Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

June 22, 2014

My brother Rick was one of the heroes of the American war against Viet Nam—he helped to organize and articulate war resistance in his unit, refused to kill people or to be killed in pursuit of the rulers’ imperial dreams, and deserted the US Army, spending the next decade on the run and in active resistance to war and racism. Unlike folks like John McCain who committed war crimes every day, dropping bombs on civilians, ruining farmland and infrastructure and murdering farmers and workers from the air, Rick stood for peace and justice.

A few years ago a group of German radicals and peace activists created a huge depiction of a soldier in profile, running hard as his helmet and rifle are flying away from him, and called it The Monument to the Unknown Deserter. They displayed their monument from town to town and city to city all over the country. We need that kind of sentiment—that monument—here, now more than ever.

If Bowe Bergdahl went AWOL, becoming one of millions of deserters throughout history, we should embrace that action on his part. We should stand up visibly, noisily, and salute the courage not to fight.


Teacher Tenure and Corporate Reform

June 18, 2014

Analogy Test:

High-stakes, standardized testing is to learning as:

a). memorizing a flight manual is to flying

b). watching Hawaii Five-O is to doing detective work

c). exchanging marriage vows is to a successful marriage

d). reading Gray’s Anatomy is to practicing surgery

e). singing the national anthem is to good citizenship

f). all of the above

 

On June 10, 2014, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that current teacher tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education under California’s constitution.Vergara v. Californiawas cast as a group of poor kids suing the state to get rid of bad teachers under the banner of an advocacy group called Students Matter, a not-for-profit founded by Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch in order to bankroll his multimillion dollar lawsuit.

Vergara was immediately hailed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as an opportunity and “a mandate to fix these problems.” Give Arne Duncan credit for consistency: he called Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans” because it swept the slate clean and folks could just start over (never mind those Black bodies piled in the corner), and in 2010 he applauded the school board in Central Falls, RI, the most densely populated and one of the poorest cities in the state, for firing every teacher, guidance counselor, and the principal at the high school because of poor performance. “This is hard work and these are tough decisions,” Duncan said at the time. “But students only have one chance for an education, and when schools continue to struggle we have a collective obligation to take action.”

Breitbart.com called the California decision a “conservative’s dream-come-true victory” over the unions, and cheered Welch and his supporters as “a long-time coalition of educational free-market supporters and privatization philanthropists, including the Gates Foundation, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and Walmart’s Walton Family Foundation.” Karen Lewis, fiery leader of the Chicago Teachers Union, responded that the ruling had “the moguls drinking champagne.”

The link to Brown v. Board of Education was explicit in Judge Treu’s decision as well as in aneditorial in the liberal New York Times which acknowledged somewhat grudgingly that teachers deserve “reasonable due process rights,” but saluted the decision for opening “a new chapter in the equal education struggle.”

There’s trouble in every direction.

Because Judge Treu wrapped his judgment in it, let’s start with Brown, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine and heralded the legal termination of racially segregated schools—it’s become an icon in the popular story America tells itself about its inevitable upward trajectory. On October 26, 1992, the US Congress designated Monroe Elementary School, one of the segregated Black schools in Topeka, Kansas, a National Historic Site because of its significance in the famous case, and the National Archives include several documents from the case in its digital classroom.

Brown occurred in the wake of World War II, in the wash of that reenergized sense of freedom. The decision followed incessant and increasingly intense demands by African Americans that the country live up to the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment. And, importantly, Brown coincided with clear white interests that had nothing to do with Black well-being: avoiding a revolution led and defined by subjugated African Americans; transforming the feudal South and integrating it into a repositioned capitalist juggernaut; removing a blatant and embarrassing fact of American life that was being effectively wielded against the US in the escalating Cold War. White power needed Brown—but only a bit of Brown.

