Clinton, the DP's stance has sapped their energy, enthusiasm and willingness to tap their pocketbooks, all actions necessary in a close campaign. I wish I didn't have to say this, because I think Donald Trump is a disastrous candidate who would make an even more disastrous President, but the scores of emails I get per day from the Democratic Party shows the DP is clueless as to the impact of the policies they have supported on the millions of Americans who are public school teachers and milions more in families where someone teaches
The icing on the cake- no one in the DP, including Ms Clinton, is intervening to prevent Rahm Emmanuel from provoking a teachers strike in the middle of a Presidential election. Sheer insanity!
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R.I.P Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez- Great Athletes Who Perfomed with JOY.

Today, for the seond day in a row, I woke up with tears in my eyes.
I just learned that the great golfer, Arnold Palmer, age 87 had passed away.
On the face of it, Arnold Palmer would seem to have little in common with the great young pitcher Jose Fernandez, age 24, who had died tragically in a boating accident the day before.
One played golf, the other baseball, one died of natural causes, the other in a boating accident; one revolutionized the sport he played; the other was just starting a career with infinite promise.
Yet these two remarkable athletes, from such different backgrounds and with such different histories had one thing in common- they loved the sport they played, played it at the highest level, and did so with a joy and exhuberance that inspired everyone around them
Talent is one thing, determination and hard work another, passion for what they do is third- all great athletes have those traits.
But to perform at the highest level with the sheer unadulterated JOY in their sport- that is truly special.
Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez both did that and that is what will be remembered about them as much as their incandescent talent.
Let me close with something personal None of us are here forever. I am 70. The clock is ticking and at times I find myself thinking about how I want to be remembered
And as I contemplate the passing of these two great athletes, their example is the one I would like people to think of in how they remember me:
"Whatever else you say about Mark Naison, say he loved what he did and he TAUGHT WITH JOY!"
When the best among us leave, let their lives be a guide to those still here.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

My Problems With "White Privilege Discourse" - Part 2

In challenging racism, even in ways that get in people's faces, I usually avoid the use of the term "white privilege". Here is why
Addressing "whites" as privileged not only erases vast differences in their economic status, including the downward mobility and hardship many have been experiencing in the last 20 years, it fails to account for the trauma that many carry in their personal histories that still haunt their imaginations. US whites are the descendants of many groups, whether Appalachian "hillbillies", or Jewish, Irish, Italian and Slavic immigrants, who not only had a harsh path to escaping poverty, but have historic memories of starvation, disease and persecution, in some cases in the US, in other cases in their countries of origin. And while an objective observer may see that most now have significant advantages over their African American counterparts in wealth, income, and personal security, traumatic memories still haunt their imaginations in ways that make them feel anything but secure. Trying to erase these experiences and memories by presuming they are irrational virtually assures that the person you are addressing will not hear you, or regard your intervention as hostile or insensitive. And since you want to win some of these people over to fight for the rights of
Black people, or others under duress, you end up making enemies where you could have recruited friends and allies"
Some of you will write off these reflections as coming from one of the most privileged people in the country, someone who is white, male, tenured, and advantaged in numerous other ways. I make no pretense to hide my own privileges. They are many. However, at a time when many white working class voters and former Democrats are rushing into the arms of Donald Trump, others will consider the argument on its face value.
One more thing: When you describe fair treatment by the government that is supposed to represent you as a "privilege" rather than a basic human right, it reflects a much lower expectation of how government is supposed to function than I would endorse. How black people are treated by law enforcement is UNACCEPTABLE because it violates their basic human rights.If we regard fair treatment as a "privilege" rather than a right, than the presumed norm we are invoking is that of a dictatorship, not a democracy.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why I Will Be Voting for Hillary Clinton- Even Though I Planned to Vote Third Party- If This Looks Like it is Going to Be a Close Election

