Charter School Front Buses Thousands of Children To Albany To Use As Human Props

March 4, 2015

1 I

Playing by their own rules while crying about being oppressed has been a charter school tactic for years and, with the compliance of a wholly subservient media, a highly successful one. When a charter school “co-locates” with a neighborhood school and their demands for whatever space they desire are not immediately met, you can rest assured they will launch a PR campaign claiming that their rights are being violated, and you can rest with equal assurance that the media will report it so. Playing by their own rules took a significant leap today as, under the aegis of the hedge fund created and bank rolled front Families For Excellent Schools, charter chains emptied their schools to bus thousands and thousands of school children to Albany to be used as human props in their ceaseless campaign for more and more of everything at the expense of everyone else. Given the fact that almost all charter schools are anti union, the little ones should be seen, too, as unconscious and innocent extras in the campaign to break the teacher’s union,
clearly the long term goal of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Please note that the principal of any public school who pulled anything remotely like such a stunt as shipping her charges hours away on a school day in the dead of winter would be fired and possibly arrested, as well he or she should be.

Charter school entrepreneurs fear no such consequences and claim, with straight faces, that the thousands of kids were engaged in “a civics lesson.”

Yes, they actually say that.

At times today, everywhere you looked you saw kids decked out in red shirts and red caps both bearing the Familes For Excellent Schools slogan, “Don’t Steal Possible” — about as poorly a constructed sentence as you can make but… what the hell? It’s all about the kids, no ?
I ‘d be curious to see the bill for the thousands of hats and shirts, the mountains of sandwiches, and the hundreds of buses for this excursion but, as with all things charter school, I rather doubt such information is easily obtainable.

This young fellow does not like "failing schools"

This young fellow does not like “failing schools”

I have yet to see any corporate news reports of the use of these children in such a cynical manner in a struggle that they cannot possibly understand, but I am confident that all major media will find it not merely acceptable but as heartwarming as a movie by Disney.
As George W. Bush used to say most blasphemously as he plotted and schemed and conned and terrified America into invading Iraq, “And may God continue to bless America.”


Addendum: And then there’s the astoundingly arrogant Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families For Excellent Schools, seen here doing his best to not answer questions (and distance himself from the much loathed Eva Moskowitz) even if he does admit (very, very testily) that, “I am not an educator.” Not being an educator, apparently, qualifies one to play savior to the “800,000” kids who are “failing” in the “education crisis” created by real educators. Kittredge’s non educator and non educated status is, however, evident in his occasionally mangled syntax and incoherent statements ( shared, it seems by all Families For Excellent Schools messiahs and adherents), as in when he declares the the entire New York school system ” steals possible.” On the other hand, given that Kittredge and his charter school confederates enjoy the luxury of making their own rules with impunity, perhaps the man is simply extending this principle to English grammar. Clearly, Kittredge is a man accustomed to giving orders and being obeyed and with that sense of regal entitlement shared by so many education messiahs, is transparently pissed that a guy as important as he, Jeremiah Kittredge, has to actually answer basic questions. Note that as Kittredge and his handler (“That’s a wrap.”) bolts, a reporter states plaintively: “You should probably wait and let the rest of us ask our questions.”

No chance of that.

At any rate, after viewing this clip ask yourself this question: would you buy a used car or anything under heaven from Jeremiah Kittredge ? These poor charter kids can have no idea how cynically they are being used and by they time they realize the hustle it will be too late for many.

The Education of Co-Location

March 1, 2015


On Friday February 27, the United Federation of Teachers held another round of forums in communities across the city to speak out against the horrific proposals of Governor Andrew Cuomo on public education. One of Cuomo’s proposals is the creation of 100 new charter schools, institutions wildly favored and completely dominated by the super rich, who shower their favorite charter brands with their tax deductable largess and have created an extremely visible two tiered school system. The two tiered system is all the more visible (and to parents it is meant to be) in what have been called “co-locations, ” or public school buildings in which public schools and charter schools uneasily co-exist. No charter brand has received more 1% largess than Success Academy, the ever-expanding empire of Eva Moskowitz, which has a public relations budget in excess of a million dollars. Success Academy began in my school as Harlem Success Academy , and has been expanding both in my school and throughout the city ever since. As a teacher and chapter leader who has dealt with co-locating with Success Academy from day one, I was asked to speak briefly on the experience at the forum held at the Church of the Holy Trinity on E. 88th Street. In the words below I did so.

On the Education of Co-Location

As we all know, education takes many forms. There is, for example, the education we receive in our homes and in our communities, where we learn how to comport ourselves, how to interact with others, and hopefully, what it means to be a decent person. Then there is the formal education we receive in our schools, where we learn to read and write, solve mathematical problems, gain knowledge of history and science and, above all, learn to think and discern, which provides us the tools to make sense of our lives and our reality.

