Tag Archives: New York City

Occupy’s Two-Year Anniversary: It’s All in the Data

occupy

Occupy Wall Street was the first major event that I wrote about on this blog. Until this day I feel fortunate for working in such close proximity to Zuccotti Park. It afforded me an opportunity to be part of an event that I believe will eventually define the coming historical era. While the original occupations fizzled out due to general disorganization and authoritarian repression, that does not mean the movement itself will not resurface at some point in some form in the future, bigger than before. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to agree with this prediction if they were in downtown Manhattan a few days ago on the second anniversary of Occupy.

Walking past Zuccotti Park at seven-thirty in the AM on that day was a depressing sight. The entire perimeter was blocked off with metal police barricades, not to mention police. They were allowing the first trickle of protesters in as I was on my way to work. Seeing 5 or 6 young protesters in the middle of the square setting up shop while dozens of officers ringed the park was a far cry from what the place looked like two years ago. Back then a sea of humanity overflowed the benches, the floors and the sidewalks while the police tenuously occupied a sliver of the curb on Broadway, helplessly looking on as people exercised all types of freedoms right in front of them. Now it was the police who overflowed the park, firmly entrenched on all four sides while protesters sheepishly trickled in between the blue uniforms.

Later in the day, as I stepped out to grab lunch, I bore witness to a tame march of protesters circling the block of Zuccotti Park. They were relatively quiet, controlled in their movements and all held up signs with exactly the same size fonts and lettering. Each sign hearkened back to many of the messages of the original protest: “Stop Stop and Frisk”, “Get Money Out of Politics”, etc. But the spontaneity, the disorganization and the general exuberance were gone. The police looked on seemingly pleased at the good behavior of the young people who quietly passed through the narrow corridor of sidewalk they had left available. As the old police cliché goes, there was truly nothing to see here.

In fact, the real spectacle was on my side of Trinity Place across the street from the park. As I loitered by the phone booths smoking a post-lunch menthol, a different sea of humanity was passing by me as well. This humanity was much nosier and much less organized than the protesters across the street. Instead of holding signs with political messages, this sea of humanity was holding cameras and maps of Manhattan. That is right: it was a sea of tourists stopping to gawk at, and snap pictures of, the puny exercise in democracy taking place across the street. Ironically, this sea of unruly tourists did not have any NYPD officers circumscribing where they could walk.

It was at that point that I realized I was watching history unfold. On the Zuccotti side of the street, you had the protesters who stood against everything Pharaoh Bloomberg’s New York City had become. On my side of the street, you had the tourists who reveled in everything Pharaoh Bloomberg’s New York City had become. My side represented the era of repression and commercialism that is on its way out. The Zuccotti side represented the era of free association and community that is yet to be born.

To the tourists who pass through downtown Manhattan, everything is a spectacle. While Trinity Church, Federal Hall and even the giant-testicled bull at the foot of Broadway are nice photo opportunities, the tourists take things much further. Most of these out-of-towners are either coming from, or trying to get to, the 9/11 Memorial. They skip lightly with their children in tow, oftentimes herded down the street by tour guides with light blue 9/11 Memorial shirts on. “Let’s keep moving. We’re almost there” these tour guides can be heard saying to their pliant charges. They usually form a bottleneck along Cedar Street outside of the Ho Yip Chinese buffet as they shuffle along. Some of them even return the death glares that one lone history teacher throws them as they pass by, although they cannot return the menthol smoke he directs into their faces.

It is always a party atmosphere along Cedar Street. The only problem is that they are going to see two giant holes in the ground where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives 12 years ago. They will snap some pictures and then come back outside where they can stop at the 9/11 Memorial gift store to pick up World Trade Center memorabilia. The entire spectacle, from the obnoxious digital cameras to the pushy tour guides to the oblivious foreigners to the cackling children, is a giant Bloombergian farce.

