Archive for May, 2013

Why Does Iris Blige Still Have a Job ?

May 12, 2013
The Abominable Ms. Blige

The Abominable Ms. Blige

Bronx principal Iris Blige has made the news again and again it is not for academic achievement. Some may remember Blige from of a couple of years back when she ordered underlings to try and destroy the careers of a number of teachers who had the terrible luck of working under her. ( See here. or here’s-doe-beyond-good-and-evil/ )

Somehow, after paying a fine, Ms. Blige was allowed to retain her job. And here she is again accused of ordering a teacher into a closet. And why shouldn’t she ? What has she to fear ? If you can attempt to strip someone of his or her livelihood and merely be made to pay a fine, what could be the consequence of ordering a teacher into a closet? At least they’re receiving a paycheck, no?

A question: in what other profession can an administrator treat a fellow professional with such naked cruelty and contempt and still be working?

If there is one individual who can be said to embody the essence of the attitude towards teachers in a Department of Educations run dictatorially by Mayor Mike Bloomberg that person is Iris Blige.

May the next mayor have the courage and the decency to insure that such barbaric behavior never darken our schools again. No person should ever be treated as this person has been allowed to treat them. This is beyond disgrace.


The Radical Obama

May 7, 2013
Obama and his lucky Penny

Obama and his lucky Penny

Yesterday when I read about Barack Obama’s nomination of union busting, school closing, fund raising billionaire Penney Pritzker for Secretary of Commerce, I was reminded of some words by Pete Hamill I read long ago concerning his take on the nature of politicians. Hamill was writing about former Queens Borough President Donald Manes just after Manes’s grisly suicide as the scandals that ended the Koch years moved closer and closer to Manes, promising to completely expose his public image as a public lie. Hamill, who had known Manes his entire adult life, noted that Manes had mastered the politician’s art of becoming whoever he thought you wanted him to be whenever you wanted him to be it. What Hamill wrote was this: he never knew which Manes to greet because he never knew which Manes he would be talking to. Hamill’s words have stuck in my memory ever since, perhaps because they so precisely encapsulate what seems to be the nature of so many politicians.

But not Obama. The same words welled up in my head yesterday precisely because the phenomenon known as Obama so deftly defies them.

Some process that is related to what Hamill wrote of but is at the same time strikingly different seems to guide many perceptions of Obama. Somehow, Obama doesn’t need to pretend to be whoever he thinks you want him to be. Somehow, no matter what Obama does, even if he does it for years, there are people who pretend that Obama remains what they want him to be. Accordingly, just as Hamill had no idea to which Manes he would be talking, many a time with many a person, I often have no idea which version of Obama people are talking about.
To an extraordinary extent, after more than four years in office, Obama remains to many — or at least to many I know or am somehow in contact with — a projection of their own desires, fears or hopes. This, after becoming the first Noble Peace Prize winner with a kill list; this, long after pointlessly and cruelly prolonging the agony of the innocent in Guantanamo; this, after refusing to prosecute both the Bush administration‘s blatant war criminals who plunged the U.S. into two needless wars or the Wall Street criminals who crashed the world economy, this, after his assault on civil liberties and so much more.

For many Obama continues to be a kind of ambulatory human Rorschach test. For these people, Obama is what they want him to be. No matter what Obama actually does, certain people, including those most hurt by his policies, still cling to the fantasy that Obama‘s words and Obama’s policies have something to do with each other. ( In a similar way, the same something that made intelligent people believe Bill Clinton was lying even when he was telling the truth persuades other intelligent people that Obama is telling the truth even when he’s lying. ) And the Rorschach factor holds as powerfully for those who love Obama as to those who despise him; holds, that is, for Republicans and well as for “Birthers” and Tea Partiers and those who see Obama as a secret Muslim socialist or Nazi or whatever.
But it is not those people of whom I speak.
I am speaking here rather of a group of people who continue to believe in Obama and refuse to define him in terms of his policies and actions, clinging instead to his soaring rhetoric and image. I am speaking of those to whom, as intrepid Black Agenda journalist Glen Ford writes “ Obama acts like a narcotic.” I am speaking of those who, in respect to Obama, have skillfully avoided reality.
Some of the lingering hopes, if dangerous, are understandable. Think of the strange helpless horror of the Bush years. There is no doubt in my mind that millions of Americans were traumatized by the eight year presidency of George W. Bush, eight years in which many, myself included, felt ashamed to be an American. Shame is too powerful and destructive an emotion to carry in you for long. The desire to exorcize the ghost of Bush, his macho idiocy, his endless needless wars, his lies and the fear brought on by the financial collapse that occurred under his watch was, I believe as primal and powerful a factor in embracing Obama as was Obama’s charisma and eloquence: the very charisma and elegance that led so many sensible people to believe in the myth of the one term US Senator with the paper thin resume whose most frequent vote in Congress was neither “yea” or “nay” but “present.”
Think too of the extraordinarily potent symbolism in the election of an African American to the presidency of a nation with a legacy of over 400 years of slavery. Symbolically, this was and remains an immeasurable step in the right direction. In some quarters the symbolism remains just as potent today as it did four years ago, even as African Americans slip further and further into poverty and are incarcerated at alarming rates.
There is a desire to believe in Obama that is almost religious in nature.

