And beware of Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and one of the biggest backers of charter schools and privatization of schools
The Wars on Vietnam May 14, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Grenada, History, Imperialism, Labor, Vietnam, War.
Tags: class warfare, Economic Crisis, education, financial crisis, grenada, grenada invasion, history, imperialism, labor, patco, rich gibson, robert kennedy, roger hollander, tom hayden, vietnam syndrome, Vietnam War, working class
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Roger’s note: here is a interesting, irreverent and penetrating analysis of US history post Vietnam War, which some may find — I’m trying to find the right word — uncomfortable (?). It’s thesis: “Class and empire’s wars define our times, as they did then” is, as far as I am concerned, incontrovertible.
May 12, 2015
A Better Recollection Than the Pentagon’s (and the Liberals’)
Following the victory of the Vietnamese people over the U.S. empire and its allies on April 29/30, 1975, elites in the U.S. those who operate within the armed weapon and executive committee of the ruling class that is government, moved quickly to (1) recapture the economy, wrecked by years of warfare; (2) exercise authority over the schools, often up in flames of fire and critique; (3) dominate the military, riddled with desertions, refusals, and shot-up, fragged, officers; (4) retake the culture–to eradicate the Vietnam Syndrome, the memory of the loss as well as the why, who, when, where, and what of the war: especially the Why? The “How’s” are gone too.
In the past month, the Pentagon, PBS, and the for-profit press took a three pronged approach to the Vietnam Wars: (1) praise the returned troops and promote the notion of a home-country stab in the back, (2) highlight the evacuees and the US heroes of the April ‘75 evacuations, and (3) focus on the post-war babylift and the Vietnamese babies now grown up.
In my searches, the journalists’ “W’s” are missing or frothed over. More on that later. Let’s turn to the high-water mark of liberal critique.
Tom Hayden, in his, “The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Protests,” (Counterpunch, May 3, 2015) does a fine job recreating many of the details of the wars on Vietnam–from the point of view of a liberal Democrat who spent years in the California legislature and who must have grown rich as well from his marriage to Jane Fonda, once anti-war prima donna, later Ted Turner’s wife and religious-“feminist” later still.1
Hayden’s standpoint does not serve his broader analysis well. Perhaps that explains why the words “capitalism,” and “imperialism,” never appear in his piece. Nor does Marx, so powerfully influential to the Vietnamese movement as well as the world’s anti-war movements.
Class and empire’s wars define our times, as they did then.
Vietnam was an imperialist war. Rubber, tin, rice, were all key to any empire’s designs (rubber, like oil, moves the military), while the other indicators of imperialist action (regional control, markets, cheap labor) easily come into view if we walk back the cat from Vietnam’s current state as a low-wage center.
Capitalism, early on the birthplace of what we know as racism today, created the conditions that Hayden rightly notes. It was, indeed, a working class war with troops of color on the US side using racist terms, “Gook, Slope, Dink, etc.” to describe, dehumanize and murder, Vietnamese.
As Nick Turse recently titled his book, the US side was taught to “kill anything that moves.” Frequently, they did, as the 1971Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s Winter Soldier investigation in Detroit graphically demonstrated. Much of this is nicely covered in David Zieger’s film, “Sir, No Sir!,” less than an hour long–perfect for classroom use.2
Hayden’s suggestion, to kick a dead horse one more time, that Robert Kennedy might have ended the war is preposterous, but it is a nice set up for the next card likely to fall–vote your way out of capital and empire, a certain failure as a tactic and strategy.
As David Macaray noted in CounterPunch in 2011, Kennedy was a “shrieking anti-communist,” who originated the plot to kill Fidel Castro.
Kennedy, once Joe McCarthy’s pal, aide, and appointee, repeatedly saying he was “fond” of Tail-gunner Joe, was no dove, but an opportunist off-set to Eugene McCarthy’s somewhat more honest, if bumbling, campaign in 1968. Hayden’s “What if…?” is hollow.
The Vietnam war was no mistake, not the result of bad political decisions alone, but the logical and necessary working out of the ongoing policies of the American empire.