One cannot totally blame the tourists for what downtown Manhattan has become. Thanks to Pharaoh Bloomberg, Larry Silverstein and the bloodsucking state politicians in Albany, what should be hallowed ground and a national reminder of our shared history is instead a hokey exercise in commercialism. Compare the 9/11 Memorial to the monuments in Washington, D.C. like the Lincoln or FDR or World War II memorials. Sure, those places can have floods of tourists too. However, at the end of the day, they are public spaces. They are shared spaces. They are civic spaces. There are no gift shops around them. There is not a constant parade of tour groups being led single-file by obnoxious guides who admonish them to keep up, monopolizing the small strips of public space that exist. Visitors to these places are not asked or guilted into making “donations” to the monument. One cannot buy a mug with an image of the D-Day invasion down the block from the World War II Memorial.

Even if there were all of those things around our national monuments in D.C., it would still be more tolerable than what has become of what used to be the World Trade Center area. Lincoln was killed 148 years ago. FDR died and World War II ended 68 years ago. There is a good chance that people involved in those events are not living and working in the D.C. area anymore. On the other hand, downtown Manhattan still has many residents and workers who were there in 2001. Some of them might have even narrowly escaped with their lives. Some of them might still suffer illnesses from breathing in the acrid smoke. Some of them, including police and firefighters, might have even saved people’s lives or lost friends that day. And yet, the survivors of this national tragedy have to look on each day as downtown Manhattan turns into a circus. While Bloomberg is not totally at fault for this, it is certainly in step with the Bloomberg plan for the city.

This is what I saw on the 2nd anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. To the tourists, the Occupy protesters were a curiosity and a spectacle much like the 9/11 Memorial. They did not expect to see democracy in action when they showed up that day with their maps and their cameras. Metaphorically speaking, the three-ring circus was featuring the dancing bear but the out-of-towners got the bearded lady as a bonus as well. They oohed and aahed throughout both acts, snapping pictures the entire time.

Bloomberg can say that downtown Manhattan has bounced back. The independent eateries and souvenir shops that were around before 9/11 are certainly crammed with tourists now, many of whom have American dollars burning holes in their pockets after converting from Euros. The Freedom Tower is more or less complete, all 1776 feet of it. Yet, just like Bloomberg’s “successes” with public schools and fighting crime, it is a success on the surface only. One only has to dig an inch deep to find the rot that Bloomberg’s gild conceals.

At the end of the day, whether it is tourist dollars, test scores or crime stats, the only thing that has been accomplished under the reign of Pharaoh Bloomberg in NYC is an artful manipulation of numbers. Those numbers bear very little resemblance to reality. Tourist bucks are flowing in, yet downtown Manhattan still bears a national scar that has not been properly treated. Test scores are up (or at least they used to be), yet our students still have trouble making their way in the world after they graduate. Crime is down (or at least it used to be), yet many average New Yorkers are being robbed by a ridiculous cost of living. For the poorest New Yorkers, the NYPD has terrorized them in their own communities thanks to stop-and-frisk.

That is why when I was standing there between the Occupy protesters and the tourists, I was able to feel the tide of history wash over me. One side represented the dying Bloomberg era of optimistic data that continues to fool so many people. The other side represented the coming era of a mass awakening of what that data was always concealing.

The New White Man’s Burden, Revisited

Photo of me from my youth.

I am a white man, but I do not feel burdened.

My article yesterday, The New White Man’s Burden, might be construed as an argument for the black teacher. It is no secret that one of the biggest issues in New York City is the lack of black teachers, especially black male teachers. The disappearing black educator has been a consequence of not only Bloomberg’s education reform philosophy, but of Bloomberg’s mayoral policy overall.

The black population of NYC has declined under Bloomberg’s reign. It would stand to reason that the number of black educators has declined as well.

But I am not from the school of thought that holds that black teachers should teach black students and white teachers should teach white students. We tried this philosophy earlier in American history. It was called segregation.

My idea is simply that students are best served by teachers who come from the communities in which they live. Sure, seeing as how the city is largely segregated along racial lines, this might mean the same thing as having racially segregated classes. It also might not mean this.

My own experience is a testament to this idea. I grew up poor in a single-parent household. My mother was on and off welfare throughout my childhood. I ran around housing projects in my youth, listened to hip-hop music and kept friends who were mostly black and Hispanic. As a senior in high school, my best friend was shot and sliced in front of my eyes due to some street nonsense.

