A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

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A Couple of Things

The Trumpernicks seem to have at least one coherent theory of governance – states’ rights. In their view states have the right to discriminate, foul the environment and provide widely disparate rights to their citizens. The latest example of this is the withdrawal of the guidance on the treatment of transgender children. The Obama administration acting on it reading of Title IX said that transgendered people must be free to use the public facilities of the sex with which they identify rather than the sex indicated on their birth certificates. Any reasonable reading of Title IX leads to that conclusion. Not to the Trunberkicks, however. Screw what Title IX says. Leave it to the states to decide.

The issue is before the Supreme Court. Unless the justices decide to ignore the words of Tltle IX, an increasing possibility with this court, the Trumbernicks will get a well deserve defeat. Their complete insensitivity to the rights of LGBT children and adults is well documented. Insensitivity is actually not a strong enough word to capture how these individuals are viewed by the social conservative wing of today’s Republican Party. Contempt is what they feel for the LGBT. To many they are seen as people who choose to live an evil life style that they can and must be converted from. No less a figure than the Vive-President is on record as supporting conversion therapy to win LGBT people from their evil ways. I guess this is just one of the many ways in which they strive to make America great again.

On a completely different note, while not an admirer of Bill Gates or much of the work of his family foundation, he has taken to espousing an idea that has significant potential. Gates appears to believe, as I do, that work as we know it will increasingly disappear as more and more blue and white collar work succumbs to automation. What we do with workers displaced by automation is an issue of growing importance. Gates appears to have adopted an idea that’s been around for some time that suggests that when workers are made redundant by robots or other automated devices, the employer should pay a tax to replace the taxes that the laid-off was paying to the various levels of government. This tax money would be dedicated to dealing with the myriad issues of the unemployed – for me partial funding of a guaranteed minimum income.

Gates has sold the world a whole lot of bunk. It would be interesting to see him put his marketing skills to the solutions of the problems of people for whom there is or will be no work as we have known i

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The Buffoon In Charge

I can’t think about education today, or labor for that matter. My country is threatened from within by a clearly incompetent, mentally unbalanced president. Anyone who watched his news conference the other day should be able to see that our common self-interest lies in getting this man out of office with all deliberate speed.

No matter what I’ve done this morning, I’ve come back to my astonishment at reading the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. There writers from the left and right describe an administration not only gone amuck but being played the fool by dangerous foreign powers. I don’t ever recall reading an Op-Ed page like this one – Paul Krugman and David Brooks literally on the same page. Yes, Nixon tried to subvert our democracy and surely had his personality quirks, but he knew what he was doing and even accomplished some good things. Even more frightening is neither Brooks and Krugman nor I know where the Republic leadership is going to come from to rescue our nation from the very dangerous buffoon in charge. Where are the Howard Bakers in today’s Republican Party?

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Victory and Defeat

Labor circles are ecstatic at the withdrawal of Andrew Puzder from consideration to be the next secretary of labor. To the best of my knowledge, he is the most anti-labor person ever to be nominated to a cabinet position that was created to see to the welfare of working people. While his company has repeatedly been found to be in violation of various labor laws, from failure to pay overtime to wage theft, it doesn’t seem to me that the Republicans who turned against him were motivated by this. Neither does it seem that his having employed an illegal alien did him in. Much more powerful was the release of the Oprah interview with his former wife in which she describes his battery of her for no reason of which she was aware. Take it to the bank, the Republicans who turned against the Putz factored into their response an energized female electorate that is organizing to defend their hard-won economic and social gains. The Women’s March was just the beginning, and at least some of the Republican sense that.

While we celebrate the defeat of this Trump nominated scumbag, let’s not lose sight of a significant loss for labor yesterday. Almost three quarters of those eligible to vote in the election at the Boeing plant in South Carolina voted against joining the Machinist and Aerospace Workers. The Boeing Company’s move to South Carolina to escape union wages and working conditions in Washington State seems to have clearly paid off. Organized labor remains unable to break into the South. Added to that problem is the fact that many organized workers in the construction trades back the President out of a belief that they will see more work as he unfolds his infrastructure proposals. Our labor movement, if that’s a proper term anymore, is as fractured as the politics of our country to the detriment of working people, both organized and unorganized.

What’s needed is an imaginative agenda and new leadership to sell it. That agenda needs to embrace proposals to concretely deal with the effects of automation on employment, the right of all Americans to a defined benefit pension, workers’ stake in climate change, truly universal medical care, a guaranteed minimum family income and other steps forward on the arc of taming the exploitative nature of a capitalist economy. In our teacher education circles, people are fond of quoting Al Shanker that,” You can’t fight something with nothing.” Today’s labor movement is attempting to do just that. It is a very significant factor in its lack of success.

