Friday, October 31, 2008
My son and I are primed for Halloween - he's got his airline pilot costume, we got ourselves a good dose of Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil, and I attended a truly frightening event last night and emerged from it mostly unscathed. Jeff Crouere's Ringside Politics With A Punch did its darnedest to have a little something for everybody...and it mostly succeeded last night, despite the no-show of one of its participants and the too-brief appearance of another. Don't think Halloween wasn't on the minds of the panelists in attendance, either: Virginia Boulet appeared in quite the Sarah Palin-ish getup, hair, glasses and all - except for the uber-conservative viewpoint of Caribou Barbie herself. Jay Batt said he'd be Fred Flintstone this year, and then, with some prodding, revealed he'd already tried out his costume at the Playboy mansion last week. How's that for family values?
So I sat at the back of the Cricket Club (aka, the former Red Room club and the former Eiffel Tower Restaurant) with the peanut gallery, sat through Bayou Buzz's Stephen Sabludowsky's silence-inducing introduction (there were supposed to be some funny jokes in there, but the chirping of crickets could be heard all the way out on the St Charles Avenue neutral ground), marveled at how much Crouere looks like a young Buddy Cianci, and sat back for a little off-the-cuff blather on the local and national issues and stories of the day.
The comments were a hoot and a half, with political satirist/cartoonist John Slade coming up with some real doozies. He commented on the system for catching any voter registrations turned in by ACORN workers, saying that it "isn't being trusted...and not just by the hippies." Slade's takes on a few local figures were also noteworthy:
John Kennedy: "I don't think you can call him a car crash - he hasn't gotten out of the garage." Ed Blakely: "He shouldn't have said that crane thing."
Miss Teen Louisiana: "You smoke that stuff before you eat."
The heaviest of the political heavies for the night were definitely Boulet and Batt, sitting, appropriately enough, on the left and right sides of the stage, respectively. Boulet was set up as the Obama spokesperson, and Batt went to bat for McCain/Palin. Straight Man of the Night was Joe Johnson, who reminded everyone that plumbers are people too and who couldn't understand why the Saints were going through kicker woes as of late ("They're a dime a dozen"). For the record, he thinks the Saints will be going 9-7 this year.
When all was almost said and done, however, Norman Robinson put in an appearance and stole the show. He was only there for ten minutes, but he denied any plans for a possible run for mayor in 2010 ("I'm already running for my life."), pooh-poohed any serious talk of Jindal running for president in 2012, and brought down the house with his take on Miss Teen Louisiana's predicament:
"It happens to the best of us."
Hell yes, it does, Norman.
Hope everyone has a safe, happy Halloween!
Thursday, October 30, 2008
This is a puzzling development for me, and, although I am still in the process of working out exactly why this contemporary art extravaganza hasn't lit my art fool fires, there are a few reasons I have sussed out.
New Orleans already has a great deal of home-grown art to recommend it to the rest of the world. If it isn't the music in the streets, it's the galleries all over town, the art markets that are cropping up like toadstools in the neighborhoods, the people doing their own thing with the basic, time-tested brushes and paint, etc., etc. So it may not necessarily be capital-A ART...who the hell cares? When I first moved down here after a few months busting my buns in New York, a good family friend gave me a mug I prize to this day that says "WE DON'T CARE HOW THEY DO IT IN NEW YORK". That is the absolute truth. Why the hell are all of these capital-A artistes needed here, anyhow, and why now?
The Prospect .1 site has a section that professes to answer this question. And it is this section that gets me pondering how my ways of thinking about art have changed.
Full disclosure: I went to a capital-A art school in the northeast. I have a great deal of art history courses, studio art courses, and other visual ephemera still lingering in my brain from those fateful early years. I now think that the main reason I went into working in glass wasn't that it was the warmest place on campus, or for the more structured nature of the coursework (glass is a technically demanding material, and that sort of structure was necessary just so that people wouldn't seriously hurt themselves in the hot shop) - it was because a certain bullshit detector had been activated in those years, and it seems to have gained more power and momentum as I have aged.
I knew, after my first year of foundation art studios and a short time in the glass department, that the artsy-fartsy bull that seemed to pass for highly developed ideas about art in the studio art departments such as painting and sculpture fell pretty flat in the glass department, in large part because of the nature of glass itself and because of the instructors in the department. Someone once passed on to me the words of a member of the B Team, a group of performance art-based glassblowers: "Glassblowers are the truck drivers of the art world." You can only exist on ideological bullshit for so long as a glass artist. After that, life gets financially and technically demanding, and the quality of what you produce must keep up. One must be business savvy in order to stay an Artist. Period.
Now more than ever before, there is a doublespeak in the Art world. It is a language that, ever since the days of the photorealists and the Pop artists, we are now highly conversant in because those visual sensibilities that got their start in the sixties blew up to immense, art-as-business proportions in the Greed Decade of the 1980's and are now running through darn near everything we see. It is a visual savvy born of having seen Keith Haring animation on Sesame Street, or Barbara Kruger's stark images that collapse the boundaries between art and advertising. In fact, at least one of those 80's art stars, Julian Schnabel, has headed right out of the art gallery and into filmmaking.
The question I now have in mind with regards to any sort of Art exhibition now is how much of it is truly art as art in a world where even the phrase "Art for Art's Sake" has been co-opted for market purposes?
At least the Prospect .1 site treats the biennial's raison d'etre with some honesty, after lauding New Orleans' art historical significance. Not to mention a bit of entrenched condescension showing its ugly head by way of a little Art world guilt:
Why a biennial for New Orleans?