I did not realize how my upbringing shaped the way I viewed race until I got older. The teachers highlighted in the New York Times article seemed to all be so very conscious of their race and how they were different from their students. It was an entire issue to them. Yet, to someone like me, race was never an issue at all.  I never thought of my students as “black” or “Hispanic” students. I thought of them as people. They could very well have been my friends growing up, or my neighbors, or my classmates.

One of the most common bits of feedback I get from students past and present is that I speak to them like human beings. They appreciate the fact that I do not condescend them, insult their intelligence or treat them like inferior creatures in need of correction. This does not mean that I am the easy or the pushover teacher. Quite the opposite, I have one of the more strict reputations at my school.

There is a way to run a classroom that does not include a bunch of carrots and sticks all of the time. I do not say to my students, “if you don’t do this, then you get/won’t get this”. When my classes get out of hand, which is never, my reaction is “it’s ok, it’s not my education” in a sarcastic way. If I tell a student to pick their pants up, I tell them to stop doing what everyone else is doing. “Oh, I guess you’re cool because the TV told you to wear a studded belt and sag your pants.” I have no interest in threatening them or telling them that, if they don’t cut out the street talk, they will never be the next Bill Gates. When I was their age, what did I care about being the next Bill Gates? That was not on my agenda. It is not on most of theirs either. I encourage them to find their own paths and not do things simply because everyone around them is doing them.

So, I try to communicate to my students that they do things in my classroom because it is good for them to do, not because there is a penalty attached if they do not do it. They are encouraged to see the intrinsic value of learning history.

This requires connecting history to what is going on around them. Even if we are learning about ancient China, I try to find a way to connect it to something they can relate to, a connection that seems organic and not forced. This requires cutting out all threats. This means being fair. Most of all, it means communicating on a level that is natural.

When people observe me teach, the first question they always ask is “how do you get them all to listen and work like that?” and my answer is that I talk to them like people. I don’t call them “scholars” or feed them a bunch of clichés. Those things are insulting to their intelligence. They see right through them.

It is my upbringing that allows me to communicate this way. A few weeks ago we had “culture day” at our school. A few of my students asked me, “how come you’re not representing your culture? You know, shouldn’t you be wearing a du-rag and sagging your pants?” The implication was that my culture was “black”. I smiled and told them I don’t consider that black culture. I understood what they were saying all the same.

This is why it is tough for me to understand this entire obsession with race. It shocked me to learn from that NY Times article that there are a group of white teachers who have created an organization just so they can talk about how to talk about race with black kids. It was not surprising to learn that they came up with ideas like “diversity flowers”. It is disingenuous.

I never needed a class or a seminar in how to talk to people. I talk to people like people and keep it at that. If I want to bring up the topic of race in my class, I bring it up. My students know that they can be honest about race with me and they are comfortable with the fact that I will do the same. I do not mince my words.

Look at the story of the Pruitt-Igoe houses in St. Louis, one of the first public housing projects in the nation. Pruitt-Igoe, like most housing projects, was designed to be a healthy place to live. They were supposed to be an improvement on the tenements that preceded them, or the shacks from which sharecroppers fled in the south. The first generation of tenets was able to raise families there. Many children from that generation went on to become part of a new black middle class of doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals.

But, because those children had grown up to “make it”, they were no longer poor enough to live in the projects. In an effort to get poor tenants Pruitt-Igoe, as well as most other housing projects, had to accept ex-convicts and people addicted to drugs into their units. The net result was that the next generation of youngsters was deprived of role models. Instead, the convicts and the gangsters were the strongest, most visible and most successful males in the community. In a very short time, Pruitt-Igoe went from a wonderful place to live to a war zone. They eventually tore Pruitt-Igoe down.

Whether it is Pruitt-Igoe, or Cabrini Green or Wagner Houses, the story is the same. Legitimate male role models are nowhere to be found. Instead, boys from single-parent homes learn about manhood from the thugs who dominate the communities.

This is why that there are people who say we need more black educators. I would not necessarily put it like that. I would merely say that we need educators who understand, truly understand, where the students are coming from. That goes a long way towards earning the respect and the ears of your students.

Treat people like people, not a race, not a curiosity, not a problem, not a project, but people. A tough sell in the era of education reform, but an idea that cannot be repeated enough.