In my experience of many years of co-locating with Success Academy at PS/MS 149,
I am forced to the appalling conclusion that, due to the extremely targeted and reckless largess of the super rich, largess that could never be matched by public funding, some co-locations can be said to provide yet another form of education, and a particularly cruel form at that.
The education is all the more powerful because the lessons are unspoken and must remain unspoken, or at least disguised, for this particular education to be allowed to continue in a nominally public institution in a nominally public system.
My students at PS/MS 149, like most kids sensitive and intelligent, learn daily and silently, without words, without language, that they are simply not as good as their co-located counterparts at Harlem Success. They learn daily and silently, without words, that some children are simply better and more deserving than others. Some children deserve the newest and brightest technology, as well as brand new carpeting, brand new books, fresh paint jobs; some children deserve what happens to be laying around or nothing at all. Some children deserve music programs; others can have theirs taken away and their instruments jammed into closets and forgotten. Some children deserve block rooms in which to explore and play and others deserve to be taught in stairwells and hallways like children of a lesser God.
Some children deserve fresh food delivered daily and wheeled through the hallways for all to see; others can dine on the considerably lesser fare of the DOE.

Indeed, if you are looking for a perverse negation of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which outlawed the separate and unequal public schools of the Jim Crow South, you need look no further than the co-location of PS/MS 149 and Harlem Success Academy.

Each day I see the Success Academy students marching through the crowded hallways and stairwells of 149, passing students from my school, children from the same neighborhoods, displaying no recognition whatsoever of their common humanity. Each day my students watch as the ephemeral teachers of Success Academy snap their fingers and bark orders at their “scholars, “ all the while behaving as if my fellow teachers and myself, in effect their co-located colleagues, did not even exist.

These things too are an education, and you can rest assured that both groups of students are learning their respective if silent lessons which, if put to words, could be rendered simply: some people count and some do not.

There is something very powerful going on here and something very wrong. It is morally wrong. It is educationally wrong. It is civically wrong and it is spiritually wrong. Such cruel disparity and militant hubris has no place at all in a public school system, no place at all in a democratic society. Such education, however well disguised, has no place in our communities, our city and our nation.

Linda Hill: An Opportunity For Farina To Exorcise the Lingering Presence of Bloomberg

February 28, 2015
Linda Hill

Linda Hill

Until very recently Linda Hill, principal of Dreyfus Intermediate School on Staten Island , was known, when at all, as the chief tormentor of teacher Francesco Portelos, whose career and reputation she tried and failed to destroy, even if she did cause the man an enormous amount of hardship. Portelos’ offense was to point out to the powers that be that Hill was ripping off the public by claiming to be doing two jobs at the same time in different places: an impossibility. For his courage, Portelos was rubber roomed, investigated endlessly by the Office of Special Investigation (OSI), eventually vindicated but nonetheless, crazily, fined $10, 000.
He has also been proven right. The same OSI that hounded Portelos has confirmed that Hill was doing precisely what Portelos said she was doing.

Not that it matters at all in the strange universe of the Department of Education, made all the more strange, and strangely corrupt, during the reign of Michael R. Bloomberg. Indeed, during the darkness of the Bloomberg years, in which experienced principals were given buyouts and newly minted Leadership Academy replacements were urged to think of themselves as CEO’s, their primary function was apparently to hound, demoralize and degrade teachers as much as possible.
Think of a corporate mini version of Mao’s Great Leap Forward which produced the Great Chinese Famine. Bloomberg’s maneuver, in turn, created a different kind of famine but a famine nonetheless. As a bonus, principals who proved incompetent, insane, sadistic or criminal were not fired but merely shifted to another school or warehoused at Tweed where they continued to collect their significant salaries. I know. I had one who managed to fill all four of those categories and the last I heard she’s still collecting Disgraced Former Principal Dole. As with the mafia or the IRA or the Ivy League, once you were admitted into the club it was very, very hard to be tossed out.

The New York Post, which shamelessly cheerleaded for all things Bloomberg during his twelve nightmare years as absolute ruler of New York City schools, has attempted to somehow link Hill’s criminal behavior with current Chancellor Carmen Farina’s tenure; this despite the fact that Hill’s $55, 000 worth of thievery was done under the watch of Bloomberg’s trio of preposterous non-educator Chancellors of Education, Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott.

That said, OSI’s confirmation of Hill’s criminality merits an immediate and appropriate response from Farina, namely Hill’s firing (at the very least) and (as much as I know it will never happen) a public apology to Portelos for the hell he’s been put through.