Since the post-Katrina floods of 2005, the international art community has expressed a collective desire to make a positive contribution to the city and people of New Orleans. But these intentions have been hampered so far by the sense that there is no suitable public vehicle for channeling this interest in a positive way. In showcasing the city through contemporary art installations, Prospect.1 New Orleans seeks to base an entirely new category of tourism for the city on the growing American interest in contemporary art, as well as the worldwide love for New Orleans.Hmmm...you've got to wonder at that phrasing. "No suitable public vehicle for channeling" a positive contribution on the part of the international art community to this city? Damn, people, we don't need your pity here! And if you are trying to assuage your feelings of guilt by putting on a show of what supposed real Art looks like, I'd invite all of you to put your skills to work doing something much more useful: gut and rebuild some homes. Help Brad Pitt. Highlight the idiot workings of our city government with a performance piece bulldozing City Hall or something. We're feeling the love all right...an artistic vision of it using the same old tourist economics of "Hey! It's another attraction to bring people here!" and little else.
I still love art...it's the business of it that I can't stand.
But, if they are planning to make this a true blockbuster biennial that will keep on keeping on for years to come, I hope they take some cues from the folks who manage the Venice Biennale.
And besides, it really won't be an international art event as far as I'm concerned unless the Guerrilla Girls show up:
Just my humble opinion as an art fool....
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Parishioners have plenty to reflect on today as they occupy the church - the parish learned Tuesday morning that a judge rejected a case to keep the church open.
Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese explained to church members, four of whom brought a civil suit to court to try to stop their church's closing, that they were in fact not members of the legal congregation. Under the legal definition, the congregation includes the archbishop, his vicar general, OLGC's pastor, the Rev. Pat Collum, and two (empty) layman seats.
Link courtesy of Poppy Z.
Why this Jewish girl cares about some Catholic churches:
-I live in New Orleans. The demolition of private homes is bad enough. Take away the communal gathering places that help make this city what it is and this place shrinks even more than it already has. Plus, there have already been some significant church demolitions and some church saviors here. Why subject parishioners to even more heartbreak? Oh, right, that greenback bottom line. I guess houses of worship are supposed to be money mills.
-There are few guarantees that these churches will stay churches once they are sold. I'm not sure if this holds true for Catholic churches, but I know that once a synagogue becomes a Christian house of worship (or one of another denomination or sect), it cannot be reconsecrated as a synagogue. If the church buildings are especially lucky, perhaps alternatives to selling them to the highest bidder could be found - remake them as museums, or property buyers could purchase them from the Archdiocese and donate them back to the parishioners.
-Another possible alternative is to open the church up to other communities for worship, with those communities paying fees to help with the church upkeep. If it's money that the Archbishop wants, this is one way to keep it coming.
-I saw a few building wars in NYC related to the dwindling Conservative Jewish congregations having to give up the ghost, and they were not pretty. One building was nearly sold out from under a congregation due to the executive director and president having made a deal without consulting the synagogue's board. The fur certainly flew there. They all compromised over rental of the building.
-Well, I guess this still counts as an explanation for why I am supporting the parishioners here.
Once again, best of luck to the St. Henry's and OLGC communities.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
5 And Moses died.*
Gee, you'd think, after all the earthly demands the Archbishop of New Orleans made on the churches he's closing anyhow, the Lord God above would surely intervene. But you know, there are times when God helps those who help themselves, and living in a country founded on Deist principles (that God has essentially set the world in motion and we mere mortals took it from there) as well as a strong separation of church and state is encouraging parishioners of the closing churches to take matters into their own hands...with some ingenuity and encouragement:
Parishioners occupying two Catholic churches in defiance of closure orders from the Archdiocese of New Orleans began laying plans Monday to live there in shifts -- in one case after parishioners apparently played cat and mouse with archdiocesan officials who thought they had locked them out.
At the end of the day, parishioners at St. Henry and Our Lady of Good Counsel were inside their churches and organizing to remain.
In addition, parishioners from both communities met Monday night with Peter Borre, a Boston energy consultant who has been involved in Boston parishes' resistance to a wave of parish closings Cardinal Sean O'Malley ordered in 2004.
Five parishes there have been occupied around the clock -- or under "vigil" -- for four years.I especially like the slip given to archdiocesan officials changing the locks on Our Lady of Good Counsel - they were so focused on the removal of holy objects that they apparently neglected to check if any of the parishioners who helped keep the church a holy place were still there. Shows what really matters to the higher-ups in the administration of Catholicism in this city.
And, according to Peter Borre's group, the Council of Parishes, this isn't a problem unique to New Orleans. A petition on the website asks:
“WHERE DID OUR MONEY GO?”
Petitions send messages. Our message is that we are Catholics who care about our Church, its future, and the countless priests who have worked their lives serving God and us. We seek responsible - and informed -stewardship of our donations, neither of which has occurred in the Archdiocese of Boston for many years. We seek accountability so the problems facing our church can be constructively addressed, trust can be restored, healing can begin, and the church can grow again. Join us and be heard.
And it's not simply a question to be reserved for the American Catholic organizations...where has the money gone, all these years, at all levels of our government? Where's the dough for rebuilding and upkeep of our infrastructure? For our public schools?
Where is the "Council of Governments" organization so that I can keep vigil inside a City Hall that keeps changing virtual locks on the people it is supposed to serve? Inside Baton Rouge's State House? Inside Congress?
