Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Education, First Nations, Genocide.
Tags: Canada, canada indigenous, First Nations, genocide, indigenous, jesse staniforth, residential schools, roger hollander, trc, truth and reconciliation
Roger’s note: for the most part the living conditions for Canada’s First Nations Peoples are a disgrace, characterized by high degrees of poverty, sickness, alcoholism and violence (primarily against women). Do not look for truth much less reconciliation from Canada’s current hateful Tory government.
The word “cultural” seems to suggest that the residential school system was designed to destroy cultures but not people, a fact far from reality.
HO / Canadian Press
A classroom of St. Joseph’s Residential School in Cross Lake, Man., in 1951. Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, writes Jesse Staniforth.
Perhaps the most controversial issue to follow the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been the affirmation that the government of Canada had committed “cultural genocide” against Indigenous people through the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) system.
The word “cultural” seems to suggest that the IRS system was designed to destroy cultures but not people, a fact far from the reality of Residential Schools. “Cultural” is a civilizing adjective: it says that our policies were not truly evil, just deeply misguided.
Already this strangely diplomatic term has been a flashpoint among people unwilling to admit that our country committed any kind of genocide, even one eased by a reductive adjective. Our history must make these critics uneasy. The IRS system, though its mandate did not include deliberately killing members of Canada’s Indigenous populations, was active in the following crimes, each of which constitutes genocide under the UN’s convention on Genocide (1948):
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Canada did not pack Indigenous people onto train cars and send them to be gassed, or march them into fields and execute them with machine-gun fire. However, our country committed not “cultural” genocide, but just regular genocide.
We forcibly took children from families — sometimes at gunpoint — and flew them to remote locations they could not escape — sometimes in tiny handcuffs — where they were submitted to a program of forced labour and “education” designed to destroy their cultures and civilizations. This desire to destroy cultures seems to be the reasoning for various public figures’ use of the adjective “cultural” before genocide. The other reason, I presume, is that some cling tightly — and childishly — to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice, and they find it very hard to accept, admit, and announce that we are a country that committed a program of genocide that lasted for many decades.
Yet Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, so they were worked like animals in the slave labour many schools mandated. For the same assumption of their lesser humanity, children in the IRS system were often deliberately malnourished and kept in cramped, filthy quarters. When they subsequently fell sick as a result of this racially motivated neglect and mistreatment, they were not provided adequate medical treatment and died by the thousands.
The Canadian government was happy to leave these children to die because they were Indigenous. In the early part of the century we stopped keeping track of how many children died: the commission concluded this was because it made us look bad as a country. We did not change any of the conditions — we just changed the habit of keeping track of the children our system killed. And when Indigenous children died, we often did not consider them human enough to inform their families, to record their genders or their ages or the causes of their deaths, or to mark their graves.
Which part of this sounds civilized enough that it deserves to be mitigated by the adjective “cultural”? I’m not talking about the sexual violence. That was closely connected but it wasn’t part of our state policy. The rest was, and it constituted a policy of genocide.
As a Canadian journalist working in Indigenous media, I have faced the fact that the history of this country is difficult and tragic. My great-grandfather was decorated for valour at Vimy Ridge at the same time as Aboriginal children were being taken at gunpoint to have their culture beaten and starved out of them. National histories are too big and complex to love simply.
I’m not so attached to my country to contort myself into defending our history of genocide — and I’d like to ask those who are: how would admitting that our country was guilty of this crime against humanity change your relation to this nation, to yourself, and to Indigenous people?
As of the closing of the TRC, the facts of the Canadian genocide of Indigenous peoples are now a part of the official record of this country’s history, both for those who wish to face it, and those who wish to pretend it isn’t there. These facts stand and will not change, because they are in the past. In the present day, it is only Canadians who can change — and will have to change — in order to acknowledge the disgraceful but fixed facts of our history.
Jesse Staniforth is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and a regular contributor to the Nation magazine, serving the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and the communities around James Bay.
Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Democracy, Education, Youth.
Tags: civil disobedience, colorado, deidre fulton, democracy, education, history, roger hollander, student activism, students
Roger’s note: How encouraging to see young (white and apparently middle class) students giving a lesson in democracy to the Neanderthal cristofascists who de facto govern their (the students’) formal education. That this kind of action is taking place in Colorado and not Berkeley is also a hopeful sign. Watch the video.
Friday, November 07, 2014
‘Do not pretend that patriotism is turning a blind eye and a passive mind to the changing world around us,’ student organizer says
An image from one of the student protests in September. (Photo: John Lebya/Denver Post)
Protesting the conservative school board’s efforts to censor their history curriculum, more than a dozen students were escorted out of a Jefferson County Board of Education meeting in Colorado on Thursday night after disrupting proceedings by reading from their history textbooks and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
The students employed one of the very tactics that school board member Julie Williams was seeking to downplay through a proposed curriculum review committee: civil disobedience. In late September, Williams’ proposal—to establish a committee to ensure that the district’s history texts promoted positive aspects of the United States and avoided encouragement of “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law”—prompted mass student walk-outs and teacher ‘sick-outs.’
“You want to limit what we learn so you can push your own political opinion. Our problem is that the nation you want to build consists of people who cannot think critically.”
—Ashlyn Maher, JeffCo Student Network for Change
Many of the students involved in Thursday evening’s action were organizers of the September protests.
According to Chicago Public Radio, “the disruptions started when board members refused to let students speak, after they didn’t speak in the order they were called. A few minutes later, one student after another stood up in the public meeting, reciting historic acts of civil disobedience from history textbooks.”
The report continues:
When asked to leave the room, students at the podium left or were escorted out peacefully. After another group of students read aloud from history books and were escorted out, about a dozen students stood up in the packed meeting to read the Pledge of Allegiance. They then filed out.