Failure to do so will not merely make a mockery of justice but it will make a mockery of Farina, and billboard what every Leadership Academy scandal reiterates: the ghost of Mike Bloomberg is still very much present.

This is an opportunity. I hope, for the good of all, that Farina uses it and uses it well. But, sadly, I am not holding my breath.

Reflections on the Cup and Saucer, Edward Hopper, Tom Waits and Community

February 21, 2015

cup and sacuer Unknown

Strange how sometimes the mere encounter of certain things – songs, aromas, buildings — can affect one so deeply, conjuring up right hook emotions, fueling locomotives of memory and desire, transporting you hither thither and yon toward all manner of known and unknown destinations. Even though I haven’t actually dined there for years and was never what you could call a habitué, I undergo some version or other of the above phenomena just about every time I stroll past the Cup and Saucer Luncheonette on Canal Street and see it still standing, still open, still operating much the same way it has been since before, well… punks roamed the earth.
The Cup and Saucer, you understand, is a greasy spoon, and one of the first order. It is not a faux greasy spoon designed by yuppies for other yuppies seeking the greasy spoon ascetic, but with food more suited to their sophisticated palettes and a cliental that looks, thinks, smells and earns like they do. No. The Cup and Saucer is the real deal, the thing-in itself, the noumenon, at once authentic and delightfully unconscious of its authenticity, frequented by people who tend to look as if they belong in an Edward Hopper painting or else walked off the set of one of those great and gritty 70’s New York movies like “The Panic In Needle Park.” (I, myself, found comfort there during my time doing graduate work at the Edgar Allen Poe School of Serious Drinking when, after a night of mystery and indulgence, paradise could be found in a plate of the Cup and Saucer’s greasy bacon and eggs. ) Such people are becoming increasingly hard to find in my neighborhood and such establishments, once as prevalent in Manhattan as a mailbox, are fast going the way of the woolly behemoth.
I understand I am witnessing a vanishing.


I have no idea how or why but somehow the Cup and Saucer has survived; no small thing in the uber -Darwinian world of Manhattan real estate. Of that I am glad, even as I know it is living on borrowed time, for the place has resonance for me as I suspect it has for many.
I cannot see the Cup and Saucer without thinking of both the paintings of Hopper and the songs of Tom Waits. I cannot, in turn, think of Hopper or Waits without thinking of my late and beloved eldest brother Eddie who, many years ago, introduced me to both and in doing so enlarged and deepened my adolescent universe. I cannot think of Eddie without often experiencing an oceanic sense of loss and a kind of vertigo of sorrow that finds me bumping into things or stepping in puddles or reaching for rosary beads which are no longer there. Finally, I cannot experience such sorrow without being reminded of how quickly our days here pass, how little we know of what we are doing here; of our sublime fragility; of how suddenly we leave, leaving others who love us and who we love behind as we enter into silence.

tome waits

So somehow, against my will, the Cup and Saucer has become important to me, which is to say, it has become symbolic to me, and symbols are very powerful and necessary things indeed.
That being so, I cannot pass the Cup and Saucer without wrestling with other more mundane but just as disturbing realities as well, none more so than the rapidity of change that has become an across-the –board-norm of 21st century urban existence – that much the more in NYC. With precious few exceptions – a tailor here, a pizzeria there – the Lower East Side neighborhood I moved into 14 years ago no longer exists except geographically. Quirky independent or family businesses and neighbors have almost all been driven out by ever more insane rents, or left in disgust when the place was given over to ephemeral restaurants catering to Wall Street big shots or bars catering to NYU frat boys who confuse our doorways for public urinals. Even more gone is the spirit of the artists of every conceivable medium who found cheap dwellings here that allowed them to pursue their muses and, whatever you thought of their work, added to our culture and made things interesting. God knows where they have gone, but gone they are, and such misfits and marchers to different drummers will not be back in my lifetime. And that is a loss that is incalculable.

