Battle of the Base and Vulgar: Trump’s Immigrants Are Christie’s Teachers

August 3, 2015

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If there is any up side to the cynical media orgy surrounding Donald Trump’s entry into the Republican presidential race, it is that Trump threatens to take the wind out of the sails of fellow vulgarian, blowhard and presidential hopeful Chris Christie. Indeed, this is already in process.
Both Trump and the corpulent governor of New Jersey are heroes for the same demographic, appealing to the same level of baseness, ignorance, pain, desperation and resulting nastiness. Christie, unquestionably crude, but not stupid, is no doubt aware of this. No doubt, too, he is running scared. In what can be seen as a desperate attempt to regain his mantle as the king of straight talking, tough guys, (Christie enjoys the public spectacle of telling anyone who dare disagree with him to shut up, much to the delight of his fans) Christie delivered what may well be his most vulgar and base statement to date. And with Christie that’s quite a feat.

To wit: “ In an interview that aired on Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper reminded the New Jersey governor that he had advised people to punch bullies “in the face” during his first term as governor.
“At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?” Tapper wondered.
“Oh, the national teachers union,” Christie replied without hesitation. “They’re not for education for our children, they’re for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members.”
“And they are the single most destructive force in public education in America,” he added. “I’ve been saying that since 2009. I’ve got the scars to show it, but I’m never going to stop saying it because they never change their stripes.”

To repeat: Teacher unions, according to Christie “are the single most destructive force in public education in America.”

A few facts: In the past decade teachers unions, of which I am a member, to their shame and possible self destruction, have made concession after concession to the billionaire and corporate “education reform “ nexus bent on privatizing public education as a major step in privatizing all aspects of American public life. So successful have they been in imposing their endless failed policies on teacher unions across the country, that the job I began a mere decade ago bares almost no resemblance to the job I will resume in September. Indeed, as teacher shortages around the country attest, I would never have entered it had I known the outright degradation that was coming. Moreover, in terms of benefits and pay, teacher unions have been back pedaling for years.

Christie knows this — even as he knows that most Americans, fed a steady diet of anti teacher propaganda for over a decade, do not. Christie also knows that, outside of blighted, grossly impoverished near Third World cites like Camden and Newark, by any standards unionized New Jersey teachers have consistently maintained a public school system that can rival any in the world. But no matter. Christie is keenly aware that there is an enormous and ever increasing number of justifiably enraged if politically ignorant Americans who are desperately seeking some one or something ( other than the forces that are at fault ) to blame for their manifest immiseration, wage stagnation, ever increasing work hours and absolute absence of anything remotely resembling job security. In short, for all the logical results of a neo liberal economy. Christie also knows that many such people dwell in a state intellectual and spiritual degradation that they understand equality as the place where all working people are as debased as they are. What they have been stripped of, they reason, all must be stripped of. It’s only fair. Why should you have what I don’t ?
It is to these people that Christie is appealing to with crude and violent desires to “punch the national teachers’ union in the face.”

Demagogues like Trump and Christie have nothing to offer but national bogeymen. For Trump, it is immigrants; for Christie, teachers. Such is their political lifeblood. Where a man like Lincoln appealed to the “better angels of our nature,” men like Trump and Christie appeal to the darkness that waits dormant in all of us. Just as their economic policies create a race to the bottom for American workers, so do their rhetoric create a race to the bottom for American politics.
Trump’s media saturated arrival — based exclusively on the outrageousness and ugliness of his statements — has upped the ante for Christie.
I can’t imagine, even a man with as little self control as Chis Christie, making as ugly and idiotic a statement as he did yesterday if Trump, however ephemerally, were not in the increasingly shameful picture.

Good. Let them engage in their battle of the tough guys hoping to be nothing less than the president of the United States. In the process may their supporters awaken and come to see how truly and deeply both men despise them.