And Abraham arose...and he went forth. According to many, thus was Abraham's defining moment: the moment he looked around, saw what the world around him had become, and behold, he did leave, saying, --F--k this. For this he is considered by the followers of the world's major religions to be their father, followers who laud his courage and strength of spirit in one breath, and threaten, in the next, any of their flock who might be foolish enough to consider going forth themselves.**
I wish the parishioners of St Henry's and OLGC all the luck in the world. And I condemn the Archdiocese of New Orleans for failing to see what a dedicated gift they have in these people who still want to be practicing Catholics, these people who have been busting their asses to keep their houses of worship open - because eventually, if this relationship erodes any further, these folks will need to ask themselves some tough questions about their religious beliefs:
...I wondered if this leaving, this searching for something new, this disillusionment with the choices available is, for some of us, the essential f--ked-up condition of our lives...And if Abraham were alive today - in Monsey (NY), or Mecca, or Vatican City - I wondered if he wouldn't arise in the morning, pack up his camel, and say, --F--k this, all over again.**
Something will give, indeed. But what, and who, will it be?
*a translation of Deuteronomy from **
**Shalom Auslander's Foreskin's Lament
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Need a vacation of sorts.
I will be attending the New Orleans Speaks symposium this Saturday at UNO's Kirschman Hall, which was rescheduled for this weekend from its previous date that happened to put it right smack in the middle of Gustav evac. Check the schedule for more information. Note that Karen Gadbois will be speaking at 2:20 PM.
Aside from that, I'm pooping out some. Election shenanigans, meh. I've seen waaay too many abandoned school buildings, and I need to be much more concerned with what's doing with my son right now...seems if it isn't some kind of sickness at large within his little body, it's his behavior in some way. Always something. And I haven't been taking it too well. There's still a sweet, smart character in there, but if it isn't trouble at his regular school, it's trouble at his religious school. How best to make him see that he has to keep calm - and without having him become labeled as a "bad" kid somehow? I'm putting my mother's champion worrying to shame right now.
Hence, this insane feeling of a hundred monkeys on my back. And, no, they have not come up with anything near a script of Hamlet. I wish they would.
Everybody be well. Don't rearrange the virtual furniture too much during my break.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
...but this morning, I came across an amazing instance of how much removing the neighborhood has affected one school in particular.
More than two years ago, when (Martin Luther)King (Jr. Charter School) leaders started pushing to rebuild their school in the Lower 9th Ward, they argued King's presence would entice families back to the flood-ravaged neighborhood. And some families did indeed return home on that promise.
But most of the students no longer live in the Lower 9th Ward, and some of the school's leaders question when -- or if -- King will ever truly be a neighborhood school again.
On the one hand, it shows how much people want to simply go home. The Lower Nine was home. In the minds of these parents and their children, it still is. Actually, it's that kind of thinking that sustained Jewish communities around the globe in the ages between the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the establishment of the modern state of Israel: that there is indeed a promised land where one absolutely, wholeheartedly belongs, a land of one's forefathers and foremothers, and it is our purpose, through our way of living, to work towards regaining that. It's a way of living that is mostly anathema to a world of constant onward, upward, leave-the-past-behind, abandon-family-for-individual-success sort of motions.
On the other hand, in an economy going only further and further down the tubes, schlepping one's kids all the way from LaPlace, or schlepping oneself from the city of Slidell to Caffin and N. Claiborne Avenues in New Orleans to teach, will have to undergo some serious reexamination. Something will have to give someplace - and I hope it won't be the school itself.
I also have to question this whole notion presented in the article about King - that of its being, (i)n a sense, ... a new form of public community school, one perhaps unique to post-Katrina New Orleans, where a school's staff and families are linked together not by geography, but a common history, culture and commitment. For many King families and staff members, the school has become their primary link to their pre-storm neighbors and lives.
I find this a tough one to negotiate in terms of my thoughts on this matter. I've been reading a lot about the integration of the New Orleans public schools in the early 1960s lately, and it seems there is always a microscopic line between fighting for what you believe and pulling your children into that fight. When today's post-8-29 parents are much too busy simply running around to get the money to live, wherever they currently are, it seems sad to me that this is the only way loyalty to a neighborhood in which they can't live can be established.
And an even more important question is being overlooked here:
What will happen when all of the enrollment-prioritized former 9th Ward residents' children are no longer attending the school, and the actual residents' numbers are still a fraction of what was there before? Memories of the Lower-9-that-was cannot, by themselves, sustain a school.
Though I wish they could...
Monday, October 20, 2008
I remember having looked forward to the birthday bash he was gonna have this time last year, only to have it cancelled due to circumstances beyond his control. Dammit.
Y'all give a little something to his memorial fund when you get a chance. Can't think of a better birthday commemoration right now....
...except for, maybe, a recap of this.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Voter registration fraud doesn't mean that Mickey Mouse will show up and try to vote on November 4th. Voter suppression, however, is an active Republican strategy that's been in place since the 1964 Voting Rights Act expanded enfranchisement. Is there any wonder why election protection groups feel they need to be in communities of color, working-class people, immigrants, and not in, say, Salt Lake City?
And if we want to talk Bill Ayers, let's start with education. Ayers has quietly done important work in Chicago and earned the respect of the best education leaders in the country, liberals and conservatives alike.
McCain, on the other hand, asserted last night that the country had finally arrived at equal access to education, apparently unaware that school segregation has climbed since the Reagan era to levels unseen since the eve of Brown vs. Board of Education. In his effort to push vouchers, he confused them with charter schools and lied—with a big smile—about Washington D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee's position on them. McCain simply doesn't seem to have as much knowledge or passion on education and higher education as he does about Obama's supposedly scary relationships.
And here is the thing. No one really cares about my friend Bill Ayers and no one really cares about ACORN except for the right-wing nuts and racists in the party, the kind of folks who show up at rallies to yell "Kill him!" when Obama's name is mentioned. Instead I think most voters, like me, want to know how the war can be ended, the economy be turned around, and the education system be fixed.
