NYS Gov. Cuomo ask the Gates Foundation for help in ‘Revolutionizing’ Public Education…Let’s explore this idea.

All of the things that have gone wrong in my life can be traced to a single lesson I failed to effectively learn. This lesson was first presented to me by a Brooklyn Caribbean-American mother trying desperately to see her young son survive and thrive into adulthood. Over the years I would hear the same message from many of the wonderful elders that guarded and guided my upbringing. That message simply in many different versions was: “Everyone who presents themselves as a friend is not a friend!” Simply being anti-billionaire does not automatically make you my friend (or a friend to Black people generally).

There are some politically-woke-folks who ‘knee-jerkedly’ reject any idea or initiative that is associated with “billionaires”. But the 40+% consistent support/endorsement for the bigot-in-chief Trump (and I actually think that the 40%+ number is an undercount) could not numerically consist of a majority of “billionaires”. And even in ‘liberal and enlightened’ NYC, we are witnessing a dramatically different police response to those in violation of the social-distancing statues, blatantly taking place under the leadership of an anti-billionaire Democratic ‘Progressive’ Mayor. Thank-you, but I think I will trust no one completely, thus protect and pursue my own survival interest; and so, I need to see more of the details of the Cuomo/Gates Foundation education plan before I summarily reject it.

As a principal I set up one of the first Distance-Learning-Labs in NYC in cooperation with Columbia’s Teacher’s College (I did the same at DC-PHELPS ACE to facilitate school partnerships between CISCO, the Peoples Republic of China, and South Africa). I also pushed as both a principal and superintendent the introduction of web-based Applied Technology Labs; and at Phelps created a team (Cyberforensics) that competed completely online as we also had the CISCO certification course taught (by CISCO engineers) completely online. Schools must, where appropriate embrace the good pedagogical uses of technology as we work hard to close our national technology access/education opportunity gaps.

One of the problems in public education is that you could go back in time (science-fictionally speaking) and transport one of my 1950’s elementary school teachers, and place them in any modern elementary school classroom and the ‘architecture’ and structural format of the classroom would look extremely similar and familiar; we need to change that. Covid-19 or no Covid-19, it is clear that public education in its present format is not working for the majority of our nation’s Black and Latino children (unless ‘working’ means going to prison).

One of the lessons I took away from my observations of the PHELPS-ACE online CISCO certification courses was that neither the students nor the instructors could see each other. This I noticed meant that the instructors had high standards and expectations for the Black and Latino students they were instructing and could not see; there were no assumptions about the student’s capabilities, families, or the neighborhoods where they lived. The students were graded and evaluated based on the quality of their work-product only. Distance (“blind”) Technology could be one way (since our school systems will not do it) to eliminate the prejudice and bias institutionalized culture of low expectations.

This nicely leads me to my next point. A former colleague-mentor (now deceased) from my 1990’s Brooklyn High School principal days once offered this statement. “I ask every white teacher I interview, if they like Black kids, and then I probe their response!” Shocked I blurted out: “But you can’t do that, it’s illegal!” He responded: “You can’t do it but I (white) can, and I will because I don’t want any teacher in this building who does not like and care about Black kids!” For those who reject the governor’s idea, simply because they don’t like his proposal partner, or perhaps because they fear modernity and change; my comment is simply this: Let’s not pretend that the present or pre-COVID-19 configuration and organization of public education is working for (forget all) most children; it’s not.

The Overtly Subtle Plague of Racism

OK, so let me understand this:

Denzel Washington does an interview (that left the interviewer, in her words: “shaken”) and attempts to do something very human; which is to not act in actor mode, and actually present himself as himself. This causes a response assessment from the interviewer that he is “overreacting”. What I saw was that he was desperately trying to say that “I am more than acting, more than what you see on the screen”—I am a person, I am human.
I recently watched a very good interview with Joaquin Phoenix who was essentially saying the same thing. He constantly pushed back against these standard ‘celebrity’ questions; seeming to say repeatedly: don’t totally define me through the lens of acting or so-called “celebrity”. Many, including myself, hailed the Phoenix interview as brilliantly honest. And so, my question is: why can’t Denzel express those same views without being defined as ‘hostile’ and “misunderstanding the questions”?