Along with the students were “legal consultants,” law students taking descriptive notes of the scene. That didn’t please one security guard who lobbed several insults at the law students.
Standing in a circle outside the education building, a set of sprinklers suddenly came on. When the students moved out of the way, those sprinklers came on. The pattern repeated until all the sprinklers were on but the students didn’t leave. A security officer came out and informed the group that they were trespassing.
Student organizer Ashlyn Maher, a member of the recently formed JeffCo Student Network for Change, didn’t get a chance to speak at Thursday’s meeting. She posted her speech on Facebook.
“Our problem is that you, the board majority, passed a redundant, and highly opposed curriculum review committee because you have other motives,” Maher said. “You want to limit what we learn so you can push your own political opinion. Our problem is that the nation you want to build consists of people who cannot think critically. We as students want to develop our minds. Critical thinking is our ticket to the future. Do not limit what we learn…Do not try to fool us…Do not pretend that patriotism is turning a blind eye and a passive mind to the changing world around us.”
Chalkbeat Colorado reports that “as part of their demonstration, the students said they had four demands: a public apology from the school board’s conservative majority for referring to students as ‘union pawns;’ a reversal of an earlier decision to amend content review policies; proof from the board that they listen and act on community input instead of what students called an ‘ideological’ agenda; and more resources for classroom instruction.”
Watch security guards take books away from the students in the video of the action below:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Posted by rogerhollander in California, Education, Los Angeles.
Tags: diane ravitch, educatiion, job tenure, mandatory testing, no child left behind, privatization, public education, rolf m. treu, teacher tenure, vergara lawsuit
Roger’s note: I read about this decision as reported in the New York Times. Although it did contain quotes from the teachers’ unions, one came away with the impression that the issue is one of student rights, that is, the right to good teachers, thereby ignoring all the socio-economic reasons for poor educational results. The judge shamelessly compared his decision to the civil rights iconic decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which overturned public school segregation legality. Of course, the decision was heartily endorsed by Arne Duncan, Obama’s Chicago basketball buddy and Secretary of Education, who never met a privatization he didn’t like.
It is a sign of our times that civil rights logic is invoked to justify the destructive corporatization and privatization of public education, the thrust of which is being funded, tea party-like, by those very same corporate private billionaires.
Alex Caputo-Pearl, president elect of United Teachers Los Angeles, takes questions on about the verdict of the Vergara v. California lawsuit in Los Angeles Tuesday, June 10, 2014. A judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California’s public school teachers as unconstitutional Tuesday, saying such laws harm students, especially poor and minority ones, by saddling them with bad teachers. (Photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP)
Judge Rolf M. Treu, who decided the Vergara case, declared that he was shocked — shocked! — to learn from Professor Raj Chetty and Professor Thomas Kane of Harvard about the enormous harm that one “grossly ineffective” teacher can do to a child’s lifetime earnings or to their academic gains.
How did he define “grossly ineffective” teacher? He didn’t. How did these dreadful teachers get tenure? Clearly, some grossly incompetent principal must have granted it to them. What was the basis — factual or theoretical — that the students would have had high scores if their teachers did not have the right to due process? He didn’t say.
The theory behind the case — as I see it — is that low test scores are caused by bad teachers. Get rid of the bad teachers, replace them with average teachers, and all students will get high test scores. You might call it the judicial version of No Child Left Behind — that is, pull the right policy levers — say, testing and accountability, or eliminate tenure — and every single child in America will be proficient by 2014. Congress should hang its collective head in shame for having passed that ridiculous law, yet it still sits on the books as the scorned, ineffective, toxic law of the land.
Judge Treu was also regurgitating the unproven claims behind Race to the Top, specifically that using test scores to evaluate teachers will make it possible to weed out “bad teachers,” recruit and reward top teachers, and test scores will rise to the top. Given this theory, a concept like tenure (due process) slows down the effort to fire those “grossly ineffective” teachers and delays the day when every student is proficient.
Relying on Chetty and Kane, Judge Treu is quite certain that the theory of universal proficiency is correct. Thus, in his thinking, it becomes a matter of urgency — a civil rights issue — to eliminate tenure and any other legal protection for teachers, leaving principals free to fire them promptly, without delay or hindrance.
Set aside for the moment that this decision lacks any evidentiary basis. Another judge might have heard the same parade of witnesses and reached a different conclusion.
Bear in mind that the case will be appealed to a higher court, and will continue to be appealed until there is no higher court.
It is not unreasonable to believe that the California Teachers Association might negotiate a different tenure process with the legislature, perhaps a requirement of three years probationary status instead of two.
The one thing that does seem certain is that, contrary to the victory claims of hedge fund managers and right-wing editorial writers, no student will gain anything as a result of this decision. Millions more dollars will be spent to litigate the issues in California and elsewhere, but what will students gain? Nothing. The poorest, neediest students will still be in schools that lack the resources to meet their needs. They will still be in schools where classes are too large. They will still be in buildings that need repairs. They will still be in schools where the arts program and nurses and counselors were eliminated by budget cuts.
If their principals fire all or most or some of their teachers, who will take their places? There is no long line of superb teachers waiting for a chance to teach in inner-city schools. Chetty and Kane blithely assume that those who are fired will be replaced by better teachers. How do they know that?
Let’s be clear. No “grossly ineffective” teacher should ever get tenure. Only a “grossly ineffective” principal would give tenure to a “grossly ineffective” teacher. Teachers do not give tenure to themselves.
Unfortunately, the Vergara decision is the latest example of the blame-shifting strategy of the privatization movement. Instead of acknowledging that test scores are highly correlated with family income, they prefer to blame teachers and the very idea of public education. If they were truly interested in supporting the needs of the children, the backers of this case would be advocating for smaller classes, for arts programs, for well-equipped and up-to-date schools, for after-school programs, for health clinics, for librarians and counselors, and for inducements to attract and retain a stable corps of experienced teachers in the schools attended by Beatriz Vergara and her co-plaintiffs.