Like any watershed piece of history, it lay the ground for our current conditions.
Brown and Root Construction, profiteering from connections to Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and all that followed, became Haliburton: home to the war criminal Dick Cheney, still drawing down billions–untold as it’s secret–in Iraq, Afghanistan and black sites world-wide. .
Vietnam’s geological location was important then–and now. The region near the South China Sea could easily become the flashpoint for much broader wars.
As Chalmers Johnson wrote in 1962, well before Vietnam entered most American’s minds, what appeared to be a communist, or at least socialist, movement was “Peasant Nationalism.”3
As the Vietnam war wound down, Donald Rumsfield argued for an end to the draft, creating today’s reality of a “professional” military, economically drafted but self-defining as volunteering, patriotic, dedicated to the unit, and un-cracked after 14 years of wars lost to guerrillas who belong in the seventh century. The military today is almost completely separated from civilian life: about 1.2% actually serve–a praetorian guard.
The third goal, recapturing the military is so far achieved. The military sucks up more than one-half of the economy, dominates colleges and universities, yet few notice—perhaps because war means work.
The first goal, revitalizing and economy that was nearly demolished by 1975 was won, in a perverse sense, by a full scale government/capitalist attack on the working class.
That began with Nixon’s declaration that the 1970 postal strike was an illegal, “criminal,” act, although a wildcat led by many Vietnam veterans continued in several cities.
The 1970 United Auto Workers strike against General Motors was a sham, as William Serrin described in “The Company and the Union.” Serrin went further: “The Inside Story of the Civilized Relationship that has transformed a natural antagonism into a socially destructive partnership and the GM strike of 1970, the most expensive work stoppage in US history.”
At the end of the book, Serrin quotes a UAW member, sold out by the labor tops: “The union and the company, they’re more or less business partners.”4
The unity of labor bosses, top government leaders, and corporate heads was finalized long before this strike, indeed, early in the formative days of the American Federation of Labor, but it grew more and more apparent in an era when every labor head backed the racist, anti-working class, war in Vietnam: Labor Imperialism–the bribe Lenin warned about 100 years ago in “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, a payoff to the “home country” to back the empire. It’s a move that backfired for exploited workers in the rank and file over time, but few noticed.5
In 1972, Richard Nixon’s puppeteer, Henry Kissinger, cut a deal with Mao and China, not only counteracting Chinese support for the Vietnamese, but upending plenty of American Maoists who, in 1969, witnessed the destruction of the largest and most radical student movement in U.S. history, weeks before the biggest outpouring of student activism ever: 1970’s mass demonstrations against the bombings of Cambodia and Laos; the murders at Kent State and Jackson state.
By 1969, Tom Hayden had no influence on SDS whatsoever, the organization abandoned his liberalism and turned to a variety of forms of Marxism.
SDS was wrecked by the rich, red-diaper Weathermen, once terrorists who sought to replace a mass class conscious movement with bombs, now repeating their effort as grant-sucking professors.
The 1969 SDS split meeting, which I attended, was riven with idiot chants of “Mao, Mao, Mao Tse Tung!,” shall we say, contradicted by “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh!” a nearly unfathomable mess.
The Weathermen, according to one of the few living honest people among them, Mark Rudd, destroyed the SDS mailing list.
The student movement never really revived.
In 1975, Americans learned about COINTELPRO, thanks to the heroic break-in at an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, an operation kept secret until 2014, and described in the book, “The Burglary,” by Betty Medsger. The COINTELPRO revelations, a broad and systematic spy-agency scheme to attack, disrupt, and assassinate when necessary, radical groups led most of us to grasp the extent of NSA spying long before Edward Snowden stole the next batch of Family Jewels and turned them loose.6
As war’s end, American schools often were hot-beds of critique and action as students, who learned from the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement too, that what they thought and did mattered.
In the early 1980’s came, “Nation at Risk,” and unvarnished plan projecting years of effort to regain control of the not-so-public but fully-segregated-by-class-and-race school system by regulating curricula, promoting high stakes exams, and in the future, linking that to merit pay.