Bloomberg Supports Invasion of Greenwich Village

Bloomberg is defending New York University’s plan for a massive expansion of its facilities in Greenwich Village:

“New York University has an ambitious plan to add more than two-million-square-feet of space to its Greenwich Village campus. New classrooms, faculty offices, an athletic center and housing are all part of the proposal.

On Monday for the first time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg injected himself into the debate over the expansion plan, defending the university and displaying little patience for people who suggest that NYU scale back its vision.

“In the real world today, to have a world-class university, you’ve got to keep expanding and doing new things,” said the mayor.

He said that while there is a way to scale back, but it would come at a cost.

“I certainly think there is a way. I think you can also destroy NYU at the same time,” said Bloomberg.

Despite some strong support from the mayor, NYU’s expansion plan has generated some fierce opposition from Greenwich Village residents. Two months ago, the local community board voted unanimously against the project.

“A 20-year massive construction project in the middle of a residential area would have a devastating impact,” said Preservationist Andrew Berman.

Berman thinks NYU should be looking to grow in other city neighborhoods, like the Financial District or Downtown Brooklyn.

“An Empire State Building’s worth of space to be shoe-horned into the blocks south of Washington Square Park is just unimaginable. It would overwhelm the neighborhood,” said Berman.

Bloomberg said the university’s neighbors have nothing to complain about.

“NYU, and the area that surrounds it, people there — the value of their houses and the quality of their life is because of the proximity of NYU,” said the mayor.

Having the mayor on its side certainly helps NYU, but his support will hardly silence the heated debate about whether the school should be allowed to expand or hold back as some of its neighbors wish.”

Greenwich Village is no stranger to fighting back against supposed “development” plans. Back in the 1950s, residents of Greenwich Village defeated Robert Moses’ proposal to bisect the entire area with a highway. At that time, the residents were led by the indomitable Jane Jacobs, author of the Death and Life of Great American Cities. It is a good thing they defeated it as well, or else the village might have went the way of the South Bronx after the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Bloomberg’s statement about NYU being the reason for Greenwich Village’s quality of life says it all. Of course, he would make no mention of the village’s Bohemian tradition. The hub of so many artists, writers and activists, Greenwich Village is a historic neighborhood with heart and soul. What has made the village great is its uniqueness, freedom and character. If anything, the chain stores, cookie-cutter night clubs and pretentious Sunday brunch places have detracted from the vibe of the area.

And who frequents these stores, clubs and restaurants? That’s right, the NYU students.

Bloomberg is of course thinking in terms of property values, which are only measurable in dollars and cents. The things that make New York City actually alive mean nothing to him. Jane Jacobs must be rolling in her grave.

This is yet another example of Bloomberg’s war on community. To him, New York City is a business and he is the CEO. His school closings, church evictions and now support for NYU betray, once again, his mad quest to sterilize the city.

NYU wants to do to the village what Columbia University has done to wide swaths of Harlem. The only difference is that the residents of the village have the resources and will to fight back, while Columbia has been able to have its way.

I have nothing against NYU. Diane Ravitch teaches there and they have given me some great student teachers. But there is a certain type of student associated with NYU, namely the type who can afford to shell out close to six-figures for their college educations. In the end, I see little difference between the education provided by NYU and that provided by the better CUNY schools aside from price.

People in Greenwich Village need to keep fighting. This is just part of Bloomberg’s onslaught against anything related to community and making the city a home to its people.

Bloomberg’s Idea of Community

Bloomberg says the hungry eat enough already.

As if anyone needed any more proof that Bloomberg was bent on destroying anything related to community-building in New York City, the New York Post reports this:

So much for serving the homeless.

The Bloomberg administration is now taking the term “food police” to new depths, blocking food donations to all government-run facilities that serve the city’s homeless.

In conjunction with a mayoral task force and the Health Department, the Department of Homeless Services recently started enforcing new nutritional rules for food served at city shelters. Since DHS can’t assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters have to turn away good Samaritans.