The Democratic Party has done everything possible to alienate me since the last time I voted for a Democrat in a Presidential election in 2008. It has demonized teachers, privatized schools, passed national health care legislation that hurt almost as many people as it helped and gave huge powers to insurance companies; signed off on foreign policy initiatives that have led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths in countries the US has intervened in; deported huge numbers of immigrants; the list goes on.. However, if I have to, I WILL vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election, as much as I despise her greed and dishonesty and her support for all the policies i mentioned above, to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
Why? Because I am disillusioned by many of my Republican and Libertarian friends prepared to vote for Donald Trump despite his demonstrated record of personal instability and continued exploitation of racial resentments against immigants and people of color. If I thought that they were prepared to vote Third party, I would too. It is much more in line with my conscience and beliefs
But since most of them are holding their nose and voting for Donald Trump, I am prepared to hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton
I refuse to let my students, members of my family, and my Bronx community partners stand alone and face what they regard -justly in my opinion-as continuous attacks from a candidate for the Presidency willing to exploit and foment resentment against them because of their race, religion and national origin. The thought of someone in the White House willing to that day in day out fills them with fear and anger.
I will not stand aside and let that happen without a fight. And since i have failed to persuade enough people who know how much Trump's racism hurts people of color to vote third party, I am prepared to respond by voting for Hillary Clinton.
I cannot sleep if I didn't do everything in my power to keep someone who appeals to a deep resevoir of racist and nativist sentiments to become President- including voting for someone I will have to declare war on the day she enters the White House.
But I have spent my adult life fighting racism and I am not about to stop now.
So unless there is a huge Third Party swing from Donald Trump to the Libertarian Party candidate, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Middle Class Revolutionaries of Edgecombe Avenue: Presentation at "When Sugar Hill Was Sweet" Conference

