Sunday, May 24, 2009

Segregated proms in a "post-racial" USA

When Obama ran to be the democratic nominee for the US Presidency, many asked if it was the end of black racial politics. When he was nominated as the Democratic candidate, won the election in 2008, some people (like conservative Dinesh D'Souza) claimed that racism in the USA was over, and that the United States had entered a new post-racial era. Still, others note that one election won (no matter how historic), does not change the fact that the US has yet to deal with a major paradox of injustice in its national psyche: the belief in freedom and that all people are created equal and the long standing historical de-jure and de-facto discrimination against particular members of its citizenry.

As a teacher, I point out to my students that just because something has happened once, does not mean that it signals a permanent change, a new reality, or a confirmation of a belief. It's a blip, an anecdote. Until there is an existing pattern supported with evidence in the form of data, it unfortunately can't tell us much. This is not to say that one cannot find hope in that unique instance. One must weigh it against the data from the current reality.

So, imagine my classroom last week when I pointed out to a group of students studying urban education that segregated proms still exist. Some were shocked, and wondered how that could be so. My students are bright and from very diverse backgrounds and life-experiences. It doesn't change the fact that they have more or less been raised in an era in which social studies education teaches them that "we had the Civil Rights movement. Segregation is over." Imagine my reaction this morning when I read the NYT magazine article about segregated proms in Georgia.

The article tells me nothing new but I am sure it will be a surprise to some of my students. What really disturbs me about the article is the Times's failure to really dig deeper than they did. The piece basically focuses on the hurt feelings of the black students. It talks about failed efforts to integrate the proms, and the fact that white students are welcome at black proms (but black students can only stand outside white proms and take pictures of their white friends). I don't want to minimize the grave insult here, or the emotions of the students who were excluded. By focusing on the emotions of students, however, the Times reduces this act of segregation and discrimination to something that is committed against one or a few individuals, when in fact, it is institutionally and community-sanctioned against an entire group of the community itself.

But, some would say, the proms are paid for by the parents. But, other would say, it's the white parents who want to keep black students away from their prom and their children. If that were the case, why didn't the white students protest? Or, as one young black woman mentioned in passing, why did none of the white students text their black friends during prom, or choose not to go? This, in my mind is the crux of the matter: white students, while they may have black friends, girlfriends, or boyfriends, still observe the de facto reality of the community. It's OK to be friends or maybe date outside your race (as long as your parents don't know), but officially, you stick to your own.

The fact that the school does not pay for the segregated proms does not absolve the school administration from its role in this story. The reality that this is the way it has been done since schools were integrated in the 70's does not make the "tradition" (used in the article) does not make it right. This story does serve, however, as data point in a growing list of them that a "post-racial" USA is still a long way off.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"I can't make a living on 500K"-- a message to the whiners

I have been stewing about this all day. In fact, I have been getting angrier and angrier, and I figure it is better to write about this than to yell at some unsuspecting undergraduate. Be forewarned: This is not a diary about education, though I suppose it the ultimate outcome about all of this is that education will be affected.

Long story short: If I have to read about one more Wall Street whiner who is pissed because he or she didn't get the usual annual bonus, I am going to scream. I will probably blow a vessel if one more complains about $500K salary caps.

Last fall, the Bush Administration gave the banks billions of dollars with few or no strings attached. The bank, instead of starting to loan that money out, hoarded it, used it for conferences, and paid execs bonuses. That's right, our taxpayer money went to reward the yahoos who helped to get us in this mess.

So yesterday, the New York Times had an article about how some folks on Wall Street thought it was unfair that President Obama was placing a $500K salary cap and bonus cap. Today, Obama called for "common sense." Sorry, it's not common sense. It's FAIR.

The folks on Wall Street claim they deserve the bonus because they work harder than other people. Ehm, tell that to police and firefighters who risk their lives everyday. Tell that to hospital workers. Tell that to teachers who work in less-than-ideal conditions. If we follow through on their logic, there are a lot of people who are due some pretty amazing bonuses.

The bigger issue for me is the hypocrisy that is operating here. Yesterday there was an article about Tom Suozzi threatening layoffs if the unions didn't take a 7% pay cut. Question: is he taking a pay cut? Are the managers taking a paycut? How about the judges and other non-union workers?

