Tuesday, March 09, 2010

You'd think they wouldn't have a damned thing to do with each other, but you'd be thinking wrong.

Offbeat magazine stepped in it with the cover of its latest issue and issued this bizarre apology:
We didn’t realize the phrase “strange fruit” has the same power in 2010 that it did when lynching was a more contemporary threat...We believed that in 2010, the phrase “strange fruit” could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter. This was an error in judgment for which we apologize.
A traffic and engineering supervisor in Jefferson Parish wallows in it, then tries to explain himself and falls in it again:
In court filings, Kerlec acknowledged using Nazi salutes and saying "Heil Hitler" on the job. The supervisor, a 32-year parish employee, characterized the gestures as "jokes" that were never directed at anyone.

  "I never even thought about whether anybody would be offended by it," Kerlec said of the Nazi salute, according to a transcript of his Sept. 8, 2009, testimony in a pre-trial deposition.

...Kerlec admitted under oath that he attempted to demonstrate the Hitler salute — which he called the "Imperial salute ... from Rome" — while testifying at a Feb. 15, 2006, civil service hearing of Simon's appeal of his termination....

...Asked by McGovern if he thought a Jewish person would be offended by a supervisor giving the Nazi salute, Kerlec said, "I don't know whether they would be or not. I mean ... I never even thought about whether anybody would be offended by it. There were so many people (co-workers) egging me on all the time that I just figured — I didn't think about it."
And finally, it doesn't seem like they'd be anywhere near involved in something nefarious. They're trying to enact reforms, for crying out loud....because, Lord knows, we can't ever turn back the clock on public education in this town. We must think of the children. Working young teachers to the brink of burnouts, in that case, is good...and the teacher's unions are bad. None of this adds up to what teaching still desperately needs: true respect as a profession. And one person in close proximity to someone in the teaching trenches opines on this quite eloquently in reaction to Sarah Carr's latest Times-Picayune article on the workings of Akili Academy in New Orleans:
..not all schools provide such a supportive environment, but the general approach of overloading teachers seems to be ubiquitous. Our schools are currently running on the efforts of the young and idealistic. Of course one has to wonder: What about the not-so-young, the veteran teachers who’ve been around the block, whose idealism may be a bit ragged, but who also have the experience and (dare I say it) the wisdom? Actually I don’t wonder, because I’m married to such a teacher, and I’ve seen what this trend is doing to her first-hand, and it ain’t nice....

...with Teach for America, that pipeline looks inexhaustible. These kids are too young and fresh to realize they’re being exploited. Maybe it’s a viable model; maybe our schools are so screwed up that we have to resort to such measures; I really don’t know. But I do know that it sucks to have the terrain shift beneath your feet, so to speak. It sucks to have your chosen career slowly turned into something you can no longer do. We seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the reforms we truly need.
"Others stress that more value should be placed on making teaching a viable career for those who do not meet the typical Teach For America profile: young, well-educated and unattached.

"Andre Perry, CEO of the University of New Orleans’ charter school network, said he worries about relying too heavily on young teachers from out of town. He notes that schools that burn out their teachers after a few years must repeatedly reinvest in replacements. 'It just seems inefficient,' he said.

"Perry encourages school leaders to foster the notion that 'teaching is a way of living' that can coincide with having a life outside work.

“ 'We are not creating that enough here in New Orleans,' he said. 'It’s such a brutal lifestyle. We’re so focused on performance in such a specific way that we’ve become robots.' "

Perry’s quote brings tears to my eyes. “Such a brutal lifestyle.” It resonates because I’ve seen Xy ground down over the years by the increasingly unreal regimen. It’s like an endless demand for more that can never be filled. It’s never enough.

All three of the above items scream one thing out to me loud and clear. We are stuck in a rut of our own making, a willful ignorance of history that is indeed condemning us to repeat ourselves over and over again...and by ignorance, I mean it in the sense of people knowing history, but choosing to ignore it.

Offbeat's editors knew what "Strange Fruit", one of Lady Day's classics, was about, but chose to bank on the term, the poem, and the context in which the song was performed being unfamiliar to its readers.

The JP supervisor had some inkling that invoking the salutes and the religious and racial slurs of Nazi Germany wasn't right, but he kept doing it anyway, claiming that other co-workers never hinted that there was anything wrong with it.

And in the rush to privatize public education in New Orleans and do away with the big bad teacher's unions in the name of better test scores, the Recovery School District's charters (and many other charters as well) are ignoring why the teacher's union was there in the first place: to prevent exploitation disguised as an "at-will system" in which teaching laborers eschew organizing in support of their rights to a 40 hour work week and other rights as workers for the greater good of helping the children - no matter what it costs the teachers in blood, sweat, and mental exhaustion.