It is an honor to be on this panel with such distinguished scholars  and public intellectuals.  We are here to celebrate a great history that is threatened by gentrification and unchecked development. Neighborhoods which have  a powerful role in transforming the history of our city and our nation are being changed with breakneck speed according to the vagaries of the global market place, bringing in people who don’t know about,  or care much about the people who have lived there or their struggles for equal rights, citizenship, and respectful treatment. So hats off to Karen Taylor and all of those trying to insure the history of Sugar Hill is preserved and honored in film and scholarship and historical landmarks.  We at the Bronx African American History Project are trying to do the same thing in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, that borough’s most important  historically African American community, before the forces of development reach it with the same speed as they have transformed, and some say, undermined communities  in Harlem
    On this panel we will be discussing the powerful legacy of political activism in two great apartment buildings which housed so many people of African descent who achieved distinction in politics, law and the arts.  That legacy, as we will see in my presentation, and I suspect in the others on the panel, was truly extraordinary.  But it was by no means inevitable.  The people  who were living at 409 and 555 had the option of insulating themselves from the day to day struggles of the poorest Harlemites  or addressing them from the distant perch of noblesse oblige. Some chose that path. But other chose to merge their fate with the Black working class and poor, and the working class of all nationalities, in ways that still challenge us today  It is time to look at some of the individuals who tried to forge a Black politics that put the working class in the forefront, even while their own lives may have retained elements of comfort and security those they were fighting for found difficult to attain.
         Before turning the three people I am highlighting, Louise Thompson, Marvel Cooke and Paul Robeson, I would like to venture into social geography.  Unlike the row of Brownstones known as Strivers Row, 409 and 555 Edgecombe were relatively insulated from the extremes of poverty and hardship that could be found in Harlem, or the sites of protest and even violence during the political struggles of the Depression years.  The most crowded block in Harlem,  which was also the most crowded in the world 140-141st Street between 7th and 8th Avenue, was more than a half mile from the Edgecombe buildings. 125thStreet, where the Don’t Buy You Can’t Work movement was centered, and the Harlem Riot’s of 1935 and 1943 began, was nearly two miles away.  There were no street orators on Edgecombe Avenue of the kind who were fixtures on 125th Street and Lenox avenue  If you lived there, you did not have to see extreme poverty, hear the voices of nationalist and communist orators,  observe large numbers of people being evicted from their buildings, watch marches and festivals and parades go past your door, or watch stores being looted and burned during riots.  And though you shared the humiliation and discrimination and even threats of police and personal violence all African Americans faced whenever they were in public spaces,  you had the option, once you were in your apartment, of blocking out the poverty and daily hardship that living in a racist society had imposed on most of New York’s Black population.
    The three people who chose NOT to block that off, as a matter of political principle, had one thing in common. They were all members of, or had a powerful association with, the US Communist Party. The CPUSA carved out a powerful niche in the Black intelligentsia in the early Depression years by making the battle against white supremacy  a central component of the struggle for economic justice, trying to expunge “white chauvinism” from every movement it had influence, taking on lynching and Jim Crow as central goals of its political organizing, and mobilizing its cadre to organize the poorest and most isolated sections of the Black population, sharecroppers, the unemployed, domestic servants and laborers, and people on the verge of eviction. It also took several controversial positions that posed a challenged to the talented tenth- it claimed that the leading Black organizations in the country, the NAACP, the Urban League, were poisoned by elitism; that Black churches were selling out the masses, and that the methods that were most favored by civil rights organizations- lobbying and litigation- would never bring justice to Black people- only mass protest  would work.  In the 1920’s, before the Depression and the CPUSA’s white chauvinism crusade, Communists had made little headway in gaining Black recruits. But when the Depression hit, crushing the Black middle class and imposing unprecedented hardship on the Black poor, and the CPUSA unveiled a ferocious campaign against white chauvinism  and Jim Crow, the Party began to gain the attention of a growing group of Black intellectuals, some of whom ended up living in the Edgecombe buildings.
   One of the most important of these recruits was Louise Thompson, a social worker, a friend and confidant of Langston Hughes, who knew all the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance and was in the same social circles as Harlem’s best know writers and musicians.  For Thompson, like many middle class Blacks drawn to the CPUSA, the Scottsboro Case was the defining event.  When Communist lawyers swept into rural Alabama to try to save 9 Black teenagers accused  of raping two young  white women, teenagers the NAACP was reluctant to defend because they were poor and illiterate and because the odds of winning were poor, and when Communists organized huge protests around the country  and the world denouncing  the arrests as a “legal lynching,” Thompson  saw a window of opportunity to push the struggle against lynching , Jim Crow and all forms of discrimination to a new level. That the Communists were bringing tens  of thousands of US whites into battles Blacks had fought largely by themselves, whites who were willing to get beaten and arrested and even killed to fight racism, was a wake up call, but so was the fact that Communists had a WHOLE COUNTRY- the Soviet Union- behind them in this effort.  Thompson  decided to seize the opportunity and ally herself with this new force, and she was able to bring scores of artistically and literarily talented blacks  along with her. Her apartment  already served as a gathering point for Harlem intellectuals and she used this venue to expose them to the Communist message on a wide variety of issues; whether it was the Scottsboro Case,  the unemployed movement, the battle against discrimination in stores on 125 street, or the Soviet Union’s alleged success in eliminating racism and anti-Semitism.  Thompsons  role in exposing middle class Harlemites to a left wing world view lasted more than 20 years, only enhanced by her marriage to the brilliant Communist lawyer William Patterson, a key figure who engineered the CPUSA’s Scottsoboro initiative. That Langston Hughes, her closest male friend, was part of this effort only made it more effective.  Thompson was never a street level organizer. That was not her strength. But she was integrally involved in virtually all leftwing initiatives in the arts, from benefit concerts for the Scottsboro boys or fighters in the Abraham Lincoln Brigage, to the organization of the Harlem Suitcase Theatre ; along with efforts to fight for the better schools, advance the rights of domestic workers, get access to better health facilities, all efforts which benefited the Harlem poor as well as middle class.  She was the very personification and embodiment of an activist spirit among the talented tenth of Edgecombe Avenue,  a middle class revolutionary for whom justice for all became a life’s mission.
  The next Edgecombe resident I have selected to highlight was Marvel Cooke, a charismatic and attractive journalist who wrote columns on Harlem social life for local newspapers. But Marvel Cooke was also a Communists and in 1935 she did something quite extraordinary with her friend Ella Baker; they put on cheap coats and dresses and lined up to get picked up for domestic work at two Bronx street corners- 167th Street and Jerome Avenue and the Westchester Avenue and Simpton Street- places known in vernacular parlance as “The Bronx Slave Market.” Their article about the experience, published by theCrisis, prompted a career long effort on Cooke’s part to improve the working conditions of domestic workers, efforts which ultimately resulted in the creation of hiring halls in the 1940’s and even attempts to form a Domestic Workers Union.   Cooke continued these efforts through World War II, when more varied job opportunities for Black working class women opened up,  through 1950, when the
“Slave Markets” returned and Cook wrote articles about them in the Daily Compass . This was not Cooke’s only venture into political activism, but it was the one that had the greatest impact. Where else but Harlem, and the two signature buildings on Edgecombe Avenue, would you have  a Communist society columnist lining up on Bronx street corners to get domestic work, and then make improving conditions for the city’s most poorly paid Black workers, her personal crusade.
  The final Edgecombe resident I will be highlighting is Paul Robeson, who moved to 555 after returning to the US from Europe in 1939.   Many long and distinguished books have been written about Paul Robeson,  who  when you consider his athletic and artistic accomplishments, coupled with his history as a human rights advocate, may have been the most multitalented person of the 20th Century. But for our purposes, highlighting the commitment to working class empowerment by the Communist wing of the talented tenth, what makes Robeson unique is how he allocated his time as a performer, entertainer and public speaker. In his prime earning years, before he was silenced and demonized during the Cold War, Robeson was among the highest paid entertainers in the world, making huge revenues as concert singer and actor. Yet he devoted a full half of his schedule to free public appearances for labor unions, civil rights organizations, and gatherings of striking workers around the country and around the world- he spoke and sang for miners, textile workers, sugar cane cutters in places as far apart as Hawaii, Wales, and North Carolina, sometimes at great risk to his own health and safety. The same legendary voice that regaled European royalty, and  the wealthiest concert goers in New York and London, sang for workers and political activists around campfires, at the gates of factories, and at the openings of mines. But nothing symbolized Robeson’s courage more than the two concerts he gave in Peekskill New York in 1949 at the height of the McCarthy Era, concerts which were attacked by thousands of anti-Communists and racists, concerts filled with death threats, where he had to sing surrounded by a phalanx of Black and white trade unionists.
       Is there anyone like him today?  People at the pinnacle of their artistic careers willing to risk their lives, much less donate their time, to help the most embattled and marginalized people, here and around the world.
      To me, Paul Robeson, along  with Louise Thompson and Marvel Cooke, represent more than a legacy worth preserving, they represent a legacy worth FOLLOWING.  The stakes are very high now, just as they were in the 1930’s, when fascism lurked around the corner, and people had to stand up and be counted lest their movements be suppressed and their dreams be crushed.
     With gentrification  undermining communities of color, militarized policing  intimidating the poor,  the prison industrial complex  deforming millions of lives  and  Donald Trump using racism and xenophobia to clear a path to the Presidency, we need our version of the Talented Tenth, of all racial backgrounds  to take a stand alongside those facing the hardest blows.
        Thompson, Cooke and Robeson, from deep back in our history, are sending us a message
        Will we heed their call?


