Friday, February 28, 2014

Step One

Yesterday President Obama held a press conference to announce the launch of My Brother' Keeper, a Federal program aimed at giving young American men of color more opportunity.  In essence, this program is about building up young black and Latino men - something that has needed to happen for decades in our country.

President Obama spoke candidly and emotionally about his own experiences.  How he grew up without a father, and the subsequent anger and frustration he felt.  These emotions led to his making of "bad choices" and "...not taking school as seriously as I should have".  The biggest statement he made was "Sometimes I sold myself short."  These were powerful words from a man of color - the first to be elected President.  What made it even better was he stated these things with a group of young black and Latino men standing behind him.

This is a great first step.  When I was teaching in Newark I was an eyewitness to the anger and frustration the boys and young men in my school had.  I had countless conversations with them in my classroom about their lives.  Many told me about fathers in jail or who were just absent.  The ones who did have men in their lives didn't just differ emotionally and intellectually, but also physically.  It was unreal.

My Brother's Keeper is a first step.  President Obama himself said "It's going to take time.  We're dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds."  In addition to complicated issues faced by our young men of color, there is also poverty as well as mass incarceration.  Trying to get a handle on improving self esteem as well as responsibility and potential, again, is a great first step.

We will see what happens.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Are the Most Important Things?

According to section one of the Fourteenth Amendment:
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

If you notice, the word "person" appears three times within the text.  That word is key as it caused much debate in the post-Civil War era.  What is a "person"?  Who is a "person"?  When you read that you tend to think of a "person" as someone like you - a living, breathing human with a job and/or hopes, dreams and goals.  Perhaps you have a family or a wife.  Maybe you have neither and are single.  If you do have a family, they are also "persons" and therefore are entitled to the same rights listed above.  What you may have not known is that corporations are "persons" as well.  They, like you, are entitled to the privileges and immunities that we - the citizens of the US - are.  This means that Walmart, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup are, in the eyes of the Constitution, "persons" like you and me.  This is known as "corporate personhood".

This is a strange thing.  A corporation like Goldman Sachs (as one example) has access to teams of lawyers and, I'm assuming, much more money than most people reading (or writing) this.  They also have access to lobby groups, "super pacs" and government officials just because of the aforementioned money and legal professionals.  This means that, at the end of the day, corporations have many more rights and liberties than the average "person" here in the United States, and they have taken significant advantage of this.  They are now the most important "persons" in this country.  They control the media, due process of law, our electoral process, our system of government, and the food and drugs we put into our bodies.  Now, they also want to control our schools.

On February 27th, 2012 there was a shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio.  An assistant football coach and teacher named Frank Hall is credited with saving the lives of many students that day.  He chased the gunman out of the cafeteria and into the parking lot preventing further shootings.  He then went back into the school to comfort three young male students who had been shot as they lay dying on the floor.  Frank Hall stated recently: "We need to make a stand right now that our schools are the most important things we have in this country, not Wall Street, not Capitol Hill, our schools.  We need to determine that in our minds and heart that our school and our children need to be the most important thing we have.  That's the bottom line."

Sorry Goldman Sachs, but Frank Hall is correct.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Made In Their Own Image

The cover for the February 14, 2014 issue of Time magazine depicts the back of a graduate's head with the words "Just Hired" taped to her mortarboard. The accompanying headline reads The Diploma That Works.

The cover story is about Sarah Goode High School on Chicago's South Side - a very poor section of the city infested with gang violence as well as failing schools. Sarah Goode is new in many ways including the fact that it's only six years old. The students take courses that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes and when they graduate, they do so not just with a diploma, but also an Associates Degree. This is an amazing idea as well as a way to get kids in our inner cities out into the world earning money using skills that are severely lacking.

There is just one problem: Sarah Goode is a school whose "corporate partner" is IBM.

I don't have a problem with inner city kids being educated in ways that will accommodate our economy. In fact, I am gung ho on the idea. How ever, I must ask the question: Why can't state, and/or  Federal education create these schools and programs? Why does corporate money have to be involved - and how deep does IBM's influence run? Do they mandate the curriculum? Do they sell books and materials directly to the school?

