Teaching Terror-Filled Things….

Just thinking….. I have always taken notice that in any armed conflict; children are guaranteed to suffer in the present and in the future. There is a type of peace that they never come to realize: First, the acquisition of a life-long painful memory; a sense that the world is an unreasonably unsafe place. Second, the loss of a childhood experience, the chance to do those necessary, and necessarily enjoyable childhood things. And third, the loss and/or the gaps in their formal education; which no matter how sincere the “restoration” effort, can never really be effectively “made-up”. In these types of situations (i.e. Ukraine, Syria, Iraqi, etc.) schools are most often the first public institutions to close down.
In Nigeria the conflict has taken on a completely different character, whereby schools, not an opposing army have become the primary military target. And now, more children in Nigeria have been kidnaped by “Islamic Extremist”. If the objective here is to terrorize, then I am sure the children and their families are presently in a type of “terror hell”. What are these children thinking, as the “parents of last resort”, the government, has failed to protect them, again and again. What happens to a child when their childhood is interrupted, and they are forced to constantly think about “adult worries”? Can they dream in peace about being soccer stars,teachers,nurses or engineers; or perhaps their dreams are also being held in captive terror? Do they no longer think about school work, how they look; who they like at school; and what other young person they think likes, or does not like them? How amazingly disconnected from humanity these kidnappers must be to snatch another human being out of, and away from their personal history and dreams; seeking to disconnect them from their humanity. Sounds a lot like what was done to the ancestors of the kidnappers; talk about owning, and becoming the pain and injustice that was inflicted on you! I am not a religious conversion expert; and I understand that my view is guided to a particular perception by an instinctual Christian lens. But as the families and communities of these children struggle against heartless kidnappers, an incompetent government; and the easily distracted short attention span of the public. I wonder what these self-proclaimed “religious” kidnapper’s long-term plan is. To simply call them “religious extremist” seems to me to be just a little too easy. These designations may help in defining common terms; and also to push back against any attempt for a latent religious bias to surface. But in fact this is a religious conversion process using “Stockholm Syndrome” techniques, and has some sense making to it, albeit twisted and sick. This is a well-thought out plan, not just to stop “western education”; but to replace it with a type of terror-full religious education. For we have seen in other parts of Africa the horrific outcomes that occur when children are kidnapped and terrorized; And in a tragic but logical way; this may be Boko Haram’s method of growing a new generation of psychopathological congregants; who like them, can act without mercy, remorse or concern for the suffering of another; “converts” who will now take the stage, and inflict similar horrors, without feeling on other children. Lord, help those children, and also help us.

Happy Birthday to a real school reformer.. Frank Mickens!

Today is Bro. Frank’s Birthday and I am determined to remember his spirit and work. I am so appreciative of his support, friendship, encouragement and professional assistance. Frank was never a true conformer to this destructive world of public education; and so I guess that would make him a true “reformer.” He was not a “casual”, “drive-by”, “recent discover” of education;(at least their discovery of the money to be made in education.) For Frank, education was not a “filler” job on a resume, a stand-in career for a bad economy; he came to education and stayed in education to give children a chance at survival. He understood his student’s story of denial and low expectations; because in their story, he could also see his own personal story. In all of our private conversations he revealed a deep love and hope for the children of the poor, the disenfranchised, the disposable and dispossessed. He was also willing to work daily through severe and painful health issues; one day I stopped by his school to see him one late evening (yes late evening); and he could barely painfully walk. By that time he had the “years” and the accumulated sick and vacation time to just call it quits; he vowed to work as long as he could be effective; as long as there was at least one student he could save. That night my thoughts were filled with the words of the poet Claude McKay’s:If we must die

“If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”