Thursday, September 15, 2016

LIU Lock Out Is Over!

In the face of courageous resistance by faculty and students, and tremendous support for the LIU faculty from unions, elected officials and enraged professors and teachers around the city and the country the LIU ,administration caved, ended the lock out, extended the old contract and agreed to pay the health care costs cut off during the lock out.
This is a great victory!!! To all my friends here and at Fordham who moved quickly to support the locked out faculty through emails tweets and resolutions of your departments and organizations,, Thank you!!! What you did was very important. This was a test by a University President and Board of Trustees to see if a faculty union could be broken, and faculty tenure destroyed with a quick surgical strike. It failed. But it probably will be tried elsewhere so we should all remain vigilant.
In the face of powerful elites, emboldened by great wealth, who feel they can ride roughshod over the rights of teachers and students, Solidarity is our greatest weapon. When one of us is attacked, whether in a big city school system, a rural or suburban school district, or a university, all of us must come to their aid.
We did that here and the message has been heard loud and clear around the region and the nation

Monday, September 12, 2016

The LIU Lock Out and the Grim Choices We Face

As everyone around here knows by now I DESPISE Donald Trump and will do everything in my power to keep him out of the White House. However, just because I want to keep this particular demagogue and blowhard from being President doesn't mean that I have the slightest faith in the Democratic Party,its standard bearer or its leaders. If I needed a reminder of why I am disillusioned with the DP, I could find no better example than the failure of our Mayor, Borough President and City Council to intervene to end the LIU Lock Out, one of the worst attacks on organized labor and worker rights in NYC's recent history. I have tweeted all these "progressive" Democrats with great regularity in the last few days and have not gotten a peep out of them. Perhaps too many of their developer or Wall Street contributors are on the LIU Board, perhaps they have decided professors aren't real workers; perhaps they think that professors need more of the "test and punish" policies Democrats have inflicted on the public schools. But whatever the motivation, they seem comfortable with having faculty unionism and faculty rights tramped on the same way they have been in Republican led states like Wisconsin.
Wondering why I am feeling pretty discouraged this election season? I am trying to prevent a catastrophe knowing that if successful what I face will be the slow death of much of what I have fought for my whole life.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Maine Teacher Reflects on Her Profession and on Her Job