I understand that we are living in tough times, but let's be real here. The people who are telling us we need to tighten our belts have no intention of tightening theirs. I just found out that they have put an 18 month salary freeze in place for folks here. I wonder if the state legislature is freezing their salaries as well.

Just sayin'

Monday, February 2, 2009

I miss Joe

Tonight I went to a celebration of the life of Joe Kincheloe. I dragged Mr. Edubabbler with me because I wanted to introduce him to more of my world. It was a rough night.

I have to admit, I am not one for public mourning. I prefer to do it in private, being alone with my thoughts and feelings. My mother hates that about me. After my sister died, all my mom wanted was to talk about it. I wanted to simply think and be. It was the same tonight. There were all of these people there, sharing stories about Joe. There was a presentation about Joe, his life, and his work. All I could think about was the fact that we were having this celebration of his life because he is no longer with us.

But, I got to hug Shirley, the love of his life. And I got to hear stories about Joe I'd never heard before. Most important, I got to see video of him, and I heard his voice again. I do not want to lose the sound of his voice in my mind. I need to hear his gentle prodding and love as I continue my work to make his (all our) vision of possibility a reality.

Peace, Joe.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Remembering Joe Kincheloe

This morning I awoke to read that my friend and mentor, Joe Kincheloe, died of a heart attack late last night. Joe was one of the lions of critical pedagogy. Born and raised in Tennessee, his slow and gentle drawl comes to mind, even as I remember the complex ideas he would share with me.

Joe was a humble man, a musician, a writer, a thinker, and a teacher. I never felt small in his presence. I always felt welcomed and loved. My heart is broken, for his wife, Shirley, his children and grandchildren, his friends, colleagues, and students, and for all the people who will never get to know a wonderful man.

I would write more, but I don't yet have the words.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education

When the list was initially floated around, names like Duncan, Rhee, Vallas, Klein, and Darling-Hammond were present, as were those of a number of governors. On the one hand, I was shocked at the number of pro-privatization, anti-union, pro-business front-runners. On the other hand, it didn't, given the US's love-affair with most things market-driven (only now are we beginning to see how misplaced that love was). Nor was I surprised, then or now, at the union-bashing that occurred. It never ceases to amaze me how quick the US public is to blame teachers' unions (and there are TWO prominent ones at the national level-- the NEA and the AFT). The public seems to forget that when administrators do their jobs regarding ineffective teachers, tenure is no protection. It's easier to blame teachers and unions than understand the complex ways in which schools function. In fact, it's easier to blame unions for anything, especially if it turns attention away from poor management.

I was dismayed at how the NYT jumped to characterize Darling-Hammond as anti-reform. She does not agree with the punitive measures of NCLB, nor does she view standardized tests and attendance rates as appropriate ways of assessing student learning. That does not mean she is anti-assessment, however. Her research into teacher preparation and student achievement indicates that many factors connect the two, and yet, the focus has remained on her criticisms of Teach For America. To present Darling-Hammond as anti-reform because she is critical of business market-applied models of accountability implies that only those who believe in testing and accountability (as it is narrowly defined in NCLB) have the cache to cal the shots. That is a very narrow understanding how what successful reform entails.

The reality is that schools and teachers cannot do what they are charged without support from society. It's easy to blame teachers and schools because it absolves the community of its responsibility. Yes, schools need to be held accountable for student learning, growth, and development. But, they also need adequate support to be able to do that. Part of that support is understanding how challenging teaching can be, even in the most ideal of settings. It's no surprise to me that people would choose not to teach when teachers get so much of the blame for what is wrong with the US and so little credit or thanks for what is right.

Ultimately, NCLB needs to be altered, and the new Secretary of Education needs to work with all stake-holders, not just those with the most power. I will withhold judgment on Arne Duncan until I learn more about him. But, I hope he is more effective than what this nation has endured for the last eight years.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

if you do nothing else today, read this.

I was doing me usual hanging out on the internet while waiting for the washer to finish its cycle, and came across this. It reminded me just how crucial compassionate and kind teachers are:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Please consider signing! Obama Appointment for Sec. of Ed.

I admit it, I have a lot of issues with No Child Left Behind, the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the past 6 years, testing has become the only focus of public education, with student success in learning being reduced to nothing more than a test score. "Proven teaching methods" have become little more than test prep, skill and drill, and a list of strategies that have little to do with how children really learn.