Taylorism had existed in schools since the advent of textbooks, and most teachers were always missionaries for capital and empire, but this was a more regulated, national effort.7
“Nation at Risk” was followed by the Bush II era No Child Left Behind Act which extended a militaristic component, and then thrown into hyper-speed by the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top,” which drives home merit pay, the next step the abolition of tenure, and drives home the militaristic aims, turning most schools into what a top General demanded in WWI, “human munition factories,” and illusion mills where children are sorted by fake science, along the predictable lines of parental income—always promoting obedience to the nation, loyalty (the ethics of slaves), while tamping down expectations for a better future.
Most school workers, who are not professionals as they so often dream, refuse to recognize that the education agenda is a war agenda: class and empire’s wars.8
The largest school-based union, the National Education Association, repeatedly votes in convention assembled to “Not Discuss,” the wars as the body may find it unsettling.
And the struggle for rule in the economy?
That was settled by Ronald Reagan’s 1980 destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union who, having helped elected him, foolishly struck, believing a union composed of lots of Vietnam vets, like VP Dennis Riordan, would garner a lot of sympathy. Reagan declared the strike illegal, scabs replaced them (the word “Scab” is out of US lexicon), they never got their jobs back, and the AFL-CIO let them swing in the wind. Solidarity Forever had long ago become every person for him or herself.
From another angle, while finance capital dominated industrial capital since the early 1900’s, the relentless needs of imperialism and the falling rate of industrial profits underpinned a massive move to de-industrialize the US, auto for example moving first to Mexico, then to China, and now to Vietnam.
The industrial working class evaporated, bit by bit, then a torrent. Surely, they exist, but they have been minimized.
The epitome of the rule of capital came in the Fall of 2008, what John Bellamy Foster’s book calls, “The Great Financial Crisis.” 9
The upshot: over a weekend the biggest banker in the western world gathered to face a complete collapse of the world’s economies, the likelihood of riots, bank rushes, even revolutions as capitalism in decay became capitalism in ruins.
They quickly did what no free-marketeer would ever do. They demanded government intervention.
They got it. Inside their executive committee (and remember, armed weapon) industrialists and financiers fought it out.
Big Fish ate Little Fish. So long Bear Stearns. Lehman is lunch.
Jamie Dimon demonstrated his patriotism when a begging treasury secretary, Hank Paulson arrived asking for J.P. Morgan help. Dimon replied, “Hank, I would do anything for the United States, but not at the expense of J.P Morgan.”10
Finance capital won to the tune of $12.9 Trillion from the surely-no-longer free market treasury.11
Industrial capital, like auto, picked up hundreds of billions and officially became the small fries.
But, industrialists did make gains. The Obama administration demanded that the United Auto Workers union make another concession: New hires would make half what senior workers would make and the union would not strike for five years.
The UAW bosses agreed, again, to exchange labor peace for dues income, the last definition of “collective bargaining,” while their own pensions remain solid.
In sum, on the economy, elites gathered together, struggled with one another within the confines of the all-on-all war that is capitalism, which runs them–not vice versa–and they then turned on the poor and working people, cut off their legs, got them to spit on the gains their grandparents won in bloody struggle, while the labor leadership collaborated.
To Chalmers Johnson, in his “Nemesis Trilogy,” which predicts the end of the US empire through over-reach and economic collapse, fascism came to the US before 2008.12
To me, it was finalized with the bailouts; the imperfect but real unity of labor bosses, government, and the corporate world to preserve nationalism and empire. That move cannot be reversed, while wars could be ended.
Add it up:
*parliamentary institutions debased and made nearly meaningless by the direct rule of the rich who tyrannize the economy and wars.
*Racism built into every aspect of daily life from school segregation to geographical segregation to cruel immigration policies and police violence.
*Incessant calls for the unity of all classes in the “national interest, within a nation whose own government is at war with most of the citizens and the world as well.
