Tag Archives: Racism in Education Reform

Racism, Racism Everywhere

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This article ably explains why Ron Paul is a disgusting, and dangerous, public figure.

I have written about Ron Paul before (herehere, here, here and here) and received the predictable blowback from his internet minions. The cult of personality that has formed around this man is disturbing. Many young people attach themselves to his banner, despite the fact that he is essentially an evolution-denying, Christian fundamentalist from Texas.

Ron Paul, along with many prominent leaders of the Tea Party, have revived an idea that most people hoped was long dead: nullification. Nullification is the theory that states have the right to disregard federal laws they deem unconstitutional. Its earliest incarnation can perhaps be found in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the presidency of John Adams. Jefferson and Madison believed that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional and the states had the duty to nullify such laws.

However, the intellectual father of nullification was a Congressman from South Carolina named John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was considered an expert on the Constitution in his day. He had the reputation as a theorist of sorts who justified the southern way of life. Andrew Jackson tapped him to be his Vice Presidential running mate in 1828. By the end of his first term, Jackson would come to regret this decision.

Besides slavery, another wedge issue between north and south at the time was the tariff. A tariff is a tax on imported goods. Northerners tended to support high tariffs since they protected American industry, which was the backbone of the northern economy. Southerners tended to oppose high tariffs since it raised prices of all goods, especially the low-quality clothing they bought from Britain in which southerners clad their enslaved human beings. Southerners were hopeful that President Jackson would do away with the hated “Tariff of Abominations” put in place by Jackson’s predecessor and American hero, John Quincy Adams. When Jackson did not move fast enough, Calhoun claimed that South Carolina had the right to nullify the tariff. If the federal government insisted that the tariff be paid anyway, then South Carolina had the right to secede, or leave, the union.

Jackson’s response to Calhoun’s challenge is the stuff of legend in American history. At a Washington dinner party, Jackson stood up, looked Calhoun in the eye and gave a toast saying “Our federal union. It must be preserved!” He later threatened to have Calhoun hanged from the highest tree. During this so-called “Nullification Crisis”, Jackson penned an eloquent defense of the American union as a combination of people and not of states. Jackson’s firm response, combined with a compromise that lowered the hated tariffs, served to end the Nullification Crisis. Needless to say, Jackson did not choose Calhoun as his running mate in 1832, opting instead for his closest advisor, and political opportunist, Martin Van Buren.

28 years later, it would be no surprise that the first state to “nullify” the election of Abraham Lincoln was South Carolina. They ended up seceding from the union and bringing many other slave states with them. This was the crisis that led to the firing on Fort Sumter which precipitated the greatest tragedy in American history: the Civil War. President Lincoln, from his first inaugural address all the way to the end of his life, picked up on the old Jacksonian idea that the union was one of people and not states. No state had the right to nullify or secede. The issue was settled in favor of Lincoln on the battlefield. It was at that point that the idea of nullification and secession should have died.

However, throughout the Reconstruction Era, southerners waxed poetic about their “Lost Cause”. Their genteel way of life where blacks lived under the lash of the slave master was gone forever. In its place was northern capitalism with its focus on pecuniary acquisition and industry. Many southerners held on to an idealized version of the Old South that would never totally be shaken. Towards the end of the 1800s, southerners would revive the old mantra of “states’ rights” to disenfranchise black people and reduce them to a status not much better than slavery itself. The Supreme Court supported this practice with Plessy v. Ferguson. It would not be until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s that this system of segregation and disenfranchisement was dealt its death blow, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This is the story that American history textbooks tell anyway. While it is tempting to believe this system was overturned in the mid-1960s, the truth is that it has been making a comeback. It has been making a comeback because it is, as usual, clothed in the idea of “states’ rights”. One of the biggest proponents of states’ rights in recent years has been Ron Paul. He has done a great job of masking his ideology as libertarianism. However, as the article cited above states:

“Paul’s agenda has included the rejuvenation of paleoconservatism through his youth outreach and a strong emphasis on his “libertarian” credentials, despite his record as the most conservative legislator in the modern history of the U.S. Congress.25 The libertarian elements of Paul’s political agenda derive primarily from his allegiance to states’ rights, which is often mistaken as support for civil liberties.

Paul is far more transparent about his paleoconservative—rather than libertarian—agenda when he speaks to audiences made up of social conservatives, as when he assured LifeSiteNews that he opposed federal regulatory power and supported state-level banning of abortion, and that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if he were a governor.26

He also told an enthusiastic audience at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in 2008 that “you don’t have to wait till the courts are changed” to outlaw abortion, pointing out that his plan for removing jurisdiction from the federal courts would allow South Carolina to enact laws against abortion. And he sponsored the “We the People Act,” which proposed stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction in cases related to religion and privacy, freeing state legislatures to regulate sexual acts, birth control, and religious matters.”