Brown was, importantly, the result of relentless action and activism from below—whenever I read an account that begins with something like, “As a result of Brown, America experienced a wave of activism for justice…,” I want to offer an amendment: “As a result of a wave of activism for justice, America got Brown…”

In any case the promise of Brown was not simply about ending segregation in public schools; the promise, rather, rested on a profoundly democratic aspiration—that all individuals will receive equal education and opportunity, and that each will be afforded full dignity and equal respect. The most radical possibilities of Brown are that the country might recognize Black people’s full humanity, their complete membership in the nation. Ralph Ellison wrote at the time that “the court has found in our favor and recognized our human psychological complexity and citizenship and another battle of the Civil War has been won.” Another battle won, perhaps, but not the last.

Brown embodies a fundamental, even a fatal, flaw that runs deep in the American racial narrative. The argument in the case turns on the specific harm suffered by Black children and the feelings of inferiority that are a result of segregation, rather than the despicable, immoral, and destructive system of white supremacy itself. Black people—not racism—were the acknowledged concern; Black pathology, however, not white privilege became the focus of action. And the institutions of white supremacy live on: mass incarceration and massive school closings in Black communities, home foreclosures which disproportionately erase Black wealth and the gutting of voting rights for Black people. On and on and on.

And so Brown, the widely celebrated and lofty statement of principle, was followed immediately by its lesser-known brother, the betrayer and assassin, Brown II, the implementation, or remedy phase, and here again—consistent with the long tradition of all things racial—the remedy fit neither the crime nor the injury. In fact Brown II gave the local school districts, the parties defeated in Brown, the power and responsibility to construct the solution—to desegregate their schools “with all deliberate speed.” The fox—far from being banished from the hen house—was given the only set of keys.

“With all deliberate speed” turned out to mean “never.” The activity in the courts over the decades following Brown went decidedly south: Racially isolated Black communities were denied the right to draw students from adjoining white suburbs; children were denied the right to equal school funding; the concept of “neighborhood school” was reinforced and reified even if the result was re-segregation. School segregation is alive and well, more firmly entrenched than ever, and each year schools are more racially divided.

Monroe Elementary—that iconic temple in Topeka elevated as a National Historic

Site—may as well be turned from a museum into a mausoleum: Here is one more place where African American aspirations and struggles for decent and equal education were laid to rest.

With minimal imagination and a bit of thought the struggle for “equal education” and Arne Duncan’s “collective obligation to take action” might extend to include the impact of concentrated poverty on children’s health and well-being and educational opportunities, or the consequences of skeletal budgets, overcrowding, and school closings, or the failure of Brown to remedy what it claimed it would fix.

And now comes Judge Treu using the lofty language of Brown to attack teachers, but without a word about the reality of districts continuing to herd Black children into unnatural, chronically underfunded and inferior schools, build ever higher walls, and no mention of the policy interventions championed by Duncan and the corporate “reformers”—things like the overuse and misuse of standardized testing, massive school closures and school “turnarounds,” the stripping of needed resources, and inadequate scripted and “teacher-proof” curriculum—that have disrupted and hurt urban districts for years. As usual, white supremacy is hiding in plain sight.

Judge Treu’s decision is not an isolated event; it’s part of a pattern and an intentional strategy that begins by positing education as a product like a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screw driver—something bought and sold in the marketplace like any other commodity—and schools as businesses run by CEO’s with teachers taking the role of assembly line workers and students playing the part of the raw materials bumping helplessly along the factory floor as information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads. In this metaphoric strait-jacket it’s rather easy to suppose that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and privatizing a space that once belonged to the public is a natural event; that teaching toward a simple standardized metric and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately-developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes,” is a rational proxy for learning; that centrally controlled “standards” for curriculum and teaching are commonsensical; that “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior as a stand-in for child development or justice is sane; and that “accountability,” that is, a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools—but never on law-makers, foundations, or corporations—is logical and level-headed. This is in fact what a range of noisy politicians, and their chattering pundits in the bought media call “school reform.” And this is what Judge Treu just bought and affirmed.