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Thoughts Occasioned By Father’s Day and Fatherhood

June 21, 2015

All yesterday and this morning, like fathers throughout this troubled land, I have been the recipient of messages wishing me a Happy Father’s Day. For these I am grateful, even as I know the genesis of the celebration to be a money making scheme to sell cards, sentiments, nostalgia and the like. So be it. In time, it has generated a pleasant tradition.

My own father, John Joseph Walsh, a good and decent if sometimes difficult man, died when I was 16 but not before he passed on, largely through example to his eleven children, the necessity of having integrity, compassion, gratitude, courage and a sense of fair play. My father, a good Irishman, was a drinker, a devout Catholic and a union man, identities that for all I knew were as inseparable as the Holy Trinity. When I reflect now on how he fed, clothed, and housed us all, even in an America not yet set to ruin by the cruel, fantasy- based politics of Ronald Reagan and his successors, I am nothing short of astounded. Through the decades since his death, it is to his memory and to those principles that I have found myself instinctively turning for spiritual sustenance in times of darkness in a world that sometimes seems to grow madder and crueler by the hour.

And for this I am eternally grateful.

  John Joseph Walsh


John Joseph Walsh

Grateful, too, I am for the gift of fatherhood, easily the most terrifying, challenging, spiritually enriching and sublime gift I have ever received or ever could receive. I recall the words my brother Eddie said to me when I called him from the hospital to inform of the birth of my daughter, who was to be his godchild. “ Now everything will be different for you,” he said. “ Your life will be changed utterly.”

Ten years have since passed and truer words have seldom been spoken, but of the nature of the change and the difference many more can be added, not least among them “beautiful.”

Not long after my daughter’s December entry into this world I chanced upon an encounter that in some ways sums up for me both the perpetual challenge and perpetual gift of fatherhood.

I was walking on Houston St. with my baby girl snuggled in a papoose on my chest. (A scenario, mind you, I could not imagine my father partaking in in a million years.) There was snow on the ground and we were both bundled up against the cold. From a distance of perhaps 40 yards I noticed a man, more or less my age, with a baby bundled up on his chest walking in my direction, a mirror reflection of myself. When we met we both stopped and looked at each other in silence. I asked him, “What do you think?” I did not need to ask him what about. He thought for a moment and, pointing to his child, he said, “He has shocked me out of my narcissism.” We both laughed, shook hands and walked on. I never saw him again.

“Shocked me out of my narcissism.” The words rang like a bell in both my heart and my head and ring they do still, by and by in the ten years since that chilly morning of very new fatherhood. I have thought about them and tried to keep that dread deadly affliction, from which so many other afflictions seed, at bay, failing all too often, but trying, trying nonetheless. Trying to be aware. And that awareness too is one of the great gifts and great challenges of fatherhood. And I hope and strive to pass on to my child the good things my father passed on to me.


DFER Illuminates Hidden Dangers of Opting Out

April 20, 2015

DFER

As both a public school teacher and a public school parent I am well versed with the arguments against the experimental Common Core State Standards and all that comes with it. I know of the Manhattan-Project-like secrecy in which the standards were created and how it was funded almost entirely by the Gates Foundation. I know of the mad rush in which it was implemented, the coercive methods employed by the Obama administration to insure its “adoption” by almost the entire nation, the developmentally inappropriate demands it makes on children, and above all the unprecedented amounts of super high stakes testing with which it is inexorably bound. I am aware too that the test scores from Common Core aligned tests form the largest component for evaluating teachers, schools, and entire districts. In short, I know that in a remarkably short period of time and with almost no parental or teacher input, the Common Core and the standardized tests that have been aligned to it have become nothing less than the central nervous system of the American public school system.
For these reasons and more I am an unapologetic advocate for parents allowing their children to opt out of such tests, as they did in ever increasing numbers last week and as did my own child.
That said, there are times, I feel, when matters of education, solidarity and self respect need be sublimated by people of good faith and integrity to larger and more pressing concerns of the commonwealth. That is to say, there are times when we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
I speak specifically of the potentially negative effects that opting out might have on the value of real estate and property in Scarsdale and other sections of Westchester.