Anyone who needs a crash course in how to sterilize communities just needs to follow the Michael Bloomberg playbook:

a) Destroy large public schools that served communities for over 100 years and replace them with small gimmick and corporate charter schools.

b) Kick out the poorest and neediest religious congregations from school buildings under the guise of protecting church-state separation.

c) Institute “stop and frisk” and use the police department as your own personal army.

d) Prevent all food donations to the homeless.

Of course, all of these policies have to be clad in a concern for the people. Shutting down “failing schools” is good.  Protecting the sanctity of church-state separation is good. “Stop and frisk” protects the city from terrorism. Those food donations are too high in sodium for the starving people of the city. Only his cronies are capable of dolling out highly nutritious slop, since independent donations might reduce the need for millionaire food contractors.

We are living in a completely authoritarian and corporatized fiefdom run by a man who sees himself as a feudal lord. And why not? Like many other lords, he bought his title fair and square.

“Democracy and Education” at John Dewey High School

It seems like another “Fight Back Friday” at John Dewey High School. Norm at Ed Notes is reporting that the students have walked out of class in protest of Mayor Bloomberg’s “turnaround” plan for their school. This plan will entail firing half the staff and no doubt gutting its many enrichment programs.

Looking at the 33 turnaround schools across the city, one sees right away that many of them are the types of large high schools that Bloomberg has a penchant for shutting down. Earlier this year, I visited one of these turnaround (or is it “transformation”?) schools at Franklin D. Roosevelt in Brooklyn. It has a large, beautiful campus peppered with grassy sitting areas. Its wide hallways are festooned with trophies won in contests like the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The championship flags in the gymnasium indicate a long tradition of athletic achievement. The feel of FDR reminded me of my beloved Alma mater of Brooklyn Tech.

These are schools from a bygone era when people saw education as a civic institution and the school building as the heart and soul of the community. What can you say about the values of a mayor who sees fit to hollow out these schools?

As far as John Dewey High School goes, Bloomberg has been setting it up for failure for years. The New York Times reported back in 2008:

“…. With only three of the five mini-schools at Lafayette now open, department officials say, enrollment in the Lafayette building has declined to 1,064, from 1,320 last year. New admissions from the Lafayette area to Dewey, especially of ninth graders, have risen by one-third over the same period, but overall enrollment has declined since 2004, bringing the school to about 118 percent of capacity, they say. (The total number of Lafayette-zoned students in Dewey, though, has remained stable.)

Faculty members, students and administrators at Dewey say that the students coming from Lafayette are academically deficient, although Education Department statistics show that the current crop of ninth graders performed essentially similarly to previous cohorts on the citywide reading test. Still, the perception at Dewey is that Lafayette students did not choose Dewey for its quality, but landed there by default because they did not qualify for any of the Lafayette building’s mini-schools. With the overcrowding, Dewey students and staff members say, in many periods of the day there are several hundred students with no assigned room, often roaming the halls. A round of budget cuts this year sharply reduced staffing of the “resource centers.”

In other words, overcrowd and underfund John Dewey for the sake of maintaining the image and reputation of Bloomberg’s disastrous small school model.

The students and staff of John Dewey High School know Bloomberg’s game. They are doing what John Dewey himself called for 100 years ago in Democracy and Education: schooling through engaging in the world around them. They are showing us what needs to be done when democracy is under attack.

You cannot be against public education and for democracy. Bloomberg, through his mayoral controlling, school closing, charter schooling policies has proven that democracy to him is a dirty word.

On the eve of tomorrow’s State of the Union conference, the students are giving all of us hope in the fight against the corporate hijacking of our democracy.

Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years

Watch the documentary here.

Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years, a new special from WNET.ORG, looks at John Lindsay’s turbulent two terms as New York mayor from 1966 – 1973. It also looks at his unsuccessful bid for President during the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination.

The program explores Mayor Lindsay’s tenure by looking at his campaign as a candidate of change; his contentious relationship with the city’s unions; his advocacy for inner-city neighborhoods and efforts to maintain calm during racially tense times, such as the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the fiscal consequences of his union contracts and social policies; and his use of urban design and planning as a proactive tool to defend and redefine the value of the city.

The program includes interviews with a wide range of historians, journalists, politicians, and members of Lindsay’s administration. Among those interviewed include: Jimmy Breslin, Mayor David Dinkins, Ronnie Eldridge, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mayor Ed Koch, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Joyce Purnick, and Congressman Charles Rangel.