And then there is this:

Armed men and women enter the Michigan Statehouse and threaten the governor and state lawmakers; based on the photos they appear to all be white; and besides I can’t imagine a Black person deciding to arm themselves, even legally, and then walk into a public building, thus committing suicide to get more coronavirus exposure.
Then, these white rioters are referred to as “protesters” by the news media; which suggests they would have fit in well with the peaceful civil rights marches led by people like Dr. Martin Luther King; except for the guns, threats, and aggressive actions! The riot is also referred to as a “rally”; which sounds like something nice that colleges do before a major varsity sports event. Everyone including the Trump rioters knew that they were safe because their whiteness insured that safety; and further, every act of indulgence, reserve, and patience would be granted to them as bonified US citizens. Many white Americans are for the first time experiencing via COVID-19, a small piece of a painful plague that the unwelcomed, disinherented and despised ones must live through every waking moment of our lives.

It might be up to ‘entitled’ NYC parents to fix this “distance learning” mess; well good!

“…Some parents at highly-regarded Forest Hill elementary school PS 196 said their teacher has gone weeks without personal interaction with their child…” — NY Post

I have spent enough years in public education (at multiple levels), to fully grasp the apartheid of quality educational learning opportunities that form the basic framework of America’s public school systems. Anyone who says different is either an enabler of that discriminatory system, or, well, I not sure what to say that would be nice.

When I became a superintendent in 2000 I inherited an ‘unofficial’ NYCDOE policy. It seemed that teachers who won their arbitration cases (and there were a lot of them), against principals who were trying to rate them ‘unsatisfactory’ were somehow sent to specific districts and schools (you can’t send them back to their original school for a lot of reasons). To be specific, they were sent to Title-1 school districts and schools. I only found out about this ‘process’ because one of my principals called me practically in tears one day saying: “Superintendent Johnson, we are working so hard to turn this school around; and we are making tremendous progress; please, I can’t take a teacher that’s going to hurt us!” She was right, this was a school that had one of the highest concentrations of homeless students in the city; and yet we were making some demonstrative academic achievement progress. I called in the Director of HR and she confirmed that indeed she had directed the teacher to that particular school. “Why?” I asked, “Clearly that’s a school we are investing a lot of resources (e.g. teacher center, extra AP & staff-developer, STEM lab and F/T science teacher, art & music programs, etc.) to turn-it-around; at this point, we can only send good instructional practitioners into that school!” (beside we would ‘own’ that tenured teacher next year!) Her honest and sincere answer was painfully startling as it was enlightening. “I know you are doing everything possible to fix this district and a lot of people are fighting against you, and so if I sent that teacher to P.S X, Y or Z; the parents would raise hell and give you problems.” I thanked her (at times as a leader you must focus on the ‘good intentions’) and then directed her to “send the teacher back”. This led to my receiving a call from an official from central who proceeded to explain to me “how things work in community school districts”; a not-so-subtle dig at my having come from that less politically driven “High School Division”. I listened politely, and then informed the official that: “This process does not work for me, and therefore I am not taking her; and will not take any like her in the future.” I continued, “the Chancellor charged me with turning around what is in everyone’s estimation the most underperforming district (CSD29Q) in the city, and that’s what I am going to do!” “I would be happy to meet with you and the Chancellor, and if he directs me to take the teacher I will!” Never heard from him again and the process of ‘dumping’ (from both bad ratings and rubber rooms) personnel into our district stopped! I did not celebrate over this victory because I was fully aware that my stand meant that my colleagues/friends in places like districts: 9, 12, and 16 would suffer.

School systems nationally, not just NYC, have different ‘response modes’ for different communities. I and many others have said from the beginning that this “distance learning” thing was more effective public relations then efficacious public education. And further, this school closure crisis, if not addressed in a radical and strategically smart way, would produce dramatic learning losers and learning winners*.