On top of that, the sanctions for failing schools ultimately put public school monies into the hands of private tutoring groups, charter schools, and private school hands. While there is much improvement needed in public education, the solution should not be to end public education.

Today I received two alerts from colleagues about the short list of people Obama is looking at. One of them is Commissioner Joel Klein of NYC and the other is Chicago CEO Arne Duncan. Both have records of being anti-teacher, anti-union, and anti-democratic. While I understand the Department of Education needs a forward-looking steward, I am not sure installing a leader who wants to further undermine public education should be our only choice.

Please consider reading and signing the two petitions below.


The Petition to oppose the appointment of Joel Klein.

We, the undersigned, devoted thousands of hours of volunteer time to the election of Barack Obama as President. As Professional educators we were encouraged by the promise to have an open and respectful dialogue within the educational community about NCLB, its limits, and its failures.

Now, a trial balloon has been advanced in the media for Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC schools to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education in an Obama Administration. ( It is quite possible that Klein himself promoted the trial balloon.) Trial balloons are trials. They are floated to see how people will react.

This petition is a reaction.

The administration of Joel Klein as Chancellor of Schools in New York City is representative of a particular rigid approach to school change promoted by NCLB which we oppose. Rather than take the advice of educators, Chancellor Klein repeatedly championed and implemented policies that support corporate interests as opposed to children. The NY City Department of Education under Joel Klein has been run like a ruthless dictatorship – with no input from parents or educators. Teachers have not been respected, consulted, nor listened to. And little thought has been devoted to how the policies he has imposed on our schools have been destructive to the children and their futures.

Citizens, educators, and future educators, read the entire petition and sign it at:

And, the second.

Say YES to public education. Say NO to privatization.

Dear supporters of public education,
Many of you have by now heard the rumors of Obama's potential appointees to the position of Secretary of Education. This list includes several people whose records show a history of dismantling democratic public education in the name of private interests. As people committed to public education, this strikes a hard and fast blow in the euphoria that we have felt since Tuesday, November 4th. But it's not too late to make our voices heard once again. Let's build on the sense of representation and democracy we have just experienced to send a clear message to the Obama Administration.

Please visit in order to sign the following statement that voices our concerns about the kind of Education Secretary that we want. Additionally, please FORWARD this message to your friends and colleagues who are also concerned about the future of public education.

Thank you!
The National Network of Teacher Activist Groups

Statement on the selection of the U.S. Secretary of Education

Today, we celebrate Barack Obama?s momentous election as President of the United States. We recognize it as a historic culmination of the centuries-long effort for dignity and justice, human and civil rights, and enfranchisement of the U.S. people, and we pay particular tribute to the African American freedom struggle, which played a decisive role in bringing the first Black man to the presidency.

We look forward, as educators, parents and students, to participating in the opportunities for change afforded by this moment. We are excited about the possibilities for improving educational opportunities for all students. Our vision of educational justice, access, opportunity, and equity includes having a Department of Education whose officials embrace the idea of a quality education as part of the common good. We wish to turn away from a corporate model of education that claims that teaching and learning can only improve by imposing market perspectives and processes onto our public education system. Education should be a fundamental human right, not subject to privatization by firms whose primary concern is a profit motive and the bottom line. We have all witnessed the failures of this free market system in recent months and do not support this model for our public schools.

Toward these ends, we urge President-elect Obama and his transition team to choose a Secretary of Education who is committed to the full development of human beings who are prepared to actively participate in civil society. We strongly encourage the selection of someone dedicated to equity and the education of all children with a proven track record in these areas, such as Linda Darling-Hammond, a key member of Mr. Obama?s education team. We want a person who is a professional, experienced, and knowledgeable educator, not a corporate executive such as New York City?s Education Chancellor Joel Klein or Chicago CEO Arne Duncan, who have demonstrated their vision of privatized, corporatized, and anti-democratic schools.

Over the last 20 years in the U.S., education is becoming the business of education, and we emphatically reject that model. We call upon the President-elect to choose someone who will embrace the ideas of civic involvement and public participation. We look forward to collaborating with that person, as well as with students, parents, and the broader public, in developing a truly meaningful and just education for all students in the U.S.

Endorse this statement by visiting