A NYC Teacher Speaks of His Sabotaged School

January 31, 2017

The following is the transcript of an address given by NYC Public School teacher Jim Donohue on what has happened and is happening to his school:

Hello. My name is Jim Donohue.

I’d like to start by thanking you for allowing me a few minutes to speak tonight, and I’d also like to thank Carol Harrison and Mary Atkinson from the Bronx chapter for their support in what has been a very difficult couple of weeks.

I’m an English teacher at JHS 145, where I’ve worked for the past 17 years. JHS 145 is a renewal school, and we were told (through a leak to the New York Times) that a proposal has been made to close the school at the end of the school year.

I want to share a quote with you because it precisely defines the situation my colleagues, my students, and our school community find ourselves in today. It reads as follows:

“For the past 12 years, New York City’s ‘answer’ for struggling schools was simple: warehouse our neediest students, starve the schools of support, and then close their schools if they didn’t miraculously turn around. “

As you may have guessed, that was spoken by Mr. Michael Mulgrew back in 2014 in response to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement of the Renewal school plan.

Mr. Mulgrew used the term “warehouse our neediest students.” Well, I’ve come to you tonight directly from the warehouse. How else to describe a school whose students come NOT FROM ONE OR TWO zoned elementary schools in their district, but from 94 different schools located in EVERY BOROUGH of NYC? How else to describe a school with 140 students who arrived at its doors DIRECTLY from the Dominican Republic? How else to describe a school with 53 (20% of its population) shelter students, another 50 classified as Special Needs students, and another 20 with Interrupted Formal Education? We’ve done some research. NO OTHER MIDDLE SCHOOL IN THE BRONX has demographics to match this.

Mr. Mulgrew used the term “starve the school of resources”. Well, I come to you from a place of terrible starvation. How else to describe a situation in which 140 out of 298 students are English Language Learners but had NO ESL teacher for the entire 2014/2015 school year, and only 1 this year. How else to describe a situation in which 60% of a school’s population are English Language Learners, but have NO Bilingual math teacher, NO bilingual science teacher, NO bilingual English teacher and No Bilingual Social Studies teacher? How else to describe the following absurdity: One year into the renewal program, a program that promised ADDITIONAL RESOURCES to schools like ours, the DOE allowed the Success Academy to take 18 of our classrooms, which scattered our staff and students across 3 floors of a building occupied by 4 different schools, and forced us to dismantle our computer lab in order to convert it into classroom space?

Mr. Mulgrew mentioned the closing of schools, which brings me to my true purpose tonight. After attempting to systematically starve JHS 145 to death, the DOE now calls for the school to be closed. And I say “ATTEMPTING TO STARVE TO DEATH” because we are far from dead. Despite DOE claims that our students “FAIL” the state ELA and MATH assessments, we have data that shows otherwise.

Our students come to us reading at levels between Kindergarten and 4th grade. Do they miraculously (another term used by Mr. Mulgrew) achieve grade level scores on these tests at 145? No, they do not. What they do is move, consistently, from Kindergarten levels to 2nd grade, from 2nd to 3rd or 4th, from 3rd to 5th or 6th and so on.

Despite years of neglect, our students have won the Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Competition 8 times, more than any other school in the citywide tournament.

Our students have won the BronxWRITeS Poetry Slam more than any other school in the city, recently sharing the stage with Mayor De Blasio and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in an exhibition at Goldman Sachs.

The DOE’s 2014-2015 School Quality Snapshot tells us that “86% of this school’s former 8th graders earned enough high-school credit in 9th grade to be on track for graduation,” a number that is nearly identical to the citywide average of 87% and better than the district average of 81%.

Our kids are some of the most vulnerable in the city, living in the poorest congressional district in the country, but they are smart and capable and worthy of respect. They are not failures.

Finally, I want to use a term that Mr. Mulgrew didn’t use. That term is DIRTY POOL. Because a full 3 weeks before the DOE’s closure proposal even becomes official, and 2 months before the PEP vote takes place, and despite the DOE’s claim that the closing has NOTHING to do with the charter school, Success Academy’s website has begun advertising for applicants to its new middle school, opening in 2017, at JHS 145. In recent weeks, Success Academy staff members have been measuring our classrooms, apparently 100% confident that the PEP will rubberstamp our demise in March.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m here to ask you for 4 things:
We ask that the UFT publicly demand that the proposal for the closing of JHS 145 be pulled from the PEP agenda.
We ask that the UFT utilize its resources in the form of media, social media, twitter, etc. speak out against this proposal.
We ask the UFT to help us move the PEP from Manhattan to the school so that the community can attend, and if that proves impossible, to supply a bus for community members to travel to the PEP.
Finally, and perhaps mosti importantly, we ask that Mr. Mulgrew come to our school to witness or participate in the student march to the District Office that we are scheduling for next week.
Thank you.

