Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Corrosive Racism That Defines The Trump Presidency

In the last few weeks, we have discovered some new information about how the policy decisions and language of the Trump Administration reflect profound racial biases
Nearly 5,000 unacknowledged deaths in Puerto Rico from the terrible hurricane that hit that island when the official death total being given was 64
1,500 missing children from undocumented families seized and separated from their parents
The employment of rhetoric denouncing members of MS-13 as “animals” while refusing to use the same language for white supremacists who commit mass murders
Looking at these in tandem, we see that Trump Administrations approach to Latinos and Latino immigrants veers between demonization and cynical indifference, depending on circumstances. It creates a toxic, morally corrosive atmosphere in the nation, especially since the demonization of Latinos is a central strategy the President uses to rally his “base.”
Whenever this President is in trouble, he attacks someone Black or Latino. But the racially targeted policy decisions that accompany this rhetoric destroy lives every day

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Tale of Two Grandpas: An Immigration Story

When I think of how I ended up living a long and relatively productive life despite a troubled relationship with my parents, I think back on the influence that my two grandfathers had on me. Each of these remarkable individuals, who came to the US in their teens without speaking a word of English, and whom I saw at least once a week, gave me love without reservation, but also set examples in their own life which had a tremendous impact on me. In terms of appearance, body type, and personality, they could not have been more different, but the person I am today incorporates portions of each of them in ways that from the outside, may seem controdictory
Grandpa Josef, The Scholar Who Sold Herring On The Streets of Brownsville
Josef Nasofsky, my father's father, came to the US from Poland at the turn of the century, He was small and slight, having no more than 130 pounds on his 5'5" frame. But he was deeply religious, with a passion for learning, and had a will of iron. A resident of Brownsville Brooklyn who lived in walk up apartment on Hopkinson Avenue, he was a fixture of the Orthodox synagogue there and practiced his religion every day at home. My most vivid memories were of him davening in his apartment, swaying rhythmically to the prayers he chanted in Hebrew, something he did before every meal he and his wife served for us. He did this with his eyes closed, as every prayer had been memorized. The other thing I remember was him pinching my cheeks with love when he saw me, or when my father, in Yiddish, told him of one of my academic accomplishments Reputedly,. he had been tough on my father, and angry when my father rejected religious orthodoxy, but he was never anything but kind and loving with me. And the more I learned about him, the more impressed I was. He made a living selling herring on the streets of Brownsville, something he did till his late 80's, but read Shakespeare in Yiddish and practiced the violin regularly. From the outside, he was a poor, non-English speaking immigrant struggling to put food on the table for his family, but to me he imparted the lesson that a love of learning is not conferred by titles and degrees, but is something that can be found among people in all walks of life. .
Grandpa Charlie, the Jewish Strong Man and Justice Fighter
Grandpa Charlie, my mother's father, could not have been more different from Grandpa Josef in appearance or personality. Charlie, who came here from what is now Belarus at the age of 12, was a Jewish strong man, 5'6" and 200 pounds of pure muscle. Unlike Josef, he was neither religious nor intellectually inclined; he came from a family with strong links to underground economic activities, both in Europe and the US, and brought in income as a bartender and bootlegger when he was laid off from his "day job" as a presser in the garment trades. But though Grandpa Charlie was was anything but an intellectual, being marginally literate in Yiddish and English, he was a passionate union man willing to risk his life for his fellow workers. Throughout my childhood I was regaled with stories about how Granpa Charlied fought gangsters brought in as strikebreakers in the streets of the garment district, and won! Looking at him, you could see why- he looked like could bend a metal bar with his bare hands. But to me and my two cousins who lived down stairs, he was kindly and loving, cooking amazing meals of steak seared in chicken fat and huge portions of home made french fried which he covered in Kosher Salt. He was also my most reliable babysitter, watching the Friday night fights with me when my parents went out. If Granpa Josef inspired the intellectual side of me, Grandpa Charlie inspired the physical side, helping me become a young person who never backed down from a fight no matter what the odds against me were. Even his death sent a message that has remained with me. When Charlie was stricken with terminal cancer, rather than watch himself waste away, he jumped out the window of his room on the 8th Floor of Brooklyn Jewish hospital. That final act remains with me as much as all that he had done before
It is hard to put in words how proud I am to have been loved and cared for by these two remarkable men. In the course of what has become a long life, I have never met anyone who possessed greater courage and determination than Grandpa Josef and Grandpa Charlie. Two poor immigrants, forced to leave Europe because of poverty and prejudice, came to the United Sates and gave me, and so many others, a legacy to build on, not only in making a life in this country, but in making this country a better place.