None of this, of course, is new in New York and change is both necessary and healthy. Change, in point of fact, is the only constant of the city since Peter Minuet first swindled the Lenape out of their tree ridden island. “Expect poison from standing water,” wrote Blake. What is new is the speed and the scale and the dislocating effects of such upheaval as well as the uniformity of so much of what replaces it. Somewhere in his voluminous entries, 19th c New York diarist George Templeton Strong laments that New York neighborhoods change so utterly that every 40 years or so, a native could return and find one wholly unrecognizable.
The vanishing Strong lamented now seems to occur every four months or so and, sadly, tends to produce places and people that are all too easily recognizable. Such a situation has definite if difficult to locate side effects for those of us — and there are more and more of us all the time – who are forced to live under such conditions or flee.
Such conditions set a kind of guerilla war of environment against the psyche: a war of the primal human need for continuity and some level of stability and the post -postmodern super capitalistic culture that eviscerates both, even as apologists for the Efficiency Market Hypothesis (which brought the world to the brink of economic catastrophe in 2008) continue to preach it is all for the good.
And all is for the good if you happen to incarnate the abstraction called The Economy. All is very, very good, indeed. Fabulous even. If, on the other hand, you are but a lowly sensate human, such perpetual change can tend to leave you feeling invisible, utterly inconsequential, and meaningless. Indeed, it feels like an attack of the most impersonal kind by the most impersonal forces, and as such, is terrifying. What’s more, the human heart and psyche have demands of their own, impervious to the “hidden hand” of the free market, (or any other hand that is not human or divine for that matter) and when these demands are not met, life begins to feel…well, crazy.
As it happens, I was a boy when I first encountered the abject horror of human craziness. It came in the form of my best friend’s mother who, during our boyhood, was painfully, mercilessly, mentally ill. When things were very bad for her she hallucinated people changing shapes and forms and identities right in front of her eyes. In those horrible moments of everything and everyone shifting, the poor woman would sometimes scream.
It took me years to understand something of what she must have felt like; took me years to understand that we need stable markers in this life, be they psychological, spiritual, moral or geographical, or some combination of them all, which somehow reinforce each other. When they would start shifting, I’d feel like screaming.
I find myself remembering my friend’s poor pained mother all too often these days when I am walking through my neighborhood and it is not a pleasant feeling.

Nor is it easy to define. Whatever the feeling is, it is not nostalgia. I have no longing for some bullshit rosy past and even if I did, I might well be sated (with enough alcohol) by the post-post modern phenomenon of faux-reality-brand-new-very old-bar, often times of the faux-Irish-faux-lineage. You know, the bar that opened last week but is designed to look and feel like it’s been there for a century or so with a name (“The Fifth Ward”, perhaps) to conjure up the wild days and nights when Jimmy Walker ran Gotham.

Nor, alternatively, am I jonezing for the “convenience” of having a CVS or a 7-11 or Starbucks or Citibank on my corner to save me the trouble of walking two blocks to the next CVS or 7-11 or Starbucks or Citibank in a city that feels increasingly as interchangeable as any airport.
Not good.
Not good and, I fear, spiritually dangerous.
There is, I believe, something ineffable, immeasurable, profoundly human and absolutely necessary about forging or finding a connection, however subtle and tenuous, with the place where one lives. It is precisely that connection that allows for the formation of true community. Conversely, I cannot help but feel that there is a danger, also ineffable, immeasurable and profoundly human, when such connections are either not made or severed. Such changes change you and not, I fear, for the better. You cannot love what you do not know and you cannot know what you do not feel a connection to. And where there is no connection there can be no community.

Someday, and I suspect that day will come soon, I will stroll down Canal Street and find the Cup and Saucer to be no more. It will be replaced by either a bank or an enterprise that will have no interest whatsoever in its current clientele ( who will remind no one of Tom Waits or Edward Hopper ) or it will be a pile of rubble making way for luxury condos for the children of the mega rich as described in “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty. The workers of the Cup and Saucer as well as the regulars they served will be scattered to the winds searching for a place to go.

That day will spell the end of the greasy spoons of the Lower East Side and almost certainly the last use of the word”luncheonette.” For me it will be one very poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of both time and our times and the pressing need to look elsewhere for a place to call home for me and mine.

cup interior images

Nicholas Kristof ‘s Grand Epiphany: Unions (At least in the Private Sector) Should Not Be Eviscerated

February 20, 2015


I suppose in a political climate as demented and one dimensional as ours, one in which the Democrat president of the United States has been insidiously union busting since the day he entered office, one in which the Democrat governor of New York is actively union busting and talking about the public schools system as a monopoly, one in which
Governors’ Scott Walker of Wisconsin and billionaire Bruce Rainer of Illinois are succeeding in bringing their states back to the glorious 19th century, one should be grateful for any public utterance that does not portray unions as a collection of thugs and cigarette-smoking child molesters or parasites. I suppose my gratitude should be that much greater when such an utterance appears as a kind of mea culpa in as influential a publication as the New York Times. Furthermore, I suppose one should applaud that much the more any one who has the courage to publically admit they there were wrong as has the Time’s Nicholas Kristof in admitting his ignorance in regards to an issue as enormous and far-reaching as the presence of unions. This, even if in his admittance Kristof continues to reference deceptive mercenary blowhards like Stephen Brill, a man who has written so damningly of phantom public school teachers , and continues to point to demagogues like New York’s Police Benevolence Association (PBA) Patrick Lynch as representative of union leadership across the board.