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The Public Good

I have to believe that at least a few of the Republicans who voted for Billionaire Betsy DeVos know that she has about as much knowledge to be Secretary of Education as I have to teach nuclear physics. That said, how is it that party politics completely trumped the public good. This is a question that should be asked of every senator who voted for at every public forum they hold. It’s one thing to select agency heads who conform to the President’s political philosophy. It’s quite another to put a complete incompetent in charge of programs vital to the welfare of America’s children.

To my teacher readers, ask you Trump supporting colleagues how tbey feel about what happened today

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Berkeley, 2017

Say Berkeley to an educated person of my generation, and he will reliably think of the free speech movement on that campus during the Viet Nam War, a sustained movement that helped to energize campuses throughout the nation. How sad then to read that today’s protest on that campus is to shut down free speech.

The protest aimed to stop an address by Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at Breitbart News of Steve Bannon fame. Mr. Yiannopoulos is known to be a provocateur, some maintaining that that he peddles hate speech. I suspect that I would be nauseated by what he had to say at Berkeley, but I am more appalled that the administration called off the speech. I understand that the criminal mischief engaged in by some of the demonstrators. I also understand the concerns for safety. But I care more about students at one of our great universities having the opportunity to hear whomever they wish to hear. Yiannopoulos was invited by the Berkeley Republican Club.

An education should be about challenging the ideas one holds before embarking on his studies. What are today’s Berkeley demonstrators [protecting their classmates from? Do they cling so precariously to their political beliefs that they fear conversion by an alt-right huckster? Those whose constitutions are too delicate to hear people like Yiannopoulos were not obliged to attend. Those student had a right to hear him even though I wish they had invited someone else.

Ultimately, it seems to me the protesters fail to understand the threat posed by stifling speech, no matter how obnoxious. When our brightest young people fail to understand that threat, it suggests that freedom is dangerously undervalued by them.

As it happens, I will be in Berkeley toward the end of next week. I’m looking forward to roaming the campus, seeking conversations.

While I always mean to write my blog when I’m on vacation, I often fail to do so. Don’t think I’ve gone away forever. I’ll be back in two weeks.

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Since We Last Spoke

I’ve been off-line for the past few days, a power outage having blown up my Fios service, something that system is prone to, this being my second such occurrence. Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about with the extra time I’ve had during my digital media blackout.

I learned that the superintendent in my home district sent an email to the staff ordering them not to talk about the Trump inauguration. I hope most of the teachers ignored her command, but it irks me no end to see an educational institution bar its doors to discussion of contemporary events, no matter how controversial. How different from the beginning of my career when we routinely had high school presentations on the war in Viet Nam, the issue of the late 60s and early 70s. When a Viet Nam War moratorium demonstration was planned for Bryant Park in Manhattan, a number of our faculty wrote to the superintendent informing him that we are taking a personal day to attend, fully expecting that he wouldn’t grant us the day and would dock us our salaries for the absence. To our surprise, the day was granted. Can anyone imaging that happening today? Our schools then, fostered an open exchange of ideas. Faculty members at my high school often debated each other at assembly programs before students who were fascinated to listen to their teachers battle over an issue. I vividly recall one such contest between two colleagues, one a born again Christian who debated an inveterate atheist. Try to put that program on in most of today’s high schools. In so many ways, the culture of our schools has been debased by waves of ill-educated, gutless administrators whose fear of controversy is matched only by their predatory pedantry.

On the union front, we learned that our state organization, NYSUT, is to again have contested officer elections. While I will have much to say about this upcoming election in future posts, for now a few comments will suffice.

One of the candidates for NYSUT President is Andy Pallotta, currently the Executive Vice-President in charge of the organization’s political operation. Pallotta comes from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), our New York City affiliate, representing approximately one third of NYSUT’s membership. The size of the UFT gave it the power from the organization’s inception to decide who would be its president. It very wisely chose to exert its power through other means. Pallotta’s candidacy is an abrupt break with that tradition. It will further inflame those from suburban districts who have long resented the UFT’s power in NYSUT.

As I write this morning, Billionaire Betsy DeVos is but one Republican vote away from seeing her nomination to be Secretary of Education go up in smoke. Republican Senators Collins and Murkowski deserve our admiration for bucking their newly elected president and voting their consciences. It’s interesting that the two Republican no votes thus far are from women senators. Could it be that women are more attuned to the damage posed by an incompetent twit like DeVos?