*The Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act nullify whatever the Bill of Rights represented.
*The President’s private army (armies), the CIA, conducting war at his whim, killing Americans without trial or warrant.
*Massive constant surveillance: Snowden.
*One dangled spectacle after the next: Bruce Jenner to a boxing match to the Princess’ baby.
*More and more reliance on violence and threats of violence: Ferguson, Michael Brown, Baltimore, etc.
*The unity of corporations, government and labor bosses, “in the national interest,” as witnessed with the bailouts but also with the union leaders support for the wars and their physical presence on CIA front groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, The Meany Center, Education International, and many others.
*Celebrations of misogyny: the Porn industry.
*A culture of mysticism, religion, the ideology of death, trapping US presidents who cannot say, “People make gods, gods do not make people,” as part of a grand strategy to counter religious fanatics. Add, according to Gallup, 42 percent of Americans are creationists.
*Farcical billion dollar elections corrupt whatever hints of democracy may have existed.
*Dynastic tyranny, the bane of the American Revolution: Bush III vs Hillary. 13
Fascism, in brief, emerges in the US, and the world, as a rising and popular movement. The victory of the Vietnamese was one of several turning points.
The eradication of the Vietnam Syndrome began right after the end of the wars, first with stab-in-the back lies about the anti-war movement abusing returned vets. Jesse Lembcke hit back with his book, “The Spitting Image,” showing that the main lie, girls spit on them, was groundless.14
The next step was Ronald Reagan’s double edged stroke to both wipe out the memory of the death of nearly 300 marines in Lebanon and, simultaneously, destroy a “Communist threat,” the tiny island of Grenada with a population about the same size as Kalamazoo.
A massive force invaded Grenada in October, 1983–bungled a bit, yet won! Medals all around.
A victory for US troops! 15
On to Gulf War I, Afghanistan, Iraq, IS, and the world!
Then, the Vietnam Wars were eradicated from the US history curriculum. In 25 years of teaching college at all levels, from grad students to freshman, as an emeritus professor and community college adjunct, I have had less than two dozen students arrive with sophisticated knowledge about Vietnam. Granted, the processes of history itself are now erased too, but the Vietnam war is a gaping hole.
The failures of socialism, little more than capitalism with a benevolent party at the top, restored gross inequalities in various ways in the aftermath of revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba, and Vietnam. This, then, led to a considerable degree to today’s IS, AQ and the other religious often-educated savages who rejected distorted forms of Marxism, on the one hand, and Western imperialism on the other.
Seventh century Sharia law will not prevail in societies which can escape neither class war nor empire, but they have already done terrible damage.
In what is not popularly called the “Homeland,” de-industrialization–that is–imperialism–coupled with financilization–created a consumerist society: the root of two-thirds of the US economy.
I assert this has a psychological impact.
The methods of industrial work, as nearly anyone who worked in a factory, like Fords, knows, creates a sense of solidarity. Everyone recognizes that it takes everyone else to create a product, and one-for-all unity to gain control of the processes of making that product, and the gains that are made from its sale.
A consumerist society pits all vs all: “I wish to sell as dear as possible while you wish to purchase as cheap as can be.”
That, I believe, explains in some part why it is there has been so little reasoned resistance in the US since Vietnam.
Inequality, a prime concern of elites, has not created a large, unified, sustained social movement.
Inequality, which had grown since the Vietnam war, boomed from 2000-2013, but especially so after the financial collapse of 2008. It’s so bad, the French worry about it for us.16
An authoritative recent report says: “From 2009 to 2012, average real income per family grew modestly by 6.0% (Table 1). Most of the gains happened in the last year when average
incomes grew by 4.6% from 2011 to 2012. However, the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 31.4% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.4% from 2009 to 2012. Hence, the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains in the first three years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2010, top 1% grew fast and then stagnated from 2010 to 2011. Bottom 99% stagnated both from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, top 1% incomes increased sharply by 19.6% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 1.0%. In sum, top 1% incomes are close to full recovery while bottom 99% incomes have hardly started to recover.17
The Pentagon/PBS take on the anniversary of the war was an extension of the efforts to erase the Vietnam Syndrome.