Let us hope that a wiser judicial panel speedily overturns this bad decision and seeks a path of school reform that actually helps the plaintiffs without inflicting harm on their teachers.
© 2014 Diane Ravitch
Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Economic Crisis, Education, Latin America.
Tags: bachelet, Chile, civil disobedience, direct action, francisco tapia, neela debnath, roger hollander, student debt
Roger’s note: This is civil disobedience, this is direct action, this is artful behavior. How it will end in the long run is hard to say; but it is heartening to see a citizen taking the law into his own artful hands when those in authority stand by and watch the blatant exploitation of students. I am reminded of the break-ins of draft centers during the Vietnam War where records were destroyed.
Neela Debnath, the Independent, May 18, 2014
An activist in Chile has burnt documents representing $500 million (£300 million) worth of student debt during a protest at Universidad del Mar.
Francisco Tapia, who is also known as “Papas Fritas”, claimed that he had “freed” the students by setting fire to the debt papers or “pagarés”.
Mr Tapia has justified his actions in a video he posted on YouTube on Monday 12 May, which has since gone viral and garnered over 55,000 views.
In the five-minute video the artist and activist, translated by the Chilean news site Santiago Times, he passionately says: “You don’t have to pay another peso [of your student loan debt]. We have to lose our fear, our fear of being thought of as criminals because we’re poor. I am just like you, living a s**tty life, and I live it day by day — this is my act of love for you.”
He confessed he destroyed the papers without the knowledge of the students during a takeover at the university demanding free higher education.
According to the video’s description, Mr Tapia was at the protests when he hatched the plan to wipe the student debt by stealing the papers. It goes on to say that he wanted to create a work of art to reflect the problem of student debt plaguing the nation.
While his act of defiance will have brought smile to those now debt-free students, it will be difficult for the university to recoup the losses and the higher institution may have to individually sue students to get the get the debt repaid.
There have been protests in Chile since 2011 calling for reform of the university system and for free high-quality education. It was hoped the newly-elected president, Michelle Bachelet, would be bring reform, after a campaign promising drastic change to the education system.
However, two months on, tens of thousands of students have taken again to the street calling again for changes promised.
Last week there were clashes on the street of the Chilean capital, Santiago, as demonstrations turned violent.
Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Education, Race, Racism, Revolution.
Tags: afro-american, black history, education, felicia r. lee, james baldwin, Race, racism, roger hollander
Roger’s note: As with MLK’s more radical anti-war, anti-American speeches vanish (whitewashed, pun intended) from official history, so do genuine revolutionary radicals like James Baldwin, Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) and Amiri Baraka (born Leroi Jones in Newark, New Jersey, my birthplace). It is no coincidence, rather a conscious amnesia. In the same week celebrating the 90th anniversary of Baldwin’s birth, the US Supreme Court upholds racist anti affirmative action state law. This week also saw the passing away of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the prize fighter who spent 19 years in prison based on racist prosecutions and verdicts in Patterson, New Jersey (my beloved home state).
By FELICIA R. LEE
APRIL 24, 2014, New York Times
Dinobi Agwu reading a poem inspired by James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” in Erika Brantley’s, background, 9th-grade English class at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem.
James Baldwin’s 1953 novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” about a Harlem teenager’s search for meaning, quickly became a classic, along with his searing essays about race published a decade later in the book “The Fire Next Time.” But in recent years Baldwin’s presence has diminished in many high school classrooms.
In a year that marks the 90th anniversary of his birth, educators offer different reasons for Baldwin’s faded presence there, from the concern that he is too controversial and complex to the perception that he has been eclipsed by other African-American voices. Collectively the explanations illustrate how attitudes about race have changed, along with the way the high school literary experience has evolved according to currents in the field.
“Baldwin is still there, but he’s not there in the way he was,” said Jocelyn A. Chadwick, chairwoman of the secondary level of the National Council of Teachers of English, pointing out that while in the 1960s and ’70s students would study Baldwin’s essays, short stories and novels in their entirety, today they often encounter his work only in anthologies.
Isaac Asante participates in a discussion of “Sonny’s Blues” in Ms. Brantley’s class.
Now teachers, scholars and other Baldwin fans are seizing on the anniversary of his birth in Harlem to inspire what they hope will be a revival of a younger generation’s interest in the work of one of the country’s most gifted writers and major voices on race and morality.
The New York Live Arts festival “James Baldwin, This Time,” which began on Wednesday and continues through Sunday with performances and events across disciplines, is an extensive commemoration of the writer, who was black and gay and died in 1987. The festival kicks off a yearlong, citywide consideration of Baldwin at several places, including Harlem Stage, the Columbia University School of the Arts and the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
Additionally, some of Baldwin’s books are being reissued this year, and there are new appraisals of his work as well as new work inspired by him. “Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems” (Beacon Press), with an introduction by the poet Nikky Finney, came out this month. Vintage reissued “Giovanni’s Room” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain” last year. Already the attention has prompted a broader conversation about Baldwin’s legacy.
“I think he’s not taught as much anymore on the high school level because he’s incendiary and, for some, inflammatory,” said Rich Blint, a Baldwin scholar and associate director in the Office of Community Outreach and Education at the Columbia University School of the Arts. Paradoxically, the belief that the county is somehow postracial, Mr. Blint said, has shut down some discussions about race. “Think about how impoverished our racial conversations are now,” he said.
