I met with my accountant on Monday. The bad news is once again I owe additional federal income taxes. I don’t have a fancy lawyer or any special tax breaks – so I paid. A little painful, but I figure I am paying my fair share to keep the United States and the American people safe, educated, healthy, and working.
Just this week we learned that in 2005 Donald Trump paid only a 25% tax rate on $150 million in personal income because he was able to take advantage of a tax code with plenty of deductions for rich people like him. Apparently what Trump did was legal, just shady. The world’s greatest businessman claimed he lost lots and lots of money a decade earlier because of “large-scale depreciation for construction,” so he should be spared from paying his full share of taxes – like forever. Thanks to the report by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and additional research by the New York Times, we now know that if Trump’s proposed tax reforms ever get approved, his 2005 tax bill of $38 million would only have been $7 million, a tax rate of less than 5%. This is a lower federal tax rate than middle-class people with incomes between $75,000 and a $100,000 pay.
I think the American people have the right to see all of President Trump’s tax filings to help us decide on any future changes to the tax laws. Donald Trump owns the 48th largest private company in the United States.
However, because of a new study by the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) we do know that more than half of wealthy Fortune 500 companies find ways to way underpay on their income taxes, and some big named companies pay no taxes at all. Are they tax cheats? You decide!
Donald Trump and Republicans who control the United States House of Representatives claim the corporate tax rate is too high and should drop precipitously, but according to the study, the 35% corporate tax rate is a myth for many highly profitable Fortune 500 companies. Included in the survey are companies that are incorporated in the U.S., operate in the U.S., and file financial statements here. Fortune 500 companies are publicly traded rather than privately owned. Their $12 trillion in revenue are two-thirds of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Their annual profits are between $800 and $900 billion. The Trump Organization’s revenue was $9.5 billion in 2015, which would place it at about #300 on the Fortune 500 list if it were a publicly traded company.
The ITEP study examined eight years of data on federal income taxes paid by Fortune 500 companies that “provided sufficient, reliable information in their financial reports to allow calculation of their effective U.S. and foreign tax rates.” According to Matthew Gardner, ITEP senior fellow and lead author of the report “many of the big corporations that are lobbying for a lower corporate tax rate to be more ‘competitive’ already pay substantially less than the 35 percent statutory rate.” The report concluded that “two-hundred and fifty-eight companies were profitable in every year” between 2008 and 2015. However, “Although the statutory corporate tax rate is 35 percent, collectively, these companies paid an average effective rate of 21.2 percent.”
Among the report’s key findings were that in at least one year, one hundred large and profitable American companies paid no federal income taxes. In some cases, the companies even collected from the federal government and American taxpayers because of tax credits that subsidize their operations. During the same period twenty-four paid no taxes in four of the eight years studied. Even more astonishing, eighteen companies, including General Electric, International Paper, Priceline.com, and PG&E, paid NO FEDERAL INCOME TAXES during the entire eight-year period. Utilities, Gas, and Electric companies got away the cheapest, paying roughly 3% in taxes a year.
Twenty-five companies combined received almost $300 billion in tax breaks over the eight years. Five companies alone, AT&T, Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, Verizon, and IBM, got a total of $130 billion in tax breaks.
It is no secret how these companies get away with cheating or robbing the public purse. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website OpenSecrets.org in 2016 AT&T, Boeing, and Exxon Mobile are among the largest individual lobbyists putting dollars into legislative campaigns. Apple, Fox, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Koch, Microsoft, Oracle, Proctor & Gamble, Time Warner, Verizon, and Wells Fargo, are also big spenders but primarily through industrial associations.
To stop the rip-off and give-away, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy recommends that Congress pass laws to force American multinational corporations to pay U.S. taxes on their offshore profits, change acceptable depreciation deductions, prohibit deductions based on “phantom” expenditures, require transparent financial reports, and “reinstate a strong corporate Alternative Minimum Tax.”
These recommendations are solid, but unlikely, with corporations, Republicans, and Donald Trump in charge of the federal treasury. Major corporations and people like Trump don’t cheat by breaking the law, they cheat by making the law.
Comments Off on Companies That “Cheat” On Their Income Taxes
Online there is a top ten and a bottom ten in almost every imaginable category. I thought it was only fitting to rank the ten worst Trumpster, members of the Trump team, starting with number ten. The criteria I used for assigning positions is their danger to the nation and danger to the planet. It was hard to fit everybody into just ten slots so I cheated twice, once with a tie, and once with a pair. Much of the information comes from the website Truth-Out and a composite bio put together by Agence France-Presse.
10. David Friedman is Donald Trump’s nominee as Ambassador to Israel. Friedman has no clear qualifications for the job except that he is former Trump bankruptcy lawyers and is aligned with the Israeli far right. Not only is Friedman unqualified, he is the anti-diplomat, calling Jews who disagree with his positions on Israel the equivalent of Nazi collaborators. Friedman’s positions supporting expanded Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands in violation of international agreements and on moving the U.S. embassy to the divided city of Jerusalem, will further antagonize U.S. relationships with the Islamic world. Friedman seems determined to enflame anti-United States terrorist actions. Rating: BAD.
9 Tie. Tom Price, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Andrew Puzder, Trump’s nominee as Secretary of Labor. It is hard to believe that Price is a medical doctor since he doesn’t seem to care at all about patient health. He is a leading critic and wants to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which provides health coverage to over 20 million Americans. Puzder is the chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which owns the fast food chains Car’s Jr and Hardee’s, and will be an anti-labor Secretary of Labor. To keep his company profitable Puzder opposes raising the national minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009. Puzder also backs increasing using robots to displace workers and keep labor costs down. Rating: BAD.
8. I thought the Secretary of State was supposed to represent the interests of the United States. But it is not clear whether Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, will be representing his old company, ExxonMobil, or his close friend and business partner, Russian headman Vladimir Putin. For decades ExxonMobil was at the forefront of efforts to discredit climate science. Meanwhile, from 1882 to 2002, ExxonMobil production and products contributed about 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. But that’s okay because Donald Trump does not believe in human contributions to climate change. Rating: VERY BAD.
7. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Donald Trump must have misunderstood the purpose of this position. The job of the Attorney General is to defend and enforce the Constitution of the United States, not to pretend it does not exist. While a Senator from Alabama, Session questioned whether the Constitution guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States, (14th Amendment), challenged the principle of separation of church and state (1st Amendment), declared same-sex marriage a threat to American culture, and voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. He was tried to gut the Voting Rights Act, champions the privatization of prisons, speaks against immigration and immigrants, and was once denied a federal judgeship because of racist comments about Blacks. Rating: VERY BAD.
6. For the Environmental Protection Agency Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, the equivalent of appointing an environmental axe-murder. As attorney general for Oklahoma Pruitt was a climate change denier who sued the EPA to prevent regulation of the fossil fuel industry. Oklahoma is the state that promotes unregulated fracking for natural gas, and as a result experienced 109 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2013, 585 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2014, 907 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2015. I guess Trump figures that Pruitt can work in tandem with ExxonMobil’s Tillerson to raise ocean levels and pollute the atmosphere – poor polar bears, coastal city dwellers, and people who breathe. Rating: VERY BAD.
5. Vice-President-elect Michael Pence. Standing next to Donald Trump, Mike Pence seems almost normal, so you have to look at his record in Congress and as Governor of Indiana. Governor Pence led a national campaign to defund Planned Parenthood, signed the most restrictive abortion regulations in the United States, called discrimination against gays as religious freedom, transferred money from public to private schools, threatened to actively violate environmental protection laws, and opposed any regulation of assault weapons. In Congress Pence tried to restrict funding to help people with HIV/AIDS, opposed anti-discrimination laws, and called for the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Pence opposes most immigration reform proposals, supports building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican borders, and tried to block the settlement of Syrian refugees in his state. Rating: REALLY, REALLY BAD.
4. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education is Betsy “Amway” DeVos. As a teacher and educational activist I wanted to rank her lower (higher?) on my list, but there are just too many really horrible Trumpsters. If DeVos gets her way, say good-bye to public education in the United States. A right-wing billionaire, DeVos has spent decades and millions of dollars in campaigns to privatize, defund, and destroy public education in her home state of Michigan and in the United States. DeVos is a product of Christian education and she and her family members are involved across-the-board in rightwing activities including anti-gay marriage efforts and covert for-profit military operations. DeVos never worked in public education in any capacity and her children all attended Christian academies that she wants to fund with federal vouchers. Rating: REALLY, REALLY BAD.
3. Trump’s chief campaign strategist Steve Bannon will now be his right-hand rightwing man in the White House. Bannon was the executive chairman of the alt-right fake news Breitbart website. His appointment does not require Senate confirmation so there will not be public hearings on whether Bannon shares the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist views promoted at Breibart. Rating: TERRIBLY BAD.
2. Ivanka Trump (Donald’s First Lady?) and Jared Kushner (Trump’s Senior Advisor): Trump’s daughter and her husband are the new power couple in Washington DC and offer a media friendly “socially liberal” veneer to cover over some of the President-elect’s boorish behavior. Part of the problem will be that the public will want to like them, think Jackie O and Princess Di, and not look closely at what they stand for and are doing. Ivanka will resign as executive vice-president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization but apparently will continue selling jewelry and clothing, trading on her father’s international brand name. Ivanka shoes are made by low-wage workers in China, but she appears to be shifting production to even lower-wage workers in Ethiopia. Right after Donald’s election Ivanka was involved in lending her celebrity to a New York City charter school network and selling coffee time for a charity affair to wealthy investors who wanted to get close to the Trump family. Jared, like his father-in-law, started rich and became even richer through real estate deals. While advising Trump on appointments, Jared was privately negotiating a Manhattan real estate deal with a Chinese company that has close ties to the Chinese government. Ivanka and Jared claim they will comply with federal ethics laws, but if they do not get paid for advising Trump, they might be exempt from the rules and be able to use connections and influence to make heaps of money. Basically will are looking at two very attractive and shifty characters whose main job will be to make Trump look good. Rating: TERRIBLY BAD.
1. Donald Trump, who chose these people, may be the United States’ first totally narcissist, megalomaniac President with the attention span of a tweet. Trump’s philosophy in life is to win at whatever the cost for other people. That might make sense in the real estate business, but it is a disaster for running a nation. Trump made millions bankrupting Atlantic City casinos while stockholders lost money, employees lost jobs and the municipality was left with bills it could not pay. The global economy and military system work to the extent that they do because since World War II the United States has defined its self-interest as maintaining functioning systems. Trump’s insistence on placing United States interests first, renegotiating all international deals, abandoning alliances, and winning at all costs is a recipe for World War III. Rating: SCARY AS ALL HELL
Comments Off on Ranking the Ten Worst Trumpsters (Rhymes with Dumpsters)
During the third Presidential debate Donald Trump continued his vicious campaign denouncing women who charge him with sexual assault. He assaults them once again by calling them horrible, liars, and fame seekers. He also dismisses media that report their accusations as corrupt and part of a vast conspiracy to undermine his Presidential campaign. Trump has threatened to pursue legal action against both his accusers and the media outlets that report their accusations. As of October 17, ten women have publicly accused Trump of inappropriate and unwanted sexual aggression.
Trump continues to call Hillary Clinton a criminal even though she has been investigated by numerous government agencies and has never been brought up on charges. According to the United States Justice Department, rape is defined as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” By this definition, the accusation by at least one of the women who denounced Trump’s actions might legally constitute rape.