The Rory Kennedy PBS “Last Days in Vietnam,” film focused on “heroic” low level US officers and spies who sought to get Vietnamese out of the country as the Vietnamese forces approached. Those heroes worked for the empire, killing two to three million Vietnamese in their dishonorable wars.
Let us concentrate on the South Vietnamese helicopter pilots who risked their own lives and their families’ flying to US ships on the sea, tossing all overboard and waiting for rescue. For years, they willingly took orders, surcease, and privilege from men like General Ky, a US puppet and Hitler admirer.
Kennedy’s centerpiece “Baby-lift” was problematic as it’s likely nothing harmful would have come to those babies–and the baby-lift killed at least 150 of them when the first flight out crashed.
Last, to the US veterans: Who abused them? Like before, the Veterans’ Administration was the prime abuser. Vets were denied benefits, medical care, and worst of all, coverage for Agent Orange poisoning until it was far too late for many of them.
What defeats men with guns? Ideas!
Those of us who taught, agitated, organized, and fought against the unjust wars on Vietnam saw things change–those of us lived, largely undamaged. The civil rights movement overcame the most obvious forms of political discrimination. Economic and social discrimination remained powerful.
As Tom Hayden rightly details, without the civil rights movements, its practical, moral, and intellectual contributions, the antiwar movement would have been without a compass–hence the lessons that can be learned from those who are most oppressed, who may have the best understanding of things.
The war ended because of:
*The Vietnamese who fought for decades, making enormous sacrifices.
*The GI’s who returned, knowing they had been sent to be cannon fodder, children of the poor ordered, drafted, to fight other children of the poor, on behalf of the rich in their homelands.
*The students who over time learned what imperialism and capitalism are, and who they are in its midst–and importantly, what to do.
*The workers who over time learned what “working class war,” meant, a war at home, and who struck against the war.
*The movements led by people of color, Chicanos, Latinos, Black people, who saw they were hit, as usual, first and worst, and often resisted first and hardest.
*The women’s movement which revealed the problems of male supremacy inside the resistance movements.
*Marxists, from anarchists to all kinds of communists, who taught others exactly what imperialism is, why the war was not a mistake but a logical working out of US foreign policy, and the it was/is the system, capital, itself which must be unmasked, attacked, and transcended.
We witnessed quantity (leaflet after leaflet, teach-in after teach-in, small meetings and mass meetings, march after march, one bigger than the last) turn into quality—a huge change of mind, a massive anti-war movement.
We saw what appeared to be become what it really was: the vast, technologically mighty, nationalist, American empire was defeated by ideas, weapons, and courageous commitment.
We took responsibility for our own education, recognizing that the public education system was designed to serve capital and its empire. Our study groups were typically much better than the vast majority of university or k12 classrooms in part because we knew that our ideas set up our actions: both mattered.
We made serious mistakes. Too many of us failed to keep the close personal ties, built across race, sex, and class lines, that could sustain a movement beyond the end of the war. Too many of us got scared off when we saw others attacked, or for that matter, ourselves beaten. And far too many of us simply got bought by the empire’s bribe, settled into comfortable jobs and lost track of what we once were.
Our mistakes negated a good deal of what we had done and, thus: a world offering youth perpetual war, bad jobs, no jobs, and escalating racism. But that world is met by the potential, again, of a mass, class conscious, integrated activist movement that grasps what capital, the corporate (fascist) state, and empire means, and how direct action in solidarity with workers, students, educators, and troops can win.
Perhaps our worst mistake was to fail to recognize the central roles of capitalism and imperialism as the US empire organized its own decay following the defeat in Vietnam: in consumerism, spectacles, new masks for intensified racism, the rebirth of support for militarism in schools and in the armies, the divide and rule tactical attacks on differing parts of the working class, and the restructuring of sexism in newer, even more exploitative forms.