Educators also cite poor reading habits, censorship and Baldwin’s absence from the list of works suggested for Common Core standards as reasons his works are not studied regularly. And since the late ’70s and early ’80s, as school districts have scrambled for more diverse subject matter in the classroom, Baldwin has had to share space with a new crop of black writers, especially women: Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Over the years, some parents and schools have also challenged what they saw as the sexual material, violence and profanity in Baldwin’s work. Sex — interracial and intraracial, gay and straight — is prominent in his fiction. His raw dissections of race also raised concerns.
Long before it was fashionable to argue that race was a social construct, Baldwin famously said, “Insofar as you think you’re white, you’re irrelevant,” during a 1979 speech in Berkeley, Calif., a sentiment he repeated in his writing and public appearances. Racism was not a stain on American exceptionalism, Baldwin argued, but a deliberate feature of a country that he said routinely terrorized black people. He moved to France in the late 1940s to evade racism, but he returned home often, and he helped to articulate the pains of the civil rights movement.
“He was one of the fiercest critics of the American race problem who ever put pen to paper,” said Khalil G. Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. A historian, Mr. Muhammad has taught Baldwin to students as young as eighth grader to help them understand history and to articulate and communicate the conditions of their lives, he said. In his travels around the country, though, he does not find nearly enough young Baldwin readers, he said.
In the words of Walter Dean Myers, an award-winning children’s author, in an interview, “It begins with the fact that the students are not reading that well at all, the teachers shy away from complex issues, and the parents are not making demands.” While it can be difficult to generalize about a vast universe of schools, high school students who do read Baldwin are more apt to attend elite or high-performing schools, said Mr. Myers, who in 2012 and 2013 traveled to dozens of libraries, schools and community centers around the country as a national ambassador for young people and literature.
Nevertheless, in some quarters Baldwin remains a vivid part of adolescent lives. In a classroom decorated with Baldwin quotations at the Frederick Douglass Academy 1 in Harlem, students in freshman English one recent morning recited poems inspired by “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin’s short story about a jazz musician whose demons include heroin.
“In a dark place is where my soul lays/one parent dead and the other missing,” went two lines of “Stanley’s Blues,” by Stanley Anisca.
Shawnakay Shaw recited, “Living in the hood ain’t no joke/especially when you’re broke selling dope.”
To include young people in the new considerations of Baldwin, students from the James Baldwin School, a Manhattan high school, will join such prominent artists as Ms. Finney, Suzan-Lori Parks, Marcus Gardley, Vijay Iyer and others in reading and discussing Baldwin’s writing at a Live Arts noon program, “Jimmy at High Noon,” at the New York Live Arts Studio every day during the festival.
For some Baldwin fans, those events are a bright spot on a generally dull landscape. “On one hand, he’s on a U.S. postage stamp; on the other hand, he’s not in the Common Core,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. “A lot of public high school students will not have heard of him, and that’s a tragedy. The burden of protecting James Baldwin’s hugely important legacy is on teachers of English.”
Baldwin’s name and books are not listed in the appendix of the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning goals adopted by more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. (Richard Wright, for instance, is included.) Its proponents argue that the core’s “exemplar” list of books and writers is just a guidepost, not definitive and not reflective of a canon or a curriculum. Many canonical titles are not on the list, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain being one example.
Susan Pimentel, a leading writer on the standards for English language arts and literacy, said in an email message that it would be heartbreaking to think that a great story like “Sonny’s Blues” would be overlooked just because it was not on the list. However, she said, “It simply was not the aim of Appendix B to create a list of important authors to read and wade into the canonical arguments of the 1980s.”
At Frederick Douglass, there was no doubt that Baldwin would be in the canon and the classroom. Joseph D. Gates, the principal, said his school has the latitude to create the curriculum with the staff and to include work that will be relevant to students. The school has a reputation for sending all its seniors to college, including some to Ivy League schools.
“I think Baldwin presents a perspective that is uniquely Harlem,” Mr. Gates said. “Many of the struggles the students face are the same: self-identity, racism, drugs and alcohol, even though the times have changed.”
Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Education.
Tags: charter schools, chris christie, jacob chamberlain, newark, newark students, privatization, public education, public schools, roger hollander, student activism
Roger’s note: The Tea Party agenda to destroy (privatize) public education is alive and well in the hands of Arne Duncan, Obama’s Chicago basketball buddy and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan (and various state governors and legislatures), via the strategy of charter schools, standardized testing, attacks on teachers and their unions and education for profit. The reason for this, apart from the base economic motive, has to do with undoing the leveling and democratizing function of public education. In its all-out war of the wealthy (the owners of managers of capital) against the rest of us, destroying what is left (after defunding and segregation) of public education will have tremendous negative impact on racial minorities, the poor and lower middle class. At the university level, we are already seeing more and more that only the children of the upper economic brackets are able to afford a college education. A strong public education system and democracy are inseparable entities. It is heartening to see, not only in Newark, but around the nation, students, their families and their teachers are fighting to reject the Tea Party/Koch Brother/Obama attacks on public education.
Newark students protest outside of city hall, April 3, 2014 (Photo via Twitter / Newark Student Union / @NewarkStudents)Following moves by the state of New Jersey to defund public schools in exchange for a flood of privately run charter schools, hundreds of students in Newark walked out of classes in protest on Thursday.
According to the Newark’s Star Ledger, almost 1,000 students from about nine schools gathered in front of City Hall around 1 p.m. with microphones and signs.
The protest was organized by the Newark Students Union, calling the protest the “March of Shame,” specifically targeting Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” reorganization plan. The plan is set to close or downsize several public schools, fire a range of teachers, and move privately run charter schools into public buildings.
“Holding bullhorns and signs – some with the word ‘liar’ in bold letters above the silhouettes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and state-appointed Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson – hundreds of middle and high school students walked out of schools and into the streets of this economically struggling city,” Al Jazeera America reports.
“Newark students: stand up, fight back!” the students chanted throughout the rally.