Unfortunately Trump is not the only prominent figure or company that feels it is okay to dismiss allegations, coddle sexual assault, or blame the victims of aggression for allowing it to happen. Fox News fired former CEO Roger Ailes after he was accused of sexual harassment by twelve women, but gave him a $40 million severance package. After being fired, Ailes became a major advisor to the Trump presidential campaign.
The British newspaper The Guardian recently reported that Pearson Education, which boasts that it is the world’s largest education publisher, distributes a textbook in South Africa that teaches secondary school students that at least some rape victims are responsible for being raped. The textbook, published by Pearson’s South African subsidiary, Maskew Miller Longman, has been used since 2011.
According to The Guardian, “The textbook – aimed at children aged 15 and 16 – includes a question based on a girl’s account of being raped at a party. In the example, a girl named Angie explains that she went to the party without her parents’ permission, got drunk and was locked in a room with a boy, who raped her. Pupils are then asked to answer three questions, the first of which reads: “List two ways in which Angie’s behaviour led to sexual intercourse.”
Ben Phillips, the director of policy at Action Aid International, called it appalling “that in a Pearson school textbook schoolchildren have to blame rape survivors to pass the test.” Lisa Vetten, a research associate at Witwatersrand University in South Africa highlighted the question’s use of the phrase “sexual intercourse.” “To use ‘rape’ and ‘sexual intercourse’ interchangeably is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature and effects of rape.”
The Pearson subsidy has submitted corrections to South Africa’s education officials and plans to print a new edition. In a letter to John Fallon, Pearson CEO, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and South African Democratic Teachers Union General Secretary Mugwena Maluleke called on Pearson, as a partial corrective measure, to make “significant financial contribution to organizations combating gender violence in South Africa.”
That is a reasonable request. According to the United Nation, South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world. Police report 147 sexual offenses a day.
Comments Off on Trump and Pearson Education Justify Sexual Violence
Alan SingerSocial studies educator, Hofstra University, my opinions, of course, are my own
This post is hosted on the Huffington Post’s Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and post freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
Many of the funders behind the charter school campaign to undermine public schools and privatize education in the United States are Wall Street financiers and hedge fund billionaires. We may need to put “hedge fund detectors” at school entrances.
In 2013, SAC Capital, founded and owned by charter school financial angel Steven A. Cohen, pleaded guilty to criminal fraud and agreed to pay $1.8 billion in fines. According to the New York Times, in January 2016, Cohen was barred for two years from managing money other than his own personal fortune. Cohen, one of the wealthiest people in the United States, worked out a deal with federal prosecutors so he would not face personal criminal charges.
While Cohen is not trusted with other people’s money, this same Steven A. Cohen, working through his Steven A. Cohen and Alexandria M. Cohen Foundation, gives “major support to charter schools and advocacy . . . Most K-12 charter funding comes through the foundation’s Education program, but funding opportunities exist through its Arts program as well.” But if he can’t be trusted with money, why is trusted with education?
According to the Foundation website, the Cohens have “a longstanding commitment to educational reforms, particularly through the charter school movement.” Cohen money goes to charter schools and networks especially Achievement First, but also Excel Bridgeport, Connecticut Charter School Network, Harlem Children’s Zone, and The Equity Project charter school. In addition, they are big funders of Teach for America. According to the website Inside Philanthropy, “each of these recipients has received funding in the six-to-seven figures over the last several years.”
The Connecticut Courant reports that Cohen and his wife are also major contributors in Connecticut to political candidates pledged to support public funding for charter schools and to Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), which lobbies in the state capital for additional public dollars for the charters.
Maybe someone can explain to me why the CEO of a company that pleaded guilty to criminal fraud, a man who is barred from managing other people’s money, is permitted to influence educational policy in the United States.
When it comes to dealing with Wall Street financiers and hedge fund billionaires, the United States should learn from Uganda. In August, the Ugandan Minister of Education and Sports announced in parliament that the Government would close schools operated by Bridge International Academies (BIA), which runs 63 nursery and primary schools in Uganda. Ministry reports revealed that the schools violated national health and educational standards. Bridge is a for-profit chain of private schools with ties to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Pearson Education, the World Bank, and the U.S. and British Governments. Click here or a full report on the campaign to shut down Bridge.
Comments Off on Keep Wall Street Financiers and Hedge Fund Billionaires Out of Schools
A Long Island, New York foreign language teacher was “administratively reassigned” after she posted on her Facebook page, “This week is Spirit Week at Smithtown HS West. It’s easy to spot which students are racist by the Trump gear they’re sporting for USA Day.” The teacher did not say it in her classes. No one says she spoke that way in school. But she was thinking it, and she made her thoughts public, and now the thought police are taking action against her. The silencing has begun in Trump world. It is not waiting for Election Day.
The school district, in a statement issued by the superintendent, indicated that the district had taken “appropriate disciplinary actions” against the teacher. According to news reports, the teacher was “administratively reassigned,” which means she was removed from the classroom.
During his campaign, Donald Trump has stirred racial animosity and divided the nation. His statements against Mexicans, Muslims, and African Americans are racist. Like this teacher, I have witnessed disturbing behavior by Trump supporters, including high school students. When people are chanting “Build the Wall,” “Lock her up,” “Throw them out,” or even “TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP,” it is meant to intimidate others. It is a form of bullying that should be challenged in schools.
I think this teacher was wrong to equate support for Trump with being a racist. It’s not true and not helpful. If the teacher said it in the classroom it would have silenced discussion, the very behavior she is upset about. BUT SHE DIDN’T SAY IT IN THE CLASSROOM and in this country she still has the right to think it and even to post it on Facebook without official retribution.
Many of the comments posted on Long Island News 12 were nasty and some of the people identified themselves as school or public employees. I don’t think they should be, but I wonder if these people will also be held accountable for their free speech on the Internet.
Someone who described himself as the “Head of Technical Services at Elmont Memorial Library” posted “Well, what do you expect when the leader of this teacher’s political party is saying the exact same things? My question is, why does this teacher get in trouble for saying this on Facebook, yet Hil-LIARY-y Clinton can get away with saying the exact same things to the entire country?”
Other commentators wrote:
“Freedom of speech is only free if you’re a lib…if you’re views differ then you’re a racist, a misogynist, a sexist or whatever else it is that they claim you are! That woman should not be allowed to teach. Clearly she cannot be trusted to grade those students fairly. If any of them are in her class they should be taken out immediately!”
“We don’t pay teachers to critique students or their parents political views. All across America we are trying to stop bullying by other kids and now it’s being done by a teacher? Shame on her.”
“She should be fired, she has no right to pass judgement (sic) on our children’s views or the views of their parents. I don’t care if it was about Clinton or Trump, her pushing her opinion on our children is disgusting. She should be ashamed!”
“Disgusting. . What other bullying and public shaming does she inflict on her students when no one is there to protect them? No parent should allow their child to remain in her class.”
“These pigs are indoctrinating our children into their warped way of thinking from the first day we let them go to these communistic, unionized, cesspools, to the day they leave collage (sic). Then we wonder how our society has lost it’s religion (sic), patriotism and brotherhood.”
The silencing has begun in Trump world. It is not waiting for Election Day.
Comments Off on Teacher Suspended for Calling Trump Supporters Racist on Facebook
In a New York Times review of Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press), Jason DeParle describes how Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologists and professor at University of California-Berkeley, interviewed anti-government Tea Party supporters from Louisiana Bayou Country in an effort to understand their view of what is happening in the United States.
Jason DeParle recounts a scenario Hochschild presented to participants in her study and their reactions.
“You are patiently standing in a long line” for something you call the American dream. You are white, Christian, of modest means, and getting along in years. You are male. There are people of color behind you, and “in principle you wish them well.” But you’ve waited long, worked hard, “and the line is barely moving.”
Then “Look! You see people cutting in line ahead of you!” Who are these interlopers? “Some are black,” others “immigrants, refugees.” They get affirmative action, sympathy and welfare — “checks for the listless and idle.” The government wants you to feel sorry for them.
And who runs the government? “The biracial son of a low-income single mother,” and he’s cheering on the line cutters. “The president and his wife are line cutters themselves.” The liberal media mocks you as racist or homophobic. Everywhere you look, “you feel betrayed.”
One participant responded to Hochschild, “You’ve read my mind.” Another says, “I live your analogy.” A third claims says she has seen people drive their children to Head Start in Lexuses. She believes “If people refuse to work, we should let them starve.”
As a group, the people Hochschild interviews believe “others” are “cutting in line,” the federal government is “taking money from the workers and giving it to the idle,” and “The government has gone rogue, corrupt, malicious and ugly. It can’t help anybody.” To rectify this, they “vote for candidates that put the Bible where it belongs.”
According to the reviewer, Hochschild “likes the people she meets. They aren’t just soldiers in a class war but victims of one, too. She mourns their economic losses, praises their warmth and hospitality, and admires their ‘grit and resilience.’” Unfortunately they blame others who are in the same boat for their problems when the real cause is “unchecked corporate power and technological transformation.”
As Hochschild points out, “Louisiana is a classic red state. In 2016, it’s ranked the poorest in the nation and the worst as well in education, health and the overall welfare of its people It also has the second-highest male incidence of cancer and is one of the country’s most polluted states.” Meanwhile recent polls show Louisianans favor Trump over Hillary Clinton by at least 47% to 39%.
Racism has deep-roots in Louisiana’s White population. In 2012, only 10% of the state’s White voters cast ballots for Barack Obama, the second lowest percentage in the country. In the 1991 gubernatorial election a majority of the state’s White voters supported David Duke, a former Klansman and a neo-Nazi. Duke is currently running for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana and supporting Donald Trump for President.
Confusion, ignorance, superstition, disillusionment, a sense of displacement, longing for a past that never existed, bigotry, profound racism, some or all infect large swaths of White America. Communities in Wyoming blame “Killary” for the collapse of the coal industry. They fervently believe Trump will miraculously revive an industry replaced by other fossil fuels and with a large responsibility for global warming. The problems in their lives are real. Income and wealth inequality in the United States are growing. But the solutions that appeal to them are false and candidates they support are dangerous.
Hochschild believes Americans can eventually find common ground so the United States is able address problems like poverty, job loss, and environmental degradation. I hope she is right. I just don’t see how with politicians like Donald Trump, the conservative right, financiers like the Koch brothers, Fox News, and much of the Republican Party misdirecting and misusing their deep unhappiness for their political ends and the detriment of the country.
I support the multi-ethnic working-class alliance Hochschild envisions and hopes will challenge “unchecked corporate power and technological transformation.” But I also believe it will take time to build. Given its enemies, it will also be vulnerable.
Similar movements emerged as the Populists in the 1890s, the labor movement in the 1930s, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Despite substantial achievements, each eventually faded.
If Donald Trump is elected President the United States the American people may not have the time we need to build a new progressive movement. That is why as a member of the Green Party I am voting for Hillary Clinton’s election in 2016.
Comments Off on White Backlash in Louisiana Bayou Country and Why a Green is Voting for Hillary
I am a native New Yorkers so I have hated San Francisco sports teams since 1957 when the baseball Giants slinked away to the West Coast. But San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick is forcing me to reevaluate my fundamental sports fan nationalism.
At two pre-season football games Kaepernick refused to stand at attention while the national anthem was played over the public address system reigniting debate over what it means to be a responsible citizen in a democratic society. Congress designated The Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem in 1931 and it has been played at sporting events since World War II. Kaepernick explained his actions were a protest against police brutality and racial injustice in the United States.
I generally stand respectfully when the national anthem is played at the opening of baseball games, although I do not sing along or salute. However, despite hostile stares form other Yankee fans, I will not stand when God Bless America is played at the stadium during the 7th inning stretch. Its sole purpose is to promote jingoistic patriotism. God, if there is a God, does not take sides in war or baseball games.
