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.

Notes from In-house exile: A virus without a brain is outsmarting some humans with brains…

Notes from In-house exile: A virus without a brain is outsmarting some humans with brains…

(5) March 22, 2020

I spoke to a doctor-friend who is on the medical front line in ————–, and he is as baffled as I am as to why so many folks are not taking Covid-19 seriously, even though (in his situation) the infections and dead bodies are piling up exponentially. There is of course the total incoherent, incompetent and incomprehensible actions and messages received daily from the arch anti-science POTUS; and so, a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding is understandable. At this point (in contrast with NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings) I think that the daily White House Covid-19 press briefings are actually doing more harm than good in the battle against this medical siege; as it also sets up Asian-Americas to receive racial discrimination and possibly even being violently attacked.

Unfortunately, in relationship to Mr. Trump the news media is under-performing in this crises. Even today MSNBC (Ali Velshi’s show) is still bringing on Republicans who flat out provide untruths and anti-scientific theories. I understand (sort of) the journalist wanting equal-time “debate”, even when the GOP position is stupid and a bold-face-lie, like Republican “Voter-ID” bills being about voting process integrity, and not what they are really about: Black and Latino voter suppression. But this is a major national health crises where misinformation equals death. It seems that brave journalist like PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor must bear a lonely burden of demanding truth from Mr. Trump and his daily band of mannequin cheerleaders.

But all of the scientific ignorance being displayed by ordinary citizens (many who probably don’t watch the White House press briefings) can’t all be blamed on the ignorance emanating from the White House. Why are so many people not taking this Covid-19 crises seriously? An elected official from my beloved Brooklyn; Assemblywoman Diana Richardson took to social media to express her shock that so many of the boroughs main streets looked “normal”; is there no wonder that Brooklyn is the epicenter of the epicenter of the disease. A few days ago NYC police officers had to put themselves and their families at risk by being forced to break up a large (hundreds of people) wedding reception in a Brooklyn neighborhood that some consider a “hotspot” for Covid-19 infections. I am all for love and marriage; but why not have a small private ceremony with a few attendees safely distanced from each other; and then have the ‘mother of all wedding receptions’ when we get through this plague?

“Perhaps”, I suggested to my medical doctor friend, “one of the things we science educators might want to plan for going forward, is to think about how we teach K-8 life sciences and high school biology. Over the years we have expanded the ‘environmental science’ parts of the life sciences curriculum in response to the existential threat we all face as species, due to the terrible damage we are inflicting on our (only home) planet. We may need to now raise the communicable disease literacy rates in our K-12 schools. Even now ‘science-facts’ challenged “anti-vaxxers” are threatening to not take any Corona-19 vaccine and not allow their children to receive it. Which means that a significant number of us in the community must take the vaccine and hopefully suppress the spread of the disease, as we also save their selfish behinds.

There is no need to “expand” the Life Sciences curriculum because the behavior of the Covid-19 virus is every bit consistent with the already existing Life Science topic/concepts of: Evolution, Life-cycles, Microorganisms, Reproduction, Genetics, etc. But what we do need to expand is the human capacity to understand that the virus is simply “opportunistic” (doing what viruses do!) in trying to survive and reproduce; only with the virus it’s about survival, and it’s not personal. We on the other hand are making this health crises about the personal and not survival.

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

(4) March 21, 2020

“Though lovers be lost, love shall not”–Dylan Thomas

I’ve reduced intimacy to the constant warm feelings of two hands, covered with warm soapy water, engaged in the act of hand-washing (these days you do what you can). As an educator I guess I have always been able to transform some challenging situation into an exercise of practical problem solving. And with the inept and callous efforts by the leader of this nation, I could imagine seeing the end of my life without ever hugging another person again.

One of my former students who is now an educator and is presently working with a class size of one; and by the way is doing a great job with her child’s preschool remote learning class, posted: “Anybody want a 3 yr. old?” … I wanted so bad to say “Yes, me!”. A plague can separate us from our call-to-service; for alas I have a house with a children’s book library, educational toys, puzzles and games, but I am missing a three year old. I know her mother will probably say: “Yeah right, I’ll give him one day with a three year old and…” (But what I want to know Akilah; is why none of you’ll told me about this D-Nice party thing; I could have brought my flashlight—inside SSCHS joke!:-)

It also just occurred to me once again after (ELA skill) comparing and contrasting the White House and NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press briefings; that as a nation we are in serious trouble. But then there is a kind-of-good trouble that I have striven to always get myself into. Andrew Cuomo is like that crazy (good crazy): “I can’t let these folks destroy my children” principal, working in a public school system that is structured to destroy certain children. You can’t wait, you can’t fool around, because your children can’t wait. You must speak the truth, even if it makes people uncomfortable, and act audaciously even as those same people want to maintain the status qua. It is probably a matter of taking matters into your own hands; and then when necessary bend, twist, ‘reinterpret’ and sometimes break rules that work well for some kids, but don’t work well for your students. The only chance a Black and Latino child, or any poor and/or politically disfranchised child of any color, ethnicity or religion will have to succeed, is to have a ‘crazy’ educator take up their cause.

I turn everything no matter how bad, into a reading project. I guess in the midst of any tragedy we must all find some individual small space of a peace process that will help us to cope. It might sound morbid to some, but I just completed my second plague (Covid-19) related reading (Edgar Allan Poe’s: “The Mask of the Red Death”). The great myth that the plague destroys, is that we can somehow separate ourselves from the pain and suffering of others.

There is an equality of aspirational dreaming for all children, regardless of race or economic status. I learned that as a superintendent visiting PreK and Kindergarten classrooms, where all of the children will enthusiastically give you a list of things they want to grow up to be: dancer, police officer, doctor, fireman, nurse, teacher, astronaut, air plane pilot… Often multiple professions in one lifetime! And then they move up in the school system and lose large parts of those dreams at every new grade level (especially Black and Latino boys). Public schools should be dream builders, not dream destroyers. And yet we can make sure our entitled kids receive a quality education (and not lose their dreams); and deny that same level of quality education to the children of ‘others’.

But the Plague introduces a kind of terrible equality; those children denied a quality education (and thus an end to their dreaming); will later be the adults who will bring the plague of their lost dreams onto the heads of the children of privilege; for in a social-economic plague there is no separate place to hide.