Archive for June, 2011

The Math of A-Humanity : $900 Million For Technology, Zero for Teachers

June 19, 2011

Herein is additional evidence that Mayor Mike Bloomberg is morally, spiritually and intellectually unfit to be any where near children, never mind have de facto dictatorial powers over the largest school system in the United States.  The act of spending $900 million on technology when you are simultaneously attempting to throw 6000 teachers out of their classrooms   and into the streets (and the throes of the most brutal economy since the Great Depression ) is a barbaric act, a crime against our children and our parents and a grave insult and threat to all working people of New York City.

The idea that an education department  has money to spend for computers in classrooms  but not for teachers in classrooms reveals a view of  both education and humanity that is, in the words of Thomas Merton,  unspeakable.   It is an act of class war so insidious that it should chill the blood of all who read of it.

It is also a profound and horrifying  indication of how thoroughly   “corporate values”   —  ceaseless competition,  mindless efficiency, relentless attempts to gain power over others –
are  simultaneously mocking and destroying our very lives in the name of a psychotic a-human notion of progress and corporate order  that demands the absolute eradication of all human values, especially human dignity,  cannot possibly sustain for any length of time itself and cannot possibly maintain itself without  slipping into outright naked fascism.

That hour draws near.  The deeply cynical  maneuver  described below is one more step in that direction.

Like it or not,  we are in an undeclared  civil war.   In this struggle silence equals complicity.

06/17/2011 07:41 PM

Despite Cuts, Education Budget Calls For $900M On Tech

By: Lindsey Christ

Though New York City schools are being slammed with heavy budget cuts, a close look at the education budget reveals that close to $900 million will be spent on technology next fiscal year. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed the following report.Mayor Michael Bloomberg still calls himself the “education mayor,” but the shrinking budget can no longer support expanding reforms. Yet in one area, Bloomberg is still ramping up despite overall cutbacks.NY1’s analysis of the budget shows he wants to spend close to $900 million on education technology next fiscal year.

“The importance of technology is something that we believe in,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

However, to find extra funds for that belief this year required some creative budgeting.

For example, principals were notified this week that textbook funding can now be used to purchase computer hardware and software. That was $264 million last year.

The Department of Education also redefined classroom computers as part of school buildings. That allows them to use $350 million of capital funds over the next three years to purchase and install computers, smart boards and printers.

Plus, in the operating budget, the DOE wants $52 million for technology contractors, up 86 percent from last year.

“My son came home and said, ‘hey mom, we’re all getting laptops at school next year,’ and I said great, but what about your teachers?” said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.

City officials say their hands are tied. They need to get the school system prepared by 2014 for a national shift toward taking standardized tests online.

However, the reality is more complicated. The mayor wants the city on the forefront of developing the 21st century classroom.

The way technology is used in classrooms is constantly evolving. Two years after the city pronounced all schools wired and wireless, it now says every building needs an upgrade, which will cost the city another half a billion dollars next year alone.

“We have a responsibility on making sure that our students can compete in today’s society around technology,” said Walcott.

The mayor also plans to cut 6,000 teaching positions. Although most of the money directed toward technology can’t be spent on teacher salaries, many question whether this is the year to increase any spending.

“You don’t go out and buy a brand new car when you can’t pay for your mortgage,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers union.

The DOE budget proposals still need City Council approval, and councilmembers are already questioning the amount of money earmarked for tech.–education-budget-calls-for–900m-on-tech

Cycling the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail: A Pleasant Ride Through History

June 13, 2011

Some 150 odd years ago in the opening page of his magnum opus Moby-Dick, Herman Melville wrote the following to explain why his character Ishmael was, in lieu of a more reckless or destructive act, occasionally moved to set out to sea:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.

Indeed.  I know the feeling.

But since it is not 1840 and I have no idea what “hypos” are, nor any inclination to knock hats off people’s heads for fear of getting my own blown off, and since there are no whale ships to sign up on,  when ever I feel  that “November in my soul”  I  set out to do something a bit different than poor Ishmael.

I ride my bike.

And I ride it as long, as hard, and as often as I can.  Or at least until my hypos cease having the upper hand on me.

Happily, there are interesting routes near enough by to do so.

For those New York based cyclists who like myself appreciate both a little history and a little variety in a hearty ride, they could do worse than take on the more than 150 year old Croton Aqueduct Trail which runs from Cortland, New York to Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.  (Or, for the more literal and adventurous, through upper Manhattan, through Highbridge Park and on to Bryant Park, the original site of where all the water led and, for  a time, from where all New Yorkers drank.)

Built as a response to both the devastating fires and epidemics that, due to a chronic shortage of water and contaminated wells, ravished 19th century New York, the aqueduct was rightly considered one of the great engineering achievements of the 19th century.  Riding upon 26 miles of it’s trail  — as you snake through Cortland, Ossining, Briarcliff Manor, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on Hudson and Yonkers — you can easily see why.  It was a work of both genius and grueling labor and one that transformed the city for the better forevermore.

To begin at the beginning of the trail,  one can purchase a $5 lifetime bike pass at Grand Central ( no good during rush hour ) and board a Metro North Train to Croton-on-Hudson.  There is something beautiful about setting out early in the morning and sitting on a train watching the sun come up on the Hudson.  From Croton-on-Hudson you need  mosey up Quakerbridge Road   two miles or so ( up hill !)  to the New Croton Reservoir which, in itself, is a sight to behold.

Once on the trail proper, you will from time to time, find water ventilators that look like giant rooks from a giant chessboard.  From these structures the water that moved down underground from the reservoir to the city “breathed.”

Also from time to time the trail will be cut off and the cyclist will need to do a little road riding as one does through Tarrytown,  but this too is a pleasure.

Caveats:   For anyone interested in this ride, there are one or two areas where the trail is difficult to find without a map. The first time I rode it, I depended on a map I downloaded from the internet and that proved a foolish move.  I strongly suggest purchasing the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park map, published by Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct and available at Urban Center Books in NYC.  The map also includes a brief history of the Aqueduct as well as brief descriptions of historical sites along the way.  Another  fine source is the Official Rails-to Trails Conservancy Guidebook for New York which includes the Aqueduct and many, many other excellent trails in the state.

Be warned that the trail at Yonkers is riddled with glass and it is strongly suggested you move to the street once  you enter that sad, abandoned  little city.

Also, finding the trail from Yonkers to Van Cortland Park is tricky and can be confusing.  On this  last outing, my friend and I  found ourselves lost until we encountered a huge, blonde, hatless, uniformed policeman wearing mirrored shades and jackboots standing inexplicably alone on a tiny dead end street staring into nothingness like something out of a dream or a David Lynch movie.   Anyway, he told us how to get out of Yonkers and for that we were grateful.

What follows are some photos from my last journey along the trail which I hope you enjoy.