Monday, May 28, 2018

New York Is No Longer a Basketball Town: Fordham Should Leave the Atlantic Ten in that Sport

Over 20 years ago, Fordham made the fateful decision to leave the Patriot League for the Atlantic 10 in all sports but football. The decision was motivated largely by a desire to have Fordham seek national recognition in basketball, something it had when I arrived at Fordham in the early 70's. This decision has been an unmitigated disaster, in terms of finances, coaches, players recruited and actual record. I tried to tell the administration they were making a huge mistake when they made the move, but they didn't listen. They were so desperate to build up Fordham's national profile through sports that they ignored the lessons of history and sociology, failing to see changes in the demography of New York City that are making it difficult if not impossible to for New York area colleges to be centers of basketball excellence the they way they were in the 1960's and 1970's when St. John''s, NYU, Columbia, and NYU all had nationally ranked teams
The major reason for this has been a huge shift in population, due to immigration, in those outer borough neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, as well as neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, which once produced the bulk of the city's great players. When I was growing up, basketball was king in working class New York, the sport played dawn to dusk in Jewish, Irish, and African American neighborhoods, and picked up by a significant number of arrivals from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic who, like Italian Americans, played the game even though their main sport was baseball. However, in the last 40 years, all of those communities have been transformed by immigration, much of it coming from places- the Anglophone Carribean, West Africa, Mexico, and South Asia- where the major sport is soccer ( and in some cases cricket!). As a result of this, when you walk around working class New York on a weekend, you will see full soccer, cricket and baseball fields, but empty basketball courts. New York is no longer the place churning out the nation's top basketball players in fierce schoolyard competition.
What does this mean for Fordham? It means that there are no longer thousands of smart, eager kids with high levels of skill looking for basketball to take them to college and help them achieve success in life even if they don't have an NBA career. Those players still exist- witness Desi Rodriguez of Seton Hall- but they are too few in number to have New York schools rise to national excellence by recruiting them,
And this isn;t changing any time soon. If anything, recent immigrants are LESS interested in basketball than the groups that came before, So, it is time that Fordham, which has been attracting better and better students without national recognition in sports, take valuable money away from its basketball program and use it to fund living wages for its adjunct and contingent faculty along with more scholarships for academically gifted young people from immigrant families.
We have had a great experience in the Patriot League in football. That is where we belong in basketball.
Making this move will put Fordham more in line with Jesuit traditions of academic excellence and social justice while affirming its understanding of demographic trends that have transformed immigrant, working class New York

Sunday, May 20, 2018

How A Royal Wedding Exposed the Moral Bankruptcy of an American President

Who would have ever thought that a Royal Wedding in Great Britain would, in its rituals and symbols, expose the moral bankruptcy of the Trump Administration as much as any direct protest or critique, but that is exactly what happened yesterday. With the whole world watching, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle engineered an event which affirmed the unity of peoples and nations by drawing upon the most powerful African American traditions of prophetic preaching and choral performance and linking it to the ancient traditions of the British monarchy and the church of England. The result was an event which moved many American observers, including TV commentators, to tears, in part because it stood in such contrast to the hatred and rage being spewed by the President and his defenders in the United States, It was a reminder that that the dream of the unity of all peoples, and the celebration of their collective traditions, was still alive and still capable of kindling the imagination and transforming governments and public life. It was also a startling indication how, after the Presidency of Barack Obama, Americans had elected someone who would severely damage the global reputation of the United States by taking us down the lowest of low roads, appealing to the kind of nationalism and raw prejudice that once fueled fascism. Make no mistake about it, the contrast between what took place in Great Britain and what is going on in Washington, was both intentional and powerful

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My Educaton Priorities

Although Education is only one of many issues on my plate in these challenging times, I do have an Education agenda to guide me over the next few years
1. Fight to reduce the stranglehold of testing and standardized curriculum on the nation's public schools.
2. Work to make sure that sports and the arts are available to all students, especially in high needs communities where they have been sacrificed due to budget cuts or an obsession with raising test scores.
3. Work to make community history and culturally responsive pedagogy an integral part of the school experience in high needs communities
4. Try to persuade Fordham, to become "SAT Optional" in its admissions policies
I will be using my position at Fordham, when feasible, to sponsor seminars, meetings and symposia to advance these proirities

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When Was the Last Time You Saw A Student Carry a Tennis Racket or Saxophone on the Subway?

