Who Made That?

April 24, 2014

A year ago today 1,133 garment workers died in Dhaka, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, when an 8-story factory making clothes for national brands like Gap and Benetton, collapsed; 2,500 other workers were pulled from the wreckage. Several companies hastily signed an “accord” requiring stricter safety standards, but Target and Walmart, e.g., refused, saying they would conduct their own safety inspections—you can trust us. In this past year hundreds of garment workers world-wide have died in fires and accidents. All of this is a cruel reminder of the iron logic of capitalism: maximize profit in the giant endlessly grinding vortex of accumulation. Rapacious, callous, petty, predatory, corrupt—capitalism nurtures our vilest qualities while trampling on and constraining our moral imaginations and our most generous instincts.
The revolutionary Martin Luther King, Jr. railed against the triple evils of racism, militarism, and materialism, calling for a new age of racial justice, global justice, and economic justice.
Today is a moment to remember, a day to open our eyes anew, a time to be astonished at the injustices we participate in and visit upon one another but also at the alternatives and the possibilities within our reach.
There are creative ways to express yourselves, and here’s a modest one: wear your clothes inside-out today, and ask yourselves and everyone you meet: who made that?

White Suprmacy: Alive and Well

April 24, 2014

The Supreme Court continued its long backward march yesterday, ruling 6-2 that Michigan could ban race as a factor in college admissions. Affirmative action is alive and well for white people, for the children of wealthy donors and alumni, but dead for people who suffered centuries of slavery, Jim Crow apartheid, lynching and organized terror, mass incarceration and more. Fifty years on, “state’s rights” is back, voter suppression is back with a vengeance, and the poll tax is, in effect, back as well.
Don’t despair: Read Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s 58- page dissent, which she read from the bench. It is an entire curriculum on history and justice.

“Progressive Education” followed by subverting the “Standardistas” and the “Testingnazis”

April 20, 2014

By my brilliant colleague Bill Schubert

The heart and soul of progressive education is much more than simple catering to the surface interests of children. It taps the desire of every human being to imagine and create meaningful lives. We all wonder what is worth needing, knowing, experiencing, doing, being, becoming, overcoming, sharing, and contributing. Children are no exception to such wondering, questioning, and constructing who they are. It is reflected in the essence of their play which is their serious and joyful work. Progressive education affords opportunity for learners and teachers to extend this wondering on journeys to become more fully human and contribute to the betterment of the world. Concepts such as more fully human and betterment of the world are not settled, always problematic, and always in the making. Thoughtful reflection on them with others builds community. To pursue such questions requires development of skills and knowledge. So the basics are surely part of a progressive education. However, they are not learned in advance and later applied; rather, they are learned because it becomes clear to learners that skills and knowledge are essential to the quest – the journey of growth.

Some say that a progressive orientation requires a separate curriculum for each student and is therefore impractical. However, when students learn that they can consider together paths to becoming better human beings, their efforts often coalesce around great human concerns: birth, love, death, success and failure, justice, prejudice, anxiety, angst, tradition, beauty, goodness, and more. In such concerns shared interest is discovered. Projects emerge and are pursued by individuals and often by small groups. These projects lead to others and continue far beyond school and throughout life.

Progressive education is contingent upon relationships based on curiosity, wonder, care, empathy, and love. It focuses on building capacity, perceiving strengths, not primarily on identifying and remediating deficits. The value of progressive education resides in individual and group understanding, accomplishment, achievement, joy of study, and increased capacity to engage in lived experience, not in test results. Progressive education seeks continuously heightened edification, meaning-making, and construction of worthwhile lives, not in the banality of competition (national, school, interpersonal).

Indeed, the basic curriculum question (What is worthwhile?) is the guiding pursuit of progressive education. Students and teachers address that question on a daily basis as it morphs and transforms through myriad situations.

Check out how kids themselves appropriate and re-imagine those stupid test questions:


March 27, 2014

A Great collection, and Ryan and I are delighted to have a piece in it.



In Response: Adolph Reed, Jr. in Harper’s Magazine

March 16, 2014

March 2, 2014


“Electoralitis,” the word coined by Adolph Reed, Jr. (“Nothing Left” March, 2014) to illuminate a wildly contagious epidemic that has afflicted and laid waste to huge swaths of the population and the radical left, is practically perfect. Every election cycle in which left politics are tethered to the Democratic Party leaves us more anemic, weaker, more flat on our backs and bed-bound. As the term suggests, electoralitis is a chronic condition if not a terminal sickness, and its symptoms are plain to see: lethal exhaustion, a degenerated political imagination, and the wasting away of critical thought.