Nothing in our social context happens outside the bounds of capitalism and imperialism. But many of us sought to make our peace–by not noticing or even attacking those who pointed the finger.
Again, the core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and booming color-coded inequality met by the potential of a mass, activist, integrated class conscious movement. In the absence of that; barbarism. If you seek a barbarized region, look around you–wherever you may be.
Rich Gibson is emeritus professor, San Diego State University. He is a co-founder of the Rouge Forum, an organization of students, professors, teachers, and community people that recognizes social class and imperialism are important. He was repeatedly jailed for refusing the draft during the Vietnam wars. RG@Richgibson.com
Civil Liberties, Democracy, Education, Youth.
Tags: civil disobedience, colorado, deidre fulton, democracy, education, history, roger hollander, student activism, students
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“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.”
Tags: civil disobedience, colorado, deidre fulton, democracy, education, history, roger hollander, student activism, students
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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
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.
“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:
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James Baldwin, Born 90 Years Ago, Is Fading in Classrooms April 24, 2014Posted 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
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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
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.”
The Play’s the Thing December 16, 2013Posted 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
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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.
America’s Education Whistleblower: Diane Ravitch and the Reign of Error September 25, 2013Posted 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
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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.
Published on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by Common Dreams
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.
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Banning Books On the Truth of the Human Condition ‘Cause (Eww) Sex, Death and Racism September 23, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Education, North Carolina, Racism.
Tags: abby zimet, banned books, censorship, education, first amendment, invisible man, north carolina, racism, ralph ellison, roger hollander
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09.22.13 – 5:30 PM
Last week, good ole North Carolina, whose wacko right-wing majority has been some busy passing laws that hurt women, minorities, the poor and the environment, got a nice jump on National Banned Books Week by banning of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which Ellison described in his speech accepting the National Book Award as “a return to the mood of personal moral responsibility for democracy.” Ellison’s classic about American racism, about being “a man of substance, of flesh and bone,” who is not seen because he’s black, was evidently banned after one parent complained it was “not so innocent…filthier….too much for teenagers”; school board members agreed it was “a hard read” that “didn’t (have) any literary value.” Banning books is a time-tested, spirit-deadening tradition in fearful communities; there were 464 challenges to books reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, with The Bluest Eye and Persopolis perhaps the most recently banned. In the past, almost half of what are widely viewed as the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been banned or challenged, including The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple, 1984, Ulysses, Sophie’s Choice, Rabbit Run, Slaughterhouse-Five, A Farewell to Arms, and An American Tragedy, which it is.
“I am an invisible man…No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
A Free-Speech Victory at the ‘University of Nike’ September 22, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, Labor.
Tags: aaup, academic freedom, education, first amendment, free speech, higher education, labor, labour, nike, phil knight, rebecca burns, roger hollander, unions, united academics, university of oregon, workers rights
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Friday Sep 20, 2013 6:12 pm
The “University of Nike” sounds like an institution straight out of a dystopian novel. But that moniker has actually been embraced by the University of Oregon, where Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight is one of the school’s most important donors. A gleaming new football center, complete with a locker room requiring biometric thumbprints to enter, isn’t the only sign of the corporation’s influence on campus: During negotiations with the school’s faculty union over its first-ever contract, critics say that the university pulled out some fancy footwork meant to preserve the patronage of Nike and other major donors, including provisions that would have narrowed protections for faculty who speak out against university policies. But an ultimate victory this week by the union, which faculty voted to form last year, helped beat back these measures and uphold the academic freedoms that are increasingly endangered by campuses’ corporate ties.
Unionization rates among U.S. faculty members are traditionally lower than those of their counterparts in other countries, and faculty at private colleges and universities are barred from collective bargaining entirely. But the tussle at the University of Oregon demonstrated that dwellers of the Ivory Tower are also workers under attack—and that their ability to take collective action is essential to the future of higher education.
