Part 2: An Educational Movement That is Based On Who is Secretary Of Education Will Always Fail Its Children!

Sorry to be the barer of bad news, but the last 8 years has not in the slightest way, change the “apartheid academic achievement” system that presently exist in our nation’s public schools. If anything, like the fictional characters in a play by Samuel Beckett; our waiting passively in vain for “rescue”; perhaps did more harm than good. I say we get out of the waiting game!

Now a lot of folks are bent out of shape by PEOTUS’s pick of Betsy DeVos as the next Secretary of Education (SOE); and in particular focusing a great deal of their fire on her “inexperience”; and her “hostility” to public education. One major problem is that “inexperience” seems to be the popular trend in public education these days; as long as the source of your adventurism is poor kids of color. And it would be professionally and intellectually challenging for me to make the case that either of Mr. Obama’s SOE picks were significantly more “experienced” than Ms. DeVos.

Further, some of the loudest organizational/individual anti-SOE pick voices are held by those who through their own actions, and inactions have primarily stood in the way of public education being successful; allowing public education to do its most damaging and ineffective work with this nation’s children of color. Their consistent inability to stand up for children, particularly, children of color, suggest to me that their protest is more about a lost opportunity to wrongly influence a national path for education; and to continue to “get paid” as bad acting tour guides. Being taken for an unproductive ride by the Democrats as opposed to the Republicans, does not feel better, when one finds themselves lost in the ineffective education wilderness.

These are the cynical educational crusaders who battled relentlessly, those of us who have passionately tried to change the educational trajectory for the majority of our public school students. They are also those who at every opportunity, failed to make reasonable professional concessions and changes that would allow the children of the disenfranchised to have a chance at a decent future through education. They are the ones who opened the door for all types of horrible experimentation, the national decimation of Black school teachers, principals and superintendents. Yes, it was many “educational traditionalist” who paved the entrance for people playing with, and at education, those masquerading as “reformers”; who would go on to inflict the greatest harm on the most vulnerable children in our society.

And in those places where black people were in operational charge of the school system; the policy officials looked the other way, after all, it was not their children being harmed; this alas was “black on black” educational criminality, theft and incompetence. No one should now protest against our present state of affairs, when it is a reality that they themselves have created!

The “hostility” to public education thing…

Parents are not fooled; high expectations and a quality educational product is not equally distributed throughout the public educational systems; in some places the children are first, and in others (their schools), it is the well-being of the adults that matters most. It is the choice of two radically different metaphors: schools as employment centers; or schools as centers of learning and intellectual growth. The children of these parents are systematically excluded from gifted & talented programs as well as gaining access to specialized academic programs and schools; in large part because of formal and informal educational “unpreparedness”, or just flat out interviewing and screening discrimination. There is no comprehensive strategic plan for Black children who do not have academic deficiencies; all Black children must find their natural low-expectation place in the fictional “achievement gap” (which hides the more accurate and true: Opportunity Gap!).

When Black and Latino parents are asking for “diverse-integrated schools”, it is not because they are so naïve as to think that just sitting their child next to a White child will make them smarter; no they want their child to enjoy the educational experience that the White child is enjoying, of not receiving a good education by accident, but rather as a standard of entitled K-12 educational excellence.

And given the opportunity to successfully educate their children in a local-traditional-neighborhood public school, I think that Black parents would be happy to make that choice. But Black parents are often forced to choose charter schools (parochial, private and the rapidly growing Black homeschooling movement) out of a sense of having been abandoned by public school systems, acting out of a desperate hopeless frustration, not hope.

For too long, “leaders” and “leadership organizations” in those communities, that are the least well served by public education, have spent most of their time arguing over which failed “achievement gap closing” strategy is better; how to politely “tweak” a terribly failing system that is in need of dramatic radical transformation. They cynically select and take uninformed educational positions based on political and financial support. Like some kind of children’s game they choose sides on topics for which they lack any deep pedagogical understanding of how schools, and education in general works (i.e. unions/charter schools/school choice/common core curriculum/standardized testing, etc.); when the choice should be to fight for the interest of the community, and children they purport to serve. They have mastered the art of making a lot of loud and angry sounds about public schools; while insisting on very little substance change in the existing narrative as to how to successfully educate children of color.

It would seem to me that those mis-underrepresented communities who suffer public educational disappointment and neglect the most, should adopt a dual strategy of political engagement to change the present ineffective public school systems; while at the same time (because children can’t wait!) do all that they are able to counteract the deleterious effects of a system that is not designed for their children’s success. And those positive, pro-active parental-community actions on behalf of their children; those things that don’t require “permission” from a SOE or anybody else, these self-affirming and independent strategies will be the focus in part 3…


Pain, physical or mental, has the purpose of focusing your attention. The rise, legitimization and official state empowerment, of recalcitrant and unrepentant racism and bigotry; could lead to a new era of educational self-reliance.