I understand this emotion. No one wants to believe this guy is as vapid or weak or treacherous or cunning as Obama proves to be again and again and again. No one wants to believe that the ship of state has been so thoroughly hijacked by the most rapacious and reckless forces on earth: corporations No one wants to know that things are as awful as they are. It is the fear of having no where to turn and no one to turn to. No one wants to feel abandoned or betrayed even, if by every objective criteria, you have been.

And yet this is where we are.

If only for the abomination known as Race to the Top, a policy designed to do nothing less than undermine both the public school system and teacher unions across the country,
Obama should be seen as one of the most corporate minded presidents in U.S. history. But somehow many — who knows how many — do not seem to be getting it. Something stands in the way.
I work in a school in Harlem, New York, where almost everywhere one looks one sees images of Obama looking back at you. The posters were placed there by teachers, even though Obama’s RTTT may force the school to be closed, even if half the teachers are fired as a result of the grossly unfair and unproven evaluation plans mandated by the Obama administration.
And there it is.
Obama is not the anti- American cartoon character his enemies in the Koch brothers’ funded Tea Party want to believe he is.
Obama is not the thwarted progressive his more naïve fans still insist he is.
Obama is not, in any meaningful way, a Democrat.
Obama is not a centrist, a moderate or a pragmatist.
Obama is not a conservative.
Obama is something that has never before risen to the presidency of the United States.
Obama is that which Wall Street and corporate CEOs have dreamed of for decades: Obama is a president of the “party of labor” who is wholly beholden to capital.
Obama is a working man’s worst nightmare.
Obama is a corporatist but not just a corporatist.
Obama is a radical corporatist intent on the complete evisceration of unionism and the eventual privatization of all public life.
And nothing proves than better than Race to the Top.


Cathie Black Emails Shine a Light onto Bloomberg and Education Reform

May 4, 2013
Mike and Cathie before the inevitable.

Mike and Cathie before the inevitable.

Despite his every effort to keep the public from knowing the process of how a key public appointment affecting millions was made, the emails surrounding Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s ludicrous decision to appoint Cathie Black Chancellor of Education of the city of New York are here, at long last, for public scrutiny. One can easily understand why Bloomberg wanted to keep these words far from the public eye.
While there is no “smoking gun “ as Diane Ravitch has opined, there is ample (and tedious) evidence of the sheer shamelessness, arrogance, superficiality and abject cynicism at the heart of Bloomberg’s education policy. Consider the main thrust of the emails: in an appointment that was to affect the lives of a million children and their families, 85,000 teachers, and 14,000 schools reaching into every community in every corner of New York City, the people the Bloomberg administration seeks approval from are not parents or educators or community leaders or any one who will be affected by the move, but celebrities such as Oprah Winfry and pseudo political icons like Gloria Steinem and clueless Caroline Kennedy. (The name of Ivana Trump comes up as well but even the Bloomberg Administration, as disconnected from reality as they are, understood that an endorsement from Ivana might be going a bit too far. )

Indeed, they proved to be the only people Bloomberg reached out to. This suggests, among other dark thoughts occasioned by the emails, that the rich and famous are the only kind of people who matter, or, are in any meaningful way, real to Bloomberg. The rest of us are here to be manipulated, bullied, charmed by celebrities, purchased or simply ignored.
Here you have the minions of the mayor of New York, he who has billed himself the “education mayor”, he who challenged New Yorkers to judge him by how he handles our schools, twisting and torturing their words in email after email in their sad attempts to please their boss and fool the public into believing an insulting absurdity: that Cathie Black, publisher of glossy magazines, was a “visionary” and uniquely qualified to run the largest school system in the United States despite the fact that she had not 30 seconds of educational experience.

Reading this crap, one almost feels embarrassed for these shills. Almost. But then I remember what was at stake here.