Kaepernick’s stand, or refusal to stand, is an opening for teachers to discuss with students the meaning of citizenship and its responsibilities in a democratic society. For teachers, the point of contention is usually recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, which is required at the opening of the school day in about half of the states.
In New York State recital of the Pledge is mandated by “Education Law § 802. Instruction relating to the flag; holidays.”
“It shall be the duty of the commissioner to prepare, for the use of the public schools of the state, a program providing for a salute to the flag and a daily pledge of allegiance to the flag, and instruction in its correct use and display which shall include, as a minimum, specific instruction regarding respect for the flag of the United States of America, its display and use as provided by federal statute and regulation and such other patriotic exercises as may be deemed by him to be expedient, under such regulations and instructions as may best meet the varied requirements of the different grades in such schools.”
However, while cities, states, and education bodies can mandate a pledge ceremony at the start of the school day, according to the United States Supreme Court they cannot require that students and teachers recite the pledge. In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), the Supreme Court recognized an individual’s right of conscience and religious freedom, ruling that schools could not force students to recite the Pledge. Students are not unpatriotic if they do not say the pledge.
I have exercised my right of conscience since I was eight-years-old and in the third grade. My father told my younger brother and me that we had to be respectful of other people, but we did not have to say the pledge. He was angry because in 1954 President Eisenhower and Congress added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge, and he felt this violated our family’s religious freedom. I continued this policy of respectful protest as a New York City teacher when I encouraged students to be respectful of others when the pledge was recited, but let them know they were not legally required to participate.
In a high school classroom, a good starting point for a classroom discussion of Colin Kaepernick, the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society is a speech delivered to the United States Senate in 1872 by Carl Schurz of Wisconsin. Schurz was an immigrant to the United States from Prussia (now Germany) and served his adopted country as a Senator, an ambassador, a Cabinet Secretary, a Civil Service reformer, and as an American Civil War Union General. During Senate debate on the sale of surplus weapons to France during the Franco-Prussian War, Senator Matthew Carpenter, also from Wisconsin, accused Schurz of “unpatriotic motive” for opposing the sale, appealing to anti-immigrant prejudice and suggesting Schurz was being swayed by loyalty to Prussia.
Schurz’ response to Carpenter is an excellent introduction to the responsibility of citizens and what it means to support your country. He concluded his speech: “[I]f any wrong was committed, the people of the United States, as represented in their sovereign capacity by Congress, emphatically disapprove of it; that if any wrong was committed, the people are ready to resent it against their own servants? That is the way to destroy the pernicious effect of that precedent, and that is the duty of a true patriot. The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
I think Senator Carl Schurz would be pleased with the action taken by San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, American patriot, and all those who defend democratic values by protesting against injustice. Personally, I plan to sit with Colin Kaepernick at sporting events in the future.
Click here to sign a petition supporting Colin Kaepernick and protesting against police violence against Black men and racism in American society.
Comments Off on Kaepernick, Sports, Politics, the Anthem, the Pledge, and Schools
Readers of my Huffington Post blog know I am very critical of the skills focus of the national Common Core standards for turning reading into a discombobulated and often meaningless chore for young people and a strong supporter of the high-stakes testing opt-out movement. But in this case, in this particular case, the Common Core reading standards provide a useful dissecting tool for understanding the motives behind charter school propaganda. And remember, I already know how to read pretty “good,” and I learned to read without Common Core. So let’s turn Common Core on its head.
According to the national Common Core reading standards, endorsed by the New York Times in a 2014 editorial, middle school students should be able to “[i]dentify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts)” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6) and “[d]istinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.8). Despite its support for Common Core, a recent New York Times editorial championing so-called educational reform shows that the paper and its staff definitely need remediation and probably should go back to middle school until they can master the new standards.
On May 10, 2016 another New York Times editorial, “Guess Who’s Taking Remedial Classes,” mocked middle-class suburban parents who oppose the Common Core high-stakes testing regime and support the opt-out movement. They cited a “a striking new study showing that nearly half of the students who begin their college careers taking remedial courses come from middle- and upper-income families.” Apparently, about one-fourth of the students who entered college in 2011 were required to take remedial courses in math, English or writing, and forty-five percent of the students in the remedial classes were from those “middle-, upper-middle- and high-income families.” According to the Times, the study was conducted by “a nonprofit think tank” called Education Reform Now. The study did not “indicate the specific places where these higher-income students grew up,” but the Times believes the “data suggest that many come from suburban communities whose schools did not prepare them for college-level work.” And these “wealthier districts” with failing students are, lo and behold, the very “strongholds of the movement against standardized testing and the Common Core learning standards.”
Maybe the New York Times should have checked the data itself before trusting the nonprofit Education Reform Now think tank. Education Reform Now (ERN) may technically be nonprofit, but it certainly is not anti-profit and its promoters and funders are neither educators nor education researchers. ERN has a five member Board of Directors. According to their website, “John Petry, Co-Chair, is the founder and managing principal at Sessa Capital. Previously he was a partner at Gotham Capital and Gotham Asset Management. John has been active in a variety of education reform causes. He was a co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform, served as a past Chairman of Education Reform Now, and currently serves as a co-chair at the Success Academies network of charter schools.”
The other Board members, Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo, Brian Zied, Michael Sabat, and John Sabat are also hedge fund vultures. In addition, John Sabat is a “founding board member of Harlem Success Academy 4,” part of the Moskowitz network.
ERN’s activities include lobbying state and federal public officials to support charter schools and tougher teacher evaluations and tenure requirements. In Washington State ERN supported a successful effort to lift the state ban on charter schools. In New Jersey it was allied with Governor Chris Christie in efforts to weaken the teachers union, increase the number of years before teachers are eligible for tenure, and to evaluate teacher based on student performance on high-stakes standardized assessments.
How is that for disinterested impartiality? Did the Times effectively “[i]dentify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose”? Let’s take a look at the report.
The report, “Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability,” was written by Mary Nguyen Barry and Michael Dannenberg. Nguyen Barry is a senior policy analyst with Education Reform Now previously worked for the Education Trust, another anti-opt out group. In school Nguyen Barry studied “policy” and she never was a teacher. Michael Dannenberg is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Policy. On his Linkedin page he claims to have “initiated, drafted, and shepherded toward enactment major elements of the [now replaced and discredited – added for emphasis] No Child Left Behind Act,” which started the national march to high-stakes testing.
According to the report, “the promise of Common Core standards and aligned assessments is still not fulfilled thanks to a series of foreseeable as well as unexpected implementation and communication challenges, including “teacher and teacher union resistance, and the opt-out actions of frustrated, anti-testing parents.”
But at the same time, the report does acknowledge some holes in its overall analysis and conclusion that public high schools are failing students from middle-class and upper income families. For example, the authors write “It’s true that of those half million students, low-income students are over-represented” and “Again, it’s true that the vast majority of remedial students – 57 percent – are enrolled at community colleges.”
I found some even bigger analytic holes in the report that the New York Times should have checked before printing the editorial. According to a Pew Research Center report, in 2012, only about fifty percent of low-income high school completers were enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college compared to 65 per cent of students from middle-income families and 80 per cent from high-income families. This means that there are a lot more students attending college from lower middle, middle, and higher income brackets. Even if the number of students from these income groups that need remediation is significant, the percentage of students is actually small
The ERN report cited by the Times uses a national measure for classifying families as lower, middle and higher income and does not appear to take into account region income differences. For example, because of higher costs of living, a “low-income” family living in Northeast or on the West Coast would count as middle income in an unadjusted report making it look like a lot more “middle income” students need remediation.
In addition, I saw no evidence in the report that it accounts for students with learning disabilities. Students from low-income families with learning disabilities are much less likely to complete high school and attend college than students with disabilities from higher income families who receive greater support from schools in their more affluent communities.
I don’t know if the New York Times considered any of these issues before it endorsed the propaganda report by charter school and testing advocates promoting their political agenda. Apparently the Times editorial team has difficulty when it has to “[d]istinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text, “ another area where they failed middle school Common Core. Instead of praising colleges for raising standards and providing support so students can reach these standards, the Times and the testing and charter school people take pot shots at public schools.
I await a New York Times retraction, apology to parents, or maybe just a response
Comments Off on NY Times Mocks Opt-Out Parents, Fails Common Core English
According to its website, “The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.” Its mandate to test was included in the original No Child Left Behind legislation. NAEP tests are given to a representative sampling of about 30,000 private and public school students every two years in Grades 4, 8 and 12.
NAEP, which is administered by a federal agency that is part of the national Department of Education, periodically tests students in math, reading, science, the arts, civics, geography, U.S. history, and technical literacy. The NAEP started testing students in 1969-1970, but the design of the tests used today dates to 1992. Its current testing “partners“ include the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), one of the groups behind the national Common Core Standards, Educational Testing Service, which markets and administers the GRE and Praxis exams, and Pearson, which has a contract with NAEP to “prepare and package the assessment and all auxiliary materials; to distribute assessment booklets and materials to the test administrators for each school; to process completed student and teacher assessment materials returned from the field; to develop training and scoring materials; and to score all assessments.”
The Common Core Standards were intended to define the reading and math skills that students should be able to do at each grade level. Development started in 2008. The 2016 high school graduating class was in fourth grade.
The Common Core Standards were officially launched in 2009. The 2016 high school graduating class was in fifth grade.
In June 2010 the final Common Core Standards were released to the public and state education agencies. The 2016 high school graduating class was in sixth grade.
By December 2013, 45 states and Washington DC, under pressure from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, had adopted the Common Core Standards for ELA/literacy and math. The 2016 high school graduating class was in tenth grade.
By the 2014-15 academic year, every state was required to have in place Common Core aligned assessments to ensure that students were “college- and career-ready.” The 2016 high school graduating class was in eleventh grade.
In Fall 2015 the NAEP tested a representative sample of high school seniors in the 2016 graduating class. After seven years of Common Core curriculum and assessment, the NAEP tests showed:
The average performance of high school seniors dropped in math and failed to improve in reading from 2013 to 2015. Performance was also down on both tests from 1992, the first year that similar tests were used.
There was a decline in the percentage of students in both public and private schools that are rated as prepared for college-level work in reading and math. In 2013, 39% of students were considered ready for college math and 38% were prepared for college-level reading. But in 2015, only 37% were prepared for college.
Worse, while scores improved for students in the highest percentile group in reading, they dropped in reading and math for students in the lower percentiles. The number of students scoring below “basic” in both subjects also increased from 2013. These were the students that Common Core and the high-stakes testing regime were supposedly designed to support the most.
Test scores for students in 4th and 8th grade who have been trapped in Common Core classrooms with Common Core curriculum for pretty much their entire school careers showed a similar decline in math.
Terry Mazany, the chairman of the governing board for the test, called these results “worrisome.”
These tests, as U.S. Secretary of Education John King concedes, are basically designed so that 70% of students will fail, with a much higher percentage among students with disabilities, English Language learners, and children who live in poverty. Fairfield University Professor and Network for Public Education Board member Yohuru Williams argues these tests, which are manifestly unfair to the neediest children, feeds into racial determinism in American society while closing doors of opportunity for Black and Latino children.
Despite claims that the new federal ESSA law reduces emphasis on high-stakes testing, companies are scrabbling to make money off of the Common Core tests. The latest big entries seeking to profit from the testing bonanza are the SAT and ACT testing companies. Thirteen states are either currently using, planning to use, or considering using these tests to satisfy ESSA mandates. Scott Marion, the executive director of the Center for Assessment, a nonprofit organization that helps states design and evaluate tests, accuses the SAT and ACT of a “land grab.” He describes what is happening as a “little like the Gold Rush.”