One of the reasons as a principal that I stood at the school door each morning to greet students, was to thank particular students for just coming to school…that day. You see, unbeknownst to those who may have been on the train, or bus with them that morning; these young people were making their way to school in spite of, and to often escape from, some terribly and difficult living situations. These are the students that bring tears to your eyes at graduation; because you know the magnitude and power of their four-year journey.

I have never been one to glorify poverty and suffering as an optional lifestyle choice; trust me there is nothing glorious about being poor. My dream is that all of the children in this nation, and the world, would no longer need school to be the only place where they can receive a good meal, heat and to be able spend a large part of the day in a safe, peaceful and predictable environment.

And even as I don’t cheer not having a lot of financial options; at the same time I have come to admire how brave, creative and self-depending humans can be when they don’t have a lot of “options”, and are forced to rely on themselves. I am thinking of all of those thousands of post-emancipation Africans (not yet Americans) who had to depend on each other to survive in the most hostile environment, and under an insincere and duplicitous national government. And how did we have thriving, self-sustaining communities like Weeksville, Black Wall Street, etc. in the middle of US racial apartheid meanness?

These great pre-civil rights era African-Americans represent the spiritual lineage of those students who succeed, in spite of the most discouraging and difficult conditions. There is something about having your back against the wall, where and when, it is fight or fail! Now some might wait over-patiently for an “exit door” to be built for them; not knowing where that door will lead; or wait to be thrown an assistance ladder, unaware as to where that ladder is taking them. And then what are the motives of those who are offering this “assistance” and “help”? Is it to help you to become free and independent; or is it a form of “psycho-social-political crack”, that forces you into a state of never-ending dependence on them? And does your pain become a commodity that fills their pockets with cash?

But another response is to turn to those next to you who also have their backs against the wall; since in reality they are the only people you can truly trust, because at the very least they are in the same desperate situation you find yourself in, and like you they want to escape from pain, suffering and death.

As a youngster ( and youth of course is all-knowing) I hated having to go with my mother to her “Susu” (people generated, owned and operated saving organizations) meetings; after all this was time taken away from reading, my science kit, or the building of my model airplanes. But she was trying to teach me a lesson about self-sufficiency and self-reliance. For those 1950’s “owning a house obsessed” Caribbean emigrants this was their way of saying we are not waiting for a white commercial bank/loan officers, the GOP or DNC to believe in, or help us; we will believe, help and rely on each other. And I could remember, even in my total disinterest, the celebration, when one of their members announced that they had saved enough money to put a down payment on a house; the full meaning of this effort made complete concrete sense to me only when we moved into our own new house!

Great and powerful are those who can turn disappointment into an appointment with their own ingenuity, internal resources and courage. What large numbers of Americans meant on Nov 8, 2016 as an act of angry dismissal and nullification, can be transformed into a powerful affirmation of self-dependence on the part of those “others” who they were seeking to erase from the American portrait.

Part 2: The art of tree planting, and growing life out of dead things… (Or, how we can make great generational progress educationally over the next four years…)

With the present political reality, schools will need to “ramp-up” their protecting, healing, and teaching tolerance capacity.

The growing number of videos are becoming frightening. Young Latino children being terrified by chants of: “Build the wall”; “White-Colored” signs being posted on school water fountains. Racist graffiti inside and on the outside of school walls. Students marching down school halls with “Trump-Pence” signs, not as an exercise in civics education; but as a way of informing Black, Latino and Muslim students, that they are neither recognized, nor wanted as part of the American family.

I must first confess that it is the lack of education that has these misguided young people, and us in our present dangerous state. Their parents and the news media has informed them incorrectly that the latest expression of electoral bigotry is justified because of the: “anger of economic displacement and societal disconnection”. But the truth is that even if we eliminated all of the EPA safety and health regulations; and all protective US labor laws (most of which the Chinese already ignore); we still will not be able to undersell the Chinese in making steel; that by the way is used by the president-elect, and every other profit-first developer in this nation. If Wal-Mart, Target, et al, stock their shelves with “made in America” products only; they would close tomorrow, if they were not willing to absorb major profit loss; or dramatically raise prices. And that wall some students are chanting to be built, is not necessary; just pay US citizens $10-15/hour to pick fruits and vegetables, and accept paying $10-15 dollars for a head of lettuce!

No one: Not our president-elect, santa clause, the “tooth fairy”, the combined efforts of the “good or bad witches of the north, south, east and west; is ever going to return our nation to the 1950’s. No POTUS is going to force Black people to sit in the back of the bus; they are not going to stop LGBT folks from falling in love and marrying; and men will never regain the past control they held over the reproductive rights of women.