Often the news media (particularly when it concerns Black principals), want to lead with, and play up, the “gruff and tough”, “take no prisoners”, storyline; while ignoring our thoughtful and strategic vision of creating a school environment where children actually have an opportunity to learn. Our understanding of the families; the social/political/cultural and economic challenges our students face. And the important role of how thoughts about race in America creates thoughts and practices concerning the capabilities of students of color. Years after I left Science Skills Center High School (SSCHS) an official of the then Board of Education made an honest confession to me that: “We blew it with SSCHS, we did not fully understand what you built there; we did not really understand why, and how that school was working; we only knew that it was working.” In a way I understand (although not excuse) the lack of vision; for this is so much like the work of Frank Mickens. A great deal of what must be done by a “practicing” school principal to make a school work successfully; can’t be talked about, or put on paper;it is not by accident, it is a conscience and skilled commitment to student success; that alone,is destined to upset a lot of people!
I am at the same time thinking about the Bronx middle school child who is now lost to us forever; a preventable incident; a situation where both the child and the parents reached out to the school leadership for help. A “tentative” and indecisive principal, content not to confront, not wanting to “upset folks” will mis-lead a school into a place where it is not safe to teach or learn. The “bullies”, not their victims need to feel some “pain and discomfort”; until they change their ways. Like any effective principal Frank broke the “rules” everyday; it is the only way you can get students through a bureaucracy that ignores the realty of their families, their communities, their every day needs; in fact, the educational bureaucracy ignores their very existence, except for their ability, based on their “attendance” and not on their academic success or graduation; to generate money. Frank made his students “visible” to a world, and to themselves; a world that only sees them as raw material for the criminal justice/social service industry; he said no, they are human beings, deserving of dreams and aspirations. One cannot expect to be understood, or rewarded by a society, when that same society has decided to destroy the children you are so desperately trying to save; acting “cowardly and accommodating” in the middle of a war, is the worst type of betrayal…And for many children in this nation, for sure, war has been declared on them…… Frank Mickens refused to settle for an unprincipled peace…..Frank was a warrior-educator who fought the good fight for his students, to the end.


“California Teacher Tenure Laws Ruled Unconstitutional”..NY Times

Now this is interesting…… Imagine a profession that held its primary mission to educate children above adult employment. A profession that pretends that there is no standard of excellence, is pretending to be a profession. The model of school as factory floor is inconsistent with its important purpose. This is not the complete package; as “poor instruction” is a major (but not the only) part of the problem….but its a good start! I say that there are too many children in our nation being blocked from their constitutional right to a decent life, liberty and the pursuit of their dreams and happiness!

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education, a decision that hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case that overturns several California laws that govern the way teachers are hired and fired.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The ruling, which declared the laws governing how teachers are hired and fired in California to be unconstitutional, is likely to set off a slew of legal fights here and in other states, where many education reform advocates are eager to change similar laws. The ruling brings a close to the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, but both sides have made it clear that they plan to appeal any decision that goes against them to the State Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs argued that California’s current laws made it impossible to get rid of low-performing and incompetent teachers, who were disproportionately assigned to schools filled with poor students. The result, they insisted, amounted to a violation of students’ constitutional rights to an education.

But lawyers for the states and teachers’ unions said that overturning such laws would erode necessary protections that stop school administrators from making unfair personnel decisions. They also argued that the vast majority of teachers in the state’s schools are competent and providing students with all the necessary tools to learn. More important factors than teachers, they argued, are social and economic inequalities as well as the funding levels of public schools.

Observers on both sides expect the case to generate dozens more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate who financed the organization that is largely responsible for bringing the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — has indicated that his group is open to funding other similar legal fights, particularly in states with powerful teachers’ unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

In his ruling, Judge Treu added his voice to the political debate that has divided educators for years. School superintendents in large cities across the country — including Los Angeles, New York and Washington — have railed against laws that essentially grant teachers permanent employment status. They say such job protections are harmful to students and are merely an anachronism. Three states and the District of Columbia have eliminated tenure, but similar efforts have repeatedly failed elsewhere, including California.

Under state law here, teachers are eligible for tenure after 18 months, and layoffs must be determined by seniority — a process known as “last in, first out.” Administrators seeking to dismiss a teacher they deem incompetent must follow a complicated procedure that typically drags on for months, if not years.

Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, testified in the trial that California students who miss out on a good education lose millions of dollars in potential earnings over the course of their lives. But lawyers for the state and unions dismissed the argument, saying that the problems in the state’s public schools had little or nothing to do with teacher rules.
-Jennifer Medina 6/10/14

The education-reform movement is too white to do any good..By Dr. Andre M. Perry; Via The Washington Post

The education-reform movement is too white to do any good

By Andre M. Perry June 2 at 3:58 PM
Dr. Andre Perry is the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.

At this point, it seems like everyone agrees what “education reformer” means. The phrase conjures Teach for America: messianic, white Ivy Leaguers wearing thick-rimmed glasses and speaking in questions, or the Maggie Gyllenhaal vehicle “Won’t Back Down.” For some, the hallowed education reformer battles the forces that are reluctant to change — which, in too many minds, looks like black and brown families under the hallucinogenic spell of labor unions, unwittingly fighting against their own interests.

This is ludicrous. There’s not quite yet an internecine war within the current crusade, but black education reformers are beginning to revolt. A group of us convened on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education this month to identify the most pressing challenges in the reform movement — and to reclaim the brand and identity of “reformer.”

Let’s stipulate that, yes, change is badly needed. Call it “reform” if you like: Charter schools, curriculum changes (Common Core), testing, and accountability are not inherently bad things. They can bring justice.