In fairness to the NYCDOE some of that learning winning and losing can’t be controlled by any school district. Those children who have parents with the financial resources, education, information, and time, will gain during this school closure time. And it would be professionally unethical to ask (even if they would listen) those parents to decelerate their home instruction program. But if the official ‘distance-learning’ program is not working in more ‘entitled’ schools; then perhaps (and unfortunately but true) NYC’s elected officials will be forced to take some affirmatively drastic actions to fix the situation. And this could greatly help those communities where distance learning is also not working and could very much be inflicting long-term educational harm.

*“I said that the Covid-19 school closure situation would greatly help some students, while badly hurting others, well…”: http://majmuse.net/2020/03/26/i-said-that-the-covid-19-school-closure-situation-would-greatly-help-some-students-while-greatly-hurting-others-well/

*“Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers”: http://majmuse.net/2020/03/24/notes-from-in-house-exile-sadly-the-u-s-covid-19-virus-pandemic-will-expose-and-expand-the-prek-12-educational-learning-opportunity-gap/

The invisible—visible people…

When…

“…When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me…”–Invisible Man; Ralph Ellison

When I heard that a “bat-wielding” suspect was shot dead by police in a Walmart outlet; my mind immediately said: “The alleged bat-wielder must be Black!” (I was right)

When I read that “dozens were arrested” by NYPD at an event that violated the social-distancing ordinates instituted by the governor; I somehow suspected that the arrested violators were Black. (I was right)

When I heard that in multiple states armed men and women gathered on and in public state properties (advocating for more coronavirus exposure); my first thought: “They can’t be Black citizens gathering and armed on public property!” (I was right)

When I read that one of the largest school districts in our nation had not heard one contact ‘peep’ (as in nothing), or any type of response to the district’s ‘online-digital-instructional’ school-closure program from thousands of its students; I knew (before the writer told me) the zip codes and the Black and Brown profiles of those educationally ‘missing’ children. (I was right)

When I read that the governor of Georgia essentially handed the largest metropolitan cities in the state like Atlanta, a group death sentence; I immediately surmise that those large cities must be heavily populated with Black citizens. (I was right)

When I read the Emancipation Proclamation it says to me: “Black folks, you are on your own!” (I think I am still right!)

I finally found an analysis of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign I like…

And it could not come at a better time, as I watch the psychopathic narcissist in charge of the nation call on his MAGA-Militia to rebel, resist and disobey those Democratic (DNC) governors who are desperately trying to save their citizens during this terrible pandemic; these are indeed very dangerous and deadly times.

Once again I am reminded of why I so admire Noam Chomsky and his expansive use of history and linguistics to eloquently simplify the complex, while at the same time critiquing the intellectual laziness of those whose ideology is based in the practiced simplification of some very complex conditions. He makes a strong social-scientifically based case for voting for Joe Biden; and his reasons harbor no illusions about either Biden or the politically ineffective DNC.

I have always believed that you can’t seriously serve the people if you don’t seriously love the people; and love (including agape) is one of those things that should force you out of your comfort zone. And make no mistake about it, those on the left who believe that many of us are ‘bamboozled’ by the DNC, are themselves bamboozled by their reckless self-righteous belly gazing rhetoric. It’s never okay for the people we purport to serve to suffer and die, to make a political point or to send a message.
Chomsky makes it very clear that the (my words) feckless, incompetent and pathetic excuse for an “opposition party”, the Democrats, is in word and practice a weak champion for the desperately working and unemployed poor; and Black Americans don’t rank high in the category of their actual (not verbal) concerns.
The DNC operational standard is to simply appear sane, decent, not be aggressively racist and bigoted, as their ‘philosophical-working-ceiling’ is to limit the Republican’s ability to inflict severe damage on humanity and the planet. And if Biden and the DNC believe that large numbers of those voters (some who risk their lives in Wisconsin) went to the polls because they wanted to vote for him, and not against the total death and destruction of the nation and world, then Biden and the DNC are in for a very rude surprise in November.