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Building the Resistance

Saturday’s marches were a great beginning to the resistance to the Trump/Republican agenda, but we will obviously need to do more. Local teacher union here on Long Island are uniquely positioned to undertake an ongoing activity to attempt to separate Congressmen Peter King and Lee Zeldin from the clear intent of the Republicans of all stripes to roll back the New Deal social safety net. There are thousands of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) members in both these congressional districts. Imagine what we could accomplish if every time the President or other Republic leader advances some regressive economic or social measure we were able to organize the following:
1 – At least half of our members in each congressman’s district to make a phone call seeking to know if the congressman supports cutting Social security, defunding Planned Parenthood, enabling the government to bargain with the drug companies etc.
2 – At least half of our members post on whatever social media they engage a call to their friends to make a phone call too.
3 – Each local teacher union president uses the local’s social media accounts to do the same, carefully explaining why the issue in question should be important to the parents and grand parent of school age children.
4 – Repeat steps 2 and 3 once the position of the congressman is known to publicize it, calling on people to take some specific action to either attack or defend the congressman.

I don’t for a moment minimize the difficulty of getting this program organized. Many of our union members are reluctant to engage in politics online. The threat to working people, especially union people, posed by this administration and its Republican majority in congress is so great that many of our reluctant political warriors can be motivated to act in their self interest.

No one action will completely blunt the anti-worker forces arrayed against us. I invite my union colleagues to add to this list as I will as this adventure unfolds.

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Saturday’s Marches

Saturday’s marches were so good for souls depressed since the election. Millions marched in cities and towns across the nation. Though principally branded a woman’s march to protect hard won rights, the New York march I participated in had men, women and children there to protest a broad range of proposed Trump policies on subjects from universal healthcare to climate change. At a time when progressive spirits desperately needed a lift, Saturday’s marches exceeded all expectations and will hopefully be the harbinger of a growing resistance movement to protect the gains America has made since the New Deal from the Big New Swindle that came to Washington on Friday.

I was dismayed and interested at some of the responses I observed in my Facebook and Twitter feeds on Sunday. Numbers of women, some young union members, took offence with the marchers, thinking it unfair to criticize the new president before he did anything. Another memorable posting said that those women didn’t speak for her, that she was perfectly free and capable of making her own choices in life. Absent from these comments was any understanding of the long, difficult struggle of women to achieve the rights they enjoy or the threats to them. No sympathy for the fact that Saturday’s marchers are a point on the arc of history that goes back to those who fought for the right of women to own property, to vote, to obtain and practice birth control, to earn what men do for comparable work and in so many ways not to be subservient to the whims of the male in their lives. Some of comments I saw suggest that there is still more to do to improve the education of women, to teach them the history of their struggle for equal rights. Women’s History Week is simply not enough.

For me the most interesting reaction to the march came from several males who while they praised the marching women for standing up for their rights couldn’t resist a dig, wishing that they showed as much interest in the rights of Arab women as they did in the rights of Americans. The subtext of those comments appears to be that there are so many women in the world who have it worse than Americans that their protest signified their lack of appropriate gratefulness for the rights that they enjoy. I wouldn’t cont on these men to aid the marchers’ cause.

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Billionaire Betsy

I can’t imagine what possessed me, but I spent over three hours yesterday watching Betsy DeVos’ hearing on her nomination to become our new Secretary of Education. What I learned in those three hours can be reduced to a deep belief that there would be much less harm to public education if we left the office vacant. While I recall cabinet nominees in the past with whom I had great differences, I do not recall one so obviously unprepared by both knowledge and belief to assume a high public office. While I’m not know as a great fan of most boards of education, we would be much better off compiling a list of school board members of all the nation’s school districts and blindly pointing to one name to be our next leader of the U.S. department of Education. My God, this woman thinks that we ought to leave it to the states to decide how to provide for the education of special education students. Leave it to blunt Bernie Sanders to have asked the question that accounts for her nomination. Bernie inquired as to whether Billionaire Betsy would be sitting in from of him if she and her family had not given hundreds of millions of dollars to the Republican Party?

I didn’t expect much from DeVos, having read about he privatizing exploits in Michigan. However, low though my expectations were, she managed to prove that I had over-estimated her. Could we possibly find ourselves longing for Arnie Duncan?