But let’s also stipulate that overwhelmingly white movements pursuing change for black and brown communities are inherently paternalistic. The great educator Benjamin E. Mays famously said, “I would rather go to hell by choice than to stumble into heaven.” Reform is being done to communities of color. That’s why saying you’re a black education reformer effectually elicits charges of “acting white” from black communities.

One of the meeting’s attendees, Sharhonda Bossier, co-Founder and chief fellowship officer of Families for Excellent Schools, believes black and brown communities want change, but those very communities are skeptical of tokenism and duplicity. She said parents essentially say, “Don’t think you can fool us just because you put a black face on a white agenda.” Bossier reacted, “Sometimes I have to look back and ask myself, ‘Am I causing damage to my communities?’”

It’s a legitimate question. Reforming through school closure has a disparate impact on communities of color. Even though African Americans make up only 43 percent of all Chicago Public School students, they represented 87 percent among the 50 schools that were closed last year. Why use it as a technique if it disproportionally harms the communities you endeavor to serve? In New Orleans, where I have worked, alumni and local community organizations struggled to get approvals for their charter applications. D.C. charter schools suspended students at much higher rates than their traditional counterparts (and that’s a bad thing).

Diversity removes doubt of racial bias, explicit or implicit. So when black and brown people are largely absent from positions of power, the entire reform movement loses credibility and accrues suspicion. Black education reformers struggle to connect with the very communities we’re members of. The overarching sentiment among attendees at the aforementioned meeting was that black leadership is missing from education reform. Consequently, “reform” has become a dirty word in some communities.

Again, parents of color want reform. Polls conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options demonstrate this. Nonetheless, the recent victories in mayoral races in Boston, New York and Newark appear to be referendums against education reform. Still, I believe the branding of “reform” by heavily funded, predominately white organizations as a “takeover” movement reinforces the notion that it actually is a takeover. In addition, teachers unions have leveraged the movement’s penchant for paternalism to further demonize the term “reform.” Parents of color want change; they just don’t want white reform.

Erika McConduit, CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, says, “Unfortunately, what happens all too often is that white organizations are heavily funded to do community engagement, but since [white organizations] lack the ability to effectively implement, they then come to black organizations to discuss the work.” Black organizations join efforts after the die has been cast. But black communities and educational leaders understand when “community engagement” is merely a euphemism for how to deal with black folk.

More research is needed on who receives funding in terms of race and geography. We need data on who categorically is fired and hired. Who’s awarded charter schools? Nevertheless, to be effective, black educators must differentiate themselves from white reformers.

I’ve never fully embraced the moniker of reformer because the legacy of black educators has been to innovate, expand options and recruit the next generation of teachers. The label of black education reformer is somewhat an oxymoron. Particularly in the South, public education is a direct result of blacks’ struggle for control of their own schools, of which blacks worked with multiracial coalitions of faith-based organizations, white philanthropists and industrialists as well as progressive elected officials to create a portfolio of independent, faith-based and publically funded institutions. Now that was reform!

Still, black educators always had to combat the paternalistic tendencies of our allies and antagonists. (The seminal reading on this topic comes from James D. Anderson’s “The Education of Blacks in the South 1860-1935.”) In fact, the large bureaucracies of giant urban school districts can be another variety of this phenomenon. Traditional urban districts make it difficult for teachers and leaders to develop intimate and responsive relationships with students, communities and parents of color. We need decentralization.

The status quo simply won’t suffice, but neither does the bombastic shouting of crusaders like Michele Rhee and Diane Ravitch. Between those two camps, black and brown families miss out on nuanced approaches for change. And, in the polarized debate, neither camp acknowledges its responsibility toward educational failure.

For example, no bloc owns the teacher racial gap problem. Woodrow Wilson reports that if current trends hold, the percentage of teachers of color will fall to an all-time low of five percent of the total teacher workforce by 2020. At the same time, the percentage of students of color will likely exceed 50 percent in the fall of 2014.

Union-based, Teach-for-America-led, and traditional as well as non-traditional districts proudly tout what they’re doing to address teacher-racial gap, but all have shown limited results. Teachers of color should not blindly support any one faction when racial privilege looks the same in every camp. Yet, if a person of color speaks out against injustice, he or she is branded as a defector or collaborator.

A teacher at a charter school revealed at our meeting that she was thoroughly ostracized by her mostly white organization for simply bringing up diversity issues that parents of her students expressed. Now this teacher feels she has to leave her organization on her own terms. This example is a metaphor. Speaking truth to power can have serious repercussions on funding, professional advancement and political appointment.

Herein lies the burden of the black educator. Black educators will continue to improve the craft of teaching and leadership, provide quality options, make more equitable systems and teach many of our white counterparts about privilege. Exclusivity, inequitable funding and bad public relations got us to our current state of education.

We need less “reform” and more social justice.