Education (the lack of) is the problem, but it is also the solution…

Education/Schools will need to respond to the present climate by serving as both protecting and affirming spaces for children who wear the skin, language, culture and religion, that has been targeted by this “winning” exclusionary campaign strategy. Educating parents should be part of the process for it is clear by comments being made by many adults in the news and on social media (CNN’s Van Jones eloquent explanation is one of the exceptions); that they don’t get that for large segments of the American citizenry this is more than the disappointment of an election loss. Many young and old feel that their country has not only rejected them; but intends to inflict great harm on their physical and psychological beings; one definition of entitlement could be, no matter who was elected POTUS in 2016, your ‘Americanness’ is still fully intact.

ELA and History classes are some of the best places to educate those “Build the wall” chanting and “Trump” carrying signs students. There is more than enough literature at ever grade level that speaks to stories of what happens when someone falsely believes that their personal pain and disappointment can only be relived and resolved when they inflict pain and suffering on an innocent “other”. Is that not at the core of our “anti-bullying” learning objectives? And are there not more than enough historical examples (and dedicated museums); that warn us of the savage brutality, the eventual danger and downfall of one group exploiting the labor of other human beings, the dehumanization and blaming of one group of people for an entire nation’s economic problems.

Historically, National Bullying efforts have always failed to deliver on their promises. In main because the day after the “other” is contained or removed; people wake up and realize that their spouse does not look any better; they have not grown more hair or teeth. If they were poor, unemployed and uneducated, they are still poor, unemployed and uneducated. The only option available for the National Bully Leader is distraction through war; or in the case of countries like North Korea, never-ending “states of war”.

And just as we work to protect the students whose humanity and citizenship has been marginalized in this recent political campaign; as professional educators we can’t give up on their “taunters” and “tormentors”; they are our students too, and we are called to love them, even when they fail to display love. Besides: If not us, who—their make America ugly again parents?

The improperly-bad acting students we fail to reach and teach empathy, compassion and the true meaning of citizenship; will grow up to be the adults who are chanting at future proto-fascist rallies: “Build the wall—hurt the other!”

I know we did not cause it, but we must fix it, and so get to work educators!



I read two really good post recently on Facebook from two parents. (1) Advice to parents seeking to get their child into a NYC specialized high school. And (2) a reflection on a parent-teacher conference meeting; and they got me to thinking…

What good parents understand (if not ideologically, then instinctively), is that public education in this nation reflects, and is driven by the “free enterprise” ideal, everything is commercialized, every person is reduced to a commodity, it is a culture of brutal competition. And therefore, unfortunately public schools, being agents of the societal culture, have adopted a “sifting process” (haves-have nots/winners and winners not!) to nourish and sustain that system. Just sending your child to public school and hoping for the best to happen, is a bad odds lottery decision (And in my view would constitute “insufficient parenting”; regardless of the parent’s level of education or finances).

If students are to survive, and hopefully thrive in public schools, then they need serious parental oversight, protection and the advocation for the best learning experience available to the child. And parents need good information to be able to effectively play that role.

The small number of children who succeed without, or in spite of their parents are “Educational-Jedi”, who are super-motivated and blessed in a way that even after 30+ years in the field, is beyond my understanding. Students can also “luck up”, and get into a school where the staff and administration are professionally competent, serious practitioners of efficacy, as they give full purpose and meaning to the phrase: In loco parentis (Latin: “In the place of a parent”).

Public schools (and I love them!) are not the places where you want children, including teenagers, “fending for themselves”. In part because we employ the full spectrum (and to be honest, too many who are completely “off the spectrum”!) of human personality types. The: uninspired, the disinterested, the “uncalled” to educational service, those with low self-esteem, steeped in prejudice, blinded by bias, the insecure, the insincere, the incompetent and the completely clueless! You can’t just thrust a child into such a system and expect things to “magically” turn out right. Good parents are really conscious and good at directing their children around the system’s terrible organizational and operational mine fields; and safely into those garden spaces where public education really does its best work. (No accident that both of my posting parents went to really excellent high schools!)

Many parents of special education students are already very aware of the need for continuous and consistent parental oversight, engagement and advocacy on behalf of their child. They are indeed, the main: “trust, but monitor and verify”, parents of our system!

I wish that it was true that any parent, could just send their child to any school district, public school, and to any teacher’s class; and that child’s gifts, talents and life aspirations could be fully realized. But this is not what presently exist. Sadly, for too many students, zip code, color, gender, and/or ethnicity; greatly determines their educational achievement destiny. And good parents know that. And so they have created a counter narrative of a “Crib to 12th grade graduation” commitment/plan to be fully engaged with their child’s public school educational life!

And as I have warned thousands of parents; middle-high school is not the place to go into “Rest and Relaxation” mode; in fact you need to turn-it up a notch to match the “at risk” danger level going up; no matter how much talent and smartness your child displays! And when that belief and understanding is shared with other parents; I believe that act blesses the child who receives that information, as well as the child of the parent who shared that information.