Common Core is little more than another combination miracle reading program (e.g. Hooked on Phonics, Success for All, Pearson’s Reading Street) and “new math“ fad that companies have been pushing in the American education market since the 1960s. None of these programs radically changes education in the United States because they do not address the fundamental problems that undermine student performance, poverty, parental unemployment or the need to work multiple jobs, substandard housing and ghettoization, school segregation, and a local funding system that channels greater dollars to schools in affluent communities. They are technical excuses not to address social and educational inequality.
Now it is Common Core’s chance to fail. The Common Core Standards and Common Core aligned assessments that transformed American schools into test prep academies are failing the test and failing the kids.
Comments Off on Results Are in: Common Core Fails Tests and Kids
The F.B.I. has introduced an interactive online program called “Don’t Be a Puppet“ for teachers and students to help them identify potential violent extremists. Gamers maneuver through a series of activities designed to help them identify someone who may be falling under the influence of radical extremists. After every correct response, a scissor cuts the puppet’s string, until the puppet is finally “freed.” Individuals with ties to Islamic fundamentalist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have not been involved in school shootings in the United States. However religious and civil rights leaders who previewed the game report the website focuses almost entirely on “Islamic extremism.”
In an unclassified document released in January 2016 the FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement” warned, “High school students are ideal targets for recruitment by violent extremists seeking support for their radical ideologies, foreign fighter networks, or conducting acts of targeted violence within our borders.” The bureau insists, “High schools must remain vigilant in educating their students about catalysts that drive violent extremism and the potential consequences of embracing extremist belief.” It calls for “observing and assessing concerning behaviors and communications” of students “embracing extremist ideologies.”
According to an article posted on Salon, the F.B.I. school spy initiative is similar to a controversial British “anti-terror” mass surveillance program known as “Preventing Violent Extremism” or “Prevent.” However while the F.B.I. website is designed to enlist students, the British program primarily recruits teachers.
The British newspaper The Guardian describes a “Prevent“ training video for teachers designed to help them identify susceptible students who might be lured into supporting support terrorism. The video ends with the an explanation, “We are not asking you to spy, but to look out for troubling behaviour.” However, teachers are “to spot children who might be vulnerable to radicalisation, and dealing with them – if necessary, by referring them to the government’s anti-radicalisation programme, Channel. Since 2012, more than 4,000 people have been referred, half of them under-18s – with the youngest a three-year-old from London.” Delegates at the 2015 British National Union of Teachers annual conference charged they were being forced to act as “frontline stormtroopers, who listen … spy and notify the authorities.” In July 2015, a petition signed by leading British academics, lawyers and public figures argued these mandates would “divide communities, clamp down on legitimate dissent and have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.”
The Salonarticle argues that the F.B.I. is also based on discredited “McCarthy-era theories of radicalization, in which authorities monitor thoughts and behaviors that they claim to lead to acts of violent subversion, even if those people being watched have not committed any wrongdoing.” The Salon article accuses the F.B.I. of recruiting students and teachers as part of a “massive surveillance apparatus” targeting “risk factors that are so broad and vague that virtually any young person could be deemed dangerous and worthy of surveillance, especially if she is socio-economically marginalized or politically outspoken.”
If you think enlisting students and teachers as junior spies makes sense for security reasons, the story of Ahmed Mohamed is a cautionary tale. In September 2015 Ahmed brought a homemade digital clock to school in Irving, Texas to show one of his teachers. A different teacher thought it looked like a bomb and reported it to school authorities, leading to Ahmed being handcuffed and questioned by police. While no criminal charges were filed, he was suspended from school for three days.
And despite F.B.I. claims that their goal is intervention and counseling, when a California father, a Silicon Valley executive who is Muslim, spoke with the F.B.I. about his concerns over the behavior of his twenty-two year old son and possible depression, the young man was arrested and taken from their home in handcuffs. It also turns out that the F.B.I was monitoring the young man’s phone calls. He now faces a potential twenty-year prison sentence for attempting to support terrorist organizations. It seems the F.B.I. does not provide counseling.
“Educational“ materials in the F.B.I. surveillance program provide students with signs that will enable them to identify suspect extremists. They include “Talking about traveling to places that sound suspicious”; “Using code words or unusual language”; “Using several different cell phones and private messaging apps”; and “Studying or taking pictures of potential targets (like a government building).”
Students can sign-up to play Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools at an F.B.I. website and earn a F.B.I. certificate of completion. The website suggests students tell a trusted adult or call 9-1-1 if you discover something suspicious.
So students be sure to remember:
Do not discuss Narnia (C.S. Lewis) or Middle Earth (Tolkin).
Don’t share cell phones or have too many Facebook friends.
On vacations and fieldtrips, do not take pictures of the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, or the White House.
And never, never, speak in “hip-hop,” “street,” “valley,” “Pig Latin,” or other “strange” codes or unusual languages.
Other than legal problems with the so-called Trump University, very little attention is being paid to The Donald’s views on education. But the operation of Trump U gives some insight into how the wheeler-dealer-in-chief would address public education in this country if he ever becomes President.
The Donald likes to brand his last name. It is on casinos, skyscrapers, golf courses, hotels, men’s clothing, wine, magazines, fragrances, spring water, and steaks. In 2005, he put his name on a so-called university, so-called because it never received any official accreditation and offered certificates, not degrees.
When the New York State Department of Education demanded that it stop calling itself a university, it changed its name to Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. Although as many as 7,000 people bought the Trump sales pitch and paid an estimated $40 million to enroll in classes, the program went defunct in 2011. Since 2013 New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been suing the company as a “classic bait-and-switch scheme.” According to Schneiderman, “It was a scam, starting with the fact that it was not a university.” There are also two pending class action suits against Trump U in California.
One thing many conservatives and liberals agree on in this Presidential campaign is that Trump’s claims for the university probably constitute fraud. The National Review, a leading conservative magazine, calls Trump University a “massive scam.“ On the left, Mother Jonesreported, “Trump U’s ‘handpicked’ instructors didn’t know anything about real estate,” “The Donald was a no-show,” and that “Trump netted about $5 million in profit” from the school. In response to campaign critics, Trump cites positive student reviews as proof that his “school” provided promised services, but in New York Timesinterviews former students claimed they were pressured to give the positive reviews.
Trump’s campaign website “Trump: Make America Great Again!” offers no positions on issues facing education in the United States. However the website “On the Issues” has put together Trump positions taken from his books and media coverage starting with threats to cut the federal Department of Education. He also opposes Common Core, believes in something called “comprehensive education,” and in teaching citizenship. However, citizenship education will not be offered to everyone in Trump World. In campaign speeches Trump calls for deporting undocumented immigrants and their American born children.
In The America We Deserve, published in 2000, Trump spelled out what passes for an education philosophy. According to The Donald, “Our schools aren’t safe. On top of that, our kids aren’t learning. Too many are dropping out of school and into the street life-and too many of those who do graduate are getting diplomas that have been devalued into ‘certificates of attendance’ by a dumbed-down curriculum that asks little of teachers and less of students. Schools are crime-ridden and they don’t teach.” Trump also blamed the people running our schools for watering down education out of concern about damaging a student’s self-esteem.
More specifically, Trump demanded we look at public education as a business and promote school competition, school choice, charter schools, and vouchers. He called this formula “the American way.” He also wants to stop the teacher unions from interfering with his agenda.
Bottom line, Trump as President promises to eliminate any opposition like teacher organizations and open up public education for private investors like himself. Voters can only assume that Trump University represents his model for the “American Way.”
Comments Off on Trump on Education: The Art of the Steal
Pearson (Mis)Education, the British-based global “education” publishers reported a net profit increased in 2015, but that was because it sold off assets including of the Financial Times and The Economist. It was also forced to eliminate 4,000 jobs, about ten per cent of the company’s workforce.
A closer look at Pearson’s bottom line shows a decline in revenue of about 2% in its core business, selling textbooks, texts, and online classes in the United States and Third World countries. Without the sell-off and some tax breaks, Pearson’s balance sheet would have been in the red. Pearson CEO John Fallon admitted 2015 was a “tough year” for Pearson, but he blamed “cyclical and policy challenges.” Shares in Pearson stock on the London Exchange climbed recently, but they are worth about half what they were a year ago. One major British market analyst concluded the report issued by Pearson undermines its “management’s stated claims of confidence in the longer-term business.”
Pearson management concedes problems will continue into the next business year. In their annual report, they acknowledged “we anticipate trading conditions to remain challenging in our major markets in 2016.” In the United States, Pearson expects “college enrolments will be flat given forecast modest improvements in US employment,” “a smaller adoption market in K-12 learning services,” and “reduced testing revenues in North America reflecting State and National Assessment contract losses worth approximately £100m announced in 2015.” Poor Person. Its profits suffer because Americans are working!
In British, Italian, and Australian markets, the company expects “declines in vocational course registrations.” Meanwhile, in Brazil, China, India and South Africa they are preparing for cuts in textbook purchases and lower enrolments in online classes.
Pearson (Mis)Education now faces an assault on its operations from another source. Major British and American labor unions purchased Pearson stock through their pension funds and they plan to challenge company management at its general stockholders meeting in April. The opposition group holds 40,000 voting shares and includes UNISON, one of Britain’s largest trade unions with 1.3 million public service industry members, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, Trade Union Fund Managers, and 130 individual shareholders. The coalition will enter a resolution at the stockholders meeting calling on Pearson to “end its over-reliance on the education testing programme in the US, which has been affected by a recent change in the law and is also becoming increasingly unpopular.”
According to UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, Pearson is “failing to respond to changes in the education market in the United States, where it makes 60 per cent of its profits. With the movement against compulsory testing growing in popularity across America, there’s an increasing likelihood that many cash-strapped states could look to reduce or even axe their testing budgets. Pearson has put too many of its eggs in the US testing basket and unions are right to be concerned that the company risks gambling away the current and future pensions of hardworking public sector employees.” Prentis argues that “”Rather than continue to focus the business on politically poisonous high stakes testing, and axing the jobs of thousands of employees, CEO John Fallon should be conducting a wholesale reassessment of Pearson’s strategic vision.”
In support of the boring-from-within campaign, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, charged: “Pearson could be a company that provides educational products and services critical to the success of students around the world. Instead, it has decided to embark on a politically risky path of high-stakes testing and low-fee private schools.”
To the Company Secretary, Pearson PLC: We the undersigned, being 100 members holding shares in the Company on which there has been paid up an average sum, per member, of not less than £100 per member,
Hereby require you, in accordance with section 314 of the Companies Act 2006, to give to members of the Company entitled to receive notice of the next Annual General Meeting notice of the following resolution, being a resolution that may properly be moved and is intended to be moved at that meeting, and to circulate to members receiving that notice a copy of the annexed statement with respect to the matters referred to in that resolution:
The Resolution: THAT the Board of Directors of Pearson PLC immediately conduct a thorough business strategy review of Pearson PLC including education commericalization and its support of high stakes testing and low-fee private schools and to report to shareholders within six months.