Aside from Obama's having made a mistake on doubling the number of charter schools in Illinois (he actually approved legislation doubling the number of charters in Chicago), this is one case of the lies catching up to McCain only to bite him in the butt. Obama's gaffe could be said to be an honest mistake - McCain's cannot be explained in that way at all.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The question is this: the U.S. spends more per capita than any other country on education. Yet, by every international measurement, in math and science competence, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, we trail most of the countries of the world.
The implications of this are clearly obvious. Some even say it poses a threat to our national security.
Do you feel that way and what do you intend to do about it?
MCCAIN: Well, it's the civil rights issue of the 21st century.
That's the only part that John McCain got right.
There's no doubt that we have achieved equal access to schools in America after a long and difficult and terrible struggle.
No, actually, we haven't. The people who can afford to still send their children out of the public school district for which they are zoned. At least you didn't pull out any "diversity" shtick, you moronic man.
But what is the advantage in a low income area of sending a child to a failed school and that being your only choice?
So choice and competition amongst schools is one of the key elements that's already been proven in places in like New Orleans and New York City and other places, where we have charter schools, where we take good teachers and we reward them and promote them.
Under No Child Left Behind, the teachers are getting left behind. They have to constantly teach to high-risk tests or risk losing their jobs. The ones that are getting rewarded and promoted are the ones that are toeing the line on this and turning our kids into yet another commodity to be pushed around. Same ol' crud under different names. And what would you know about New Orleans, anyhow? The closest you got to it was the airport in Kenner. What's the matter, man...afraid we'd bring up what Dubya was actually doing on 8-29?
And we find bad teachers another line of work. And we have to be able to give parents the same choice, frankly, that Senator Obama and Mrs. Obama had and Cindy and I had to send our kids to the school -- their kids to the school of their choice. Charter schools aren't the only answer, but they're providing competition. They are providing the kind of competitions that have upgraded both schools -- types of schools.
All right, fine, throw in the Obamas having made the same choice that you made, not your kids, to send them to the school of your choice. What line of work would you give to these "bad teachers", Johnny? Really, I wanna know. I think, when you lose this election, as a "bad politician", I'm gonna advocate sending you in to teach at an open enrollment public school with a student population that is 99.6% black. Let's see how long you'd last.
Now, throwing money at the problem is not the answer. You will find that some of the worst school systems in America get the most money per student.
So I believe that we need to reward these good teachers.
MCCAIN: We need to encourage programs such as Teach for America and Troops to Teachers where people, after having served in the military, can go right to teaching and not have to take these examinations which -- or have the certification that some are required in some states.
Certification is absolutely necessary, Johnny. There still have to be some standards. Way to kick the profession of teaching while it is already down, man. The two-year turnover of teachers who come out of the Teach for America program is not really serving the people who enter into the program, and it really isn't serving our kids - not exactly a success story. Troops for Teachers actually sounds better - I guess I can give you something on that one.
Look, we must improve education in this country. As far as college education is concerned, we need to make those student loans available. We need to give them a repayment schedule that they can meet. We need to have full student loan program for in-state tuition. And we certainly need to adjust the certain loan eligibility to inflation.
Howzabout actually lowering the cost of college tuition? If that doesn't happen, fewer people will be sending their kids on to college because they will have already shelled out loads of dough to send their kids elsewhere, on account of many (too many) of those TFA people treating their time in public school as a giant revolving door, an occupational detour by which they can pay their own college tuitions. Then again, this is the first time in the history of our country that everybody is expected to go to college.
OBAMA: Well, we have a tradition of local control of the schools and that's a tradition that has served us well. But I do think that it is important for the federal government to step up and help local school districts do some of the things they need to do.
Yeah, our version of local control is absolutely screwed up. Using a Community Block Development Grant to fund a pie-in-the-wilderness set of classrooms, among other shenanigans, makes for a "system of schools" without much hope for their maintenance...
Now we tried to do this under President Bush. He put forward No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, they left the money behind for No Child Left Behind. And local school districts end up having more of a burden, a bunch of unfunded mandates, the same kind of thing that happened with special education where we did the right thing by saying every school should provide education to kids with special needs, but we never followed through on the promise of funding, and that left local school districts very cash-strapped.
Yeah, the money has gone to Iraq and/or Wall Street. And when the soldiers return, they can martyr themselves some more in the inner city public schools after going through the TTT program unless something major changes - like the way we see education.
So what I want to do is focus on early childhood education, providing teachers higher salaries in exchange for more support. Senator McCain and I actually agree on two things that he just mentioned.
Higher salaries is a damn good start. Agreeing with McCain, however, is walking a flaming tightrope over Niagara Falls.
Charter schools, I doubled the number of charter schools in Illinois despite some reservations from teachers unions. I think it's important to foster competition inside the public schools.
Dammit, Barack, this is simply more caving in to seeing education as a commodity rather than an experience that values learning and thinking. Disappointed!!!!!!
And we also agree on the need for making sure that if we have bad teachers that they are swiftly -- after given an opportunity to prove themselves, if they can't hack it, then we need to move on because our kids have to have their best future.
Where we disagree is on the idea that we can somehow give out vouchers -- give vouchers as a way of securing the problems in our education system. And I also have to disagree on Senator McCain's record when it comes to college accessibility and affordability.
Recently his key economic adviser was asked about why he didn't seem to have some specific programs to help young people go to college and the response was, well, you know, we can't give money to every interest group that comes along.
Heh. The economic adviser must have heard "interested group". Collegians are certainly very interested in how their pursuit of knowledge will be funded.
I don't think America's youth are interest groups, I think they're our future. And this is an example of where we are going to have to prioritize. We can't say we're going to do things and then not explain in concrete terms how we're going to pay for it.
And if we're going to do some of the things you mentioned, like lowering loan rates or what have you, somebody has got to pay for it. It's not going to happen on its own.
I suggest McCain donate a bunch of his homes to help pay.
