Archive for September, 2015

Notes On NYC Labor Day Parade and the Horror of Trump Tower

September 14, 2015

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So New York City’s Labor Day Parade was held on Saturday and, as a dutiful union man, I made my way up to 45th St in the morning and met up with the UFT contingent massed together awaiting our turn to march among the thousands of ironworkers, plumbers, postal workers, carpenters, laborers, nurses, and all the rest of the noble souls who collectively form the central nervous system of the city and keep the city running. The turnout among teachers was disappointing but I was grateful, as ever, to meet up with my friend and union brother, the prize winning blogger nyceducator and his delightful protégé. Together we managed to squeeze out some laughs and skillfully avoid the oily hands of various politicians – most notably the cadaverous looking Sen. Chuck Schumer, his arms seeming to multiply like the Hindu goddess Durga, desperately seeking something to shake — and walk the 5th Ave route from start to finish on 64th St.

At parade’s end we parted, the nyceducator and protégé heading east to lunch, and
I back tracking south along 5th Ave passing the parade that went on and on and on. Somewhere around 62nd St I came to a realization that New Yorkers dread: my bladder was sending me the unmistakable message that I needed a bath room, a need ridiculously difficult to fulfill anywhere in NYC, that much the more in that neighborhood of Tiffany’s and the Plaza Hotel.

I understood I had no choice but to soldier down 19 or so blocks to a branch of the New York Public Library and so, with ever increasing urgency, did I begin.

Lo and behold, not far into my increasingly miserable journey I looked right to find none other than the garish Trump Tower, with the words “open to the public” above the glass doors calling me to follow like the star of Bethlehem.
Besides, I reasoned, what better person to leave such a gift with after a Labor Day Parade than Donald Trump, no longer merely an obnoxious media whore billionaire but, crazily, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States! So, for the first time in my life, albeit with an extremely limited mission in mind, I entered a building owned by Donald Trump; which is to say I entered into a physical space mirroring the horrifying sensibility of Donald Trump.

Before I go any further let me say that, like any more or less sensate New Yorker, even before his insane entry into presidential politics and elevation into the same, I have been forced into an awareness of the vulgar and supreme narcissist who is Donald Trump. Moreover, cycling to work from the Lower East Side to Harlem, as I do, I am reminded of his existence via his brutal phallic buildings just about any route I take. There’s a Trump monstrosity on 1st Ave near the United Nations. Another when you leave the bike path at Central Park and 59th St.. There are still others along the Hudson Bikeway on the Westside. I was also unwittingly aware, seemingly through a process akin to osmosis, of Trump’s idiot TV show, his get rich seminars, his wives and other aspects of his garish life.

That said, even with all I knew of this man, nothing prepared me for what I was to find inside Trump Tower. Being inside Trump Tower feels like being in the center of a diseased psyche. It feels like mental illness made normative. It feels like narcissism so unbounded it has a palpable presence. Inside, the image and name of Trump is as omnipresent as was that of Kim ll-sung’s in North Korea. Indeed, even in a nation as frighteningly and increasingly narcissistic as America — the land that created and perpetuates “the selfie, ” — Trump brings a horrifying new dimension to the unseen and deadly affliction.
In the ancient Greek myth, Narcissus, unable to pull away from his own reflection, or so internally fractured he could not believe he even existed without constant affirmation, drowns in a pond. The myth is instructive should one be open to instruction. Like the junkie needs junk, the narcissist must see his or her reflection everywhere they look; must hear the echo of their own voice every time someone else speaks; writhes in agony at the reality that others exist and others matter; that they are not the sun and moon and stars. It was narcissism that compelled a Michael Bloomberg to do his best to remake Manhattan Island in his gilded image of the same. It is narcissism that compels a Bill Gates to try to insidiously reduce education, and indeed all life, to a mirror image of a computer operating system. It is narcissism that compels a Donald Trump to perceive the presidency of the United States as an entry-level job and one that he, Trump is capable and worthy of.
Trump’s conceit is merely pathetic. What is deeply disturbing is that many, many Americans seem to agree with him. And that too is a form of narcissism.

Enter Trump Tower and you can feel the illness in the air. Visit one of the two Trump Stores inside. There the only “books” for sale are books “written” by Donald Trump. ( “Think Like A Champion”, Think Big and Kick Ass” , “Time To Get Tough” and more. ) There the only shirts for sale are “designed “ by Donald Trump. There one may purchase a Donald Trump tie, a Donald Trump teddy bear, a Donald Trump baseball hat, or a bar of chocolate in the form of a bar of gold labeled “Trump.”

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If you are hungry you can find nourishment at the Trump Café while a drink can be procured at the Trump Bar. Or you can bring the kids for a cone at Trump’s Ice Cream.
If you desire the effluvium of Donald Trump — and what “winner” wouldn’t? — you may purchase one of the two Donald Trump perfumes, “Success” or “Empire.”

All of this might be darkly funny if Trump were merely continuing his pathetic pre-political lust for perpetual attention. But he is not. Americans have allowed Trump to emerge, somehow, as a legitimate political figure, indeed the front runner of his party as they prepare for another debate this Wednesday. Many, many Americans appear to love and admire this man.
And that is the place where the disturbing reality of Donald Trump merges with and reveals the disturbing reality of all too much of America.