The magic sauce for this reform recipe has three ingredients: replace the public schools with some sort of privately-controlled administration; sort the winners relentlessly from the losers—test, test, TEST! (and then punish); and destroy teachers’ ability to speak with any sustained or unified voice. The operative controlling metaphor for these moves has by now become quite familiar: education is an item for individual consumption, not a public trust or a social good, and certainly not a fundamental human right. Management, inputs and outcomes, efficiency, cost controls, profit and loss—the dominant language of this kind of reform doesn’t leave much room for doubt or much space to breathe.

The forces fighting to create this new common-sense are led by a merry band of billionaires—Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, Eli Broad—who work relentlessly to take up all the available space, preaching, persuading, and promoting, always spreading around liberal amounts of cash to underline their fundamental points: dismantle public schools, crush the teachers unions, test and punish. When Rupert Murdoch was in trouble in the summer of 2011, it came to light that Joel Klein, a leading “reformer” as head of the New York City public schools for years (and whose own kids, of course, attended private schools), was on Murdoch’s payroll; according to the New York Times, the two saw eye to eye “on a core set of education principles: that charter schools needed to expand; poor instructors (the now-famous “lazy incompetent teachers”) should be weeded out; and the power of the teachers union must be curtailed.” The trifecta!

And, of course, these imaginary reformers create a fictional opposition—in a flattering portrait of Arne Duncan in the New Yorker (“Class Warrior,” February 1, 2010) the author claimed that in the contemporary school reform battles “there are, roughly speaking, two major camps.” The first he called “the free-market reformers,” the second, “the liberal traditionalists.” The reformers have the vitality and the energy, the big ideas and the grand plans, the troops and the momentum and all of the ready money; the traditionalists accept the schools just as they are, and they embrace the status quo as embodied in the colleges of education and especially in the big teachers unions.

This caricature leaves out a huge range of approaches and actors, including those who argue, as John Dewey did a century ago, that in a democracy, whatever the wisest and most privileged parents want for their children must serve as a minimum standard for what we as a community want for all of our children. Arne Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (as did our three sons), and so did Mayor Daley’s, Mayor Emmanuel’s, and President and Mrs. Obama’s children, where they had small classes, abundant resources, and opportunities to experiment and explore, ask questions and pursue answers to the farthest limits—oh, and a respected and unionized teacher corps as well. Good enough for the Obamas and the Duncans, good enough for us—and good enough for the kids in public schools everywhere. Any other ideal for our schools, in the words of Dewey, “is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy.”

Before teachers were organized, women were paid less than men, African-Americans were last hired/first fired, and teachers were routinely dismissed for their political opinions without any hope of due process. Fact: in those states where teachers are denied the right to organize, student achievement on the measures favored by the corporate group do much worse; fact: good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and good teaching conditions are good learning conditions—good working conditions can only be developed if teachers are collectively in the conversation.

The moguls may be drinking champagne, Brietbart and company may be having a late-night orgy, and Judge Treu may imagine himself a freedom fighter, but none of this is the last word.

 

 

 

 

 


Don’t Bomb Iraq

June 14, 2014

President Obama is faced with a decision: Does he double down on Bush’s catastrophic decision 12 years ago to invade Iraq, one of the most foolish and costly decisions by a president? Or does he do what he promised as a candidate for president in 2008, and finally end the American occupation of Iraq?

Join me in telling President Obama that it’s time to end American intervention in Iraq.

http://act.credoaction.com/sign/no_bombs_iraq?referring_akid=a156253843.2236229.YPUEWA&source=conf_email


Maxine Greene obiyuary, NY Times June 6, 2014

June 6, 2014

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/05/nyregion/maxine-greene-teacher-and-educational-theorist-dies-at-96.html?_r=1


American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs

June 4, 2014

Grace Lee Boggs will be 99 years old later this month, and I’ll be in Detroit for her birthday party.

Woo-woo!

Her 95th was a noisy intergenerational riot, and I’m expecting nothing less than an uprising this time around. Grace goes on and on, and she inspires and challenges me to do the same.

To celebrate her 99th, get the dazzling documentary, “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” by the young film-maker Grace Lee. The documentarian Grace was filming “The Grace Lee Project,” a collection of interviews across the land with everyone she could find who shared her name. The idea was cool: show the vast range and diversity of Asian-American women simply by following this one thin thread. And then she met the wondrous revolutionary Grace, and a whole new film project was launched.