Every season as the electoral carnival rolls into town with its attendant bells and whistles, flashing lights and boat-loads of cash, too many ordinarily smart and sensible people lose their minds. It’s important to remember that in the several-thousand year history of states, only in the past few centuries have any of them done a thing to extend the realm of human freedom, and then only when forced by mobilized and fierce fire from below. In our own history Lyndon Johnson, for example, championed the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since Reconstruction even though he was not part of the Black Freedom Movement, and Abraham Lincoln, who was forced by reality to declare an enslaved people free, never joined an abolitionist party. Each responded to robust and revolutionary movements erupting from below.

Reed reminds us that the critical task today is to build that movement on the ground, creating a radical left where none now exists. He goes a bit off the rails, however, when he sneers at Occupy, undocumented immigrants, the LBGQ struggle, the environmental resistance (“green whatever” according to him), and more as “magical or morally pristine…source[s] of political agency.” And when he asserts that the women’s movement has collapsed into “challenging the corporate glass ceiling,” all I could think of is that he’s hanging out with the wrong women.

My Brother’s Keeper

March 16, 2014

The announcement was unusually personal and many thought quite heart-felt: at the end of February President Obama introduced a White House initiative he called “My Brother’s Keeper,” designed, the administration claimed, to empower boys and young men of color to meet the challenges and overcome the obstacles to success that they face disproportionately in US society. But when all the tears had been wiped away, what had the president actually proposed, and what did it mean?

He was joined in the East Room by General Colin Powell, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Magic Johnson, and many “leaders from key national and regional philanthropic foundations and major businesses,” according to the White House.

President Obama cited a range of statistics that are by now drearily familiar: as recently as 2013 only 14 percent of Black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys scored proficient or above on the 4th grade reading component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared to 42 percent of white boys and 21 percent of Black and Hispanic girls; youth who cannot read “proficiently” by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school by 19; by the time students have reached 9th grade, 42 percent of Black male students have been suspended or expelled at least once as compared to 14 percent of white male students; while Black youth account for 16 percent of the youth population, they represent 28 percent of juvenile arrests, and 37 percent of the detained population. On and on: the life chances of a Black or Hispanic child in this country lag dramatically behind by almost every measure.

We’ve known this forever, so what’s new and what now? What is to be done? Here’s the plan:

“After months of conversation with a wide range of people, we’ve pulled together private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith leaders, nonprofits, all…committed to creating more pathways to success, and we’re committed to building on what works.”

“While there may not be much of an appetite in Congress for sweeping new programs or major new initiatives right now, we all know we can’t wait. And so the good news is, folks in the private sector, who know how important boosting the achievement of young men of color is to this country, they are ready to step up.”

“Today, I’m pleased to announce that some of the most forward-looking foundations in America are looking to invest at least $200 million over the next five years…”


That’s $40 million a year of private money, less than half what the pentagon spends in a day: “Just to be clear, My Brother’s Keeper is not some new, big government program.”

No shit!

In fact the government isn’t really a part of it:

“And in this effort, government cannot play the only or even the primary role. We can help give every child access to quality preschool and help them start learning from an early age, but we can’t replace the power of a parent who’s reading to that child.”

Yes, we’re still living in the bad old days of the popular, self-serving “culture of poverty” thesis—Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “social science” fig leaf used to cover up the naked White Supremacy beast—with its conceptualizing of the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, and the full-throated attack on Black men as “dead-beat dads.” Remember the reactionary William Bennett declaring in 2001, “It is these absent men, above all, who deserve our censure and disesteem,” and Barack Obama saying in 2007, “there are a lot of men out there who need to stop acting like boys, who need to realize that responsibility does not end at conception, who need to know that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.”

So the message to Black parents was explicit: Be better parents! For example:

“…nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life…”

“Parents will have to parent and turn off the television and help with homework.”

And the message to young Black men was equally clear: Be better young Black men! For instance:

“It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’re going to have to set goals, and you’re going to have to work for those goals. Nothing will be given to you.”

“…no excuses!”

“And addressing these issues will have to be a two-way bargain, because no matter how much the community chips in, it’s ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.”

The “two-way bargain” is actually a cliché hiding a one-way street, because the administration and the government are offering nothing beyond leading the cheers.

And if let’s assume (as many have said) that the president was merely exercising the power of the bully pulpit; OK, he might have turned and preached a bit to the political powers: end stand-your-ground now; abolish zero tolerance policies in schools; extend the earned-income tax credit to fathers; do away with 3-strikes, mandatory minimum, and for-profit prisons; create meaningful alternatives to incarceration; insist on generous and expansive arts programs in all public schools; push for equitable funding for schools; create a jobs-program on a grand scale to take up the necessary work that needs doing if we are to live in a humane society; on and on and on.

Realistically the president can’t get those things passed into law, you say?

OK, realistically he can’t get kids to follow his advice on how they dress and what they do after school, but that didn’t stop him from preaching.













February 15, 2014



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