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Teaching Adults to Talk to Each Other

One on the loudest laments I hear from elementary teachers concerning the ever increasing academic burden we have been placing on young children is the lack of time to do many of the activities that were once very consciously aimed at socializing our children. Teachers are deeply concerned that in the test centered would in which they work, children are missing opportunities to hone the social skills that come from activities requiring interaction with other students and adults, not the least important of which is play. In a world in which their time after school is increasingly spent being engaging digital media, where is it that we expect children to learn the skills that lubricate the interactions between people.

This subject has been on my mind since I hear an NPR piece last week about a police training program in Spokane Washington aimed at millennial officers who are seen by their superiors to generally lacking important social skills necessary to engage strangers. In a era in which community policing is the favored approach to public safety (except, of course for Donald Trump), Spokane is undertaking training of its young officers in how to talk to and read the citizens they are expected to police.

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Obama’s Farewell

I’m going to download a YouTube of President Obama’s farewell address last night. I’m going to play it from time to time to remind myself of what a President of the United States should sound like. I will send to people who come to see Donald Trump as normal and his policies as sensible.

I’ve been disappointed by some of Obama’s policies, especially education. Though completely wrong-headed, I believe he felt a responsibility as our first African American president to through education improve the lives of minority youth. I think he missed the fact that the plight of the poor in America is not remediable through some education magic bullet but must be addressed more broadly through panoply of programs to address the social pathologies our society has produces.

But though I’ve had important disagreements with him, I’m not blind to his very significant accomplishments, from the Affordable Care Act, to the progress on climate change and the shift to renewable energy to this engineering of a way out of the financial crisis. Despite dealing with an opposition party dedicated to his failure, he not only moved our country forward but did so with the honesty, dignity and integrity too long absent from our highest office. I strongly suspect that many who have reviled him will be forced to reevaluate their position in light of the big swindle to come.

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An Underwhelming Speech

AFT President Randi Weingarten gave a major address today to the National Press Club, a venue where speakers of note lay out what they consider to be important positions. Her theme was we can either continue down the path of the ESSA legislation to hopefully see to it that every neighborhood has a great public school, or we can follow Trump and Betsy Devos who are heading to dismantle public schools in favor of a privatized model of education.

Read the speech for yourself. It’s worth doing. Most of my readers won’t find much too vehemently disagree with. But ask yourself when you are finished, is this the speech we want from the leader of one of our two great education unions when teachers and educational support personnel are bracing for attack from every branch of our federal government. Are we to survive the existential threat to our unions and the work we do with clichéd rhetoric about building teacher capacity? Does Weingarten seriously believe that we can educate Billionaire Betsy by inviting her into the classrooms of our public schools? Might it not have been wiser to use the opportunity of a speech that will receive national attention to map out a course of resistance to the war that is about to be declared on us? Read the speech. See what you think. I couldn’t help comparing it to Meryl Streep’s.

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Social Justice Unionism and the Battles Ahead

The talk in progressive circles these days is how to get up off the floor and confront the Trump administration as it attempts to roll-back much of the social progress since the New Deal – all in the name of making America great again. A Day of Action is being planned for January 21st, with protesters gathering in Washington DC and major cities to convey that there is a not so silent majority that doesn’t believe that Trump and the Republicans have any mandate to burn America’s all too limited social safety net. This morning’s op-ed page of the New York Times has a piece by three former Democratic congressional staffers calling for Dems to adopt the Tea Party tactics and pressure federal representatives continually in their local office to reject the Trump agenda. That’s all good stuff, but what should we as unionists be doing? What are we perhaps uniquely equipped to contribute to the cause not only to build a firewall against the incendiary economic and social policies of the incoming administration and Congress but to also lay a predicate for advancing a progressive economic and social agenda in the future?

For some years now, our two national education unions have realized that they had to broaden their perspective, go beyond bread and butter issues and the negotiation of work rules to engage in what has come to be known as social justice unionism. On one level the call to engage in activism aimed at making our country and world more just is a higher calling than narrowly focusing on improving the lot of our members. It’s important to recognize, however, that there is enlightened self-interest in the endeavor as well. Public education unions disinterested in the economic and social conditions of the communities they serve will inevitably find those communities indifferent to their members’ needs.

So unionism that seeks to benefit workers everywhere, members or not, makes sense. Yet, too often our unions have lacked a real commitment to it. Sure, we support a boycott of a struck company here, encourage our members to purchase fair trade coffee and other agricultural products, issue press releases and lobby for progressive legislation , but we don’t routinely engage our members or the communities in which we work on issues that could unite working people.