Here I find myself again, questioning the structure of formal, traditional education. As an educator in my fifteenth year, I do not find conformity any more appealing. On the contrary, it bothers me more and more. There are stated and unstated expectations for teachers, students, et al, many of which do not make any sense.
Why do we have students walk silently up and down the hall, the more silent the better, the straighter the line the better, the more conformity the better. When else in life do we ever walk silently in straight lines? The military? I agree that students in the hall should be considerate of the students in classrooms they walk by. We all know how frustrating it can be for our learning to be interrupted by what we would all likely consider to be rude hallway behavior. But can we better define hallway expectations by appealing to student idealism, like being a considerate community member, rather than forcing them to conform to military style discipline?
Never mind children who do not learn in the traditional way. Schools are starting to become more accommodating for children who need to move, stand, fidget. However, this is being done case-by-case basis, rather than an institutional shift in ideology as it should be. It still feels like we are training children to be automatons, rather than individuals who have something unique to contribute . Schools need more  arts, more sports, more music, more of those subjects from which most of us adults find pleasure. Children need more opportunities to find their passion, what makes their hearts sing.

I also have issues with homework. I’m sure most of us have come across research questioning the usefulness of homework. Yet, we still assign it. Why? It is a district expectation. It’s what we’ve always done. I had to do it, so they must too. Our students’ parents will question our ability to properly educate their children. Which brings me to my next question.

Why aren’t educators respected as experts in the field of education? We have Masters Degrees for God’s sake. We all know teachers don’t do it for the fame or the money. So why are we bossed and micromanaged, controlled, and dictated to, when we are the ones with the training and education? We all can acknowledge that there is a lack of respect for teachers, despite the fact that most in society are only where they are due to their education. Doctors wouldn’t be doctors if it weren’t for their teachers in med school. Lawyers wouldn’t be lawyers without their law professors. However, we are constantly questioned by those who have no training, no experience, and likely no passion to do the job we are so proud to call ourselves by.

I also question how traditional education handles human nature. Disregarding the negative characteristics, like greed and ego that tend to lead us into conflict, what is human nature at its core? I believe people are naturally good, and that we are creatures of the earth. Why is the vast majority of our learning done inside, at tables and chairs, when up until two hundred years ago, most of our real-life learning was done everywhere BUT there. Why aren’t we outside more? Why aren’t we in our community more, helping others and teaching and practicing what we know are good, actions that make us feel good, and more importantly, help others. We have become too individualistic.  There have been movements to respect the earth, to come  together as communities, to reject corporate influence. Shouldn’t those movements have some influence on what happens in our schools.

I hate conformity, yet feel  as if I am part of some Orwellian nightmare. If I’m working within this system, am I not a part of the problem? I stay quiet at times because I need to keep my job. I follow nonsensical district policies because I need to keep my job. I watch talented educators being forced out of the profession and say nothing because I need to keep my job. On a daily basis, I suppress my natural instincts to stay in a system that is so deeply flawed.

So what do I do? Stay where I am because I need the income, despite feeling overworked, underpaid (we are a single-income household with two adults and three children and my two school-aged kids qualify for FREE lunch), and wholly unappreciated and not respected? Do I pursue an alternative that I find more palatable for my children and others? Do I leave altogether? Do I pen frustrated blog posts and then continue to put my head down and follow like a sheep?

I do not yet know the answer to that. Some day I may. However, until that day comes, I will continue to put my head up and look around, questioning everything, as I have been taught to do.