Please Contact
Jim Donohue 917-318-8762 donohuenyc@gmail.com
Craig Moss 914-319-1227 poet145@gmail.com
Deidre Walker 347-869-4810 deidremw@gmail.com

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Donald Trump and The Politics of Narcissism: Mental Illness as Statecraft

January 24, 2017

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For anyone who was holding out hope, however faint and desperate, that the gravity of assuming the presidency of the United States would somehow miraculously compel Donald Trump to be someone other than Donald Trump, less than 24 hours on the job was more than enough time to not merely shatter completely all such illusions but confirm one’s worst nightmares.

It took Trump less than one day to show the nation and the world just how deeply, dangerously, eerily and spectacularly unfit he is for the position he now holds. In the process, Trump displayed to all and sundry the horrific and inevitable results of that which compels and controls him: a rampaging, gargantuan, chilling narcissism.

Consider Trump’s behavior during his tour of CIA Headquarters, which was promoted as a major step in reconciling the feud between the intellence agency and their new boss, the head of state.

Standing before the CIA Memorial Wall, commemorating CIA agents who died undercover, addressing some 400 agents who were gathered to hear the new president’s words, Trump sounded for all the world like a pathetic drunk babbling to himself at the end of a dive bar on an early Saturday afternoon after a three day binge.

Except it wasn’t alcohol Trump was drunk on: it was something infinitely more powerful. It was narcissism.

While it is true Trump made a casual reference to the “special wall “ behind him and added a few choice words about destroying “radical Islamic extremism,”
as is his wont (and I would argue, his need) Trump spoke mostly about Trump.
To wit: the president of the United States spent his first visit to a national institution (however dubious an institution it is) babbling about his relationship with media (“They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”), his inaugural speech (“I’ve been given good reviews “) the media lying about the crowd size at the event (“And I think they are going to pay a big price”) ; an uncle “ who was at MIT, (“I know a lot about West Point. I’m a person that very strongly believes in academics. In fact, every time I say I had an uncle who was a great professor at M.I.T. for thirty-five years, who did a fantastic job in so many different ways, academically—was an academic genius—and then they say, Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m like a smart person.”) and the number of times he has been featured on the cover of Time Magazine ( “I’ve been on it fifteen times this year. I don’t think that’s a record that can ever be broken.” ).

Let us be blunt: It is not simply wrong for the president of the United States to stand before a memorial wall of people who died in service to the nation he is now leading and babble on incoherently about his speech, his uncle at MIT, how smart he is, and the number of times he was on the cover of Time Magazine and so on. Nor is it simply appalling, though it surely is that. Nor is it a matter of personal style, quirkiness or somehow evidence of some kind of “authenticity.”
It is deranged and need be called deranged. And it must not be allowed , through sheer repetition or a perverse respect for the office of the presidency or outright cowardice on the part on the corporate media, to be made normative and acceptable.
More: It has since been confirmed that Trump brought with him to the CIA a team of shills to cheer on his every syllable.

A few hours later, Trump ordered Sean Spicer, his poor fool of press secretary, to the briefing room in the West Wing to scold reporters, lie about the size of the crowd at
Trump’s inauguration and warn the media that the Trump administration would hold them to account.

It was an astonishing performance and one that, quite naturally, caused an immediate media firestorm. After all, this was blatant bullshit — on a subject of complete irrelevance.
The next day, in a clip that is now infamous for giving the world the unlovely locution “alternative facts,” CNN’s Chuck Todd attempted in vain to fox out of Kelly Anne Conway, counselor to the president, some rationale for Trump’s insane demand on his press secretary to self righteously and angrily utter an absolute lie about something of zero importance.

Predictably, Conway dissembled, changed the subject, and than uttered the line that will live in infamy.

But what interests me is not Conway’s answer but Todd’s question, or rather the presumption behind Todd’s question. Todd assumes that Trump is in control of Trump. Todd appears honestly baffled by Trump’s concerns and actions, asking Conway why the man would risk credulity over the size of a crowd, which Todd characterizes as “the smallest, pettiest thing.”

From the perspective of a relatively healthy psyche, Todd’s question is completely reasonable. From the perspective of a narcissist as completely diseased as Trump, the very idea that his inauguration was not the biggest crowd ever might as well be the size and depth of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a direct threat to his identity. As such it is unbearable.