SCHIEFFER: What about that, Senator?
MCCAIN: Well, sure. I'm sure you're aware, Senator Obama, of the program in the Washington, D.C., school system where vouchers are provided and there's a certain number, I think it's a thousand and some and some 9,000 parents asked to be eligible for that.
Because they wanted to have the same choice that you and I and Cindy and your wife have had. And that is because they wanted to choose the school that they thought was best for their children.
And we all know the state of the Washington, D.C., school system. That was vouchers. That was voucher, Senator Obama. And I'm frankly surprised you didn't pay more attention to that example.
Yeah, it was vouchers all right, and there are a bunch of reasons why folks from your own party are abandoning them. Read up a little more, man. Sheesh.
Now as far as the No Child Left Behind is concerned, it was a great first beginning in my view. It had its flaws, it had its problems, the first time we had looked at the issue of education in America from a nationwide perspective. And we need to fix a lot of the problems. We need to sit down and reauthorize it.
No. No we don't. Really. It's true. Trust me on this one. Trust the teachers...before you deem them to be "bad", that is.
But, again, spending more money isn't always the answer. I think the Head Start program is a great program. A lot of people, including me, said, look, it's not doing what it should do. By the third grade many times children who were in the Head Start program aren't any better off than the others.
Actually, they're finding that that's true of ALL kids, not just the ones in Head Start. "(T)oo much academics too early can actually hurt kids' achievement in the long run." It's still no excuse for cutting it. If you cut it, cut ALL of the preschool and early childhood programs everywhere while you're at it, John. That will be a great stride taken for the civil rights issue of the 21st century.
Let's reform it. Let's reform it and fund it. That was, of course, out-of-bounds by the Democrats. We need to reform these programs. We need to have transparency. We need to have rewards. It's a system that cries out for accountability and transparency and the adequate funding.
Accountability, did you say? Transparency? Transparency????? We've certainly got transparency out the wazoo in this neck of the woods! And, boy, Johnny was the picture of transparency when he was smirking away at Barack, that one over there by him. Just yesterday, my son got into serious trouble at school for smirking, among other things. It just ain't nice. If you're gonna smirk, you might as well go for a full-on grin.
McCain's out-of-touch takes on all of this are staggering to me. Obama's concessions to the charter school craze sweeping the nation are disturbing as well. In the end, though, John cannot have a better position with which to carry out these misguided, ill-informed regards for public education come November 4th. I'll be making sure of that when I head into the voting booth.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Everyone on this planet who cares about our future as a human race has to read Jonathan Kozol's Letters To A Young Teacher. Period.
Some samples of his writings to Francesca:
"The ugly little secret," as you put it, is that there is almost no diversity at all in most of the schools in which diversity curricula are generally used. The word, you said, has come to be a cover-up for situations to which it can't possibly apply.
As you've noticed, this is right in keeping with the way the word is used in education journals and the media. There is a seemingly agreed-upon convention, in the written press especially, never to use a plain, unvarnished term like "racial segregation" - not, at least, in reference to the city where the newspaper is published - if there's any way the term can be avoided. This is the case even in a narrative description of a segregated school, where journalists have learned to do semantic somersaults in order not to use a word that may do injury to civic pride. High schools that enroll as few as six or seven white or Asian students in a total population of as many as 3,000, and where every other child in the building is black or Hispanic, are commonly referred to, in the parlance of reporters, as "diverse."
School systems employ this euphemism, too. In a school I visited last fall in Kansas City, for example, I was provided with a document that said the school's curriculum "addresses the needs of children from diverse backgrounds." but as I went from class to class I didn't see a single child who was white or Asian - or Hispanic, for that matter. The principal, when I pressed her on the demographics of the school, said that 99.6 percent of students there were black.
I think you were being very honest when you said you feel as if you're lying to your children if you leave these false impressions uncorrected and allow the class, essentially, to swallow the idea that segregation is a shameful piece of distant history for which our nation has absolved itself, rather than an ever-present aspect of the lives they lead and education they receive today.
"Here we are in a public school with not a single white child in our class and only three white children in the school's entire population. Hooray for Ruby Bridges and for Linda Brown and all the other brave black children of the South for having left us with a legacy of social justice in our public schools, even if this legacy has been completely, and intentionally, ripped apart and shredded and abandoned in the years since all the kids we teach today were born!"
Many black educators have expressed the same frustration you did when you spoke about the uses of the past as something like a piece of "meaningful but old and tattered cloth" that we have placed upon a shelf within a cupboard that we briefly open and then carefully lock up again. I'd like to introduce you someday to an African-American teacher in New York who told me once, during the time when I was working on my book Amazing Grace, that he'd gotten to the point where he confessed he couldn't "stand to hear about the bridge at Selma, Alabama anymore" and refused to give his kids a set of lesson plans he'd been assigned for what he called "The Famous March Curriculum." Instead, he said he'd posted on his classroom walls all the stuff he could find about the racist education system in which he was working now.
"You see," he said, "to the very poor black children that I teach..., it doesn't matter much what bridge you might have stood on thirty years ago. They want to know what bridge you stand on now."
I'm taking pictures of more schools, as you can see. The stuff I talked about way back in March still applies. I'm ashamed at what we have all done, in little ways and big ways, to contribute to the physical ruin of these buildings all over the city and to the public education environments that could have had a chance within them if we'd only been strong enough and brave enough to stay the course with regards to the ideal of having our children develop their wonder for the world and their inquisitive natures into avenues for real change in everyone's lives, regardless of their race, color, or creed.
Education is seen as a commodity now more than anything else.
And too few of us are questioning that.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Sarah Palin's sentences, diagrammed. Dangling participles, anyone?