September 11 Memories: Thoughts on a Day of Mourning, And Unity

September 11 is etched in my mind as a time of horror, fear and mourning, but also a time when New Yorkers came together in a way I rarely have seen before or since.
I was in my office that day when one of my favorite students walked in, telling me, with a shaking voice, that she and her roommates had heard that a plane had stuck the World Trade Center. I didn't know what to think, but I knew we could see the Twin Towers from the windows of my sixth floor seminar room on Fordham's Bronx campus, so I opened the door and looked out . From there, as other faculty and students joined us, we saw the first tower collapse, then the second, terrified not only at the deaths of thousands, if not tens of thousands that would ensue, but at the inevitably consequences of an attack that involved such damage.
In the hours that followed, I like many others, tried to find out what happened to loved ones who worked in Lower Manhattan, especially my daughter and son in law. Both thank God, were alive. I also called Liz, who was heroically trying to hold things together in PS 321 where she was the principal, especially when she found out that some of the teachers had spouses who worked in the Twin Towers. This was going to be a tragedy that left almost no one unaffected. And I looked inside myself and prayed that I would have the courage to deal with the pain, and the fear, and panic, not only inside me, but in so many others.
In the days that followed, the pain got personal. Three coaches I worked with in Brooklyn CYO, one of them the father of one of my son's best friends, had died trying to save people in the Twin Towers. They had run up the stairs as others ran down. As had 11 firefighters in our local firehouse in Park Slope. And I knew there were neighborhoods I took teams I coached to, Rockaway, Bay Ridge, Marine Park, that were filled with police officers and firefighters. And the death toll there was going to be terrible.
And this made me feel enraged at the attack. Whatever protest against US foreign policy those who flew into the buildings had intended, the primary blow they had struck was at working class New York- killing secretaries, building maintenance workers, those who worked in cafeterias and restaurants, along with the brokers and government workers and the police, firefighters, EMS workers and other first responders. I was enraged at those who had done this to my city and to people I had known and worked with and admired.
And I felt a surge of patriotism run through me. I was not alone in this feeling All along Eastern Parkway, in largely West Indian and African American neighborhoods, I saw American flags flying. As I did along the Bruckner expressway in the Bronx. I saw tough young people of every race and nationality wearing American flag bandannas. In solidarity, I wore one myself and taught in it for several weeks.
People all over the city volunteered to help at the site of the attacks and at the rescue centers and hospitals where victims were taken. The generosity was unreal. New Yorkers clung to one another, reassured one another, helped one another to get back to work. And brave brave people risked their lives to repair all that had been broken physically and emotionally.
And we mourned together. In my neighborhood, Park Slope, 5,000 people joined a march from PS 321 to the local firehouse on Union street where we laid wreaths and memorial dedicated to the brave firefighters that died.
I feel compelled to write about this now, at a time when we are more divided, as a nation, than any time since the late 60's. I need some of that spirit of unity again. Maybe it can help avert future tragedies

Friday, September 9, 2016

Letter to the LIU President Demanding an End to the Faculty Lockout

September 9, 2016
Dear Dr, Cline

I am urging you to end the lock out of LIU faculty on its Brooklyn campus which, in my judgment, represents the worst attack of faculty rights and governance by a university administration in my lifetime,

I say this as a scholar and teacher with a long and deep attachment to Long Island University. I have lectured at the University on numerous occasions, taught courses in its honors program, have mentored some of its students and am close friends with several distinguished scholars and teachers on its faculty, among them Professor John Ehrenberg and Professor Jose Sanchez. In my experience, the faculty at LIU Brooklyn campus are some of the most talented and dedicated teachers I have ever met, people who are deeply committed to educating the largely working class, first generation college students LIU attracts. Many of them had opportunities to teach at other universities serving a more affluent population, but were committed to LIU's mission to serving first and second generation immigrants and students of color.

It is quite simply appalling to see your office decide, in the midst of labor negotiations of a kind that take place in almost every university in the nation, to lock them out of their office, cut off their emails, and stop paying their health insurance. Rest assure that this action will, when it is publicized provoke the outrage of college faculty around the nation, as well as elected officials, union leaders, and social justice activists in New York City and New York State. I, for one, will be raising the alarm among all these groups until this lockout is ended

This lockout is an attack on every faculty member who believes in teaching under served populations, as well as on the labor rights of all working people in New York City and New York State.
I strongly urge you to end the lock out now, before your own reputation, and the reputation of your University, are permanently damaged

Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University

cc. Honorable Betty Rosa, Chair, New York State Board of Regents
Father Joseph McShane, President, Fordham University
Randi Weingarten, President. American Federation of Teachers
Dr. Diane Ravitch, Professor Emeritus, New York University
Dr. John Ehrenaberg, Professor of Political Science, Long Island University
Dr. Anne Fernald, President, Faculty Senate, Fordham University
John Mogulescu, Dean of School of Professiona Studies, City University of New York

