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