“The Anderson administration is not afraid to take quality schools away but is scared of students engaging in their right,” Newark Students Union president Kristin Towkaniek, told the crowd. “It’s your right to be here.”
“I’m walking out because the voices of the students need to be heard, and they will be heard,” said Towkaniuk ahead of the march.
“They said (the plan) will make Newark schools better,” Jose Leonard, a 16-year-old at Arts High School, told Al Jazeera America. “They’ve been saying that for 20 years and we haven’t seen anything. It’s like they don’t care about the students.”
The protest follows a growing trend in students putting their foot down in opposition to a countrywide trend of defunding public education.
As Al Jazeera America reports:
In February, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett canceled his appearance at a Philadelphia public school after students and teachers at the school planned a protest over his budget cuts, which forced many of the city’s schools to cut all extracurricular activities. In Oklahoma, an estimated 25,000 converged on the capitol earlier this week to protest low school funding. Protests have also been held in Oregon and in Camden, N.J.
The protests in Newark aren’t new, either. Last year, high schools students formed the Newark Students Union and held a protest in the city’s downtown area, followed by another in March of this year.
“What’s happening in Newark follows a national pattern as we see states fund schools less than they did before the (2008) recession started,” said Jeff Bryant, a fellow the Campaign for America’s Future.
American Federation of Teachers New Jersey has video of the protest:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Criminal Justice, Education, Poverty, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: august wilson, chris hedges, education, incarceration, poverty, prison, prisoners, Race, racism, roger hollander, solitary confinement, theatre, torture
Posted on Dec 15, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
|AP/Ted S. Warren
|Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson in his Seattle neighborhood in 2003.
By Chris Hedges
I began teaching a class of 28 prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey during the first week of September. My last class meeting was Friday. The course revolved around plays by August Wilson, James Baldwin, John Herbert, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka and other playwrights who examine and give expression to the realities of America’s black underclass as well as the prison culture. We also read Michelle Alexander’s important book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Each week the students were required to write dramatic scenes based on their experiences in and out of prison.
My class, although I did not know this when I began teaching, had the most literate and accomplished writers in the prison. And when I read the first batch of scenes it was immediately apparent that among these students was exceptional talent.
The class members had a keen eye for detail, had lived through the moral and physical struggles of prison life and had the ability to capture the patois of the urban poor and the prison underclass. They were able to portray in dramatic scenes and dialogue the horror of being locked in cages for years. And although the play they collectively wrote is fundamentally about sacrifice—the sacrifice of mothers for children, brothers for brothers, prisoners for prisoners—the title they chose was “Caged.” They made it clear that the traps that hold them are as present in impoverished urban communities as in prison.
The mass incarceration of primarily poor people of color, people who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and who are often kept behind bars for years for nonviolent crimes or for crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful mass injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in my class have cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Some of their sentences are utterly disproportionate to the crimes of which they are accused. Most are not even close to finishing their sentences or coming before a parole board, which rarely grants first-time applicants their liberty. Many of them are in for life. One of my students was arrested at the age of 14 for a crime that strong evidence suggests he did not commit. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 70. He never had a chance in court and because he cannot afford a private attorney he has no chance now of challenging the grotesque sentence handed to him as a child.
My stacks of 28 scenes written by the students each week, the paper bearing the musty, sour smell of the prison, rose into an ungainly pile. I laboriously shaped and edited the material. It grew, line by line, scene by scene, into a powerful and deeply moving dramatic vehicle. The voices and reality of those at the very bottom rung of our society—some of the 2.2 million people in prisons and jails across the country, those we as a society are permitted to demonize and hate, just as African-Americans were once demonized and hated during slavery and Jim Crow—began to flash across the pages like lightning strikes. There was more brilliance, literacy, passion, wisdom and integrity in that classroom than in any other classroom I have taught in, and I have taught at some of the most elite universities in the country. The mass incarceration of men and women like my students impoverishes not just them, their families and their communities, but the rest of us as well.
“The most valuable blacks are those in prison,” August Wilson once said, “those who have the warrior spirit, who had a sense of being African. They got for their women and children what they needed when all other avenues were closed to them.” He added: “The greatest spirit of resistance among blacks [is] found among those in prison.”
I increased the class meetings by one night a week. I read the scenes to my wife, Eunice Wong, who is a professional actor, and friends such as the cartoonist Joe Sacco and the theologian James Cone. Something unique, almost magical, was happening in the prison classroom—a place I could reach only after passing through two metal doors and a metal detector, subjecting myself to a pat-down by a guard, an X-ray inspection of my canvas bag of books and papers, getting my hand stamped and then checked under an ultraviolet light, and then passing through another metal door into a barred circular enclosure. In every visit I was made to stand in the enclosure for several minutes before being permitted by the guards to pass through a barred gate and then walk up blue metal stairs, through a gantlet of blue-uniformed prison guards, to my classroom.
The class, through the creation of the play, became an intense place of reflection, debate and self-discovery. Offhand comments, such as the one made by a student who has spent 22 years behind bars, that “just because your family doesn’t visit you doesn’t mean they don’t love you,” reflected the pain, loneliness and abandonment embedded in the lives of my students. There were moments that left the class unable to speak.
A student with 19 years behind bars read his half of a phone dialogue between himself and his mother. He was the product of rape and tells his mother that he sacrificed himself to keep his half brother—the only son his mother loves—out of prison. He read this passage in the presentation of the play in the prison chapel last Thursday to visitors who included Cornel West and James Cone.
Terrance: You don’t understand[,] Ma.
Terrance: You’re right. Never mind.
PauseTerrance: What you want me to say Ma?