But beyond the very sound and thoughtful commentary; another reason I like Chomsky’s deconstruction of the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign is that unlike so many other reflections, he affirms the intelligence, wisdom and political sophistication of Black voters. The popular news media and cable-tv talking-class view is to always default to a dismissal position of Black DNC primary voters (e.g. “they were fooled by the DNC establishment” or, “they know and like Joe”), reveals that there is a very deep viral strain of racism that is very much alive and is persistently plaguing our nation. This ‘racism of low expectations’ is alive, widespread and working in our public schools; but it also extends to the parents of those same school children. And unfortunately, these racial low expectations feelings crosses many different political ideologies (far left-liberal-moderate-conservative-far right); and dare I say, is even promoted (albeit often subtly) by some African-Americans themselves.

Finally, Dr. Chomsky also presents a dire picture of what it will look and feel like if we are subjected to what he calls the “malignancy” of Trump’s second term. Utilizing historical models, he points out how the ‘talking left but acting right’ crowd can dangerously incline toward a tendency to act in the role of being the progressive-purity police; he rightfully calls them out to at least be honest and openly say that they are for the reelection of Trump.

Here is the Noam Chomsky Interview:
https://www.facebook.com/theinterceptflm/videos/861606717583845/

A Plague Can Bring a Lot of Clarity…

A plague clears up the myth of: “A land of equal educational opportunity and prosperity”. Valiant public educators efforts notwithstanding; the technology divide many of us have been talking about for years; definitely will not be closed during this national emergency. Also, the stark differences in COVID-19 educational responses and capabilities when you go from school district to school district, and in many cases the dramatic differences between schools inside of the same district, are tragically stunning. When we return to some level of ‘school-opening- sanity’ after these massive closures have ended, we will have learning winners and losers.

On another front I am deeply worried about something...

I am 100% all on board for Joe Biden (as I would have been for any of the Democratic nominees). But the Trumpsters are holding large demonstrations in some states demanding that they receive greater exposure to the coronavirus is scary; these people are suicidally committed to him. On the other hand, we have the ‘woke-privileged’ folks (they have good ‘options’ that allow them to remain ‘politically pure’; they have stable incomes, a place to live, plenty of food, health insurance, and a home library of ‘radical books’) who don’t have a problem having Trump serve another term. Not to get too theoretically complicated here; their theory is based on two false concepts put forward by Marx. (1) That workers of all races will see their common interest and unite; well we know how the white working-class feel about that in America (This is why the focus of one campaign was on ‘billionaires’ and the ‘oligarchy’, and not on the everyday people’s racism and bigotry that elected and sustains Trump). (2) Further, they (cynically) believe that as the suffering and dying of “the masses” under Trump increases ‘the people’ will be pushed to some ‘critical tipping point’, where they will become ‘radicalized’. Nope, another term of Trump will mean that a lot of Black, Brown, White, etc. poor and working poor people will suffer and die without becoming ‘radicalized’; as they are dying now because Trump mismanaged the COVID-19 crisis.
One historical thought from liberation movements the world over is that if the people are facing an existential threat(e.g. Fascism), perhaps some temporary uncomfortable alliances may be necessary. A movement that calls for the masses to face greater suffering and dying is problematic for me; and further, you definitely can’t raise the consciousness of a dead person!

And speaking of working and ‘class’…

A plague separates those who have the “power” to work from home; and those who must overexpose themselves daily to the virus.

More to the personal…

If you live alone, how much of yourself do you like (or can you take) alone? And if you live with another person, well…

A person who loves reading and has access to books; and someone who can engage in some kind of creative art activity at home, will have a ‘maintaining-sanity-advantage’ during a home quarantine situation.

And…
You don’t need to be a “great and famous” person during a plague; just being a regular good humanitarian person is a wonderfully great thing to be.