The voice of Bloomberg or his speechwriter is heard only in an official letter to then New York State Education Commissioner David Sterner requesting a special wavier for the absurdly unqualified Black. (It should be noted that all three of Bloomberg’s selections for Chancellor required special waivers, which has to be some kind of record.) To his eternal shame, Steiner, son of the great literary critic George Steiner, granted Bloomberg’s request but only after stipulating that a special position be created to assist Black, thereby simultaneously admitting her utter lack of qualifications. Such are the risible decisions one encounters in the Age of Plutocracy.

To be fair to Bloomberg and to put Black in context, Bloomberg was merely implementing a staple of “education reformer” dogma: the insistence that knowledge and experience in education is irrelevant and perhaps even an impediment to bold new thinking that will allow our young ones to compete in the ever more savage global workplace– even if the bold new thinking is an eerie mirror of 19th century production line regimentation in new high tech disguise. Teach For America, NYC Leadship Academy , Eli Broads’ Superintendent Academies are all founded on this reckless notion. (An unspoken corollary seems to be that the higher you are catapulted in the field of education, the less experience you need. Consider non-educator Arne Duncan running Obama’s Department of Education) Excluding Duncan, Black was merely the most obscene and inept example of this foolishness.
And foolishness and cynicism of all kinds can be found all over these emails.
They are beyond sad. They are chilling in their casual indifference to truth and pathetic in their groveling after celebrity. They are also important as they are revealing of a very, very sad and dangerous state of affairs but in that revelation lay the hard, hard road out.

Read them for yourself:

Click to access CathieBlack.pdf

Bloomberg Thwarted As Court Allows the Release of Cathie Black Emails

May 2, 2013
Mike and Cathie: Together Again

Mike and Cathie: Together Again

We will soon know some inside skinny about the day-to-day antics of Cathie Black, Mike Bloomberg’s preposterous replacement for the egregious federal prosecutor turned school chancellor, Joel Klein. Black’s 100 day pseudo reign as chancellor, no matter how well choreographed was nothing short of a spectacle, especially when Black chaired Bloomberg’s grotesque Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) where she was proved incapable of answering even the most basic questions and was openly jeered like I’ve seen no other public official openly jeered. More than any other maneuver by the little mayor, appointing the clueless Black to run the largest school system in America spotlighted “Education Mayor” Bloomberg’s oceanic arrogance and ignorance concerning any thing to do with education. More, Black soon became to Bloomberg what Bernie Kerik became to Rudy Giuliani — the person who called into very, very serious question either man’s basic judgment. It was only a matter of time before Bloomberg discarded poor Cathie like a used tissue, replacing her with the equally clueless Dennis Wolcott who, unlike Cathie, has mastered the art of appearing to be thoughtful and knowledgeable without actually being so.

There is a reason Bloomberg fought like hell to keep these email under wraps. The emails should be a hoot and will doubtless serve to further discredit both Bloomberg personally as well as the Department of Education he has renamed, run and ruined for over a decade. Bloomberg and has minions have hounded and degraded NYC public school teachers for what feels like forever under the pretence of holding them accountable even for things for which they can never be responsible, like the extreme poverty so many of their students grow up in. In doing so Bloomberg has made the working life of every teacher in New York city a pointless misery and has driven many fine educators right out of the field.
Bloomberg was unquestionably responsible for the appointment of Cathie Black. Let Bloomberg be held accountable. For once, let Bloomberg be held accountable.

Looking forward to a good read. And to watching Bloomberg squirm.

See article below.
Bloomberg Loses Final Appeal to Keep Emails Secret
By Nick Pinto Thu., May 2 2013 at 3:10 PM 1 Comment
Categories: Bloomberg, Courts, Secrets

All legal avenues exahusted, Bloomberg must make public emails concerning the hiring of Cathie Black.
Mayor Bloomberg’s fight to keep emails concerning the hiring Cathie Black, whose catastrophic career as school chancellor lasted all of 100 days, has finally ended, and Bloomberg has lost.
The story stretches back to 2010, when Sergio Hernandez, then a Village Voice intern, filed a Freedom of Information Law request for emails related to Black’s hiring. The city first delayed, then refused. Hernandez appealed, and the city refused again. So he sued, represented pro bono by Schlam Stone & Dolan, and he won.

But the Bloomberg administration really didn’t want to let those emails see the light of day; it spent upwards of $25,000 in taxpayer funds fighting the case, appealing to succesively higher courts, consistently losing every time.

Finally, today, the state’s highest court declined to hear the final appeal. The city will have to abide by the initial ruling, which called the city’s arguments “particularly specious” and “wholly devoid of merit,” and required it to turn over the emails to Hernandez within 15 days.

A call to the New York City Law Department was not returned by the time this was posted — we’ll update when we receive their comment.