Part of the danger in involvement with movements such as the battle to save public education is that a certain myopia can creep in so insidiously that one may not even begin to notice it. Accordingly, I will admit that in several years of arguing and advocating against corporate education reform in all its forms, not once did it dawn on me to consider how opting out might lower real estate values in Scarsdale. Shamefully, perhaps due to the same movement- created myopia, I cannot recall a single colleague mentioning it either. Nor has the problem appeared in any of the mainstream media, possibly due to pressure from teacher unions.
Honestly, I might well have remained oblivious to the Scarsdale property factor were it not brought to my attention by Nicole Brisbane, director of the New York State branch of Democrats For Education Reform in an article in USA Today reporting on the Opt Out phenomenon.

“Yet collecting educational data is important for the future of education and can help define the character of a town, said Nicole Brisbane, state director at Democrats For Education Reform.
“Schools are one of the biggest differentiators of value in the suburbs,” she said. “How valuable will a house be in Scarsdale when it isn’t clear that Scarsdale schools are doing any better than the rest of Westchester or even the state? Opting out of tests only robs parents of that crucial data.”
Insight into this “robbery” may not be enough for me to insist my child sit for the remainder of the tests that will be administered this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but when I ponder how my actions may affect property values and homeowners of Scarsdale and even the rest of Westchester County, it does give a certain illuminating pause. And for that, I can only give thanks to the good people at Democrats For Education Reform who remind me that, in the end, we’re all Americans and we’re all in this together.


Leonie Haimson and Jamaal Bowman Teach Billionaire Created Fronts a Lesson

April 18, 2015

NY 1 images-1

One should never expect anything approximating authentic debate from any corporate owned news agency, that much the more when the subject is as oligarchically driven and defined as is “education reform,” and Time Warner’s NY1 “Inside City Hall’ s attempt at a debate about Common Core and its discontents proved no exception.

Nonetheless, it was satisfying to watch an authentic public advocate and a New York City public school principal teach two members of billionaire backed education reform fronts a lesson.
Ostensibly reporting on the huge spike in the number of New York state parents refusing to subject their children to high stakes Common Core aligned standardized tests, alleged journalist Bobby Cuza gathered together “a special panel” of “experts” carefully selected to deceive any viewer not highly conversant with the issue.

The 12 minute segment, much of it complete nonsense, did serve as a snapshot of how cynically such situations are covered and why many non-teachers can be so easily bamboozled.
But not so much this time.
Bobby’s “special panel” consisted of the following: Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, and Jamaal Bowman, Principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School, Maura Henry, a teacher at the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, and Stephen Sigmund from the group High Achievement New York.

High Achievement New York is yet another in the seemingly endless line of noble sounding multi- billionaire created “non profit “ fronts passing themselves off as authentic grassroots organizations created to ramrod education policies. ( How nice that the American lawmakers to allow individuals to accrue the wealth of nations so they can hire tax deductible mercenaries like Stephen Sigmund to do their bidding while at the same time deplete the public coffers of tax revenue!) Look at the High Achievement New York’s website and you will find the word “teachers” first and foremost. Look a little further and you will find among their “coalition members” both the Mike Bloomberg-funded, Michelle Rhee-led StudentsfirstNY and the grotesque Bill Gates financed Educators for Excellence.
Rest assured these are very special teachers indeed.

Like their bankrollers who make up less that 1% of 1% of our population yet own 40% of the national wealth, E4E make up less than 1% of 1% of New York City teachers. As their views are abhorrent to 99. 9 % of NYC teachers, this figure would shrivel down to 0% in a week (if that) without cash infusions from Gates and their hedge fund sugar daddies. Claiming to work “to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the decisions that affect our profession and our students,” E4E
operate as a kind of Fifth Colum, passing themselves off as unionists while attempting to worm their way into union positions in order to undermine it from within. They are reprehensible and minuscule in number yet, as seen here, have constant access to a fawning mainstream media.
As such, out of some 80,000 non E4E teachers, NY1 is fine with selecting just such a member for their “special panel ” on the Common Core.