My fave quote from the article:
The more the diagram is forced to wander around the page, loop back on itself, and generally stretch its capabilities, the more it reveals that the mind that created the sentence is either a richly educated one—with a Proustian grasp of language that pushes the limits of expression—or such an impoverished one that it can produce only hot air, baloney, and twaddle.
Judging from the way Palin was received at the Flyers game the other night, most folks are thinking the latter, I believe - at least in Philly.
Thanks to Minor Wisdom for that one.
Michael Homan (ahem) belatedly celebrates his blog's turning five by becoming embroiled in some contractor brouhaha online. Next time, folks, don't hire these people. Go straight to God and see if the Almighty can at least deliver some divine lumber, sheetrock, trim, and window glass to save you from your contractor woes.
I saw the reason why the Musical Road in Lancaster, California, existed in a Honda commercial broadcast during the Saints game:
..and I found out about why it is no longer there. Too many Honda Civics hitting that same stretch of road over and over again makes for some irate neighbors. Oops.
Finally, an even more amazing game went on at halftime in the Superdome. Take a look.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Attorney Brett Bonin, a new member, said he also supports charters but wants to see a balance between open enrollment and charters with admission criteria.
"There have been a lot of great charters. They've done a great job, " he said. "They're many problems that have to be addressed."
Among the new members, only (Ira) Thomas staunchly supports the United Teachers of New Orleans, saying the union is needed to protect worker rights. The union backed Thomas and incumbent Cynthia Cade, who won re-election. The union also supported three unsuccessful candidates.
The union and the board are in the midst of "ongoing negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement, " said board Chief Financial Officer Stan Smith.
New member Thomas Robichaux said he probably won't support an immediate return to collective bargaining, particularly without contract provisions that make it easier to fire bad teachers.
"The teachers union in New Orleans has got a black eye, " he said. "They are kind of labeled as obstructionists when it comes to reform."I would ask the mostly new school board and the BESE to take a look at a publication that has been a slight bane for me in the past, but hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Specifically, the article in this October's issue on pages 46-47 by Dawn Ruth on teachers' lost benefits:
Take Janice Cullen, for example.
She retired in 1985 from the Orleans Parish School system after teaching American history and Spanish for 20 years. All went well for a while. With a $750 benefit, she found she could easily make up the difference in her $23,000 salary by picking up part-time employment. She didn't need a job that offered health benefits because it came with her teacher retirement as long as she paid a lump sum premium every six months.
For a while, she paid for an American Association of Retired Persons policy but when she turned 65, the age at which most people get Medicare benefits, the AARP dropped the policy. During the time she worked for the Orleans Parish School Board teachers didn't pay Medicare taxes so she wasn't entitled to those benefits either. Now she's 66 years old with no health insurance and no way to get it.
"That wasn't right. I was a person who paid into it for over 20 years," Cullen says. "That just proves that education doesn't have as good of benefits as people think."
Many recently retired teachers are suffering, too, for a variety of reasons, mostly connected to Hurricane Katrina. When the state fired 8,600 teachers after the storm, many weren't hired back. Some went to work for quasi-independent charter schools but their health insurance didn't follow them because the New Orleans school system had a self-insured program.
Many face losing their health benefits because of the same irrevocable rule that snared Cullen back in the late 1980's. The state is still considering working solutions for the working charter teachers but many retired teachers have fallen into Cullen's quagmire.
Take note, new members. The problem of how to replace the many numbers of teachers who are about to retire was brought up by newly reelected board member Lourdes Moran a few weeks ago. You're gonna have an even harder time counting on long-term replacements unless the problem of teacher benefits gets solved, among many other problems involving teacher salaries and, of course, accountability.
The one sour note in today's Times-Picayune article:
Overwhelmingly, the new members are in favor of returning the schools to local governance at some point. New member Woody Koppel, a real estate investor, said he would consider chartering schools as they return to the system.
"There wouldn't be a high number of people wanting to go to charters if they weren't successful in some right, " said Koppel, who also wants to look into selling long-vacant board properties to help pay down the debt. "They don't have all the type of scores we would like to have, but they're going in the right direction."Yep, it's leaning towards the "go charter and save your school building" plan. If it ain't occupied, we can count on Koppel to be the one staunch advocate for selling it off - which is another reason why public input into the School Facilities Master Plan is so important. Get it in at firstname.lastname@example.org before October 17th.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
My son was sent home with a copy of Happy Birthday, Danny and the Dinosaur!, and all he told me was that he needed to read it for his enrichment class. No notes came home from his teachers along with the book on anything else that was being done in class with the book.
Shortly afterwards, the book bag, and the book within it, are lost. Can't find 'em to save our lives. I end up buying a new copy of the book to take back to the enrichment class. Still don't know what is going on other than that the book belongs to the school and needs to be replaced.
A week after the loss of the book, the enrichment class finally holds a parent information meeting telling us about the nifty Blackboard home connection to the activities the enrichment class is doing in school. We are shown this great YouTube video on the thoroughly sweet technology in the enrichment classroom concerning our kids' education for a 21st century world:
...which is all well and good. By God, yes, I'm all for it. Cooperation between parents and teachers and students through home computing and the internet. There's only one problem here.
I asked my son's enrichment teacher afterwards why I was only sent home with the book and no other notes on what was being done with it in the classroom. No notes on the fact that he was going to be tested on it after he read it, and that the only way he was going to be tested on it was if he brought the book back right away. They didn't tell his homeroom teachers anything about this fun fact, either.
Another mother in the meeting that night didn't even realize that the book that came home with her son that night was a library book, since all the other books that had come home with her son before then were meant to be kept by him.
Clearly there has been a communication breakdown.
"We wanted to see if the children would be responsible right off the bat," I was told. "We told them repeatedly to read the book, return it immediately, and on its return, there would be a test. There would be no test until the book was returned."