For his part, Hernandez, who now works as senior business editor for The Week and as a freelance contributor for ProPublica, says he welcomes the court’s denial of Bloomberg’s appeal. “This is their last stop,” he said. “It’s a relief to finally have it over with. I’ll be curious to see what’s in the emails.”
He told the Voice he intends to write about what he finds, and is talking with news outlets interested in publishing what he writes.

[] [@macfathom]

Go to Runnin’ Scared for all our latest news coverage.

Sickening: May Day in Corporate American Education

May 1, 2013

Today is May Day, the international celebration of worker’s rights, and I spent much of my working day fighting off a sickening feeling deep in the pit of my stomach caused not by anything I ingested, but rather by insult to my dignity and character, a sensation increasingly familiar to members of my profession from sea to shining sea.
I am a teacher.
I am a teacher fated to practice my craft in the midst of the most cynical, relentless and well-financed public relations campaign against any profession in American history. According to the campaign, I am of an occupation whose members have proved so inept and incompetent that, according to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, American education is in such a wretched state it now poses a threat to our national security. The campaign is one of two essential components in the corporate takeover of the American public school system. The other is high stakes testing,” the mechanism by which the takeover is occurring and occurring at alarming speed. It was in relation to such testing (bear in mind that everything in American education is now in relation to tests which are in themselves insults to the students) that the aforementioned insult was given.

One week after most of my students were forced to endure up to 18 hours of standardized tests, I am obliged to make sure my nearly 40 students complete another battery of standardized tests, an exercise I have engaged in annually for years now. But this year will be different. And so will all the years that follow.

The insult I speak of is this: my employer, the New York State Department of Education, no longer finds me a person worthy of trust. Let me rephrase that: the DOE flat out does not trust me. It’s nothing personal, you understand. Such distrust is extended, officially if insidiously, to all of my colleagues across the entire state. Like them, I have never given the DOE reason not to trust me; they have simply assumed that I, like all teachers, am too morally degenerate to do the right thing. Of course, they don’t use that kind of language to explain their reasoning. Indeed, they do not bother to explain it at all, implying that the truth of our degeneracy is as self evident as the credo that all people are created equal. They simply informed me in writing that from now on I am forbidden to score the grades of my student’s tests. They fear, I suppose, I might inflate their scores and thus my own teaching ability as more and more teachers are more and more perceived and judged as mere aggregates of their students’ standardized test scores.

All of this, of course, is done to insure and concretize the absolute centrality of the high stakes standardized test in American public schools, to establish once and for all a system that will, in words of that great educational leader, Mike Bloomberg, “hold teacher’s feet to the fire”. And it will hold them even as it reduces our children to bubble test taking pawns in a vast, cynical multi billion dollar corporate hijacking of the last and most vital public institution in America. It is now clear that, for the sake of the tests, any price is to be paid, any sacrifice to be made including, above all, human decency and dignity. After all, can dignity be measured ?

The sickening feeling reminded me once again of how degraded teachers’ working conditions have become, how soft and complicit our unions have been in our own degradation, how thoroughly we have been stripped of our professionalism under a corporatism that is all but totally internalized. And most of all how hard we will have to fight to win back that which has been stolen.
Yes, yes, I am aware of the cheating scandals in Atlanta and the yet to be affirmed scandal bubbling still beneath the miraculous gains and the stupendous amount of erasures in DC schools under the holy reign of Michelle Rhee. But the prohibition against teachers grading their own students’ tests was announced earlier in the year, long before those stories broke.
There is something else at work here. Some other message being given. Some other message meant to be received. And as for the alleged cheating in Atlanta and elsewhere, threaten a person’s livelihood with experimental policies that have never worked on the face of the earth, for the sole reason that no other nation on the face of the earth has ever been reckless or stupid enough to implement them, and you are bound to produce crazy, even criminal results. This is not a mystery. People with guns to their heads will do desperate things. The question is not why did they do the desperate things but who put the guns to their heads in the first place and why? Cui bono? Who benefits? The kids? As in “putting kids first?” I think not.

There is a lesson here and it is a lesson that is sure to be learned on one level or another by all of my students. They are intelligent and can put 2 and 2 together. The lesson is this: Teachers are not to be trusted. This is a sick lesson for my students to learn. Sick and damaging in a way, that like dignity and decency, cannot be statistically measured
Today is May Day, the international celebration of worker’s rights, and I spent much of my working day fighting off a sickening feeling deep in the pit of my stomach caused not by anything I ingested but rather by insult to my dignity and character, a sensation increasingly familiar to members of my profession from sea to shining sea.
I am a teacher.
I did not become a teacher to be insulted and treated with abject contempt.
And neither I nor my colleagues will be treated this way.