Terrance: Ma, they were going to lock up Bruce. The chrome [the gun] was in the car. Everyone in the car would be charged with murder if no one copped to it …
Terrance: I didn’t kill anyone Ma… Oh yeah, I forgot, whenever someone says I did, I did it.
Terrance: I told ’em what they wanted to hear. That’s what niggas supposed to do in Newark. I told them what they wanted to hear to keep Bruce out of it. Did they tell you who got killed? Did they say it was my father?
Terrance: Then you should know I didn’t do it. If I ever went to jail for anything it would be killing him … and he ain’t dead yet. Rape done brought me into the world. Prison gonna take me out. An’ that’s the way it is Ma.
Terrance: Come on Ma, if Bruce went to jail you would’uv never forgiven me. Me, on the other hand, I wasn’t ever supposed to be here.
Terrance: I’m sorry Ma … I’m sorry. Don’t be cryin’. You got Bruce. You got him home. He’s your baby. Bye Ma. I call you later.
After our final reading of the play I discovered the student who wrote this passage sobbing in the bathroom, convulsed with grief.
In the play when a young prisoner contemplates killing another prisoner he is given advice on how to survive prolonged isolation in the management control unit (solitary confinement, known as MCU) by an older prisoner who has spent 30 years in prison under a sentence of double life. There are 80,000 U.S. prisoners held in solitary confinement, which human rights organizations such as Amnesty International define as a form of torture. In this scene the older man tells the young inmate what to expect from the COs, or correction officers.
Ojore (speaking slowly and softly): When they come and get you, ’cause they are gonna get you, have your hands out in front of you with your palms showing. You want them to see you have no weapons. Don’t make no sudden moves. Put your hands behind your head. Drop to your knees as soon as they begin barking out commands.
Omar: My knees?
Ojore: This ain’t a debate. I’m telling you how to survive the hell you ’bout to endure. When you get to the hole you ain’t gonna be allowed to have nothing but what they give you. If you really piss them off you get a ‘dry cell’ where the sink and the toilet are turned on and off from outside. You gonna be isolated. No contact. No communication.
Ojore: ’Cause they don’t want you sendin’ messages to nobody before dey question some of da brothers on the wing. IA [internal affairs officers] gonna come and see you. They gonna want a statement. If you don’t talk they gonna try and break you. They gonna open the windows and let the cold in. They gonna take ya sheets and blankets away. They gonna mess with ya food so you can’t eat it. An’ don’t eat no food that come in trays from the Vroom Building. Nuts in Vroom be spittin’, pissin’ and shittin’ in the trays. Now, the COs gonna wake you up every hour on the hour so you can’t sleep. They gonna put a bright-ass spotlight in front of ya cell and keep it on day and night. They gonna harass you wit’ all kinds of threats to get you to cooperate. They will send in the turtles in their shin guards, gloves, shank-proof vests, forearm guards and helmets with plexiglass shields on every shift to give you beat-downs.
Omar: How long this gonna go on?
Ojore: Til they break you. Or til they don’t. Three days. Three weeks. You don’t break, it go on like this for a long time. An’ if you don’t think you can take it, then don’t start puttin’ yerself through this hell. Just tell ’em what they wanna know from the door. You gonna be in MCU for the next two or three years. You’ll get indicted for murder. You lookin’ at a life bid. An’ remember MCU ain’t jus’ ’bout isolation. It’s ’bout keeping you off balance. The COs, dressed up in riot gear, wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you. They bring in dogs trained to go for your balls. You spend 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. They put you in the MCU and wait for you to self-destruct. An’ it works. Men self-mutilate. Men get paranoid. Men have panic attacks. They start hearing voices. They talk crazy to themselves. I seen one prisoner swallow a pack of AA batteries. I seen a man shove a pencil up his dick. I seen men toss human shit around like it was a ball game. I seen men eat their own shit and rub it all over themselves like it was some kinda body lotion. Then, when you really get out of control, when you go really crazy, they got all their torture instruments ready—four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains. But the physical stuff ain’t the worst. The worst is the psychological, the humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat and the long weeks and months of solitary. If you don’t have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive. They want to defeat you mentally. An’ I seen a lot of men defeated.
The various drafts of the play, made up of scenes and dialogue contributed by everyone in the class, brought to the surface the suppressed emotions and pain that the students bear with profound dignity. A prisoner who has been incarcerated for 22 years related a conversation with his wife during her final visit in 1997. Earlier his 6-year-old son had innocently revealed that the woman was seeing another man. “I am aware of what kind of time I got,” he tells his wife. “I told you when I got found guilty to move on with your life, because I knew what kind of time I was facing, but you chose to stick around. The reason I told you to move on with your life was because I didn’t want to be selfish. So look, man, do what the fuck you are going to do, just don’t keep my son from me. That’s all I ask.” He never saw his child again. When he handed me the account he said he was emotionally unable to read it out loud.
Those with life sentences wrote about dying in prison. The prisoners are painfully aware that some of them will end their lives in the medical wing without family, friends or even former cellmates. One prisoner, who wrote about how men in prolonged isolation adopt prison mice as pets, naming them, carefully bathing them, talking to them and keeping them on string leashes, worked in the prison infirmary. He said that as some prisoners were dying they would ask him to hold their hand. Often no one comes to collect the bodies. Often, family members and relatives are dead or long estranged. The corpses are taken by the guards and dumped in unmarked graves.
A discussion of Wilson’s play “Fences” became an exploration of damaged manhood and how patterns of abuse are passed down from father to son. “I spent my whole life trying not to be my father,” a prisoner who has been locked up for 23 years said. “And when I got to Trenton I was put in his old cell.”
The night we spoke about the brilliant play “Dutchman,” by LeRoi Jones, now known as Amira Baraka, the class grappled with whites’ deeply embedded stereotypes and latent fear of black men. I had also passed out copies of Robert Crumb’s savage cartoon strip “When the Niggers Take Over America!,” which portrays whites’ fear of black males—as well as the legitimate black rage that is rarely understood by white society.