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Addendum: And here is a bit of that reality. http://cnn.it/1KpyGPj

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The Daily News Outdoes Itself with a Masterpiece of Ugly Spirited Nonsense

September 7, 2015

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Even in a campaign based almost entirely on public relations and perception management, yesterday’s editorial on “education reform” in the Daily News may be the most dishonest, manipulative and ugly spirited I’ve ever read on the subject. And I’ve read a lot.

Indeed, the unsigned editorial might well be studied as a masterpiece of manipulative bullshit, chock a block full of absurd assertions, gross insults, lies of omission and out right falsehoods – all to do nothing less than to poison public perception of the teachers’ union on the eve of Labor Day.

The phantom editorialist begin be lamenting that Andrew Cuomo, he who referred to the public school system as “the last monopoly,” was wrong in calling for a weasel worded “comprehensive review” of the deceitful and catastrophic Common Core standards. (For a brilliant and concise history of this long term con job, see Common Core Dilemma/ Who Owns Our Schools? by Mercedes K. Schneider.)

Somehow Cuomo’s attempt at appearing to listen to thousands and thousands of politicized parents of New York public school children, so enraged and disgusted by his reckless and damaging education impositions that they have refused to allow their children to take the tests he has forced down their throats,
“stands as a loud warning that the drive for teacher accountability is in dire jeopardy.”
The Daily News does not trouble itself with inquiring why any parent, never mind thousands of parents, would somehow not want their child’s teacher to be held accountable.

Better to skip that one.

The News is utterly flummoxed that a mere five months after an apparently all-powerful Cuomo used the budget to “push(ed) through the Legislature major changes to the state’s teacher-evaluation system, heightening reliance on kids’ Common Core standardized test results to gauge instructor performance, while shielding kids from consequences, “ parents across the state, mindful of what the “major changes” are doing to their children as well as their children’s teachers are, in greater and greater numbers and with more and more passion and articulation, simply refusing to go along with it.

I am one of those thousands and thousands of parents. I am also one of the thousands and thousands of teachers whose livelihood and professional reputation could easily be destroyed by the unconscionable and incomprehensible evaluation system that non-educator Cuomo rammed into law without a single debate or discussion as to its merits – not unlike the Common Core which apparently was consecrated as holy writ even before it was written. Meanwhile, in Long Island, a dignified and universally praised teacher whose reputation has been sullied by the evaluation system in question has brought the unholy mess to trial.

None of this troubles the Daily News who prefer to believe and in believing traffic the sweet and insidious lies that the states’ evaluation system is fair and just; that the Common Core was not, in fact, rushed into existence surreptitiously by a handful of education entrepreneurs funded by the Gates Foundation but “developed over many years by the nation’s top education experts. ”

It is instructive that the Daily News choose not to name the “nations top education experts ” or the exact length of time they toiled over their heavenly goal.

It is even more instructive that, in a statement that is beyond ludicrous,
The News insinuates that the parents who have opted their children out of the testing debacle have done so because they have been “ginned up” by the teacher unions. In other words, the thousands of parents who have opted out are so many human balloons with little tiny brains, pushed this way and that by the evil Svengali-like teacher unions.

Not only is this idea a grotesque insult to thousands of parents — and one that will hopefully resonate across the state and move thousands more to opt out — it is completely and tragically untrue.

I am a member of the largest teacher union local in the state and like many of my unions brothers and sisters I have and continue to be dismayed by both my unions’ support of Common Core and refusal to support the Opt Out movement.
But, of course, this disgraceful piece of propaganda was written exclusively and consciously for those who have no knowledge of what ed reform truly is and no way of finding out the truth of the matter in the media. It was written to deceive, to enrage, to divide those who do not know any better by those who do. And it was done at the expense of millions of children. It was written to be read on the eve of Labor Day to poison the souls of all who read it, indeed to do nothing less than “gird for war” against teachers who educate our children, against the public schools that have helped create the most powerful nation on earth, against unions that have created the middle class and given dignity to countless millions, and even against parents who stand up to the hubris of the state in defense of their children.
“O, “ wrote Walter Scot “ what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive! “

SAT Scores Point to the Systemic Failure of Education Reform

September 5, 2015

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So on Labor Day weekend the College Board releases SAT scores that show that said scores have slipped to the lowest level in ten years, with New York scores falling below the national average.

What to make of this? What to make of this in a nation where public education has long ago been hijacked by private citizens and absolutely dominated by their untested and unproven notions of “education reform”, all of it designed to make students “ college and career ready, “all of it centered on test scores as the ultimate criteria of both student learning and teacher “effectiveness.”

I, for one, find the use of test scores as anything more than one criterion among many to be as cynical and intellectually lazy as one can get. But that said, those who live by test scores should have the integrity to follow out their own logic. If their reforms are working, why after a decade are SAT scores going down? If they are
not, why are they allowed to continue ?
One would think that the people responsible for such failure, should they be reasonable and decent people, might be somewhat humbled at what they have essentially inflicted upon a generation of other peoples’ children.
But humility and decency are qualities in short supply amongst education reformers.

At any rate, New Yorkers were given a prelude to the SAT revelation – the ocean between the promises of reformer and the results of reform — in June 2014 with the startling news that not a single one of the “little test-taking machines
of Eva Moskowitz’s endlessly praised Harlem Success Academies was able to pass the test needed to enter New York City’s selective high schools.
Not one.
That news too should have been met with humility but, of course, it was simply buried, as this too is likely to be buried. But in the mean time you can rest assured that as you read this there are well paid mercenaries busy figuring out some angle with which to blame this failure on teachers and argue the need to double down on the insane policies ed reformers have been allowed to inflict on millions of American children.