Across this country, teacher unions are fighting and often losing battles to preserve their defined benefit pensions. How do we successfully continue to have pensions that allow us to retire in dignity if most of the citizens who fund these pensions don’t have them, and, even more importantly, don’t believe it is remotely possible for them to have a pension? We need to champion the right of all working people to a defined benefit pension. We even need to do this with our own members who often fail to understand that when other workers are treated unjustly, their conditions are threatened.

Why aren’t we advocating for the right of all citizens to affordable housing. Our brothers and sisters in San Francisco have been doing some amazing work in this regard that could serve as a model for others. Through all communication vehicles available to them, they are highlighting how the housing market in their community has made it almost impossible for San Francisco’s teachers to live in San Francisco.

The Republicans are mounting an assault on Social Security, their ultimate aim to privatize it thereby exposing the retirement security of millions of seniors to the vagaries of the marketplace. Our members need to be engaged with the seniors in their communities in fighting to defend both Social security and Medicare. I’ve met too many young members who don’t believe Social Security will be there for them when they wish to retire. They are amazed to hear that all it would take to guarantee it will be there for them is to lift the earnings cap.

We need not search far for issues of injustice that plague our communities and which we need to be leaders in addressing. What can we say to the men and women who have been displaced from the economy by technology? How do we deal with an economy that will require fewer and fewer people to make more and more stuff? As one wag put it, pretty soon all a factory will need is one man and a dog, with the dog necessary to keep the man from touching the machine. How do we make a place for redundant workers? How do we stop the social chaos that comes to economically marginalized families? We need to be in the vanguard of the search and fight for economic and social justice.

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Are We Catching On to The Tech Fraud?

My readers are aware of my view that digital technology industry has pulled one of the greatest rip-offs of all time on America’s public schools. Through the cleverest of propaganda campaigns they have convinced gullible public school decision makers of the impossibility of educating children satisfactorily without exposing them in any ways possible to technology mediated education. 21st century learners need 21st century tools. If like me you believe that a hideously stupid concept, you tend to get branded a Luddite, particularly if you are a certain age. Yet the evidence mounts that sending kids to school to spend a significant number of their hours there staring at screens is not only pedagogically questionable but downright damaging to the healthy growth and development of children. The good news is that people are beginning to catch on to this scam. When a mass publication like Time runs an article labeling the infusion of technology in our public schools a fraud, we may be coming out of the coma that has made us oblivious to the waste of billions of dollars of taxpayer funds that might have been put to much better use.

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Criminal Justice Reform and Our Children

Too many of America’s children live stunted lives for reasons ranging from poverty, to poor housing, to inadequate medical care to underfunded public schools. A new study adds to our understanding of how the failure of our criminal justice system deprive massive numbers of our nation’s children with the crucial support they need to develop and mature into productive, useful citizens – their parents – often their fathers. Here’s a statistic from Leila Morsy and Richard Rothstein’s study to conjure with. By age 14, 25 percent of African American children have had the life disrupting experience of have a parent incarcerated. Think about that. Try to imagine being told that your father is going to prison, and then think about what it would be like to try to go to school the next day.

I have learned much from reading Richard Rothstein about how despite our protestations about loving children, American treats so many of them so badly. This study is a call to action on criminal justice reform as an approach to improving the lives of thousands of our children.

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Being Educated

Throughout my teaching career, I have too often been faced by students, supervisors, parents and colleagues who appeared to believe that the purpose of our public schools and the education they provide is to somehow prepare children for their life’s employment. How in hell we are supposed to know what employment will be open to them and what it is that they will choose to do in that economic environment is never made clear except to offer up some vague prognostication of what the economic future holds. When I have suggested that the best an education should offer children is to equip them to be able to read and teach themselves whatever it is that they wish to know throughout their lives and enablep them to be knowledgeable citizens of our democracy, I’ve been responded to with stares of disbelief or comments about my naiveté. Yet, the older I get, the more confirmed in my view I get.

Just the other day, as I finished Siddhartha’s Mukherjee’s tome The Gene, a history of the science of genetics, I was reminded of how thankful I am to have been educated and possess the ability to follow my interests wherever they take me. When I began college, I had no idea of how I would spend my economic life. Fortunately, I went to school in a day when the first two years of my studies were in required courses in the arts and sciences. Although I soon began to lean toward majoring in English, I continued to take subjects like comparative vertebrate anatomy, embryology and genetics. Now, some fifty years since my college days, I could read and thoroughly appreciate Mukherjee’s book because of Professor Norman Rothwell’s brilliant lectures. More importantly, I have an appreciation of the ethical issues genomic engineering causes us to confront.