“John Lindsay was the mayor of New York City at one of the most turbulent times in U.S. history,” said Neal Shapiro, President and CEO of WNET.ORG. “From race relations to the Vietnam War to the City’s fiscal challenges, Lindsay had to deal with issues that we tend to forget about today. The Lindsay Years will examine his legacy and shine a spotlight on that moment in the City’s history. ”

Tom Casciato, is Executive Producer; Scott Davis is Senior Producer; Rob Issen is Writer/Producer and Rawan Jabaji is Field Producer.

Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years is airing as part of a broader partnership with the Museum of the City of New York, which has launched the exhibition, America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York, and Columbia University Press, which has launched a companion book of the same name edited by Sam Roberts.

A nice window into New York City during the 1960s. There is a decent section about the 1968 teacher strike, on which I will have more to write later.

Enjoy the video when you get the time.

Harvard Gives Bloomberg Award for Anti-Poverty Programs

Bloomberg loves all the people of New York City.

No, this is not a joke. The New York Daily News reports:

The city has been awarded Harvard University’s Innovations in American Government Award for its anti-poverty work, Mayor Bloomberg announced during his Sunday radio address.

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government gave the award to the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity for its “pioneering approach to anti-poverty programs,” Bloomberg’s office said.

And what types of anti-poverty measures did the city put in place?

One of the programs partners with employers in the transportation and health care sectors to find out what kind of skills they need and then works with job seekers to get them the right skills.

Wow, that really is innovative policy. It is such a drastic shift away from those other programs that assume poverty is due to some sort of deficiency on the part of poor people. Just like Clinton’s welfare reform gambit in the 1990s when recipients had to attend demeaning job training courses, this is just more of the same post-Reagan era garbage. I remember my mother, who was on and off welfare throughout my childhood, being forced to attend classes on how to build resumes and sit through motivational speeches by self-absorbed business leaders who fed her the same “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” garbage that we still hear today. This was a woman with 25 years of secretarial experience who saw all of the jobs that used to pay her a living wage become automated over time, pushing us from the ranks of the poor down into the ranks of the very poor. But of course, her poverty was all her fault for being a lazy and shiftless single mother who had to work the double-duty of bringing home a paycheck while raising a son in the big city.

There was a simpler era when leaders in New York City realized that people did not have jobs because there were no jobs to be had. We once had a mayor named Fiorello LaGuardia who, because of his connection to Franklin Roosevelt, was able to funnel millions of dollars into New York City for the purpose of giving people jobs. The Depression was still felt in NYC, but the blow was somewhat cushioned.

Another one of Bloomberg’s innovative anti-poverty programs:

… helps New Yorkers put aside some of their tax refund to build a nest egg, Bloomberg said. Those savings, up to $1,000, are matched 50 cents to the dollar with private donations.

“Last year, participants who saved for the full year built an average of more than $800 in savings — which is extremely important when an unforeseen emergency arises,” Bloomberg said.

Yes, as long as that unforeseen emergency does not include having to bury a loved one, finding a new apartment or any type of major or minor surgery. That extra $800 might be real handy if you lose your monthly Metrocard or need bail money because you were arrested for breaking the city’s vagrancy ordinance (i.e. having the nerve to walk down the street without money in your pocket). God forbid there was a real emergency, you would have to wait a decade or two until you could bury Uncle Joe, move to an even smaller studio apartment or get that enlarged spleen removed.

Seriously, what planet does this man live on? Certainly not the planet of normal people who have to live in a city with an ever-increasing standard of living.

Contrary to what elitists like Bloomberg believe, not to mention their lickspittles among the 99%, poverty is not something that people can be counseled out of. Resume-building seminars, “no-excuses” charter schools and hokey adages about pennies saved being pennies earned are not the things that will end poverty in America. The proof is in the pudding. We have had programs like this for several decades, stretching all the way back into the 1980s, and poverty has gotten worse, way worse, during that same time period.

Between 2009-2010, 75, 000 New Yorkers were pushed down into the ranks of the poor. This was higher than the national average. The fact that the city has received this award is a disgraceful move on the part of Harvard University.