Supporting Statement: We believe that Pearson PLC (“Pearson” or the “Company”) is suffering a crisis of confidence precipitated by a confused business strategy. The evidence is presented by our reaction to the share price, which at the last Annual General Membership Meeting (AGM) held on 24 April 2015, was trading at approximately $20.68. On 15 December 2015, Pearson stock sold for roughly $10.70. This represents a drop in price of over 40% in only seven months. This significant drop in share price calls into question the board’s efforts to address the lack of confidence in the Company. We believe that the current strategic business plan has failed to produce the profits or the potential for profits that investors need. Therefore, it is time that Pearson conducts a business strategy review. We urge you to vote FOR this resolution
Comments Off on Pension Funds Threaten to Pull the Plug on Pearson (Mis)Education
The killings in Charleston, South Carolina has produced a lot of talk about healing and forgiveness, some important discussion of racism in the United States, and not enough attention to gun control. But there has been virtually no examination of the structural economic problems that have been eating away at the Black working class in the United States. There was some halting talk about racism and economic inequality after the Baltimore riots, but that was quickly forgotten when attention shifted to Charleston.
According to President Obama and the United States Department of Education, teachers and schools are supposed to prepare students for 21st century careers. Meanwhile school districts are supposed to partner with businesses because businesses know better than educators what will work in classrooms and what is needed for the future workforce.
But what exactly do 21st century careers look like? Actually, no one seems to know. However according to the United States Department of Labor, one big growth area will be low paid service workers in the fast-food industry. Another big growth area will be low paid home care attendants taking care of ageing baby-boomers.
The economic future does not look bright for America’s working class. But recent reports show that dismal economic future is already here for members of minority groups, especially working-class African Americans.
I need to open with a little personal history that has shaped my point of view on this question. In 1975, as a result of the New York City financial crisis, I was laid-off as a teacher after working one year at a middle school in Brooklyn. Initially 13,000 teachers were let go and after 8,000 were called back, 5,000 positions were eliminated. I was one of the eliminated. I fully expected to be reassigned so I worked as a per diem substitute for a year at my old school, essentially in my old job. Eventually I had to accept that being eliminated was more or less permanent. I spent another year at a series of truck driving jobs; I had worked as a truck and school bus driver while in graduate school.
Finally I was hired as a bus operator for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). I ended up driving on the midnight shift out of the East New York Brooklyn Depot that served some of the poorest and hard-pressed Black and Latino communities in the city – East New York, Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, and Williamsburg. Bus operator was a good union job with a decent salary, built-in overtime, and benefits that helped me support my family until I finally returned to teaching.
As best as I can remember, I was the only White bus operator driving the midnight shift out of the ENY Depot. I found myself part of an interesting and welcoming group of fellow workers, almost all African American men, with a spirit of comradery and union solidarity and a killer-instinct for Flying Kings checkers. I had already returned to teaching, but they conducted two major strikes that rocked the city in 1980 and 2005.
Some of the things that were most memorable for me about these men was the pride they took in their jobs, their skill as drivers, and wearing their transit uniforms and the impact this union job with union wages and benefits had on their lives, families, churches, and communities. They were fathers, husbands, coaches, homeowners, church deacons, and community leaders – all because they had a respected union job with union wages and benefits.
But in the United States these types of jobs, so crucial to building a viable middle class, and so crucial to improving conditions for members of minority groups are either disappearing or being down-graded, largely for political reasons.
The transformation of work in the United States and its negative impact on Black workers dates back at least to the 1950s. In a book, America Now: The Anthropology of a Changing Culture, cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris examined a dramatic shift in the American workforce in the decades following World War II from blue-collar goods production industries to white-collar office work and pink-collar service industry jobs. The primary victim of this shift was Black men migrating from the south into northern cities who were eagerly looking for now non-existent factory work in declining industrial centers like Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. Most of the new jobs went to White women who were entering the workforce in large numbers and were being gobbled up by employers hesitant to hire Black men.
According to a New York Timesreport, “[w]orking for the government has long been viewed by African-Americans as a relatively open pathway to the middle class,” especially when they faced discrimination in the private sphere. However, inner-city workers, especially minority workers, took another big hit during the 1970s financial crisis. For example, in New York City, the Parks Department budget dropped by 60% between 1974 and 1980, leading to a workforce cut of over 4,000 workers or about half of its permanent and seasonal employees. Since 1995, instead of by unionized employees, New York City parks have been cleaned by volunteers and welfare recipients forced to do the jobs to receive welfare benefits, not salaries. In 2002, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani actually “fired” welfare recipients who had been promised they would eventually receive real jobs. In recent years the unpaid or low paid workforce has euphemistically been referred to as trainees. Instead of hiring new janitorial employees, the MTA has also considered using welfare recipients to clean the subways in order to receive their benefits.
In the years since the 2008 financial meltdown, budget cuts, tax freezes, and political opposition to government spending among White voters has meant a new decline in state, local and federal employment and new struggles for Black workers. While the economy overall may have recovered, public sector employment where many middle-class Black workers are concentrated has still not bounced back. According to the U.S. Labor Department, there are half a million fewer public sector jobs than before the start of the Great Recession. However if normal growth is factored in, that means there are almost two million fewer jobs in the public sector for people to fill. In addition, workers who have jobs in the public sector are increasingly under attack from right-wing Republicans like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin who has tried to sharply restrict the bargaining power of public sector unions.
Recent riots in Baltimore, Maryland following have death of Freddie Gray while in police custody exposed the impact of decades of economic discrimination coupled with government cutbacks on Black communities. According to a CNN report, Maryland is the wealthiest state in the United States, but Blacks who live in Baltimore earn less than half per capita than do Whites in the state. As a result of decades of declining factoring work and the collapse of shipping from the port, the city of Baltimore exists in a state of “economic despair” with about a fourth of the population living below the poverty line. The official unemployment rate in 2013 for Black men between the ages of 20 and 24 was 37%, but the unofficial rate, counting people who are forced to work part-time, go to school because they can’t find a job, or have stopped looking or never looked at all is probably double. The city has an estimated 16,000 abandoned buildings, which depresses the value of occupied homes so that they are worth on the average half of what similar housing is worth in the rest of the state. These conditions have contributed to a Third World-like life expectancy rate twenty-years lower than in more affluent Maryland communities.
Today, Blacks are one-third more likely to have a public sector job than non-Hispanic Whites. Approximately 20% of Black adults in the United States, members of the Black middle-class, work for one level of government or another. They teach school, deliver mail, drive buses, police communities, and work in offices. According to sociologist Jennifer Laird, “Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities.” But this class of work is dissolving and with it may go the future of America’s Black middle class.
The African American bus operators I worked with in the 1970s, men who took pride in their jobs, their skill as drivers, and wearing their transit uniforms and the impact this union job with union wages and benefits had on their lives, families, churches, and communities may become as extinct as the dinosaurs.
Comments Off on What’s Happening to America’s Black Working Class?
As a young Jewish boy in the Bronx during the 1950s I grew up in the shadow of the European Holocaust. The extermination of six million Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany during World War II was in the background but not discussed. It was never mentioned at home, in public school where the majority of the children in my community were Jews, or in religious studies. We never learned about family members who died or about the monument to people from their village my father’s parents helped place in a cemetery in Queens.
The situation began to change in the 1960s, especially after Israeli victory in the 1967 war. I think Jews, at least people in my family, school, and neighborhood, saw themselves less as the victims of history and as people who had to hide to survive.
As a history teacher in high school and college I always include Jewish resistance to Nazi atrocities as part of the curriculum with lessons on the Warsaw Ghetto uprisingand the Bielski partisans in Belarus. I think it is crucial to understand how people fought for their lives and humanity against great odds. I teach similar lessons on African American resistance to slavery including about the approximately 200,000 African Americans who fought for freedom as part of the Union army and navy during the Civil War.
But I never taught a lesson about Jewish solders who fought in World War II, even though a half a million Jews served in the American military during the war and I had friends and relatives who were veterans of the battle to defeat Nazi Germany. The Library of Congress has a special online section with interviews with some of these veterans.
The 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe has brought a new focus on World War II and a way to teach about how Jews fought against and helped defeat Nazi Germany. On May 9, 2015, there was a very unusual march of aged World War II veterans in Brooklyn, New York. These were Jewish veterans of the Soviet Union’s army. An estimated 500,000 Russian Jews fought in the Red Army after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Of these approximately 200,000 either died in battle or while German captives.
Stories of Russian Jewish veterans of World War II are told in the Blavatnik Archive, which preserves and disseminates primary resources “that contribute to the study of 20th century Jewish and world history, especially WWI and WWII.” It includes “photographs, letters, documents and ephemera, and contemporary oral testimonies.”
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Bielski partisans are powerful stories of resistance, but I wish I had known about these 500,000 Russian Jewish soldiers when I was a boy growing up in the Bronx in the shadow of the European Holocaust. Jews were victims of the Nazis, but a million Jewish men in the United States and Soviet armies helped to defeat Hitler and create a world where human dignity and equality are at least possibilities.
Comments Off on Jewish Soldiers Battled Nazi Germany, Another Way to Teach about the European Holocaust
Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was nineteen years old when he and his older brother set off the bombs killing three people and injuring over 250 at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Tsarnaev was born in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan in a Chechen Islamic family. He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was eight-years old, attended public schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was captain of his high school wrestling team, worked as a lifeguard at Harvard University, became a United States citizen, earned a college scholarship, and entered college at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the deceased suspects in the murder of eleven people at theCharlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris were in their early thirties, but had been in trouble with French police since their late teens and early twenties. They supposedly shouted “Allahu Akbar,” God is great, while firing their weapons. Chérif was arrested in 2005 at the age of twenty-two when he tried to join Iraqi forces fighting against the United States. He was convicted of terrorism in 2008 and served 18 months in prison. Saïd had trained with Al Qaeda in Yemen been 2009 and 2011. The brothers were French citizens, born in Paris, of Algerian and Islamic background. As children they were orphaned when their mother apparently committed suicide and they were placed in a series of institutions.
Two teenage young women of Bosnian Islamic background aged fifteen and seventeen traveled to Syria from Vienna, Austria planning to marry ISIS fighters. According to police officials, the teenagers were attracted to ISIS by preaching at their local mosque where clerics supposedly told them that the only way to know true peace was to take part in the holy war. Over 150 young people have left Austria to join ISIS Islamic fighters in a “holy war.”
In Copenhagen, a twenty-two year old native of Denmark was killed by police in a shoot out after he murdered two people, one at a café and the other at a synagogue. The suspect was of Islamic background, had gang affiliations, and had just been released from prison. His pattern of behavior raises the question whether attraction to groups like ISIS has similar roots as other anti-social behavior such as gang related activity. An estimated one hundred Danes are believed to be on fighting for ISIS.
In May 2014 sixteen year-old British twin sisters traveled to Syria to marry jihadists. In September another sixteen year-old girl was arrested at a French airport suspected of traveling to Syria to join Islamist fighters. According to the BBC, European Union anti-terrorism officials estimate that over 3,000 young people have left homes in Europe to join ISIS, but the number may be as high as 5,000. This is a significant number of young people, but clearly the overwhelming majority of Islamic youth in Europe are not making this decision.
American young people are not immune to the attraction of Islamic fundamentalism and fighters, although the number that have joined ISIS is probably much smaller. In May 2014 a twenty-two year old male college student from Florida was a suicide bomber in Syria. In July, a nineteen year-old young woman from Colorado was charged with planning to travel to Syria to join a man she claimed was fighting for ISIS. Both of these young adults were converts to Islam.
In France, where schools are supposed to instill moral values, an understanding of citizenship responsibilities, and belief in the concept of the rule of law, the Prime Minister and Education Minister jointly announced a new civics curriculum called “Grand Mobilization of Schools for the Values of the Republic.” Teachers and students are now engaged in a national conversation intended to prevent future terrorist events. French President François Hollande declared teachers were “in the front line” of the battle against extremist ideologies.