Coincidentally, a day or two ago, as I was thinking about this subject, I got a message from a former member of my district’s board of education, pointing me to this article about Sir Ken Robinson and his thoughts about our unfortunate tendency to see the goal of education as employment and economic success. She sent me the link to the article because Robinson’s words reminded her of things that she had heard me say. Better late than never, I suppose, but the fact is that our public schools have gotten much more over-focused on job training since the time our board member remembered hearing me warn against confusing education with job training. Test scores and grades are what school is increasingly about. So much so that before our board of education has a proposed policy before it to only count student Regents exam scores in their final averages if those scores boost those averages. Do we seriously think that people who advance such a policy are concerned about education and its capacity to enrich the intellectual, cultural and spiritual life of human beings?

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Money for Schools Does Matter

Much of the rhetoric of the education reform movement has either stated directly or implied that more money is not the solution for the under-performance of poor children in our nation’s schools. Two new studies with two different methodologies now refute that counter-intuitive claim.

Where courts have interceded to challenge the underfunding of public schools in some communities, ordering those districts to spend more money, student scores on the NAEP test have significantly improved according to one study. The other research looked at time of school attendance in school and earnings after leaving school. Where greater financial resources were made available, students stayed in school longer and increased their earnings significantly.

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Economic Integration and Quality Schools

It has been clear for some time that one of the best ways to achieve racial integration is to create housing opportunities that promote economic integration. If people of different economic classes are visible to one another and must engage each other in everyday life, all lives are improved. It’s no secret that schools in middle and upper class neighborhoods tend to be better as are all social services in communities in which people have the wherewithal to demand quality. Take a minority child out of a segregated school, put him in a racially diverse classroom with middle and upper class children, and over time he will tend to share the aspirations and motivations of the group. I’ve seen it firsthand a number of times, when through some circumstance an inner-city minority child found his way to my upper middle class school district.

Federal housing policy under President Obama had begun to recognize this, regulations having been developed to use federal housing dollars to try to spur economic integration (See New York Times Article). That sadly will probably change now that Donald Trump has been elected and Dr. Ben Carson is slated to be the next secretary of Housing and Urban Development. To Carson, policies like this smack of social engineering which he categorically rejects. He apparently believes that the segregated poor have only themselves to blame for their plight. If he could escape the slums of Detroit and become a neurosurgeon, why can’t others develop triumphal will? Just when we were beginning to move in the right direction.

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From Wisconsin to the Nation

Wisconsin’s Act 10 was wormy Governor Scott Walker’s nuclear attack on the public sector unions in his state. It effectively ended public sector collective bargaining and, with its end to mandatory agency fees, crippled union memberships thereby severely limiting the political power of unions to lobby their elected representatives. A recent article in The Atlantic by Alana Semuels details the impact of Walker’s union cleansing on teachers in Wisconsin. This piece ought to be shared with every union member who supported Donald Trump. We will soon experience the fallout of Act 10 as it becomes a national model.

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Rediscovering Vocational Education

There appears to be growing agreement that our public schools need to offer more in the area of vocational education. While I completely agree, I admit to a rush of anger when I think about the subject, having been an educator that fought tenaciously to save the vocational programs my school district had from the ax of successive boards of education that like many turned up their noses at the thought of some of our community’s children earning a living with their hands.

My generation of educators was enthused about what were called comprehensive high schools, schools that attempted to offer both the academically inclined and those who are drawn to more physical work programs to meet their interests. The high school where I began my public school teaching career offered culinary arts, auto body repair, woodworking, ceramics, and metal working. Across town, our other high school offered cosmetology, auto repair, technical electricity, computer programming and I believe printing. The community’s students were free to take vocational courses in either school. Additionally, our students were completely free to register for vocational programs are regional high schools run by our state’s Bureau of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). I recall numbers of my English students who took a BOCES program that focused on the repair and maintenance of airplanes. At the time aviation was a big industry on Long Island.

Our local facilities to teach these subjects are almost all gone, victims of shortsightedness and a bias for college education for all. For us to reintroduce vocational education will require significant capital expenditures. We will also have great difficulty recruiting teachers for these programs, particularly as a result to the staggering teacher certification hurdles that have been erected in recent times. How painfully ironic it is that now that vocational education has almost disappeared from America’s high schools, people are awakening to what we have lost. “Don’t it always seem to go…”

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