Grace Lee Boggs has one of the most interesting minds you will ever encounter. She is always restless, always awakening and rethinking, forever astonished and moved to act, never standing still or entirely satisfied. Even at 98 she’s the most forward-looking person in any room she walks in to. She’s a great believer in the power of the unfinished conversation—she loves the unscripted, surprising ideas that percolate in-between when we speak with the hope of being heard, and listen with the possibility of being changed. Since every idea contains its opposite and nothing is fixed or final, she dives into dialogue with unmatched fervor. It’s a sight to behold, and a gift to participate.

Grace wears a t-shirt these days that reads: [r]evolution. She says that we must work for revolution, but not in any old stereotypically scripted way. We must fight for revolution, yes, a huge transformation of all that is before us, and we must embrace evolution—becoming new men and new women capable and worthy of the changes we envision and struggle toward.

Grace challenges us to grapple with the big questions: What does it mean to be human in the 21st Century? How will we grow our souls? Who will we choose to be in a world not of our choosing? What can we imagine and how will we get there? What time is it on the clock of the world?

Happy Birthday, Grace!!

See: “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs”


24/7

May 31, 2014

24 Love Letters to Maxine Greene

(In no particular order)

Followed by 7 Questions

 

Dear Maxine,

I’m wandering along an open road tonight, wobbly and a bit unhinged, wondering where I’ll be by morning, writing you now under a sea of stars. You’re on my mind 24/7—I love you, you know—and here’s a simple sampling of letters from the day, one every hour, followed by a week’s worth of questions:

 

1)      Your eyes, yes, why not? Laughing eyes, and worried too. Wonderful eyes, burning day and night, aware, alert eyes.

2)      A sense rumbling beneath every conversation: you’re just waking up, at this very moment—this morning’s news! That cab-driver’s comment! The piece on the war in the New Yorker! Rachel Madow! The show at the Public! Bill T. Jones! Rashid Khalidi on Charlie Rose! Brecht!—and you’re breaking loose. You’re speaking to me (I know it’s a narcissistic illusion, but I allow myself, why not?) as if I’m just waking up too, and in our first waking moments I must pay urgent attention, gather whatever courage I can, and prepare to break loose as well.

3)      You offer me a bowl of soup and a bed for the night—me, the natural narcissism again, why not?—but you offer a bite and a bed for the night to many others, including the homeless man on 5th Avenue one night in a snow storm (my hopeful invitation in perspective!) and his aggressive rejection: What do you want from me lady?

4)      Your crazy question after that lecture: Was it OK? It was, yes, it was surely OK. It was only words after all—let’s not make more of it than it was—conceived and constructed and spoken by you for perhaps an hour, a bit more, in a crowded    room, a stuffy place at the start. And yet people who heard you were gasping throughout, some weeping, some laughing and reaching out to touch another’s hand. The air sizzled and crackled, until, as you would have it, fresh and startling winds began to blow through the room. No one left quite the same, not even you. It was OK—why not?

5)      Your one persistent rule, which is to reach, and your dazzling embodiment of the practice of it, the effort of it, trying again and again to speak beyond barriers and without bounds, to stretch, to reach.

6)      Those exaggerations, those excesses—all the little efforts and grand gestures, and why not, designed to clear the air of hum-drum, ho-hum, and all the tedious repetition and buzz.

7)      The admonition to create—right here and right now, in this community or in this school or on this corner—a place to do philosophy, and a bit of the possible world we might want to inhabit.

8)      Your inner rhythm: Wake up! Be astonished! Act! Doubt! (REPEAT!)

9)      Storming all those habitual barricades, the impositions and constraints, especially your own.

10)  Reminding us again what it means to be alive and in dialogue with others, unfinished and situated, in-motion and struggling to expand the public square as a place of balance and decency, human dignity and possibility.

11)  Your sense that we are all necessarily blind to our own blind spots, anesthetized, sleepy, and in need of occasional jolts and shocks into new awarenesses.