In the United States the Department of Defense maintains an “Education Activity Antiterrorism Awareness” website for students, but there has been greater concern about student-on-student violence ranging from bullying to armed assaults andmurder. The focus has generally been on anti-bullying campaigns, conflict resolution training, and identifying and providing support for young people before alienation leads to anti-social behavior. February 24-26, 2015 the White House will host a three-day international summit on combating violent extremism and American Mayors from cities that have addressed some of the issues will participate. One focus will be the use of social media to recruit young people.
What can schools really do about young people who join religious fundamentalist forces or commit terrorist acts?
Better curriculum and nationalist propaganda are unlikely by themselves to stop support for terrorist groups amongst some of France and Europe’s young people. The problems affecting these teenagers are much deeper.
According to Russell Razzaque, a London-based psychiatrist, there are particular experiences shared by teenagers who participate in terrorist activities. He argues most teenage “suicide bombers lacked a close intimate relationship, particularly with their same-sex parent.” In addition, immigrant youngsters from minority racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups often are disconnected from the broader society where they live. While all teenagers are in some stage of rebellion against parental and social authority, the experiences of young people from Islamic immigrant families living in Europe may make them especially susceptible to radical appeals and vulnerable to ideologues who charge that they and their compatriots are victims of unjust social institutions and religious prejudice by the majority population.
An article in The Christian Science Monitor argued that groups like ISIS have been successful in recruiting young people from Western countries “who are disillusioned and have no sense of purpose or belonging” through an “appeal to sense of identity and place.” The article compared ISIS to youth or criminal gangs that offer “disaffected teens a chance to join a group that gives them purpose and meaning.” This sense of belonging has special meaning to young people who drifted away from belief or were recent converts to Islam.
The causes for this disaffection are not simply teenage psychology. In working-class and poor Parisian suburbs with large North and West African populations schools are under-financed and unemployment rates for working age young adults are about forty percent. According to Pascal Blanchard, a prominent French historian, young people living in these communities have “grandparents who were part of the colonial empire. Now their parents live in the suburbs on the edge of society, in what is basically a continuation of the colonial situation, and they’re stuck there with no jobs, no hope. We keep pouring money into urban improvements, talking about new train stations and about restating French values. But the problem is skin color. And you can’t change that by changing buildings or getting everybody to sing the ‘Marseillaise.'” The situation is exacerbated by government policies that pretend France is color-blind so policy makers ignore conditions faced by Islamic youth in the suburban ghettos.
At the end of the 19th century, a French sociologist named Emile Durkheim identified a growing problem in European society that he called anomie. For Durkheim, anomie was the result of the breakdown of community connections and with them moral guidance and values as traditional society was overwhelmed and transformed by the Industrial Revolution. Durkheim studied the increasing number of fatalistic suicides that he attributed to both a lack of new norms for people to follow and the rigidity of old value systems.
Durkheim’s insight does point to a possible role for schools to help address the problem of anomie amongst the young. If Durkheim is correct about the crisis in values brought about by social dislocation, young people in the Western world are turning to cults, irrationality and religious fundamentalism, Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist, because they lack a sense of place and community and a sense of purpose for their lives. Schools can make a difference by helping students develop a sense of membership in a broader community and a sense of purpose.
The West has to find a way to copy and compete with groups like ISIS. It will not be through Common Core, close-reading of text, instructional videos, or patriotic lectures. The best way to establish a sense of membership and a sense of purpose for young people is by promoting civic activism, in schools, in communities, in municipalities, and in the broader society.
Of course there is a danger here as well. Historically, in Soweto, South Africa in 1976,Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, in Mexico City and Paris in 1968, at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and during the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s, when students were engaged as activists they did not embrace the status quo supported by people in authority. New movements will demand educational equality, immigrant rights, better housing, institutions that respect and respond to their beliefs, and jobs that elevate families out of poverty.
People with power will not be happy with the change. But that is the only way I know to compete with groups like ISIS and stop religious fundamentalists and terrorism from recruiting our young people.
Comments Off on Why Teens Become Terrorists and What Schools Can Do
Gentrification may bring Starbucks to a formerly underserved community, but it also brings devastation for people who are displaced when rents skyrocket and they can no longer afford to live in old neighborhoods. There are now ten Starbucks in Brooklyn and counting.
Sometimes gentrification comes with new luxury housing construction. But it often it comes with people being chased out of existing apartments. Recently the New York Times reported on a building in Bushwick, one of the up and coming Brooklyn neighborhoods waiting for its first Starbucks, where tenants were told by phony building inspectors working for a landlord that they had 72 hours to evacuate. The landlord had stopped making repairs to the building, wanted to drive tenants out of low rent apartments, do some quick renovations, pull the apartments out of city rent regulation requirements, and re-rent, or sell co-ops at new much higher “market rates.”
This looks like a good deal for the landlord, and maybe for the new, young, White hipsters moving into Bushwick. But what happens to the largely working-class and poor Latino families who live there now? In the age of gentrification, no one with money or authority seems to care. This is why the people of East New York, Brooklyn and other areas targeted by the de Blasio administration for development are worried.
So far East New Yorkers are being closed out of discussion on the future of their community. Many fear two equally bad possibilities.
A. The developers attract more affluent tenants and buyers, community is gentrified, and current residents are pushed out and forced into double and triple-ups with family members in high crime over-crowded city housing projects.
B. The developers can’t attract big spenders and the large apartment towers become another high-density multiple problem under-served out-of-the-way warehouse where the city sends its poor to forget about them.
While it has some reservations about political practically, the New York Timesbasically is enthusiastic about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to add 200,000 units of “affordable” housing to New York City’s housing stock through renovation and construction over the next decade. De Blasio’s initial proposal for “Billification” would cost the city an estimated $8 billion in direct spending and tax breaks to developers. It also relies of billions of dollars in state and federal contributions and as much as $30 billion in private investment, none of which may ever come through.
However, according to the Times, “Cynicism is easy. Idealism is hard when you’re a politician who is making a huge promise, is expected to deliver and could lose his job if he fails. For the salvation of New York as a diverse, mixed-income city that is there for everybody, it’s essential that Mr. de Blasio gets this right. He needs to get hammering, starting now.”
But cynicism is not the only problem facing de Blasio and the people of New York City. Even if the Mayor gets his way, and this is uncertain because of conflicts withGovernor Andrew Cuomo, what kind of city will “Billification” create? What kind of housing will be built? Who will benefit? Who will lose? According to the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, more than 25% of rental households in the state are “severely rent burdened,” which means that tenants spend at least half of their income on rent.
Based on past history, the affluent and Whites benefit at the expense of everyone else.Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in Brooklyn, part of the Forest City-Ratner-Barclays Arena project, was supposed to provide 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025. None have opened so far and nearly two-thirds of the 600 affordable units in the two buildings finally under construction are set aside for families of four making over $100,000 a year with rent that starts at around $2,600. An additional 300 affordable units will be for families whose income is about $130,000 a year. This supposedly “affordable” housing is not intended for the people displaced in Bushwick or for the people who could lose apartments in East New York.
A big issue in East New York and in similar communities is the definition of affordable housing. In general, affordable housing targets people whose income is below the middle point or median income in the range of incomes for families in a region. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in New York City in 2010-2012 was $50,711 and the medium household income in Brooklynwas $43,567. But the median Household income in East New York was only $31,986, and that figure includes higher earning families in the southernmost end of the community. In other words, if rent is based on the median income for New York City or for Brooklyn as a whole, the current residents of East New York will be ineligible for apartments in the new developments, or if they are eligible, will be unable to afford to live there.
The group’s People’s Platform demands:
1. Creation of affordable housing based on the average income brackets in the neighborhood.
2. Guaranteed policies to prevent displacement and preserve affordability of small homes.
3. Assurance that living wage jobs will result from the rezoning.
4. Commitments to new schools, early childhood centers, higher education facilities and a community center.
5. Improvement of transportation, infrastructure and safety in our community.
6. Creation of public green and open spaces.
7. Guaranteed full participation and input from the community in the planning process.
The Coalition is circulating an online petition to press their demands.
Note: The New York Times editors and Mayor de Blasio probably missed a recent Saturday Night Live skit mocking gentrification in Bushwick, Brooklyn and similar New York City communities. In the skit, three stereotypical inner-city Black young men are busy discussing their new dog-walking business, an artisanal mayonnaise store that opened in the neighborhood, and the guy one of them “stopped to shoot while walking his dogs to the mayonnaise store.”
Comments Off on In Gentrified Brooklyn, Where Will Ordinary People Live?
Alan Singer is a professor of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership and the program director of graduate programs in Social Studies Education.
1) Alan, in the great state of New York, the Governor occasionally speaks on the “state of the state.” What has the illustrious Andrew Cuomo had to say lately?
I am not a fan of Andrew Cuomo, as readers of my Huffington Post blog already know. But I want to start by recognizing an important issue where Andy and I agree, although mysteriously he left it out of the “state of the state” address. In December 2014, Governor Cuomo banned “fracking” in upstate New York’s Marcellus Shale formation. Many New Yorkers, myself included, have been battling against energy companies that want to extract natural gas using environmentally destructive techniques that threaten water supplies in the local area and the watershed for New York City. Andy deserves a lot of credit for this one, but inexplicably did not mention it.
Governor Cuomo also ignored upset at his decision to shut down the Moreland Commission that was investigating corruption in New York State politics. Andy seems to think the commission was no longer necessary, but Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, disagreed. The day after Andy’s speech Bharara had the Speaker of the State Assembly, a Democratic Party ally of Cuomo, arrested for suspicion of taking millions of dollars in bribes.
On economic issues, Andy would probably make a good Republican. The economic plan reiterated in the “state of the state” seems to be to cut business and property taxes and this will miraculously solve all the state’s problems. Cuomo should look at the economic disaster this strategy created in Kansas before he pursues these policies. Maybe if Hillary Clinton’s candidacy continues to block Andy’s Democratic Party Presidential ambitions, he plans to switch party allegiances.
2) His comments over the last few years have basically lambasted teachers. This is a nifty political trick- you blame a bunch of people who have no read leader, no Albert Shanker to blast the governor back in the New York Times. Your thoughts?
My biggest disagreements with the Governor are on educational policy. Andy’s hostilities toward teachers and teacher unions is so deep that in his 2015 State of the State address, he recognized that New York State schools need an additional $1.1 billion in state aid, but he refuses to support the budget allocation unless the legislature agrees to allow additional non-union charter schools, make tenure for teachers more difficult to acquire, rework the teacher evaluation system so more passing teachers fail, and approve a back-door voucher plan transferring public money to private and religious schools.
3) Even more incredulous is his attack on women- because the vast majority of our wonderful teachers are women. So, indirectly, he is attacking women who perhaps are 60-70 percent of the work force?
Andy’s attack on teachers is very much an attack on women. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than three-quarters of the K-12 teachers in the United States are women, although a survey by the National Center for Education Information puts the figure at over 80%. Pre-school teachers are even more overwhelmingly women, with most estimates well over 95%. In New York City, women made up 76% of the K-12 teacher work force in 2011-2012, up from 73% in 2000-2001. While a gender breakdown for New York State teachers as a whole is not available, New York City statistics suggest the percentage of women teachers in New York State is consistent with national trends. These New York State women teachers are particularly well educated. In 2011-2012, New York had the highest percentage of teachers with advanced degrees of any state, 84.2% with Master’s degrees compared to 47.7% nationally. An additional 8.6% had a degree beyond the masters. Coincidently of course, the President of the State and National unions representing New York State teachers are both women. Andy clearly has a problem with public schools. Does he also have a problem with educated, professional women?