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again! … Part 10

A Plague will bring out the best, the beasts, and the not so brilliant…

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 11, 2020

“…Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone…” — W. H. Auden

There are just too many unbelievably unhelpful stories… The NYPD had to enforce distancing regulation at a beauty supply store yesterday! Can we all agree to give ourselves a ‘Covid-19 Beauty Pass’ for the duration of the stay-home-stay-safe quarantine period? And Gov. Cuomo could you please issue an executive order declaring every New Yorker as Beautiful for the duration of the crises(and then we can go back to that: “In the eyes of the beholder” thing)! My goodness…

Yesterday, because I am a chronic learner (or a glutton for intellectual punishment), I painfully watched the entire 2-hour White House Covid-19 briefing/update yesterday. Trump spent the majority of those two-hours bashing an assortment of ‘enemies’ (including past presidents) along with a long, rambling and sometimes incoherent hour blaming the Chinese for everything except the war of 1812. I kept saying to myself, who (what kind of person) would think that this type of behavior and presentation is appropriate from a national leader during a moment of national crisis? Which leads me to my next point…

I tried to imagine really hard, as to what is in the minds and hearts of the 40, 60 or whatever percent of Americans who are approving of his behavior. The present historical situation is only helpful in this sense. After reading the biographies of people like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot; one essential question that insist on being heard: “In each case the leader is in every clinical sense of the word obviously dangerously insane; and so, why are so many people willing to follow his evil and destructive leadership?
Normally, I would default to my favorite: ‘lack of education’ as the reason position; but in the case of Hitler, Germany (like America today) was an intellectual center of learning, STEM, theology, and the creative arts. And further, Trump’s 40-60% of ‘approving’ Americans can’t all be be people whose education ended after the first grade.

No I think Trump has figured “it” out; “It” being the social-psychopathology of ‘bad-acting’ social movements.
It’s the ugly bullying of various groups and individuals; the bigoted attacks on people of color like the Chinese, that endears him to people who are somehow disconnected from our evolved ability to make intellectual, moral and empathetic decisions.

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again! … Part 9

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 7, 2020

Aloneness is wealth, loneliness is poverty…

“The cure for loneliness is solitude”— Marianne Moore

A dear sister-friend sent this: “…Social distancing and sheltering in place…of all the people I know this is probably easiest for you…” Oh if only I had the emotional-superpowers people often attribute to me.

I think that bonafied extroverts (who rule the world in part because they are better at communicative-social-networking), get to define the world of bonafied introverts; after all, when you rule the world, that’s what you do. The truth is, ‘social-distancing’ (for which I am in complete compliance), is in fact very difficult for me. An isolation that is forced is never good or pleasant; it’s an imposition on the self, not an act of self-affirmation.

The “Extros” interpret the world in the quantity and frequency of social-contacts; The “Intros” on the other hand only seek the qualitative-deepness of a few social-contacts; they also enjoy investing time and effort into their #1 friend—themselves! But, the secret meaning of Introversion (what Extros define in their worldview as ‘fear’ or ‘pathology’), is that Intros love and care so deeply for others, that they are unwilling to waste that energy by sharing it casually with the undeserving or prematurely with the unready…

Black folks please be careful of both the Covid-19 virus and the viral disease of racism…

OK, I have now been made aware of three situations (I know the individuals personally) where three highly educated, smart and articulate African-American men (one a PhD. who reviewed my book) who have entered a commercial establishment correctly wearing a Covid-19 facial protection mask, only to have the store employees and/or a fellow white customer assume that these individuals were there for the purposes of committing a crime. Fortunately, none of these scenarios ended tragically. I suspect that there are other instances in the nation of which I am unaware.

Look, I know that many of you have received, and in some cases adopted the US ‘post(Obama)racial’ story-line. But I am going to give you the same old-fashion Black elders advice I received as a youngster. This is the cautionary instructional lesson that I ‘upgraded’, rephrased; and then gave to all of my Black (and Latino) students over the years; even when they did not want to hear it.

To be honest, I hated as a child every time a family member, neighborhood or a church elder told me that: “Because you are a Negro (or Black), you must work twice as hard as a white person, because of prejudice!” I felt that those conditions were extremely unfair; and since I spent most of my childhood school days at the top of my classes, and ended up being placed in gifted and talented programs; I felt that I was already, “smarter” then most of my white student peers, without having to work too much harder. In fact, I spent many countless days/hours in the Brooklyn Public Library, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and The Brooklyn Museum, reading books at home; essentially competing against myself (not white kids) in acquiring vast amounts of knowledge. But back then (1950’s) you had to actually listen to adults and could not argue back. But, over the years I have come to be less critical of and more appreciative of the elders of my youth.
Their approach probably did not meet my pedagogical standards for teaching a lesson. But they were doing the best they knew how in trying to protect us from the horrible reality of the societal and US cultural wide practices of discrimination, low expectations (still very much in play in our public schools today) and biased negative perceptions.
The elders of my young days did the best that they knew how to do; and their wise observation and assessment of the true identity of America was correct then, and it is with some small modifications, for the most part still true today.