Thursday, September 8, 2016

RE: Donald Trump and Racism

Several of my Facebook friends who are Trump supporters claim that accusations that Mr. Trump was a racist did not begin until he started campaigning against Hillary Clinton. That is not exactly true. The questions about Mr Trump's racial attitudes began during President Obama's first term when he allied himself with the "Birther" movement questioning the President's citizenship. Many Black entertainers, athletes and political figures who were friends with Mr Trump were appalled by his alliance with far right figures aiming to discredit the President. and began to distance themelves from him. They were therefore not suprised when Mr Trump launched his 2016 Presidential bid by attacking Mexican and Muslim immigrants. They saw this as another example of his latent racism coming to the surface
As the campaign continued, more damning information about Mr Trump came to the surface. It was well known in New York City that the apartment complexes built by Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father, discriminated against Black apartment seekers. What was not known was that Donald Trump had an official role in the company when the Justice Department sued it in 1973. That only came out in the campaign, and for those who had been shocked by Mr Trump's alliance with the Birther movement, and the support given to his campaign by white supremacists, it helped connect the dots.
Of course, Donald Trump is not the only candidate for high office whose history on race issues is filled with inconsistencies and questionable positions. But he is the only one openly stoking racial resentments on the part of aggrieved whites in ways that make people of color in the US feel at risk. That is the path he chose to take in his quest for the White House. If he had not done that, then people would not be turning to his personal history for clues to his current posture

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Reflections on the Affordable Care Act- A Dispatch From a Member of the New "Underinsured"

While Bernie Sanders was running for Presidential office, I was often struck by his frequent calls to reform the health insurance industry to benefit the millions of Americans who are “underinsured.” Rather than draw a rigid dividing line between those who are covered by health insurance providers and those who are not, he recognized a large and growing gray area of Americans who possess some form of health coverage but who find their benefits inadequate during times of illness when they need them most. The new masses of the underinsured are an unfortunate by-product of the new insurance programs made possible by the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).  The ACA admittedly reduced the famous statistic of “47 million” uninsured Americans that President Obama frequently referenced during his bid for office in 2008, but also generated some 31 million who are now “underinsured.” What does it mean to be underinsured? How does it play out in the lives of many who have purchased some form of Obamacare only to face high health care costs which bear a striking resemblance to holding no insurance at all?

I’m intimately acquainted with the lived experience of the underinsured, as I’m one of them. A 27-year-old Ph.D. student living on a modest university stipend, I purchased two forms of Obamacare in the last two years given that my annual income is too high to qualify for Medicaid eligibility in my state and too low to afford the insurance plan available through my university. I first opted to enroll with an ACA participating provider in January, 2015. My first insurance plan was with what was at the time the largest Obamacare-created, nonprofit insurance cooperative on my state’s market. I enrolled in an individual “Catastrophic Plan” – meaning that my insurance had a deductible of close to $7,000 and covered almost no services with the exception of a handful of a few preventive measures, including an annual physical. Over the course of the eleven months I spent enrolled in this plan, I watched as it gradually pulled out of several of New York’s top hospitals and finally, in November of 2015, was quite suddenly liquidated due to financial insolvency. I was informed of my insurance company’s collapse in late September of that year. Left without coverage for December of 2015, I was liable to be taxed under Obamacare’s penalty for the uninsured. The irony of the situation is lost, I’m sure, on no one.

In December 2015 I found myself in the same situation as the year before – unable to afford the insurance option available through my university, and ineligible for Medicaid. So I returned to my state’s marketplace once again in search of a new provider. Again I enrolled in an individual “Catastrophic Plan,” this time with a private insurer that offers some of its plans through the Obamacare system. This is the insurance plan which I continue to hold today. One may ask why I insist on purchasing “Catastrophic Plans,” which, as their name suggests, are really only useful for a rainy day – or, more literally, if the insurance holder were to find him or herself in a medical emergency. Accordingly, under this plan my deductible cost is over $6,800. In fairness to my decision, however, the next available option for an individual plan – one with the same deductible – costs nearly $400 a month. That number comprises a fifth of my monthly salary. I can’t afford it. And generally speaking I’m a healthy person, so it seemed unnecessary to spring for a plan with more coverage, given that I have to choose.
I had no complaints about my insurance provider until this past summer, when I became sick with what turned out to be a potentially serious but overwhelmingly treatable illness – I had a heartburn condition that was on a steady march toward forming a stomach ulcer. Initially, burning stomach pain and a decreased appetite sent me to my insurer’s website in search of a gastroenterologist. Here I found myself violating at least two of the unspoken norms of my insurance package. I was in need of a doctor, and not just any doctor, but a specialist. I almost never saw the excellent doctor that ended up treating me as my insurance company, despite having listed her on its website, informed me that she was no longer an in-network doctor. Like my previous provider, complaining of financial losses, this year alone my insurance provider pulled out of some forty hospitals, so this may account for the confusion. Nevertheless, after more hours invested in searching for a new, in-network doctor on my insurance website, the staff at the office called to inform me that they double-checked and my doctor turned out to be in-network. A day of hassle but at least I had an appointment.