Todd appears to believe that Trump made a choice to send his press secretary out to lie. Narcissism allows no choices. Whatever threatens must be attacked and, if possible, eradicated from the face of the earth. A full-blown narcissist like Trump is compelled to remove, destroy or defame anyone or anything that threatens to expose the falsity of his identity. The narcissist is incapable of allowing any person, place or thing to outshine his fractured, agonized ego for even a moment.

In other words, seen through the lens of traditional politics, Trump’s behavior is simply appalling and seems inexplicable. Yet seen through the prism of narcissism it makes complete and horrific sense. Indeed, it is inevitable.

That Donald Trump is a hopeless narcissist has been known for decades. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of visiting Trump Tower could feel the palpable power of this affliction like a malevolent force field. But there is all the difference in the world between a nasty narcissist in his garish tower and a nasty narcissist in the Executive Office, who, thanks to the machinations of President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama and the cowardice of the congress, enjoys vastly greater executive powers than did any of their predecessors. The horrible hold that affliction has on it’s victims is something we are witnessing in real time and with the highest conceivable stakes, as one of those victims is now the president of the United States, and one whose actions, statements and decisions are compelled by something completely beyond his control.
And the whole world is watching how this is unfolding.

Needless to say, the size of an inauguration crowd is not a real problem, but nonetheless Trump responded with lies and threats bolstered by the power of the state. Inevitably, real problems will arise and I shudder to think how this wounded and wounding man, invested now with such enormous power, will respond.

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Addendum: Here’s a video with more of the same. This time Trump’s “belief” in massive voter fraud for which there is zero evidence.

It is interesting and revealing that the number of Trumps’ ficticious fraudulent voters coincides, more or less, with the number of voters by which Trump lost the popular vote. It is as if, in Trump’s diseased mind, he cannot accept the fact that Hillary Clinton received more votes. Therefore, reality must be altered to fit Trump’s “beliefs.”

Even in the midst of his public downfall and humiliation, with the furies of Watergate hounding him around the clock and from every corner, Richard Nixon did not exhibit this level of public craziness. Indeed, in comparison, Trump makes the paranoid and hounded Nixon look healthy.

I am no fan of Jake Tapper but this video is unlike any I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

http://www.ifyouonlynews.com/news/trump-has-meltdown-over-cnn-after-jake-tapper-scorches-him-on-voter-fraud-lies-video/


Mass Revolt Against Trump in New York and Across America

January 21, 2017

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The spectacle of Trump’s ascension to immense power is nothing if not unprecedented. Just as candidate Trump’s presidential campaign, built on lies, ridicule, cruelty, racism, paranoia, revenge fantasies, misogyny and insane messianic promises, was unprecedented in how it completely degraded the electoral process, so too did he degrade the tradition of the inaugural address yesterday by making what was in essence yet another extraordinarily divisive and insulting campaign speech; one which made no attempt whatsoever to even acknowledge the profound concerns of the majority of Americans who did not vote for him. It is as if millions of Americans simply do not exist for this man. Instead, Trump babbled about “transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People, ” and how “America will start winning again, winning like never before,” and othersuch nonsense, even as he fills his cabinet with the most anti labor, pro corporate degenerates in the land. He then balled his hand into a fist as if addressing, not the nation, but a mob.
Indeed, the speech was so degrading that even Ur- conservative George Will called it “the most dreadful inaugural speech in American history.”

My daughter, who attends an excellent public school in the inner city, watched the speech with her class and was astonished to learn that she and her classmates were the victims of “an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

Such unprecedented assaults on any semblance of decency and truth call for unprecedented response, and today, one day after the swearing in of President Trump, such responses came in extraordinary numbers, in the nation’s capital and all over the country.

I marched in New York. It was the most poorly organized march that I’ve ever been to – and I’ve been to many. At the same time it may have been the most inspiring. For some reason, thousands were made to stand almost immobile in penned areas for hours with no idea of what was happening. But so we did. And at last the march began. And then everywhere you looked you saw more people coming. And more and more and more. Hours later, more were marching. And you knew it was worth it.

Nothing like this has ever happened before in American history: one day after the swearing in of a new president, a massive nation wide revolt and rejection.
No American president has ever inspired such a response, but then no American president has so repulsed and frightened and insulted the American people as deeply as does Trump.

But many more such marches will be needed. And much more than marches. We will need to build a true opposition party that is NOT the Democratic party.