At some point in the near future, some folks are going to start bringing back the radical idea that good teachers are happy teachers secure in their work environments and in their lives outside the classrooms. One has to wonder how well that new generation of organizers will fare. I mean, with all the privatization of elementary and secondary education going on, will the education scabs in that realm come from overseas? Will the new trend in education involve sending our kids to India, China, or Taiwan to be educated? How far will this go?

I look around and see that, when it comes to these things, it's becoming a case of "two steps forward, one and 3/4 steps back".

Don't forget history, people. Build on it.

Update, 12:38 PM: G-Bitch gives us yet another reason why we have to be careful to remember how we got here in the first place.

Anudder update, 3/10: Not that the Mayor's Office really has much say in how our local system of schools works, but the task force Mitch has assembled doesn't look like it's going to stand in the way of our current mess. God help us all. And get ready for some more high teacher turnover, even more scrambling to get the kids in good schools, and even bigger fights over public education as fewer parents are able to afford private schools for their kids in the current economic environment. There aren't enough vouchers to go around as far as the private schools are concerned, and the vouchers don't cover the entire cost of tuition in most places. The future's looking rough.


Clay said...


Via Candice. "Building a better teacher"

Anonymous said...

OK, the young teachers are idealistic, overworked and short on leisure time. But wasn't that true of many of us at the early stages of our careers? 80-hour weeks? In the office every weekend? That's how we establish our creds, get experience and decide if we want to stay in that career. That "dues-paying" phase is for the young and rootless!'
== Anon

Leigh C. said...

With most other professions, the work does lessen some, the benefits do get better, and the working environment improves. Teaching on an elementary and secondary level doesn't let up much from those 80 hour weeks, and the working environment doesn't seem to be improving much...in fact, it seems to be getting worse with each year that teachers must teach to tests and treat kids' scores as product that must be kept up and up or else the school will lose funding or possibly close. It doesn't encourage young teachers to stay - there's a 70% turnover of Teach for America program teachers ALONE - and it doesn't address the fact that teachers AND kids are not cogs in machines. It's a system designed to pass the buck onto the people who are still the most expendable - the ones who are largely employed under an "at will system" that gives them NO will in how they are moved around the schools.

mominem said...

Everyone seems to be trying to forget the old days of the NOPS. A bastion of seniority and work rules over effective education.

Better test scores were a method to try to improve the product of an insular school system that blamed its own failures on the kids they were supposed to teach.

Education is important but we can't forget what we proved didn't work.

Leigh C. said...

We can't go all the way back to those bad old days, and I'm not advocating that. I just want to see something better than a passing of the buck onto any and all teachers - because the ones who tend to set the tone the most in a school are the administrators, and they are STILL not really being dealt with - Langston Hughes' former treasurer being a case in point.

I want things to be better for the long term...and it just isn't happening. The real problems are simply being shuffled around and circumvented.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

No one is trying to forget the old days. We're saying what is happening now isn't fixing the problem. That's a iceberg sized difference.

To extend a certain metaphor:

Blaming the teachers for the current state of schools is like blaming the engineers in the Titanic's boiler room for the current state of that ship.

Yeah, the ship plowed into that iceberg at high speed, and the speed was generated in the boiler rooms, and those engineers were trying to make the ship go as fast as possible.

Current reform advocates, in addition to rearranging the deck chairs on that ship, are telling us that the way to keep similar disasters from happening is to "build better engineers."

After all, if the engineers on the Titanic had been better at other people's jobs, the ship would have made it safely to New York.

These new engineers don't just keep the boilers running, they also monitor the radio, man the con, verify that there are enough life boats, and watch for icebergs from the bird's nest at the same time.

Reformers don't understand why their testing data shows that engineers required to do all of those things are meeting with limited success, and have a high turnover rate. They also don't understand why ships keep running into icebergs.

But methinks there were a few other individuals involved in the ship-building, decision-making, and order-giving processes involved in that disaster.

Blaming the engineers is a cheap way to keep us from looking at other, higher paid individuals involved in those processes. Doing so also keeps us from instituting real reform, which, in the ship vs. iceberg metaphor, involved RADAR.

Because RADAR (real reform) is expensive.

Eric Indiana said...

Here's most of what I think about school reform after teaching for a couple of years:


And, here is my advice to students on how to take over their school:


Good luck & good edjamication!