When I attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn from 1959-1962, I was on the tennis team, and was also a member of the marching band, the concert band and a pep band that played at basketball games.
I was a pretty good tennis player. I was undefeated at No 1 singles my senior year and came in third in the NYC indoor and outdoor championships.
However, I may have been the worst saxophone player in Brooklyn. Somehow I made the band, but tried not to drown out the many talented kids who played beside and around me. Nevertheless, I valued being in the band as much as being on the tennis team because it connected me to some wonderful musicians and allowed me to perform at all my school's important events.
It is utterly appalling to me that most young people attending public high schools in New York City no longer have the opportunities that I had in the late 1950's and 1960's. Every day, I went to school carrying my tennis racket and/or saxophone. How many times do you see kids doing that on the bus and the subway in New York today?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Next Steps for Test Critics and Resistors in New York State

Disclaimer! I am not a K-12 Educator. I do not teach in an Education Graduate Program. I am not a member of any Education Activist Organization. I am an historian, specializing in social movements, who has been in regular communication with parents, teachers, administrators, legislators and Regents on issues relating to testing for the last 5 years. PLUS, I am a tenured Professor who is basically untouchable and immune to intimidation
So, here is my candid assessment of what people who think testing in New York State is out of control should ask for
First, that the ELA and Math Tests in grades 3-8 should be one day each, with a maximum time of 90 minutes per day
Second, that the Tests should be diagnostic only, with all stakes for the test removed. Under no circumstances should tests be used to evaluate teachers, schools, or entire school districts, much less to remove teachers or principals, close down schools or put districts into receivership. Their only legitimate use is to evaluate individual students, with the evaluation being something shared between teacher and parent or guardian to help guide future instruction
3. All Test Secrecy should be Eliminated. Teachers, parent/guardians and Administrators should be able to look at individual test results
There are many other objectives that could be fought for, but these three should be the immediate focus as they are all goals that can be won if parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials can unite.
Can we do this?. We have to make change in increments. These changes, taken together, would take the boot off the neck of our State's children, teachers, families, and administrators

Monday, May 7, 2018

Why Testing in New York State is Still Abusive by Amy Gropp Forbes

Today, I asked education activists whether changes to testing made by the NY State Education Department, along with the partial severing of test scores from teacher evaluation by the State Legislature were steps in the right direction. 

Here is the responses I got from a much respected parent leader in Brooklyn Amy Gropp Forbes

1    I  think the change from 6 days to 4 was by far the most important and significant change made to date and I agree it should be applauded, in theory. However, now that the tests are untimed there are kids across the state who sit for between 2 and 6 hours in a single day for tests that the state estimated should take 60-70 minutes for 3rd and 4th graders (80-90 minutes for 5th - 8th graders) per day. This is a clear indication of 2 things: 1. the tests are not well designed. 2. The pressure kids are facing when they take these tests is enormous -- why else would otherwise reasonable and caring adults let any child sit for 6 hours for a test? There was major outcry when the ELA was 270 minutes over 3 days (90 minutes per day)...but now when children take between 120 minutes and 360 minutes in a single day we are supposed to be ok with that?

2.  NYSED tells us that they heard us regarding test length, but the increases in the last 10 years were so great that the reductions were inconsequential in the scheme of things: In 2010 the number of questions on the 5th grade ELA and math tests combined was 61 and by 2016 that number was 117. That is a 92% increase.  . As long as annual testing is mandated federally I realize we are limited, but I do not see any law about the tests needing to be more than 1 period a day, for one or two days. In my circles, no one really objects to content or quality the 4th grade state science test. It is fair and appropriate for the students. The only reason anyone opts out of it is because now it can also be used for teacher evaluations, something it was not designed to do.

3. Regarding teacher evaluation: leaving this to the districts leaves NYC vulnerable. While NYSUT and several local unions have been outspoken about the ills of our testing system the UFT has not. 
In NYC every subway car has the message "IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING" but teachers and principals in NYC feel unsafe speaking out about testing. Teachers are not even allowed to read the test booklets.  When parents report situations that are against DOE policy rather than providing clearer guidelines to all educators and parents, we are asked to give names. We are not interested in seeing individual educators punished for doing what they have been led to believe they are supposed to do! This is a systemic problem, not a few isolated incidents. And the stakes attached to the tests are HUGE for kids in NYC. The law says that test scores cannot be part of a child's permanent record. But when NYC kids apply to middle and high schools those scores are included on every record and they are a factor for some selective schools.