The students wanted to be true to the violence and brutality of the streets and prison—places where one does not usually have the luxury of being nonviolent—yet affirm themselves as dignified and sensitive human beings. They did not want to paint everyone in the prison as innocents. But they know that transformation and redemption are real.
There are many Muslims in the prison. They have a cohesive community, sense of discipline and knowledge of their own history, which is the history of the long repression and subjugation of African-Americans. Most Muslims are very careful about their language in prison and do not curse, meaning I had to be careful when I assigned parts to the class.
There is a deep reverence in the prison for Malcolm X. When the class spoke of him one could almost feel Malcolm’s presence. Malcolm articulated, in a way Martin Luther King Jr. did not, the harsh reality of poor African-Americans trapped in the internal colonies of the urban North.
The class wanted the central oracle of the play to be an observant Muslim. Faith, when you live in the totalitarian world of the prison, is important. The conclusion of the play was the result of an intense and heated discussion about the efficacy and nature of violence and forgiveness. But by the end of a nearly hourlong discussion the class had unanimously signed off on the final scene, which I do not want to reveal here because I hope that one day it will be available to be seen or read. It was the core message the prisoners wanted most to leave with outsiders, who often view them as less than human.
The play has a visceral, raw anger and undeniable truth that only the lost and the damned can articulate. The students wrote a dedication that read: “We have been buried alive behind these walls for years, often decades. Most of the outside world has abandoned us. But a few friends and family have never forgotten that we are human beings and worthy of life. It is to them, our saints, that we dedicate this play.” And they said that if the play was ever produced, and if anyone ever bought tickets, they wanted all the money that might be earned to go to funding the educational program at the prison. This was a decision by men who make, at most, a dollar a day at prison jobs.
We read the Wilson play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” The character Bynum Walker, a conjurer, tells shattered African-Americans emerging from the nightmare of slavery that they each have a song but they must seek it out. Once they find their song they will find their unity as a people, their inner freedom and their identity. The search for one’s song in Wilson’s play functions like prayer. It gives each person a purpose, strength and hope. It allows a person, even one who has been bitterly oppressed, to speak his or her truth defiantly to the world. Our song affirms us, even if we are dejected and despised, as human beings.
Prisoners are given very little time by the guards to line up in the corridor outside the classroom when the prison bell signals the end of class. If they lag behind they can get a “charge” from the guards that can restrict their already very limited privileges and freedom of movement. For this reason, my classroom emptied quickly Friday night. I was left alone in the empty space, my eyes damp, my hands trembling as I clutched their manuscript. They had all signed it for me. I made the long and lonely walk down the prison corridors, through the four metal security doors, past the security desk to the dark, frozen parking lot. I looked back, past the coils of razor wire that topped the chain-link fencing, at the shadowy bulk of the prison. I have their song. I will make it heard. I do not know what it takes to fund and mount a theater production. I intend to learn.
Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, cia director, cuny, cuny 6, davi petraeus, General Petraeus, Iraq war, march forward, roger hollander, usc, veterans, war criminal
ROGER’S NOTE: IT IS HEARTWARMING TO SEE THAT EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE THESE SCUMBAGS GET THEIR COMEUPPANCE.
University cancels event day after protest announced
September 26, 2013
Reprinted from the website of March Forward!
The University of Southern California Veterans’ Association recently announced in an internal email that General David Petraeus, former commander of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and CIA director, would be holding a private luncheon with student veterans on October 10—coincidentally marking the 12th anniversary of the U.S. war on Afghanistan.
Iraq war veterans in March Forward!, who are also members of the USC Veterans Association and received the internal email, quickly called for a picket outside the event. Momentum grew rapidly, as dozens of individuals and organizations—including ANSWER LA, the Worker Student Alliance and more—endorsed and began organizing for the action.
Within one day of the announcement of the picket, the USC Veterans Association cancelled the event with Petraeus.
Petraeus was recently hired by the City University of New York as a lecturer, and by USC as a veterans’ advisor.
Petraeus is a war criminal according to international law—from ordering and facilitating illegal torture, to intentionally creating civil war in Afghan villages, to covering up the murder of Iraqis by U.S. defense contractors, to utilizing the “double-tap” method where drones conduct second strikes on rescue workers and victims’ funerals. Petraeus’s “leadership” (i.e., trying to advance his own career off the backs of enlisted personnel) also yielded the highest casualty rates for U.S. troops under his command in both Iraq and Afghansitan while he lived a rock star lifestyle.
Despite his known war crimes, Petraeus is raking in the cash from his post-retirement jobs.
In protest of his hiring by CUNY, students and activists held a rally outside one of his classes. Six students who confronted him were violently and unconstitutionally arrested. Now known as the CUNY 6, they were outrageously hit with several charges, including “rioting.”
That protest put Petraeus and CUNY in the public spotlight, highlighting the role of militarism in our schools and the lavish lifestyles of known war criminals. The protest against Petraeus at USC was announced amidst public outcry at his appointment at CUNY and the unconstitutional arrests of peaceful protesters. The second protest at USC, initiated and led by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, was not the type of publicity USC and Petraeus were looking for. So the brave General ran away scared.
The event’s cancellation is an acknowledgment of the public pressure on Petraeus, and on universities who see fit to have a war criminal teach their students. It is essential to always confront the generals and politicians who sent us to wars based on lies wherever they show their faces.
Despite the event’s cancellation, March Forward! will still be taking action against USC for the outrageous appointment of Petraeus as a “veterans’ advisor.” (Details will be announced soon)
- JAIL for war criminals!
- U.S. OUT of Afghanistan now!