Pure libertarianism is the idea that the state should play as little a role as possible in our lives. However, Ron Paul has successfully confounded the idea of libertarianism with the idea of states’ rights. They are not the same thing. States’ rights holds that the states have the ability to wield all types of power over the lives of the people who live within their borders, which is why Paul can say with a straight face that states have the right to make policies regulating women’s wombs. This is not libertarianism of the anarchy stripe. This is downright autocratic rule.

Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, is another darling of the Tea Party. He made headlines not too long ago for saying he would essentially eviscerate the Civil Rights Act of 1965 on the grounds that government had no right to tell private business what it can and cannot do with its property. If the owner of a business wishes to discriminate against an entire race of people, that is perfectly fine by the likes of Rand Paul.

Even more scary perhaps is the recent Supreme Court ruling eviscerating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the grounds that it violates the 10th Amendment, which is the amendment most cherished by advocates of states’ rights. Those of us who were taught in high school that the Civil Rights Movement achieved a huge goal with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts have been horrified by the attacks on these laws. We hear these cries for states’ rights when states refuse to participate in the Affordable Care Act on the grounds of the old Calhounian idea of nullification. The Tea Party right has gotten a hold of the Republican Party, making it more reactionary than it has ever been before.

What makes Ron Paul disgusting, and disturbing, is how he has tricked young people into believing his brand of Republicanism or Libertarianism is some sort of independent rogue ideology that cherishes freedom. His words, his deeds and his voting record should give the lie to this idea. His brand of Republicanism is essentially the idea of the Lost Cause of the South dressed up in 21st century garb. It is the South Carolina, Calhounist, slave owner mantra of states’ rights, nullification and secession. It is not just a conservative ideology, but what the article deems a paleoconservative ideology. It is a throwback to an oppressive, white supremacist past, one that is not as dead as some of us would like to think.

What it means for those of us in the education world who are fighting against this so-called wave of reform is that we must be careful about with whom we ally. We might be tempted to make common cause with the Ron and Rand Pauls of the world because it is politically expedient. This should be avoided at all costs. They partake in a brand of dog whistle racism that should be exposed and denounced at every turn.

Yet, at the same time, the rhetoric of the reform movement is also clothed in a type of dog whistle racism. Just recently, Newark schools chancellor and education reform darling, Cami Anderson, demonstrated this when she implied that students in Newark public schools (who are mostly minority) were criminals. She denounced Newark teachers who attended the state union’s conference in Atlantic City by saying that giving the students of the city a day off from school would lead to violence in the streets. This type of language exposes the type of racism implicit in the words, deeds and policies of practically every education reformer.

When reformers say that public schools are failing, they are really saying that “those” children are failing. When they say that public school students need Common Core Standards, they really mean that “those” kids need to finally be held up to standards. This is why Arne Duncan was so quick to call out “suburban white moms“. It gave him cover from the obvious racism implicit in the reforms that he supports. When we look at the most prolific charter schools, like the Success Academies here in New York City, they pride themselves on strict discipline and decor. They pride themselves on getting “those” kids to behave.

And this is also why the attack on “those” children’s schools have been accompanied by attacks on “those” children’s teachers. Many times, “those” children’s teachers come from the same “communities” as “those” children. Even when they do not, teachers of “those” children get an up-close look at the horrid conditions in which “those” children live. They might speak out against these injustices, inciting “class warfare” and “socialism” in the process. Only by silencing them do they keep the issues of poverty and racism out of the mainstream.

Those of us who oppose this “education reform” do so because we understand the paternalism and racism it implies. Unfortunately, we cannot fight against the Race to the Top or the Common Core on the grounds that it violates “states’ rights”, since that just replaces one dog whistle term for another. It also replaces the paternalism of the corporate reformers with the paternalism of state governments, who tend to be the most odious and retrograde entities in the country.

No, opponents of education reform must base their opposition on civil disobedience. This is what the idea of “opting out” is all about. Civil disobedience recognizes that Race to the Top, along with many other reforms, are the laws of the land. It recognizes the supremacy of the federal government over the states. It opposes these reform laws not because they are federal, but because they are unjust.