The only problem was that the E4E teacher, one Maura Henry, didn’t seem to know the first thing about Common Core or even what the “debate” was about.
Henry was introduced as a teacher of English as a Second Language in the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria as well as a member of Educators for Excellence.
Of course, there is no way on earth for the average viewer to know who is bankrolling either E4E or High Achievement New York and that is exactly as they like it to be. But you can rest assured NY1 knows and are not about to tell.

Alas, Ms. Henry’s handlers from E4E did not serve her well, leaving her to babble incoherently about her special feelings toward the NYSESLAT, a test exclusively for ESL students and one that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Of this, only Leonie Hamson seemed to notice.

Incredibly, Henry also seemed to be completely unaware of the fact that this year’s NYSESLAT bears almost no resemblance to its earlier incarnation. Far more importantly — and perhaps fatally for all ESL teachers in all New York State – NYSELAT has for the first time been absurdly “aligned” with the Common Core Standards, making it virtually impossible for an ESL student to pass it. You read that correctly. A test that should be designed to measure language acquisition will now be aligned with standards that are ostensibly written to measure language mastery. This act of educational child abuse — setting extremely vulnerable kids up to take tests they have absolutely zero chance of passing — somehow slipped by Ms. Henry. That and the fact that under Cuomo’s sadistic new teacher evaluation, in which 50% of teacher’s ratings will come from such tests, she and thousands of other ESL teachers, my self included, will — save a miracle on the level of the loaves and fishes — almost certainly be fired in two years time no matter what we do.

Oh well. Guess we should have thought of that before we were born.

Ms. Henry also babbled on about how she would like to see Common Core tests more “computer adaptive.”

Hmmmmmmmm.

Stephen Sigmund, on the other hand, was as sleek as a porpoise even as he mouthed one reformer cliché after another. The Common Core Standards, said Sigmund, were developed with “significant input from teachers” and are merely standards which “states have agreed upon, ” written to make students “college and career ready.”
And so on and so forth.

I got the distinct impression I could have listened to this slick operative gasbag for days without hearing a single original or altogether true sentence.
Truth and originality, of course, are not what good mercenaries are paid for.

What they are paid for is to reply to the fact that NYC kids are spending more time on tests than any other students on earth with rubbish like a High Achievement New York analysis, which states that a mere .75 % of school time is spent on testing.
Ergo the “time issue” is specious.
No mention of the shrinking of curriculum to feed the test monster, no mention of endless test prep, no mention of kids being stressed out of their minds across the state, no mention of education being debased into testing, no mention that the entire apparatus is designed to undermine public support for public education by constantly and consciously setting up the overwhelming majority of children to fail.

Earning his pay, Sigmund weaseled around the fact that standardized tests and the divine Common Core are bound together like Siamese twins.

Principal Jamaal Bowman, meanwhile, a man who deals not with abstractions and useless analyses but with actual flesh and blood students taking these monstrous tests, spoke thoughtfully and forcefully about “rethinking” the entire assessment process, “rethinking our approach to testing, curriculum and instruction.”

“13 years of testing,” stated Bowman “ and nothing has changed. ”

And then there was Leonie Haimson, whose Class Size Matters exists on a shoestring and who has taken on the billionaires and thwarted them with her sheer intelligence and moral force. Speaking with precision and in complete command of the facts, Leonie once again spoke truth to mammon and is a delight to behold. These are very, very dark days for education and educators in this country and, due to Cuomo and his super rich employers, that much the more in New York State. As such, such moments resonate very deeply. Watch her here.


A Review of “The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education”

April 17, 2015

Please find my review of “The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education”
A book by Vanessa Rodriguez with Michelle Fitzpatrick here.

http://www.truthdig.com

teaching brain -04-17_at_12.57_.33_PM_copy_2_


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