After my visit, my doctor prescribed a relatively new drug to treat acid reflux. It’s also been shown to be one of the most effective drugs for reflux on the market. Unfortunately, I can’t corroborate my own experience with available studies as I never took the medication. Shortly after my doctor ordered it to my pharmacy, I received a phone call with a voice message informing me that my prescription was delayed because the drug needed to be “authenticated.” It turns out that when insurers find a drug too expensive, they prevent pharmacists from filling a prescription for it until the prescribing doctor calls and argues for the medical necessity of the drug in question. The medication I needed, with insurance, was going to cost $300. There is no generic option available, so instead my doctor prescribed a much more affordable generic drug that belonged, importantly, to the same family of the drug originally prescribed but was not simply a generic version of that same drug. The devil is in the details here because the drug I ultimately took did not work well. When I called up my gastroenterologist informing her that upon taking the medication, my heartburn not only did not subside but seemed to have gotten worse, I heard her faintly suggest to herself that the original drug would have likely worked better.

My doctor went on to explain that because of my continued pain, she would like to order an upper endoscopy. A somewhat invasive but generally routine exam, an endoscopy would allow my doctor to ensure that my heartburn issue did not have a more serious cause. I called up my insurance provider to receive a cost estimate for the exam. I knew it was uncovered, but I was feeling hopeful (otherwise known as “desperate”) that night, so I asked anyway. I was surprised to hear the voice on the other end cheerfully explain to me that the test was covered – but not in full, of course. I was guaranteed to not have to pay any more than what the medical office charged, and members belonging to my plan paid between $300 and $1200 for the exam. I was assured that the $1200 figure was uncommon, and mainly charged to people during hospital stays. To this day I’m not sure how useful it is for an insurer to provide a cost estimate that encompasses such a broad range of prices, but many providers under Obamacare pride themselves on not concealing service costs to the consumer, so they offer broad estimates on what it might cost to receive care. The difference between a thoroughly ambiguous estimate and outright concealment are, in my view, negligible. Nevertheless, I was not kept in the darkness of cost estimates for long. The next day, a staff member from my medical office called to inform me that my endoscopy exam, because I have not yet met my deductible, was going to cost $1,225. Now I was in a real bind – forego the exam and live with knowing that I may have a serious condition in need of treatment, or pay the massive bill. Thankfully, I have a credit card, which has in many ways proved to be much more useful than any of my Obamacare plans. I’m taking the not-great generic medication for my condition, which is gradually improving. The cost to see the gastroenterologist turned out to be $110 (although the cost estimate according to my insurer was $70 – but why quibble over trifles?). So, incrementally, month-by-month, I’m now paying off the $1,335 bill I earned for having a pretty bad case of heartburn. The irony returns when I think about how much worse my heartburn briefly became when subject to the stress of how difficult it was to schedule a doctor’s appointment thanks to my insurer’s mistake, combined with my insurance company blocking my medication and providing deceitful cost estimates, all to wind up with a huge bill at the end of it all.

This is what happened when I, as a member of the new underinsured, became ill. I can’t imagine what would happen if I were to be involved in a real (or “catastrophic?”) medical emergency or to need prolonged medical treatment. Very few insurance plans available through the Obamacare options in my state – with their enormous deductibles and thin coverage of medical services they do include in their plans, are prepared to accommodate a serious or long-term illness.

My story does not by any means represent the worst of what the underinsured have endured, but I think it does provide a sobering look into the everyday experience of what it means when the Obama Administration touts that 90% of Americans are currently insured thanks to the Affordable Care Act. When it comes to insurance, some plans are more equal than others.

Why Those Fighting Gentrification and Defenders of Public Education Must Work Together

Every time a developer sees a "low performing school" in a poor or working class neighborhood, they see an opportunity for profit if the school can be closed- either by handing the building over to a charter school or converting it into luxury housing. In every large city in this country, from New Orleans, to Chicago, to DC, to Philly to Buffalo, to NYC, school reform has been linked togentrification, with politicians supporting the "reforms" getting huge contribution from developers, hedge fund managers, and private equity firms.
The latest example of this comes from the Bronx, where Montefiore Hospital is forging links to charter schools while promoting luxury hosing in the neighborhood it is located in, all with the full support of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who gets financial support from the charter school lobby.
Connections between developers, school reformers, greedy politicians and charter schools can be found in every major city. Expose them and if you can, bring  those fighting gentrification together with those defending public education, because they have the same enemies and many of the same goals.