During the past week, several proposals advanced by the Oregon administration have alarmed campus free-speech advocates and captured national attention. Colleen Flaherty reported at Inside Higher Education on the attempt to insert a “civility” clause into a section of the contract on “faculty responsibilities,” a measure that the watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE) says is often abused on campuses in order to “punish unpopular viewpoints.” Even after this proposal was withdrawn last week, City University of New York Professor Corey Robin, who blogs about the politics of higher education, noted that the administration’s insistence on its right to monitor faculty e-mails and even review non-work e-mails “to the extent that they address work-related subjects” represented a “draconian assault on faculty autonomy and privacy.”
Another proposal to limit the ability of faculty members to consult for outside organizations when the Provost deemed it “contrary to the university’s best interests” drew particular concerns that the administration might kow-tow to corporate donors eager to silence their academic critics. Given that Oregon’s Board of Trustees includes “CEOs from the state’s timber and construction industries, the wife of the CEO of Microsoft, and a retired executive from Nike,” wrote Robin, “it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a professor is forbidden by the provost from consulting with an organization critical of Nike’s labor policies or Microsoft’s market practices.”
But at a bargaining session on Wednesday, the administration backed off these measures, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that also includes average salary increases of 11.75% over the two-year agreement. United Academics (UA), which is comprised of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, also won new contract protections for contingent faculty. Full details of the agreement have not yet been released, but Susan Anderson, a German professor and member of the bargaining committee, tells In These Times that it includes “robust protections” for free speech, including language referring to the First Amendment. The union will vote on whether to ratify the contract on October 8.
In a statement released yesterday by the university, U of O President Michael Gottfredson said that he also welcomed the agreement: “Our students benefit from the talents of professors who share their knowledge and passion for research and scholarship every day and this first contract reflects a fiscally responsible agreement that rewards excellence and invests in our faculty—strengthening the University of Oregon for all of our community.”
The administration’s shift is a particularly significant one because its initial proposal eschewed a union demand to guarantee the right to free speech outside the classroom, including where this concerns debate about institutional policies. Instead, Flaherty notes, the university’s proposal “decouples academic freedom and free speech, addressing them separately. Academic freedom is ‘necessary to teaching and research,’ it says, with no mention of the role of academics in speaking out if not related directly to teaching and research.”
The ability of faculty members to criticize university policies was a key tenet of academic freedom when the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) codified the concept in 1940. But the free-speech rights of university faculty have fallen into murky territory since 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that public employees were not entitled to these rights for speech “pursuant to their official duties.” The Supreme Court did not address whether this ruling applied to professors at public universities, leaving the question in a legal limbo. Advocates are hopeful that a decision earlier this month from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco—which ruled that a controversial proposal circulated by a former Washington State University Professor David Demers to overhaul the school’s communications department should have constituted protected speech—will form the basis for more robust protections in the future.
But apart from legal uncertainty, academic freedom faces another threat: the growing reliance of universities on corporate patronage. To make up for stunning shortfalls in state funding, public universities have both hiked tuition and courted investment by private donors. “When universities are dependent on the money of private donors, administrators may feel pressure to enact policies that jeopardize the status of the university as a place of free inquiry,” says Anderson. Oregon has already seen this kind of influence wielded—the university reportedly terminated its involvement in the anti-sweatshop Workers’ Rights Consortium following pressure from Nike’s Knight.
Yet in the face of creeping academic commercialism, writes Jen Washburn, author of University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, the AAUP and other advocates have been slow to respond, adhering to a “narrow, individualistic interpretation of academic freedom” that disregards the broader politics of today’s universities.
According to Joe Lowndes, an associate professor of political science and member of the union’s organizing committee, the contract fight at the University of Oregon “has shown that a unionized faculty can, among other things, act to safeguard academic freedom—a freedom we have learned not to take for granted within the changing structure of American higher education.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.
Censorship Backfire: Surge of Interest in Zinn’s ‘People’s History’ After revelations former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels sought to ban classic work, public interest soars August 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Education, History.
Tags: andrea germanos, bill bigelow, censorship, education, howard zinn, indiana, mitch daniels, people's history, roger hollander
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Published on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 by Common Dreams
Public demand for Howard Zinn’s classic book A People’s History of the United States is surging, something likely to make former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels none too happy.