The idea of opting out, of true civil disobedience, would be tainted if associated with the idea of states’ rights. Opting out is the future. States’ rights is the past. Most importantly, states’ rights brought to its ultimate conclusion would bring us back to the Jim Crow era or worse. We would then have to fight a much more serious battle against a much more dangerous brand of “education reform”.

THE BLACKBOARD WARS’ BAYE COBB

Hello class, welcome your new diva, er, I mean teacher: Baye Cobb.

Hello class, welcome your new diva, er, I mean teacher: Baye Cobb.

One of the drawbacks of not having a television is that I am not able to keep up with the new Oprah series Blackboard Wars. The show follows the efforts of a charter school to turn things around in a low-income community in New Orleans.

I have yet to see any full episodes. If someone can direct me to a link where I can watch them online, it would be greatly appreciated.

However, I have seen all of first-year teacher and TFAer Baye Cobb that I need to see.

Reading the comments under her profile, it is obvious some people get it and some people do not. Some people see a wealthy white woman who probably could have went into a lucrative career but instead chose to work with inner-city youth. They compliment her up and down, calling her everything short of  a “hero”.

Those people do not get it. This school probably used to have many teachers who dedicated their entire lives to these students. Day in and day out they came to work under the worst imaginable conditions. They did not have shiny new facilities, millions of dollars from private investors, crisp uniforms, small class sizes and all of the other amenities these first-year teachers have. Many of the old teachers were probably from the community. All they were told was that their school was failing and they were the cause of it. They got nothing but derision from the public.

Now here comes Baye Cobb riding in on her (very) white horse. She took a 5 week Teach for America training course and then was charged with teaching math to kids who need a great teacher. It is hard to imagine any of the teachers that were fired to make room for the likes of Baye Cobb could have been any more incompetent than her. Yet, she gets all the compliments and all the praise for sticking out her first year in such a rough environment. While the previous teachers got to toil in obscurity for many years, Baye Cobb gets the spotlight and all of the celebrity that comes with it.

It is unfortunate that these students, who seem by and large like good kids, are stuck with this mess of a woman. Sure, the first year of teaching is always difficult. We have all had our growing pains and embarrassing moments as teachers. Baye Cobb, however, represents everything wrong with putting ill-prepared teachers from white bread backgrounds in front of inner city children. She is a total caricature of herself.

Take, for example. the incident of a student named Coco.

Security guards are called to Ms. Cobb’s classroom. She tells them that there is no longer an issue because “the issue” just left the room. Yes, she calls a student “the issue”. Apparently, Coco was using some foul language to some other students, threatening them with getting her brother if they keep bothering her. When Coco was brought to the principal’s office, it turns out that she was upset because other students were calling her ugly. To his credit, the principal does try to make her feel better by telling her that she is not ugly. He is right to do that, not only because she is not ugly but because she needed to be treated like a human being and not “the issue”.

However, the principal then goes back to treating her like “the issue” by bringing her back to Ms. Cobb’s classroom to apologize. Ms. Cobb accepts Coco’s apology and then gives her a weak and cliched lecture about proper classroom decorum. At no point does Ms. Cobb treat Coco any differently than “the issue”.

This might seem like hyperbole to some but, as a teacher, Ms. Cobb’s handling of this situation disgusts me. She knew that Coco was telling other students to stop bothering her. She knew she was threatening those students. It was obvious that the girl was at her breaking point. Does Ms. Cobb try to find out why she was upset? Does she try to ascertain whether or not Coco has a valid reason for acting the way she is acting? Never. It never even crosses her mind. Coco is merely an issue and her behavior needs to be corrected.

As someone who was bullied in school, this is disturbing. I have had teachers treat me the same way when I was sticking up for myself. Nobody seemed to care why I was upset, only that my anger was a nuisance to them. There have been moments as a teacher when I wanted to jump down a kid’s throat for talking or some other bothersome behavior. Yet, I am always reminded of my childhood and take a step back to try to figure out why the student is doing what they are doing. Sometimes it is because the student is helping a classmate. Sometimes it is because a student is being picked on. Whatever it is, a teacher creates a much better environment when they treat each situation for what it is and not merely as an “issue”. You end up validating the student’s feelings and having fewer problems in the future. Most behavior problems end up containing themselves. The ones that do not can be rectified with a simple gesture: moving a student’s seat, giving a glare or quietly asking the student to desist or to see you after class. It is when a teacher does these things that they usually find out more about the situation and deal with it accordingly.