Ummm, didn't they realize that five-year-old boys are some of the least likely beings to retain this kind of information, much less share it with their parents???
I think they need to watch more Bill Cosby before trying to usher the kids into the 21st century:
Parents know these things - kids will blast any thoughts of the 21st century all to hell for them, unless it's thoughts of finally being able to relax and enjoy the century once the kids are outta the house.
And I think the teachers need to remember who exactly they are dealing with, is all.
Speaking of dealing...
Keep getting those public comments into the Facilities Master Plan files now that the deadline has been extended to October 17th. email@example.com More information on the new timetable can be found here.
Glad to see that a group involving the kids is also getting their needs known. Thanks to Ian McNulty (p.32) for the heads up on the Rethinkers.
A more disheartening article is the one that takes a look at what is happening to teachers' pensions and retirement(pp. 46-47). More on this later...
...today is Yom Kippur, and I must atone for my sins against God.
Which, since I am a mother in this crazy world, I desperately need to do.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
...but you wouldn't know it in casual conversation with most people on the street. You wouldn't have a clue, most times, until it was too late. :
How humans, including and especially Indians, go about the very real malady of mental illness shows that we have not arrived as a species. Why is it generally something not to be talked about with a friend or an expert and as treatable, or at least bearable, with a combination of counseling and short-term or permanent medication? What good is a taboo to be pushed into the pit of one’s stomach and overcome through Denial and Will Power? What makes mental illness somehow a flaw in the Strong Genetic and Moral Fibre of an Upstanding Person and not something all too normal in creatures made of chemicals and emotions?
You wouldn't have a clue, that is, unless you opened your eyes and ears and took the signs, any signs, very seriously.
When I heard the tone of Iris’ voice, I wandered outside into my friends’ yard for privacy, not bothering to get a coat despite the chill in the air. The bounce in her voice, the one that I had even heard in the voice-mail message from days before, was totally gone. Instead, it was sad and totally drained, as if she were making a huge effort just to talk to me – as if she were a different person. I remembered the comment from a friend that she recently had been sick.
“And I just wanted to let you know that in case something should happen to me, you should always know that you’ve been a good friend.”
Over the next hour, in one of the strangest conversations of my life, I stumbled to ask her about what had happened. She talked about her overwhelming fears and anxieties, including being unable to face the magnitude – and the controversial nature – of the stories that she had uncovered while researching her book on the Bataan Death March. “People in high places are not going to like it. Frankly, Paula, I fear for my life,” she said, still maintaining her flat tone.
That was the first time I thought that Iris might be human, after all. Perhaps she wasn’t an exception to the rules of nature. Perhaps even she was not able to work nonstop without paying any price. Perhaps I wasn’t such a freak, after all.
Despite having told me that she was sick, she described her current vague problem, which I understood as some kind of depression, as the result of “external” forces. It wasn’t a result of the “internal.” I asked her what others in her life thought about the cause of this apparent depression. She paused and said, “They think it’s internal.”
“It’s got to be external. It just can’t be the result of … of a book tour,” she said, fading out a bit to ponder that question. She was referring to her exhaustion from the more-than-twenty-city tour she’d made in the spring of 2004 for the paperback release of her book The Chinese in America. She went on to talk about other fears. “Paula, I’ve made serious mistakes with my son. I gave him autism with vaccines.” The tone of her voice was firm, like she was proclaiming an unassailable guilty verdict on herself from the voice of the highest possible authority.
“What?” I said, totally perplexed at this comment. I understood that autism was the result of the “internal,” basic neurology, not external actions. And I had no reason to believe he was autistic.
“I’ve made some very serious mistakes with my son,” she kept repeating.But this business of people's mental faculties and how healthy those faculties are is a tricky problem. Overstep any boundaries and you risk rejection from the person who might desperately need help. Instant psych diagnoses from family and friends can be just as damaging - even though friends and family can be the most helpful, influential people in one's life, they don't have masters degrees in social work or doctorates of psychology (well, most of 'em don't anyway). Snappy pop psychological judgments are made about people all the time - but the use of those too-quick assessments borders on giving people excuses for just plain old ignorant and selfish behavior. Compound this with the fact that there are still not many insurance companies willing to fund any mental health treatments, and you've got few options for people with serious needs for help with what's going on in their heads.
It seems that yet another double-edged sword has presented itself with regards to the recent bailout that was passed by both the House and the Senate once the mental health parity bill was tacked on to it. Don't get me wrong - as a broad who has had therapy for years and is on an SSRI, mental health parity is loooooooong overdue.
It's just...all I can think of now is: parity had to be passed, because now even more people will need to be treated for depression resulting from yet another bailout for the few who have mismanaged this country's finances and are leaving all the rest of us mere working-stiff mortals to pick up the pieces. Oh, we're giving more money to Wall Street, folks, but hey, here's some Cymbalta for your troubles and worries!
I'm thinking of asking Moms Rising to lobby like crazy to have their entire platform tacked onto, say, any other major bill involving this country's finances. Any pork barrel projects must have a rider on there for nationally sponsored child care. Bridges to nowhere can at least carry some good paid family leave along to give families a head start without enduring a "poverty spell".
If serious, lasting planning for our future is gonna happen, it looks like it will have to happen on the greenbacks of dead presidents and the first secretary of the treasury.
And so many posts o' mine are taking this pessimistic turn lately. A large part of it is seeing too many women without brains in these prominent, highly visible positions these days. A women's version of one step forward, two steps back. It's like they are being celebrated for their anatomical diversity and for little else. Hell, I've got anatomical diversity out the wazoo: I've got a gut and a butt and I'm not afraid to use 'em. But, ladies, the anatomy fades - dumb is forever.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Which one is correct? The map or the secretary of state's website?