4.    I truly believe that if we want a public education system that is equitable that we need clear statewide policy, not district level policy, when it comes to testing.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Donald Trump-Too Tired, Too Old, Too Lazy to be "An American Mussolini"

Donald Trump- Too Tired, Old and Lazy To Be "An American Mussolini":
When Donald Trump was elected, many of my friends feared that voters had elevated "an American Mussolini" to power and that our democratic institutions were gravely threatened
I took a different view, which I believe events of the last year and a half have confirmed. I thought that we would survive the Trump presidency, despite the divisions and ugliness that accompanied it, because the separation of powers built into the US government limit what any President can do, and because Donald Trump was far too old to have the time and energy to dramatically reshape our fundamental institutions.
Just compare him to Mussolini and Hitler, the two dictators who people most feared he would imitate. Mussolini was 39 when he ascended to power and Hitler was 44, whereas Donald Trump was 70 when he was sworn in. Not only were these two dictators much younger, but their personal habits were very different. Nothing stood in the way of their obsessive pursuit of national revitalization and in the case of Hitler, world domination. Can you imagine Hitler and Mussolini spending a good portion of their week playing golf or watching Fox News? Or flying to a resort their owned every weekend?
What protects the American people from an abuse of power are not only the Federal Courts, the US Congress, and a press Mr Trump can't intimidate or control, but also his own laziness. Compare his legislative accomplishments to those of Lyndon Johnson, who was 55 when he was elected in 1964. Within a year of his election, Mr Johnson had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, comprehensive Immigration Reform, legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid, and an anti- poverty program. Mr Trump's only legislative accomplishment has been tax reform. His wall, his attacks on Obamacare, and other signature issues raised in his campaign, have been stalled. Donald Trump not only lacks the stamina, energy and skill to remake his country the way Mussolini and Hitler did, he can't come close to matching what LBJ did during his short time in office
And with sexual harassment allegations and the Russia probe provoking him and wearing him out, don't expect him to experience a new "fountain of youth" any time soon or spend 24/7 on the campaign trail in 2018 to assure he has a Congress that will do his bidding.
We are going to survive the Donald Trump Presidency--however long it lasts. And we may even learn something from the experience. After all, hope springs eternal. And there are some good people in this nation, of all political perspectives, who think we deserve much better than having a person of such questionable character representing us to the world

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The 8 Points Cynthia Nixon Emphasized In a Talk Explaining Her Primary Challenge to Andrew Cuomo

Cynthia Nixon spoke at a fundraising party in Park Slope last night attended by 90 people

The talk she gave emphasized several issues

1. Fully funding the state's public schools and equalizing funding between poor and wealthy schools and districts

2. Stopping all arrests for recreational marijuana which overwhelmingly target Black and Latino youth.

3. Ending the practice of cash bail. There are 25,000 people in prison awaiting trial in New York State, most of them people who can't  pay their bail

4. Investing in infrastructure- repairing roads and bridges in Upstate, suburban and rural New York and fixing New York City's subways which are falling apart

5. Instituting Medicare for All in New York State.

6. Investing in renewable energy all over New York State

7. Emphasizing economic development projects around the state which involve human services as well as brick and mortar structures.

8  Investing in housing that is truly affordable and protecting rent regulation

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Why Charters Are Gaining Ground in High Needs Communities

Nobody is going to want to hear this, but some of my best students and alumni of color are being recruited to work in charter schools. Since public schools are not making the same effort to recruit them, I can hardly advise them to turn those positions down. Until the NYC DOE starts actively targeting top students of color to train them for teaching positions, embraces culturally appropriate curriculum, and makes schools like those headed by Luis E Torres, Jamaal Bowman, and Paul Cannon citywide models for wholistic, community centered education, charters will continue to gain ground in communities of color. Public education loses if it just stands still.  Our public schools must actively recruit teachers and administrators of color, have curricula that reflects the diversity of the city’s cultures, have arts and sports as an integral part of the school day, and keep their doors open to 6PM to accommodate working parents. Nothing less will meet the charter challenge in high needs communities