Ms. Cobb loses this round. I would not be surprised if Coco tuned her out for the rest of the year, or at least lost respect for her authority. There is now a big barrier between Ms. Cobb and Coco, one that will take the teacher a long time to overcome. Coco mentioned that she wanted to leave the school. Maybe that is because her teacher and principal treat her like a problem while the bullies get off scot free.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Take this clip as another example:

Two boys are “fighting” in Ms. Cobb’s classroom, although it seemed more like play fighting. They are on the football team, so they are obviously strong young men. Ms. Cobb decides to step in the middle of the boys and ends up getting hit in the face. She then starts crying.

First, why do the boys even have an opening to play fight in the first place? The fact that things get to that point shows poor classroom management. Second, why is she, a petite woman, getting in between two strong boys? Did she think she was going to break them up? Third, why is she crying? Did she really get hurt or was her pride hurt? This seems to be a common theme with Ms. Cobb. Much like the case of Coco, Ms. Cobb seems to be much more concerned with her authority (or lack thereof) and her hurt pride.

What is really telling is how the students reacted to the situation. When she got hit, one of the boys said “she got thumped” in a very casual manner. They did not seem to be very concerned for her well-being, which is a sign that she has a lousy rapport with her students. Then, when she started crying, the kids were laughing. Again, they were not concerned about her in the least. Ms. Cobb does not have their respect or affection.

As someone who comes from a totally different world from her students, Ms. Cobb has not shown the slightest concern for bridging the gap. The students are forced to do all of the bridging. Coco was forced to apologize. Her students were forced to watch her cry. Everything seems to be one way in Ms. Cobb’s classroom. Is it any wonder the students do not seem to care about her?

My favorite clip, however, is the situation with the cheerleaders:

Ms. Cobb is apparently the cheerleading coach. The students are waiting for a school bus to go to a game or practice or whatever. However, the buses left without the squad because another teacher said that they were for the football team. They call Ms. Cobb on the phone and she comes down to the school. When she gets there she makes them rush and says the last person in the classroom has to do push-ups for not having a “sense of urgency”. Then, one of the students says under her breath “we need a new coach”. Ms. Cobb then forces the student to repeat her words and informs the student that it was not her fault that the bus left without them. The students are subjected to yet another round of tears from Ms. Cobb, who tells them that they do not appreciate the effort she has put into them. The scene ends with her giving postcards to the students so they can anonymously write whether or not they want her as their coach.

Why are the students there alone? Why are they going somewhere obviously off-campus without their coach? This does not really seem to be Ms. Cobb’s fault, since it seemed perfectly normal to the students. Perhaps this is just the way they do things at that particular school. When she shows up, it is understandable that she makes them rush, considering they are late in getting somewhere. If that was the case, why make them do push-ups? It totally contradicts the supposed “sense of urgency” of the situation. Again, is this due to Ms. Cobb’s hurt ego? The student did not jump to her command fast enough and needs to be punished.

One student then made an admittedly rude and disrespectful comment. This is when Ms. Cobb totally goes off the rails. She starts crying and reprimanding everyone for the snide remarks of one student. Again, where is the urgency? If she was hurt by the comment she should have ignored it totally and proved to them over time that she is a good coach, thereby winning the student over in the long run. Barring that, she could have addressed things with that student one-on-one, preferably on the way to wherever they needed to be. Once again her ego, her emotions and her baggage become the problem of the students. The world must stop when Ms. Cobb feels pain. 

Once again, the students seem unconcerned for her feelings. Rather than sitting there stroking her ego, the students would much rather get to where they need to be. On top of this, they seem to be genuinely tired of her antics. Who can blame them? It is completely inappropriate for an adult to force children to deal with her own issues. Their reactions show a lack of respect for Ms. Cobb. They lack respect for her because she lacks respect for them. Her entire demeanor is self-centered. Rather than getting them to the field they are stuck, stuck, dealing with her nonsense. I bet that the kids have heard more about her feelings than she has heard about theirs. That is why her students do not respect her.

The students of this school deserve better. I wonder how many good, solid, upstanding veteran teachers were fired to make room for the likes of Ms. Cobb. Not only is she inexperienced. Not only is she culturally disconnected from her students. She shows no desire to find out about her students, their world and what makes them tick. She expects them to show her that courtesy, however. It is completely shameful behavior for a teacher.

Her upbringing comes through in everything she does. This is a woman who has had everything handed to her. Her entire life has been structured around her: her feelings, her desires, her dreams. Too bad that she has gotten into a profession that demands complete selflessness. Too bad her students are stuck with a completely self-absorbed diva for a teacher.

If this school “turns around”, and if these students “succeed”, it will be in spite of Baye Cobb and not because of her.