The idea of six year High School is not new. In fact, there has been a rallying cry in terms of the way we are educating our kids for the future; but again I have to ask: Why do corporations need to be involved? 

The district I used to teach in - Newark Public Schools - are embroiled in the issue surrounding the fate of their public schools.  It would seem Governor Christ Christie (when not stumping for Trump) is attempting to turn the entire district into a "public charter" system. Like Chicago, they have committed financial help from a corporation: the Walton Family Foundation who own Walmart.

Back in 2010 Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (owner of Fox news) hired former New York City School's Chancellor Joel Klein. A few weeks later, News Corp purchased Wireless Generation - a New York based education technology company. Murdoch has stated his "interest" in helping improve public education, but in the wake of the Wireless Generation deal he also stated "When it comes to education, we see a $500 billion dollar sector alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed..."  In other words, he sees dollar signs.

Do we want corporations making American kids in their own image? Large corporations already run our government through special interest and Lobby groups. They have their grubby fingers all over our electoral process and have ruined our media. Now they want to run our education system? 

I thought we were supposed to be a country of free thinkers and innovators. The men and women who built this country were rebels at heart who also chose to color outside the lines and think outside the box. Now Rupert Murdoch is telling our kids what to study?  Do you want Walmart - a company who won't pay American citizens a living wage and imports most of its inventory from overseas - shaping the curriculum of our children? And while IBM has a massive amount of insight into what skills are needed today, that doesn't mean I want them walking the hallways of our schools making sure the individuals who come out are cookie cutter and ready to go to work...for them. How do we know that IBM or Walmart or News Corp won't make our schools "too big to fail" and threaten to pull their money unless we adhere to their standards?

This is all getting a little too Big Brother for me.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Right now in the city of Newark, school superintendent Cami Anderson is trying to systematically dismantle their public schools.  She is trying to turn Newark Public Schools into a "public charter" system.

Believe me when I say that Newark Public schools need work.  Yes, student test scores need to be raised as do the standards for most students.  But, what also needs to be addressed is: poverty, violent crime, the gang element, the needless incarceration of young black men, and the horrible self image many inner city children suffer from.  These things play a huge role in what inner city kids do, and do not learn.  I know from teaching in Newark that a young boy whose uncle was shot and killed over the weekend will never be in the right mindset to take a state mandated test.  I know that a young girl who is sleeping in a cold, bedbug infested public housing project will not be able to focus on school work.  I know that poverty does awful things to grown adults.  Imagine what it does to young children?

It was recently reported that the city of Newtown, CT would be applying for Federal Grant money.  According to an AP report, they are asking for $8 million dollars, and this money will go towards "...mental health counseling for hundreds of victims affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre" as well as "...local school security and other non-profit groups."  This money will "...come from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program, which has awarded money to victims of the September 11th attacks and other school shootings across the country."

By September 5th of 2013 the city of Newark had suffered 10 fatal shootings in 10 days.  The victims ranged in age from 14 to 24 years old.  Families and friends were devastated as they returned to school.  I wonder how much grant money Newark has received to comfort those victim's families?  Newtown suffered one shooting - which was a horrific crime - and received massive national press coverage.  They are now applying for millions in grant money.  I wonder if they will get it.

The Walton Family Foundation (Walmart) is apparently giving grant funding to the city of Newark.  Their money will go towards the hiring of over 300 Teach For America teachers who will replace those public school teachers who get fired.  What the hell does Walmart know about public education?  One thing Walmart does know about is having workers earn a minimum wage that keeps them within the definition of "working poor".  It has also been reported that Walmart employees receive (on average) over $1000 dollars in public assistance.  They need these subsidies because Walmart won't pay a living wage.

So now Cami Anderson is going to take money from them and for what?  To better improve Newark children's education?

Our corporations now have more rights than we do.  They run everything and/or have their hands in government, rule of law, campaign finance, and now the education of our children.  Does that make you comfortable?