That he would resort to lowlife’s like Brill as a source and Lynch as a model billboards Nicholas Kristof’s appalling ignorance of and distance from the subject of unions. Such ignorance and distance does, however, help explain Kristof’s decade long cheer-leading of union busting vehicles such as charters schools even as he fails to mention the protections he enjoys as a member of the Writer’s Guild, as do all writers employed by the New York Times. Such ignorance of and distance from the realities of unionism also explains Kristof’s paltry reasons for his qualified change of heart.

Kristof begins,” Like many Americans, I’ve been wary of labor unions.” Kristof’s wariness is the natural result of over three decades of ceaseless anti-union pro-corporate, fact free propaganda of exactly the same kind Kristof himself has, up to now, repeatedly and self righteously spewed. But Kristof still misses the much larger point. Like all Americans – every single one of us – Kristof has benefited from the mere presence of labors unions, regardless of his personal membership or lack there of.
It is a fact that the presence of unions forces the fruits of labor to be more fairly distributed and labor rights not merely to be created but to be recognized and respected. Kristof makes a reference to this later in his article when he writes: “Or look at American history. The peak years for unions were the 1940s and ’50s, which were also some of the fastest-growing years for the United States ever — and with broadly shared prosperity. Historically, the periods when union membership were highest were those when inequality was least.”
And again: They “unions” are pushing for a higher national minimum wage, even though that would directly benefit mostly nonunionized workers.”

These are, of course, facts that are well known to any one who has ever taken a course Labor History 101 or read a decent history of the United States. If we had an education system run by educators, these facts would also be known to every high school student in the nation. While new to the likes of Nicholas Kristof, the cumulative effects of unions have been known to and hated by industrialists and corporatists since the first union was formed, a truth of which that neo-liberals and millionaires wishing to be billionaires dare not speak. It is also a truth that 99% of Americans, many of those who would benefit the greatest from the presence of unions, either don’t know or, for suicidal ideological reasons, reject. And in this rejection lay their complete and utter immiseration,
a reality that their contemptuous masters — think of the relationship between the Tea and the Koch brothers — have long ago set in motion.

Remarkably, (or maybe not ) Nicholas Kristof also fails to even mention what has inexorably risen in the void created by the systematic destruction of unions: namely oligarchy. Indeed, an oligarchy that makes a daily and demoralizing mock of our pretense to democracy.
“To understand the rising inequality, you have to understand the devastation in the labor movement,” says Jake Rosenfeld, a labor expert at the University of Washington and the author of “What Unions No Longer Do.”
“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”

Instead, Nicholas Kristof puts forth the preposterous claim that “Union bosses” (note: not union “leaders” ) and the 1% are on equal ground in terms of power and the ability to destroy with absolute impunity.
“One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses — and of corporate tycoons”.

Let me be clear here: Unions, like all human institutions, are inherently imperfect and, yes, at times corrupt and in need of reform. Still to compare union corruption and its effects to what has been wrought by corporations or politicians in Washington D.C. or Wall Street is obscene. Unions are not responsible for depleting the earth of its resources bringing about an ecological catastrophe we may not be able to stop, let alone reverse. Unions are not responsible for invading countries under false pretenses and murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Unions are not guilty of the pilfering of trillions of dollars from pension funds and implementing a myriad of sleazy schemes designed to rip off the trusting and that brought the world economy to the brink of catastrophe in 2008.
No. The people responsible for these atroctites or who cheer leaded these atroctites are the very same who are doing all they can to destroy the remnants of unionism here and around the world.

And they are doing so, of course, in the name of fairness and freedom.

Finally, in words that reek of self-congratulation, Kristof comes to understand what enlightened people as far back as the 19th century understood was their only road to dignity, social justice and a decent wage.
“This isn’t something you often hear a columnist say, but I’ll say it again: I was wrong. At least in the private sector, we should strengthen unions, not try to eviscerate them. “

How nice of Nicholas Kristof to arrive at that conclusion that unions should not be “eviscerated.” But note well, my fellow public school teachers, Kristof’s stipulating that the non-evisceration be limited “to the private sector ” which, in the all out war against all public institutions, should strikes us as particularly weasel-like and ominous.

Such words, in an article that ostensibly defends unions, could only bring comfort to the likes of Obama, Cuomo, Walker, Rainer and all their patrons who know that the first step to a “Right To Work” or union free nation is the evisceration of public unions.

Nicholas Kristof is not our friend.


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