We should not get it twisted, or confused; whether you like it or not; living in a nation that is built on, thrives in, and is powered by racism and bigotry, your Blackness is your ultimate existential reality. For over forty years I have pushed and supported young people by way of education, to realize their highest aspirational career dreams. There is no record of me ever encouraging a young person to work below their potential; and in fact taking that position has caused me a great deal of personal, financial and professional pain. But let’s be clear, it does not matter if you are a MD, PhD, Ed.D., JD, DD or no D; rest assure at some point, in small or large aggressive ways, you will over and over again encounter the ‘black group treatment’ of prejudice and discrimination. And please note, that many of the pathological racially damaged black persons in our nation, could also be the very individuals who will inflict this racial prejudice mistreatment on you.

I am proud to have served as a public school principal and superintendent; but I can also say that not one day ended without someone, a parent, public or district official, one of my peers or even the people I supervised; failing to remind me that they saw me as no different from any Black person who was at the bottom of the school or district staffing chart.

Two of my best friends are highly accomplished Black physicians; and they both have numerous stories of being on the receiving end of racial aggressive actions, including from white doctors they were training! One, a trauma surgeon was told by a white patient arriving to the trauma center after a car accident: “Can I get a real doctor?” (I told him that he was a better person then I, because I would have said: “Sure, in fact he stared in a James Bond movie and his name is Dr. No-doctor!”)

Every prominent Black American thinker, artist and educator (W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Lorraine Monroe, Ralph Ellison, Asa Hilliard, to name a few) has made this point: That against our will, and not requiring our consent, awareness or agreement, we Black people are forced, by virtue of our US residency to live in two separate and unequal political world realities. And any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of this edict, will always lead to loss, pain, suffering and perhaps even death.

Remember, that the poor national government response to the coronavirus is very much in part due to the large numbers of white Americans who wanted (and still want according to polls) a president who is clearly unfit and incompetent; but who would work hard to make bigotry and prejudice great again.

Referees warn boxers before a fight: “Protect yourself at all times!” And so, despite the bad ‘medical advice’ being provided by “science experts” on social media platforms, Black people are not immune to coronavirus.
We must at all times, in the best ways that we can (e.g. staying home!) protect ourselves and others from this dreaded disease. But at the same time we must be of ‘two-minds’ and be proactively and protectively aware of that other American chronic and untreated deadly viral disease of racism, for which no vaccine has ever been employed.

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again! … Part 8

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 5, 2020

When I Think Of Home (WITOH) I…

(My sincere apologies to ‘The Wiz’ fans!)

WITOH: I don’t think of a place of quarantined-isolation. Where I’m reduced to dialoguing with an air-fryer!

Me: “OK, how are we doing?

(After another month of a solo-quarantined existence and the air-fryer will start answering me back).

Air-Fryer: “It’s almost done sir, give me 7 more minutes.

WITOH: I think of a NYC where I was born and raised, and served as a superintendent during “9/11”. I learned then about a city that was overflowing with love, patience, perseverance and the determination to come back better and stronger…

WITOH: And living in a nation that would (with all of Hillary Clinton’s very human flaws), select one of the most unqualified, amoral, unimaginative, uninspiring, unethical (did I miss anything–Just fill in the blank), and ___________ person to run this country. And tragically, for all Americans (including his supporters), to lead a nation that is presently facing one of its gravest challenges.

WITOH: I think of a present world-wide place and time, where the plague’s pain will reveal the best people, as well as revealing the best in people; including the emergence of extra-ordinary people, who in this moment of collective suffering, will reveal their best extraordinary gifts of human-kindness service.