I emailed some folks about this last night. People who live on the borders of the districts may want to compare the maps with the polling locator, as well as with what they saw when they walked into the voting booth.
Yes, there were some landslides in the school board elections last night, and this kind of thing might not make that much of a difference that way - but making this sort of thing heard is the key to better practices in the long run.
Update, 6:13 PM: Everybody's linking to Cliff's take on William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson's making the runoff and what it says about our Congressional district. What are we doing! indeed. I'd be most interested to see if anybody takes Cliff up on his conditions for an apology for posting his latest:
Now, if anyone has read this and doesn’t agree, please send me an email and I will tell you where to pick me up so you can drive me to the black neighborhood in Congressman Jefferson’s district that is thriving and doing so well that I have to post a public apology. I know one thing; we won’t be driving anywhere close to my house. We don’t have an open hospital.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Somebody pinch me when she uses that sort of power for a greater good instead of for her own idiotic ends. Until then, as someone on the Tweeter Tube said last night, the woman needs to have her vagina revoked.
Speaking of using powers for evil instead of good, I am catching flak from my son's teacher for his antics. Again. He apparently wouldn't listen to a P.E. teacher at all and ended up leading some of the younger kids in his class on a short run away from the teacher and into the school building, laughing all the way.
Once again, I am starting to be slightly envious of these parents who work full-time: "You're the only one I can talk to about his/her child's behavior," the teacher says, like that's some sort of prize. It's 'cause I'm the only one that is so damn available, all the time.
"Hey, the kid's got charisma!" my husband said yesterday, trying to lighten things up. "It's better to have him be a ringleader than to be a patsy." Dan's not the one dealing with it every day, though.
Besides, I get the feeling this wouldn't be as bad if a) the little guy weren't one of the oldest kids in his class and wasn't expected to be a class "leader" at five years of age and b) he hadn't scored so high on all of these tests for reading comprehension and other book learnin' smarts, setting the bar even higher in terms of teachers' expectations. I know, I know...there are just as many problems, if not more of 'em, when the child is not smart or has a handicap or learning disability.
I'm just damn tired of trying to find out where the magic switch is on my son and how it can be flipped. Seems all sorts of buttons are being pushed on me, instead.
Plus, somebody snagged his book bag by mistake and it has a school resource book inside it...and it has not been recovered. If anybody has an extra copy of Happy Birthday, Danny And The Dinosaur! out there and is willing to part with it permanently, lemme know.
I ran into Hana on the way back to the little guy's classroom this morning after using the school's copier to print out "missing" APBs on his book bag, and she was still reeling from this horrific incident. Misery does love company, but that kind of crap is just WRONG. All of us just need several rounds of drinks at this point.
It's turning out to be the wrong week for all sorts of things...
...so I think I'm gonna crawl back into bed and get up on the right side of it in a little bit.
Wait a minute...
...I woke up on the couch this morning...
...maybe that's it.
Well, some good things have happened this week.
Give Kevin Allman a hearty mazel tov on his new position as editor for Gambit Weekly. Couldn't happen to a nicer babboo.
The Orleans Parish School Board is extending the public comment deadline to October 17th!!!!! Now if only the Times-Picayune's endorsements for the school board election didn't lean towards the candidates who are most likely to hasten the decentralization of the public schools, among other things.
So, so glad to see the Edible Schoolyard program at Green Charter School spotlighted today, especially since Green is currently one of the schools in the Master Plan slated to be landbanked. As Stacy Head said in the City Council Chambers on Wednesday in reference to the landbanking of the school, "That is such a bad idea."
Thursday, October 02, 2008
The one article on the schools that was put on the front page, however, has got me wondering...
Several schools in the Recovery School District are likely to become charter schools in the next few years as part of a continuing push toward school decentralization in New Orleans (emphasis mine), which already has the highest percentage of charters of any city in the country.
Independent charter operators will probably take over the lower grades of at least four poorly performing schools next fall, said district Superintendent Paul Vallas. At the same time, the top-performing district schools, probably about a third of the elementary-level programs, will be given the option of applying for charters over the next two years, he said.
All of the changes need the approval of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The move is part of an effort, pushed by Vallas and state Superintendent Paul Pastorek, to create a system in which successful schools can "graduate" out of the state-run district and attain more autonomy, while failing schools receive swift help, sometimes from outside school operators.I find myself wondering if the farkakhte Master Plan actually has some sort of privatizing rationale behind it, i.e.:
Go charter and save your school building.
Yesterday, Paul Vallas was jumping up and down about how the RSD, BESE, and the OPSD had to jump on the bandwagon and accept the SFMPOP, or else the money for the first couple of phases of the plan would be going right down the tubes. There is a great deal more money available out there for charter schools than for open enrollment, "traditional" public schools to pick themselves back up and get going again.
Couple all of this with an emergency order that is still in effect:
This transformation of a school system was orchestrated largely outside of New Orleans. In fact, state law was changed to eliminate requirements that parents and teachers in New Orleans have a voice in the restructuring. After the storm, then-Governor Kathleen Blanco issued an Executive Order that waived, among others, a provision requiring two thirds of teachers, and a majority of parents to agree to the conversion of a public school to a charter school. That Executive Order remains in effect today, though the “emergency” it proclaimed has clearly passed.
...and many community developers who want to get their neighborhoods up and going again are stuck with no schools with which to help attract young families. Unless they go the charter route.
Yes, it's an effort to shrink the footprint of New Orleans.
It is also another chapter in the story of the continuing siege on public education in this city.
And our Recovery Czar and our Walking Id of a mayor are only too happy to help fund it.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Another piece of advice: never watch Children of Men in the middle of any school facilities muddle. Period.