4) It seems that we need to re-name Andy as the WAFFLE governor, since he seems to flip flop on issues like minimum wage every few weeks. What is his current stand?
I wish I knew. I don’t think he does. In 2013, he thought $8.75 an hour was a sufficient minimum wage for New Yorkers and that it had to be uniform across the state. In spring 2014, when he was seeking the Working Families nomination for Governor, Andy promised party officials to endorse a $13.50 minimum wage. In his State of the State address, he called for a statewide $10.50 an hour minimum wage but an $11.50 minimum in New York City. Andy, or his advisors, needs to keep better track of his positions.
5) Andy (The Waffle) Cuomo has recently said “Don’t ask the taxpayers of New York to throw good money after bad.” What was he referring to here?
Andy was talking about New York State teachers and public schools. However, The New York Times really got him on this one. According to a report by Kate Taylor, Cuomo has been targeting a non-existent crisis. On National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading tests, New York State fourth and eighth graders score on the national average. Its high school graduation rate is slightly below the national average, but that is because its state exams establish a much higher standard for graduation, not because our students perform worse than in other states. On international reading exams, New York, if it were an independent country, would be close to being a top ten nation. Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union, responded to Cuomo stating “New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation.” But of course she is a teacher and a woman.
6) Alan, is there any way, any reasonable College of Education can prepare teachers for “the realities of the 21st century classroom”? It seems that every time I turn around there is some new disability, exceptionality, handicap, medical condition that teachers have to address.
We know that the best way to plan for the future is to encourage flexibility and ongoing training. It works in countries like Finland whose educational system and teachers are often touted as amongst the best in the world. But ongoing training is expensive. I started my teacher education program in the 1960s, before copying machines, computers, video-recording, Smartboards, cellphones, email, ebooks, the internet, PowerPoint, iPads and iPods, etc. I learned to use these things in the classroom overtime. I could not be prepared to use them before they were invented.
In the United States our plan seems to be do it for cheap so we can cut taxes. Inoculate teachers against all potential eventualities while they are still in college and are paying the bills. New York State student teachers must take special workshops in how to prevent violence and bullying, including cyber-bullying, identifying child and substance abuse, demonstrating knowledge of fire and arson, highway and school safety procedures, and pass tests that show they can handle any eventually, which of course is impossible.
7) I guess we can blame the teachers for all the crime – I mean after all, if the teachers assigned more homework, kids would be at home doing homework, and parents would be at home helping them with their homework. No?
NO! Maybe we need a “freakonomics” study. Schools probably reduce crime – and prevent teen pregnancy. Teenagers who are in school are less likely to be breaking laws, at least outside the school building, or to be getting into other kinds of trouble. If a young man from an inner-city minority community attends school and makes it to eighteen without getting into trouble with the legal system he has a good chance to make something of his life no matter what his grades are. The same thing goes for a young woman who avoids becoming a teenage mother. I also have a secret confession. I did not do much homework at home in high school and I suspect most boys still don’t. We used to copy it from the girls when we got to school or during lunch.
8) Cuomo and Obama- other than they both have 5 letters in their name- what else do they seem to share in common?
Two things. They are both beholding to hedge fund, technology, and charter school companies for financing their election campaigns so they seem prepared to give away the “educational store.” They are also both technocrats who believe that major social problems like poverty and racism can be addressed through minor tinkering. During his 2008 campaign Obama promised he could do things smarter. I may have missed something, but it does not seem to have worked.
9) What have I neglected to ask?
Wat does Andrew Cuomo think of my criticisms? I did get a nice email from Andy after I sent him my last Huffington Post blog, but I am not sure if he really read it or not. Anyway, he wrote:
Thank you for your e-mail. To build a stronger, better New York, we need the participation of citizens like you – sharing your ideas, comments, and concerns. Your input is invaluable to our mission to create a government that works for its people, and I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me. I want to assure you that your e-mail has been received and that it will be read and shared with the appropriate members of my staff. I encourage you to return to my website, where you can review my Administration’s initiatives and familiarize yourself with my office and YOUR state government. Thank you again for sharing your perspective and for joining in the effort to build a new New York.
Andrew M. Cuomo
Comments Off on Alan Singer answers questions about parents and teachers role in education
Since the early 1970s, the United States prison population has quadrupled to 2.2 million. It is the largest prison population in the world. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, China is number two at 1.7 million people, Iran is number 8 at 217,000 people, and the United Kingdom is number 17 at 85,000. Fourteen million people are arrested every year and over two million are sent to jail. Approximately 65 million people in the United States, or more than twenty-five percent of the adults population, has a criminal record.
The U.S. incarceration rate is five to ten times the size of other democratic countries. It is over 700 prisoners for every 100,000 people compared to 149 for England and Wales, 143 for Spain, 102 for France, 90 for Italy, 81 for Germany, and 57 for Sweden.
Meanwhile, more than half of state prisoners are in jail for nonviolent crimes. Mass incarceration has destructive impact on families, communities, and state and local budgets. It cost $80 billion a year to keep all these people in prison and more than $250 billion to pay for all the additional police and court expenses. According to the human rights group Human Rights Watch, while prison should be a last resort, in the United States “it has been treated as the medicine that cures all ills.”
In 2000, over two million American children had a parent in prison. I saw the impact of this on young people at a conference at the City University of New York. Eight students who attend a school for teenagers already involved in the criminal justice system discussed how they grew up in families where parents were incarcerated and its impact on them as children.
Conditions in New York City’s Rikers Island prison and scandals in the city’s criminal injustice system have repeatedly made headlines in the last year. Correction officerswere arrested for corruption and brutality. Mentality ill inmates were routinelymistreated. One mentally ill inmate died in an over-heated cell.
People were detained without trial of conviction for years. Kenneth Creighton was jailed on Rikers Island from 2006 until 2011 while awaiting trial until charges against him were finally dropped. Seventeen-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested in the Bronx and confined on Rikers Island for three years before being released without ever being convicted of a crime. While in Rikers, he spent weeks at a time in solitary confinement. The New York City Correction Department now promises to endsolitary confinement for prisoners ages 16 and 17 by the end of 2014.
I have written about the school-to-prison pipeline and Michelle Alexander‘s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in previous Huffington Posts. The more I thought about it before the interview, the more I realized that Common Core and its high-stakes assessments are just another piece in the school-to-prison pipeline. This post is based on my notes for the video interview, which can be viewed online.
What role do the school’s play in the school-to-prison pipeline?
I work at Hofstra University as a teacher educator now, but I was a high school teacher in New York City for fourteen years working in some very difficult schools. I have also been a guest instructor at Rikers Island, the last stop on the New York City school-to-prison pipeline.
There is a lot of talk about how schools can transform society. The Bush administration’s education policy declared “No Child Left Behind,” but of course many children are still left behind. Barack Obama demanded that schools lead his “Race to the Top,” but it is not clear what direction he wants the schools and students to run. The reality is that schools reflect and reinforce society; they do not transform it. In the United States dating back to the 1920s high schools were organized on factory models to prepare working class immigrant youth for the tedium of factory work and harsh discipline.
Since the 1970s factory jobs in the United States have been shipped overseas. Companies do not need students prepared for factory work, so schools have evolved to perform a new social role. In inner city minority neighborhoods especially Black and Latino young people attend schools organized on the prison model where they are treated as if they were criminals.
Students enter buildings through metal detectors. If the device goes off they are bodily searched. Armed police stand guard. Uniformed security crews that report to the police sweep the halls. Students are forced to sit in overcrowded uncomfortable classrooms doing rote assignments geared to high-stakes Common Core assessments. Stressed out teachers, fearful that they will be judged by poor student performance on these tests, use boredom and humiliation to maintain control of the classroom.
When young people react to these conditions they are disciplined. The ultimate goal of school policy is to sort them out with a few destined for success, some to menial jobs, and others for imprisonment. When these pipeline schools do their jobs well, the young people who fail are convinced they failed because it was their own fault and that they deserve their punishment.
When did this “school-to-prison pipeline” process start?
Multiple forces were at work producing a perfect storm. Starting in the 1960s working class blue-collar jobs disappeared and vocational training in schools largely ended. During the 1970s economic downturn inner city minority schools became chaotic as a result of cuts in funding that have really never been restored. In the 1980s the crack epidemic undermined families in inner city communities and began to fill up the jails. In a world without work, crime became the main employer. Instead of addressing social problems, our society stiffened laws and stuffed people into cells. Private companies went into the prison business and became hungry for profits and raw materials. In the 1990s a conservative coalition that blamed the victims cut into government social welfare programs that were keeping families afloat and the situation worsened. A new zero-tolerance ideology justified tougher laws, mandatory sentences, and stricter treatment in schools. Following 2001, new police tactics like stop and frisk and new technologies that were supposed to protect the country from terrorist attack were used to systematize the punitive nature of inner city minority schools and school-to-prison connection. Add to the mix curriculum organized around boring Common Core test prep drills. The overall affect was to accelerate the exodus of students of color from schools.
What role do gangs play in this cycle?
Gangs are a symptom of the problem. Poverty, unemployment, racism, and government indifference are the problem. Young people turn to gangs when they are driven out of school by oppressive policies, neighborhoods are in decay, they need protection from other gangs, and crime is the major growth industry in their community.
Why is it so hard for these kids to escape from the juvenile justice system?
One, because wealthy people are making money off of their incarceration. Another is deep-seated racism in the United States. Conservative groups use fear of Black and Latino youth to mobilize White voters and win elections. Blacks were outraged by the Trevor Martin murder, they feared for their children. But most Whites accepted the not guilty verdict because they believe Black youth wearing hoodies are potential threats. But the underlying problem is the unwillingness of anyone in government to recognize that the economic system is not working. These young people are surplus – there are no jobs for most of them.
I am not excusing individual behavior and individual choices. Every inner-city Black and Latino youth does not end up engaging in criminal behavior and spending time in prison. Some escape by joining the military. But I am saying that socio-economic circumstances and political decisions by those in power stack the deck against them.
Why are the majority of youths funneled into this system Black and Hispanic?
In impoverished rural communities prisons are the employer of last resort. White men are hired to guard incarcerated Blacks and Latinos. If the prison population more evenly reflected demographics, it would be harder to mobilize White voters to support the system and it would be easier to challenge economic inequality.
Are there specific areas in which we see a higher concentration of this “school-to-prison pipeline” epidemic?
We are looking at inner city minority communities across the nation, but I think the problem is greater in the old Confederate states of the south where public school is at its worst and school performance is at its lowest. Young Black and Latino men are arrested on petty charges and told if they plead guilty they will be released back into the same communities and conditions. If they get picked up for the same petty offenses they are sent to prison for violating the condition of their release. Even if they stay clear of the criminal injustice system, they often lose many of their citizenship rights, including the right to vote.
Why were zero tolerance policies initially implemented?
Zero tolerance ideology takes hold in the 1990s to pacify White voters, justify the entire school to prison incarceration system, and provide raw material to fill the private jails.
Can you attribute a lot of neighborhood youth violence and crime to those who have dealt with the juvenile justice system?
The main job training in prison is how to be a better criminal. You get to network with other criminals, you become dependent on gang connections, and they become your family and employer when you are released.
How can we better rehabilitate the youth who have had this experience?
Our society will have to address the lack of opportunity for inner city minority youth if it wants to improve education and close the tap on the school to prison pipeline. I need to use a four-letter word here. J-O-B-S. Without jobs there can be no real education and no rehabilitation. Without jobs young people are going to turn to crime and return to jail. So-called training programs that do not lead to guaranteed employment are just another fraud so private companies can steal government funds.