In July, the Associated Press revealed that Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University, sought to ban the works of Howard Zinn from Indiana classrooms.
St. Joseph County Public Library, for example, which only had one copy of Zinn’s People’s History just weeks ago, has now upped the number to 19 due to patrons’ interest, but even that wasn’t enough. They’re all checked out now, and there are 10 people on a waiting list.
At Indiana University South Bend, the book isn’t even on any required reading list for the fall 2013 semester, but all the available copies are currently checked out, the Tribune continues.
The surge in interest in the book hasn’t been limited to Indiana either.
The Zinn Education Project, which promotes and supports teaching a people’s history (upper and lower case) in middle and high school classrooms, has also received a surge of interest in its teaching materials since Daniels’ censorship attempts were exposed.
“Thanks to the exposure generated by former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ attempt to ban Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States from Indiana schools and teacher education programs, the Zinn Education Project has been flooded with visitors looking for people’s history teaching materials,” Bill Bigelow, Zinn Education Project co-director, told Common Dreams via email.
“Teachers and parents have told us that they are redoubling their commitment to teach people’s history in the face of the proposed censorship. We invite other governors to attempt to ban Zinn’s works—it helps introduce A People’s History of the United States to huge new audiences,” Bigelow added.
In one 2009 email revealed by AP between Daniels and a top state education official, Daniels wrote:
This terrible anti-American finally passed away. The obits and commentaries mentioned that his book “A People’s History of the United States” is “the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.” It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.
Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before any more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?
Education, Not Deportation!”: Undocumented Students Protest Napolitano as UC President July 20, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in California, Education, Immigration, Race.
Tags: asha dumonthier, California, deportations, education, higher education, Homeland Security, immigrants, janet napolitano, napolitano appointment, roger hollander, uc, undocumented, University of California
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Undocumented UC students say they are concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.
Photo Credit: AP Photo
July 19, 2013 |
Janet Napolitano became the new president of the University of California Thursday over objections of student protesters. Six students were removed by campus police from the Board of Regents meeting where Napolitano’s appointment was confirmed.
The former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security will be the first woman president of the 10-campus UC system and will earn $570,000 per year in her new position. Shortly after Napolitano’s compensation was read at the public meeting, a UC student stepped forward from the audience and started the chant, “Education, not deportation!” Campus police escorted four other students out shortly after when they refused to leave the room.
About 60 students, parents, faculty and staff representing UC Merced, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and other campuses protested outside the meeting to show their disappointment with Napolitano’s nomination.
As Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano oversaw a record number of deportations under the Obama administration, about 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year.
Undocumented student protesters said they were concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.
“She’s separated a lot of families,” said Wei Lee, an undocumented graduate of UC Santa Cruz, who noted that the UC system is home to many undocumented students. “We cannot allow someone like Janet Napolitano with her background and her experience to run this fine education system.”
Lee, who is ethnically Chinese and was born and raised in Brazil, fell out of immigration status after being denied political asylum. He said that without the advocacy of his friends and community, he and his family would have been deported. Today, he is a part of the student group ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) and says that the current immigration system “does not reflect American values.”
San Francisco State University student Akiko Aspillaga held a pink sign that read, “This feminist opposes Napolitano’s appointment.”
“For somebody who justifies the war, who militarizes not just our borders but our communities and separates our families… if those are her values, we don’t want her to be the lead of our education system,” said Aspillaga.
Lotus Yee Fong, whose son has two UC degrees, expressed concern over Napolitano’s credentials: “She is not an educator.”
Protesters also criticized the timing of the appointment. Napolitano was nominated only a week before the public meeting, which they said left them little time to organize.
“It’s more or less a political coup,” said UC Santa Cruz student Daniel Shubat, shaking his head. “They did it during the summer. It’s underhanded and we don’t have a say.”
Supporters are quick to point out that Napolitano has also been criticized by Republicans who accuse her of being too soft on immigration enforcement.