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A Reading on WBAI About De Vos and Trump

January 18, 2017

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This evening I was honored to be broadcast reading my most recent piece on the WBAI Evening News hosted by Linda Perry-Barr. The reading is found in the last seven or so minutes of the show which you can fast forward to but the whole show is well worth listening to.
Hope you enjoy.

It was a big thrill for my daughter.

http://www.wbai.org/articles.php?article=3328

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Thoughts Occasioned By Donald Trump, Betsy De Vos and a Door Knob

December 18, 2016

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“Little things are big things, ” said a rhetoric teacher I was fortunate to have studied under at the public university I was fortunate enough to attend before rising tuitions reduced students to indentured servants. My professor was speaking to me of my writing, specifically of both little mistakes I made that lessened the impact of my prose and also of little additions that strengthened it. He was also saying it as a general truth and over the years, at times against my will, I came to understand it as such. At any rate, over the years the words have stayed with me, welling up in my head from time to time, often in unexpected situations, always somehow bearing out the wisdom of the words. One such situation took place Friday when, attending a meeting in a school other than my own, I reached down to open a door and there in my hand was a doorknob bearing the words, “ PUBLIC SCHOOL, CITY OF NEW YORK, surrounded by filigree.

I was, for a moment, taken aback. It seemed so terribly out of place, outside of the psychological climate in which my colleagues and I have labored for years. And this is why: someone, somewhere took time to make this doorknob. And that someone took pride in both the work and the public school system.

I have no idea of the exact provenance of the doorknob but I know it came from a time in which New York City and the rest of America believed in public works, public servants, public institutions and the public good: that is to say, a social contract that was not beholden to “market forces” or the rapacity of morally criminal Wall Street speculators or the whims of billionaires who have been allowed to dictate public policy.

We believed, that is, in the wake of the immense suffering and degradation of war, of the Great Depression, and through the bloody struggle of the union movement, that people had common rights and responsibilities and that it was the duty of the government, as the only institution that could guarantee them, to do so. Such as the right to an education. Believed too, even if it was never explicitly stated, that we had the civic, moral and, yes, spiritual responsibility to look after each other to, at the very least, a small degree; an understanding that we were to help each other through the messy, difficult, sublime thing called life.
Hence the creation of Social Security.
Such public institutions served, however imperfectly, the nation for a period of four decades (from 1945 to 1975) creating the greatest shared prosperity ( though one not shared by all people ) in human history.

A vital component in that unprecedented human as well as economic success, as vital as social security for the elderly, was the American public school system.
After 15 years of ceaseless insidious assault by the richest people in America, greased by bipartisan attacks from statehouses coast to coast, codified by the policies of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and aided by the most well financed and sustained public relations campaign against a legal profession in American history — all bent on privazation as the solution to all human and social problems — it is more and more difficult to remember the vital place of the public school system, never mind believe in it.
Propaganda and perception management, relentlessly and brilliantly implemented, work.
The sight of the old door knob struck me as especially poignant and haunting in light of our own age, not only one of complete corporate hegemony and the concomitant undermining of the social contract at all points, but one suddenly led by a mentally unstable political novice who envisions the presidency as an entry level position and who is attempting to fill his cabinet with persons who seek to
destroy the very institutions they are entrusted with. Public institution, mind you, that will be given over exclusively to private ends. In the process, they seek to finish off, once and for all, the anemic remnants of public life in America, beginning with the public school system.

The destruction of the public school system is unquestionably the mission of Betsy De Vos, Trump’s preposterous selection for Secretary of Education. (Yes, even more preposterous than Arne Duncan. ) It may well happen. If the election of the man-child Trump proves nothing else, it proves that in today’s America, anything, no matter how reckless, insane or suicidal is quite possible. It may well come to pass that in a few years time, that doorknob will be seen as an artifact of an institution gone the way of the tyrannosaurus, replaced by …only God knows what, but you can rest assured that some corporations will be making billions from it and education will be further reduced to some kind of degrading job training.

Little things are big things and we will need both small acts and mass movements to thwart the catastrophe that is surely upon us. Weeks after the election of this disgusting, dangerous and all so divisive figure, he with his teen-age tweets, his obscene “Thank You Tour,” his grotesque cabinet appointees, it grows clearer and clearer that we are, as a nation and as a people, heading into unprecedented darkness, led by an ignorant narcissist who has no idea what he is doing and needs perpetual adoration the way a junkie needs junk.
I am not an historian but I am one who takes history with great seriousness and from what I can see what Trump brings is without precedent. We will either create new forms of resistance and new forms of representation or we will be degraded, soon enough, into silence.