How can police change their behavior?
When I was a young teacher I too frequently got into battles of will with resistant students. I had to learn I was the adult in the classroom and that the best way to deal with a tense situation was to ratchet down the tension, to calm the student so we could resolve the conflict. This is hard to do in the school and it is even harder in the street, but if police can be trained to ratchet down the tension, I think fewer young Black and Latino young men would be drawn into the pipeline.
What could states do to reduce the financial incentive for keeping youths incarcerated?
The first step is to immediately end the privatization of prisons. But we also need to deal with underlying social and economic problems facing the United States. I am not sure how, but the country must deal with residual racism. The federal Justice department needs to investigate unequal school funding and disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates as examples of racial prejudice and a violation of the 14th amendment. But more fundamentally, the nation must address income inequality. That means tax the wealthy and corporations to improve schools and communities and it means at the completion of school or training everyone is guaranteed a job. That was the dream of Martin Luther King. We need to turn that dream into reality.
Comments Off on Why Many Inner City Schools Function Like Prisons
Stormville, New York in Dutchess County is about a two-hour drive from Brooklyn. On a beautiful fall day when I made the trip with a female colleague, Felicia Hirata of Baruch-CUNY, the leaves on hillside trees were just beginning to turn autumn colors. From a parking lot, facing west we saw the hills, trees, and leaves. But when we turned around, we saw an imposing fortress, a thirty-foot high wall with guard towers known as the Green Haven Correctional Facility. It is a maximum-security prison for men built toward the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Green Haven has about 2,100 inmates. Most were convicted of violent felonies when younger and sentenced to between 25 years and life in prison. Because it is located only eighty miles from New York City it is an easier prison for families and friends to visit. Inmates must earn a transfer to this facility through good behavior and maintain a clean record to stay.
I have taught classes at Rikers Island in New York City and written about the school-to-prison pipeline and Michelle Alexander‘s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in previous Huffington Posts, but this was my first visit to a maximum-security prison.
We were invited to Green Haven by its NAACP chapter to speak on the history ofslavery in New York. About forty men, most over forty, attended. The group was overwhelmingly African American, although there were White and Latino participants. New York inmate population is 49.2 percent African American, 24 percent Hispanic, 24.1 percent white and 2.7 percent identify as other. No guards, only a counselor, were present during our talk but there was a sense of order, safety, and a commitment to learning in the room.
It took us over a half an hour to be processed into the prison so the meeting had started when we arrived. It began with a discussion about why members of the group felt education remained important to people on the inside, even people serving long prison sentences. A couple of the men stated that education helped them to feel free and human even while locked up in jail. One speaker said that as prison inmates they were “tucked away into a corner of obscurity” so outside society could forget about their existence. The group discussed the importance of people on the outside hearing about their experiences, the need to prepare for post-prison life, and college programsthey would like to see in the prison. Some of the men already had college and even advanced degrees. They ran literacy and creative writing classes for the other inmates and were active in preparing legal appeals. There was much individual testimony, but no one claimed that they were not guilty or unjustly imprisoned.
A major complaint was that these men felt their ability to become educated was too restricted by the lack of federal and state programs for prison inmates, even though the United States has the highest prison population in the world. Most of their requests for educational opportunities were consistent with recommendations made by the Institute for Higher Education Policy in a 2011 report “Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons.”
Until the mid-1990s, access to college classes was much more available to prison inmates. However, President Clinton signed legislation that denied prisoners federal Pell grants they could use to pay college tuition expenses and New York State Governor George Pataki made prison inmates ineligible for New York’s Tuition Assistance Program.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons currently has a program known as the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer (TRULINCS) that allows prisoners in the federal system access to e-mail and facilitates online education. However nearly all states prohibit Internet use by inmates. Limiting access to technology severely blocks educational opportunity. According to the 2013 “Handbook for Families and Friends of New York State DOCCS Offenders,” prisoners in New York State Correctional Institutions do not have access to either email or the Internet, which locks them out of online college classes.
New York State now provides remedial programs such as preparation for high school equivalency exams and English language instruction but college degree programs are only available at selected facilities through privately funded partnerships with local colleges. The largest and one of the most successful is the Bard (College) Prison Initiative (BPI), which is part of the national Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison. However, BPI offers only 60 courses a semester enrolling about 275 male and female prisoners in six New York State prisons and there are over 50,000 men and women in New York State prisons.
In February 2014, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new statewide initiative to give incarcerated individuals the opportunity to earn a college degree through state funded college classes at ten state prisons. The Governor’s office estimated the college program would cost only $1 million, a tiny fraction of the corrections agency’s operating budget of $2.8 billion. However six weeks later when the state budget was approved, Cuomo announced that the initiative had beendropped. Cuomo backed off even though a recent RAND Corporation found that inmates who participated in education programs while incarcerated had much lower odds of returning to prison and a Siena College poll found that 53 percent of voters supported the governor’s proposal. The Rand study also documented the benefits of computer-assisted learning and showed that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had a 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison after release than those who did not.
The euphemistically named Green Haven Correctional Facility that is not really designed to “correct” anybody is the last stop on the school-to-prison pipeline for most of these men. Many of them were warehoused in failing schools and crime-ridden housing projects until they were ready to be incarcerated. These men made bad decisions and they did very bad things when they were young, but they are no longer the men that they were.
They were thoughtful and intelligent during our discussions and should be treated as human being, not “tucked away into a corner of obscurity” with little hope for their rest of their lives. Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking reelection as Governor of New York and places political considerations above all else should be publicly chastised for offering the possibility of a higher education and then squashing it.
Although New York State prison inmates are denied Internet access, I hope they somehow get to read this. In my next post, I plan to expand on what I have previously written about how many inner city schools function like prisons as they prepare young people for the school-to-prison pipeline.
Comments Off on Green Haven Correctional Facility – When School and Society Fails
In an Ancestory.com advertisement called “Remarkable Path,” Henry Miller (1849-1918) is shown taking a photograph of Abraham Lincoln speaking at Gettysburg. It is a nice scene in an engaging ad. Unfortunately there are no photographs of Lincoln delivering this iconic speech. Lincoln spoke too briefly and at the start of the commemoration before the photographers were set up.
In another historical questionable Ancestry.com advertisement, “Doors,” Louise Abbey traces her ancestry back to Matthew Abbey, born in 1635, and abandoned to be raised by a religious order in an abbey somewhere in the British Isles. The lineage route to Matthew takes her back through a British suffragette whose last name was, likes hers, Abbey. I suspect this is highly improbable in patriarchal Great Britain where children, at least legitimate children, inherited their names from their fathers. But these are only problems for picky history teachers or those so impressed by the Ancestroy.com ads that they want to pay to have their own ancestry traced.
A more serious problem arises when historians, or historical writers, and venerable publications such as the New York Times support mythmaking, which happened in a Times op-ed piece by Russell Shorto on the 350th anniversary of New York City (if you start counting from the British occupation in 1664).Shorto is author of Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City (2014) and The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America (2005), a history of Manhattan, as well as a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.
In “The Source of New York’s Greatness,” Shorto argued that Americans should credit the original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam for “two concepts that became part of New York’s foundation: tolerance of religious differences and an entrepreneurial, free-trading culture.”
According to Shorto, the Dutch “codified the concept of tolerance of religious differences, built a vast commercial empire and spawned a golden age of science and art . . . “ that was transferred to their North American trading colony. Unfortunately, Shorto left out key aspects of the history of New Amsterdam and New York that raise serious questions about his assertions and suggest that the history of New Amsterdam/New York City was never so ecumenical and that the entrepreneurial spirit of the city negative as well as positive repercussions. Below I list just a few of the things missing from Shorto’s analysis.
In his peon to religious tolerance in Old New York, Shorto ignored the enslaved Africans who built the infra-structure of New Amsterdam and who during the years of British colonization were buried outside the city walls in the African or Negro Burial Ground, rather than in the Anglican cemeteries at St. Paul’s and Trinity. Trinity Church Vestry Minutes for October 25, 1697 stipulated that “no Negroes be buried within the bounds & Limitts of the church yard of Trinity Church.”
Shorto also ignored the antipathy Peter Stuyvesant, the governor of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, felt toward Jews. According to Documents of the Senate of the State of New York (v. 14, published in 1902), in 1655 Stuyvesant wrote the directors of the Dutch West Indies Company requesting that Jews be excluded from the colony, and when this request was refused he barred Jews from trading in Fort Orange (Albany) and other regions of the colony. He also prevented them from purchasing land. In 1656, the directors made clear to Stuyvesant that while Jews in the Dutch colony were entitled “civil and political rights,” they were not granted the “privilege of exercising their religion in a synagogue or at a gathering.” Stuyvesant was not alone in his opposition to Jewish rights. In 1657, petitions by New Amsterdam Jews to operate a bakery and to serve as a burgher were denied by the New Amsterdam Court of Burgomasters.
Roman Catholics were also under suspicion in colonial New York. Under legislation passed by the Common Council in 1700, being a Roman Catholic priest was a crime punishable by death. In 1741, enslaved Africans in New York City were accused of conspiring with a “secret” Roman Catholic priest named John Ury to revolt against slavery, kill the White Protestant population of the city, and turn the colony over to Spain. Thirteen enslaved Africans were burned at the stake, eighteen were hanged, and seventy were transported to sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Ury, the suspected priest, was also executed.
Shorto discussion of the growth of commerce failed to include the role of the Dutch or of city merchants and bankers in the trans-Atlantic slave trade into the mid-19th century and their marketing of slave-produced commodities from the Caribbean (sugar) and the American South (cotton). For most of the 17th century, the Dutch West Indies Company, which controlled the New Amsterdam colony, held an asiento or monopoly over the slave trade into Spanish colonies. Most enslaved Africans in New Amsterdam were owned by and work for the Company. In 1647, when Peter Stuyvesant became Director General, he increased the number of enslaved Africans in the colony and eventually became the largest individual owner of enslaved Africans. In 1660, Stuyvesant presided over what was probably Manhattan’s first public auction of human beings. The largest cargo of enslaved Africans, 290 people, arrived in New Amsterdam in 1664 on the Gideon, just before the colony was taken over by the British.
The United States outlawed American participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, but that did not stop New York City merchants and bankers from illicitly participating in the transport of enslaved Africans from West Africa to the Caribbean islands, especially Cuba. Sugar cane was vital to the development of New York City and the prosperity of its merchant and political elite. Congressional records show that at least eight vessels intercepted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade on their way to Cuba between 1850 and 1858 were registered in New York City and that a suspected twenty or more slavers sailed out of New York in 1857 alone.
In 1856, a New York City deputy marshal complained, “It is seldom that one or more vessels cannot be designated at the wharves, respecting which there is evidence that she is either in or has been concerned in the traffic [to Cuba].” During the same period, the Port of New York and its bankers and merchants plated a major role in the financing and shipping of Southern cotton (Singer, 92). In 1864, Congressman Fernando Wood, a former Mayor of New York City, denounced the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution ending slavery because if slavery ended Southern planters would be unable to repay their debts to New York City merchants and bankers.
“Russell Shorto, in his celebration of New York City’s greatness didn’t mention people who have in effect been erased from history, the enslaved Africans who built the infrastructure of 17th- and 18th-century New Amsterdam and New York City. Also, his discussion of the growth of commerce didn’t include the role of city merchants and bankers in the trans-Atlantic slave trade into the mid-19th century and their marketing of slave-produced commodities from the Caribbean (sugar) and the American South (cotton). This is not my definition of an enlightened and tolerant society.”
Comments Off on This Is What Mythologizing History Looks Like in 2014