- DROP all charges against the CUNY 6!
- Militarism OUT of our schools!
Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Poverty, Race.
Tags: charter schools, corporate education, diane ravitch, education, educational policy, jim horn, privatization, privatization of education, public education, reign of error, roger hollander, standardized testing
Roger’s note: If you have not been following the attempts to privatize and, in effect, destroy public education in the United States, Diane Ravitch is a prominent and respected educator who has taken a 180 degree turn from a supporter to its major critic. Backed by mega corporations such as Microsoft and spearheaded by Obama’s basketball playmate and Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, the initiative involves making a fetish of standardized testing, the increased funding of elite charter schools, the marginalization of children from non-white and lower economic families, and a drastic reduction of dependence upon the skills, talents, and experience of teachers. The comments posted after the article fill in some of the details of how this works in practice. If genuine public education is to survive in the U.S., then serious resistance to this typical capitalistic attempt to make money at the expense of children, is essential.
Author’s note: On September 18, Joe Bowers listed 33 reviews of Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Since then, many other reviews have appeared, including a very substantial one by George Schmidt at Substance News. Please see Bowers’ list for some very good play-by-play reviews. That is not what I am offering here.
In 2007 when Diane Ravitch descended from her 20,000-foot view of the education reform landscape to examine what was going on at ground level, she did not like what she saw: children suffering nose-bleeds and vomiting from test anxiety, school personnel and parents humiliated by test results designed to satisfy the failure quotas imposed by cynical and self-serving corporate privateers and political ideologues; educators being blamed for the effects of poverty that no amount of good teaching could fix alone; untrained beginners replacing education professionals in schools that needed the most caring and experienced teachers; schools that had functioned as community centers of identity and activity being closed; a pathological fixation of quantifiable data that had displaced attention to the human needs of growing children; an educational governance structure increasingly controlled by autocratic and arrogant billionaires; and an incredibly shrinking and brittle collection of desiccated facts having replaced the curriculum for the lower caste of segregated untouchable children incarcerated in more and more urban corporate reform schools.
Seeing all this, Ravitch did what was unthinkable among the delusional and arrogant group of efficiency-worshipping zealots with whom she had spent much time during the prior twenty years: she admitted the entire antiquated system of back to basics on steroids 1) was not improving teaching and learning, 2) was not closing the achievement gaps, 3) was not making public schools stronger, and 4) was not being held accountable for the previous decades of more of the same failed policies built upon the same racist and classist standardized testing foundation, made harder still with each subsequent repackaged iteration.
What makes Diane Ravitch even more unique is that she did not sit behind a screen to offer her insider testimony on these issues to the court of public opinion and then go into an educational witness protection program but, rather, she made the continuing public condemnation of the Billionaire Boys Club her raison d’être, even as the plutocrats’ high-testosterone testocrats have challenged her unassailable facts and as the academic mercenaries from the corporate think tanks have resorted to pretzel logic in attempts to refute her wisdom. Since 2010 when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch has been on a non-stop one-woman road show, crisscrossing the country, speaking to the growing and rumbling army of educators of the nation’s PS Hope.
In her new book, Ravitch has brought a megaphone to the long-ignored message that resistance, indeed, is not futile but, rather, resistance is demanded and that resistance will prevail.
Somehow she has found time between her face-to-face engagements and her online presence as both tweeter and blogger, to write a new book with a cover title in two inch orange Day-Glo letters: Reign of Error. Unlike with Death and Life, which Ravitch shopped to numerous publishers before landing with Basic Books, this time New York’s premier publishing house, Knopf, was eager to snap up Reign or Error, along with generous provisions for promotion, advertising, and touring.
The new book picks up where the last one left off, this time mixing sharp punctures of the ‘Corporate Education’ gas bags with lists of positive strategies that are sure to rankle the proto-fascist sensibilities of the corporate Borg’s swarm of propagandists, e.g., the Wall Street Journal. In this new volume, in fact, Ravitch has brought a megaphone to the long-ignored message that resistance, indeed, is not futile but, rather, resistance is demanded and that resistance will prevail. Her logic to reaching that conclusion is as simple and clear as her deliberate prose, and the directness of her indignant optimism bespeaks an historian who is enjoying her moment and looking forward to a future that she is determined to make livable and learnable for her grandchildren, and ours.
The first half of Reign of Error takes up for discussion a series of reformist claims that are repeated so often by the post-partisan CorpEd think tanks that they would have to be accurate if repetition were sole criterion for establishing truth. Reformist bromides are refuted with clear statements from evidence-based reality that are accompanied with enough documented examples to send any self-serving edupreneur scrambling back to his corporate teaching manual in hopes of salvaging some semblance of pedagogical respectability.
The second half of the book is comprised of Ravitch’s Top Ten educational policy interventions that may, once taken seriously by Washington, again restore sanity to an education policy world gone wild with what Harold Rugg called an “orgy of tabulation,” whose corrupting and abusive practices have spread into kindergarten and pre-K. Each point is discussed with clarity, determination, and evidence that Ravitch has been listening to the most important professionals not included in policy discussions—teachers.
It took a long time for Dr. Ravitch to break clear of the corporatist influence that has controlled the increasingly antiquarian version of education reform since the coming of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Whether her conversion in 2007 resulted from the gentle persuasion of researchers like Richard Rothstein or from the fierce prodding of researcher-advocates like Gerald Bracey and Susan Ohanian, Diane has made up for lost time since regaining her sight after being struck blind on the road out of DC. Whatever happens over the next ten or twenty years in education policy, her place is secure, just after six years of battle, as the single individual who most influenced the eventual outcome if parents and teachers and students continue to heed the call for the restoration and renewal of public schools free of high stakes tests for all children who choose a high quality and free education. Ravitch has brought the word—now it is time to act.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License