12)  Your contradictions and conflicts, your reversals, dialectcs.

13)  Another world—not necessarily a better world, possibly much worse, but another world nonetheless—is inevitable: Imagine a possible world you’d like to live in. Why not?

14)  All the echoes: Arendt and Camus and DuBois, for example, Addams and King and Horton, Ginsberg, Shelly, Hughes and Brooks. Orwell. Morrison. Saramago. DeLillo. Woolf. That wild unruly company you keep.

15)  Your invitations—to try once to construct a classroom on a base of fearless and relentless inquiry, for example, every established and received bit of wisdom, common sense, and dogma open for examination, interrogation, and rethinking.

16)  Your impatience with gurus of every stripe, and with anyone who would pin you, like a beautiful butterfly, to that particular board.

17)  Your invitations—to change the world, for example, or to change the people who will change the world.

18)  Embracing the rebels again and again, and glimpsing the ghost of Dewey behind the barricades.

19)  Imagining a classroom where all the messages, implicit and explicit, are built on the idea that we are swirling through history, alive and acute, that nothing is guaranteed, and that we are each a work-in-progress and an artist-in-residence, swimming shakily toward an uncertain shore.

20)  That elaborate and painful-looking tattoo you inspired on the inside of my student’s small wrist: I am…not yet.

21)  Your endless invitations—to act out the possibility that school, for example, far from being a preparation for life, is indeed life itself,.

22)  Your open meditation concerning the fear of imagination, the fear of choice and free will, that characterizes the people who are drunk on power, or to the men of facts without ethics, or to those cynics who can tell you the price of everything but the value of nothing. Your Dickensian dystopic description of the degradation that marks the classroom as slave galley where the teacher’s central task is to beat the drum mindlessly: “When thou shalt fill each jar brim full by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill the robber Fancy lurking within—or sometimes only maim him and distort him!”

23)  Your self-designated task to follow the town crier through all the quiet streets as he puts the people to sleep with his constant, “All’s well” and to contradict that soothing lie: All is certainly not well, you say, lighting altogether different lamps for the night.

24)  Your invitations—to dive into the wreckage, for example.

 

 

Questions:

 

What does it mean to be human in the 21st century?

How can teachers who feel shackled, bound and gagged, develop a pedagogy of alert engagement with and activism for humanity—something that tries to tell the truth, tries to stand against violence and war and exploitation and oppression, tries to act in fairness and balance and peace, and tries to enact the power of love that does justice?

How can we look at the world of children—the sufferings, the accomplishments, the perspectives, the concerns—and develop an awareness, sometimes joyous but just as often painful, of all that we find; how do we account for every person, each entangled and propelled, and sometimes made mute, by large social forces, each with a wild and vast inner life—a spirit, a mind, a future?

How can we forge ourselves into artisans of a new humanity?

What are our wildest dreams?

What are you planning to do now?

What should I do with the rest of my life?

 

Bill


A note from Joel Westheimer:

May 30, 2014

Maxine Greene passed away yesterday. Every single time I saw Maxine, she picked up the conversation exactly where we had last left it, as if I were one of only 6 people who had been in her apartment in the intervening months. But she had talked to hundreds, exchanged letters and notes and phone calls with hundreds more. “Did you finish that article on…?” “Do you still think Obama is…?” “How is your sister, Miriam?” “When Carol was here, we talked about Bill’s new book – have you read it?” There are only a few who know how to live life so fully. Salons. Students. Concerts. Lectures. Reading up. Dressing down. Imagining the possible for our children…and their children.

As so-and-so in this novel by so-and-so, she would say, as if all of us were as intimately familiar with the characters of every book written in the past 200 years as she was…But it didn’t matter. The quotation from the fictional character captured the point perfectly, brought us to those places in our imagination that so often so often pass unnoticed and yet, when given the attention they deserve, nourish our curiosity and the sense of the possible. She inspired teachers and scholars alike, in fact blurring that very distinction.

Mary Oliver:
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Maxine, a mentor and friend to so many of us, lived a wild and precious life.


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