Tag Archives: Gentrification

These Could Be Your Students

If you’re offended by vulgarity, criminality and degrading language towards women, then you probably should not watch the videos below. There is much here that one can take offense to, but that is not the point of me posting them.

This is part of a series that features ghettos all over the country. Here is their venture into Harlem. There are at least 2 high-school-age boys featured here, one claims to be 18 and another one who is 16. Many of the other guys here seem like they are in the same age range. Very easily, they could be or have been students in our classrooms.

They go out of their way to show how thuggish they are. For kids who are so young, they have a certain street wisdom that very few people ever attain. One gets the sense that their entire life is bound up in that little project in which this was filmed.

For all of their flashing of their street cred, they manage to touch on issues like gentrification and poverty. Their perspectives on these things are so honest that it is scary; an unwitting indictment of Bloomberg’s whitening policy for New York City.

With the release of value added data today, one wonders what the teachers of these boys could have done. Should we be held responsible and publicly shamed because our students do poorly on a test or because people find themselves locked in obscene poverty? What does a test matter to any of the boys in this video?

One wonders if the education reformers know how the urban poor live and how incredibly stupid and out of touch they sound when they talk of education fixing all the problems of the country.

I have had many students like the boys in these videos. I have also grown up with many boys that remind me of these youngsters. It is amazing how the most hardened kids, the ones steeped in criminality, have a charisma and intelligence that could be used for so much good in the world if they were just given a chance.

I think it was Sista Souljah who said that the drug dealers and gangsters of the inner cities represented the best and brightest of the black community. The fact that they can find no other outlets for their talents other than criminality is an indictment of a system that preordains their doom.

Put your judgments on hold and watch this as a learning experience. Even if they do not remind you of your students, they make up part of the environment of our students.

Warning: turn your speakers down because it comes in very loud.

The Next Teacher Strike

The last NYC teacher strike drove a wedge between teachers and the communities they serve. The next one will bridge the gap.

New York City teachers are due for a strike.

Leo Casey claims (check the comments section) that the union will fight for something other than standardized exams on the local level. He claims that there are other types of assessments the city can use.

Sure there are.

But what happens when Bloomberg and Commissioner King say that they will not hear of anything else except local exams? How far will the UFT be willing to go to prevent our schools from becoming testing factories?

As Diane Ravitch has said, can you imagine a school system that tests kids 3, 4 or 5 times every year not to help them learn anything, but for the sole purpose of holding their teachers “accountable”?

How far is the UFT willing to go to prevent this madness?

The UFT already lost the fight in court to prevent unreliable, less than garbage “value added” data from being released to the public.  Despite the fact that Bill Gates (!) and Dennis Walcott (!) have warned against the unreliability of these numbers, every major media outlet is set to release them tomorrow morning. Even Gotham Schools, despite getting pats on the back (including from themselves) for vowing not release the reports, will still publish them in some form.

This is the result of a ten-year campaign of teacher vilification from the media, politicians and business leaders who have blamed us for urban poverty and an “achievement gap”.

Enough is enough.

The last major teacher strike in 1968 drove a wedge between the city’s (predominantly Jewish) teachers and the predominately black school districts in Brooklyn.

The next major teacher strike will bridge that gap.

The common theme throughout all of these things is testing. It looms over the heads of students and teachers as a weapon used by people who know absolutely nothing about education to destroy public schools.

If teachers strike, the issue of testing must be the centerpiece. Everything else: the lack of funding for inner-city schools, the decline of teacher rights, the chartering wave, can all be tied (if tenuously) back to the central issue of testing.

Do the parents of New York City want their children to do nothing but take tests for 10 months of the year? Do they want the teachers of their students to be so repressed, so ill protected, that they cannot speak out against poor treatment and lack of services for their students?

Do the people who send their children to NYC schools, who are the same people being gentrified out of their homes, want to continue to leave the school system in the hands of the mayor responsible for their displacement? Do the inner city communities of New York City want to leave the school system in the hands of the same mayor who has given them nothing but “stop and frisk”?

Negotiating, compromising and lawsuits, which have been the preferred tactics of the UFT, have failed. They have done nothing but provide a rubber stamp for all of these atrocities perpetrated by the Bloomberg regime.

Yes, I know, without the union, things would have been worse. Yes, the union has cushioned the blow against many of these so-called reforms. Even if that is true, which I am not sure it is, that simply is not good enough anymore. Just like the Democratic Party, their “cushioning” ends in disaster for the people they are supposedly representing.

The only thing left is to opt out of this brutal regime. The only way to opt out is by using the only thing over which we have any control: our bodies.

They can make all the laws and evaluations they want. If people are not there to follow them, then it is all irrelevant.

The only thing left is a strike.

But it has to be more than a strike. It cannot just be one sector of workers or one group out for their own interests hitting the streets. This needs to be a movement. It needs to be teachers, administrators, parents and students. It needs to be an eruption of all of the people Bloomberg has tried to suppress. Veteran educators, oppressed minorities, children and the urban poor must hit back and hit back hard.

How fitting if we could get something like this off the ground when Bloomberg is on his way out? What better repudiation of his tenure, his legacy, his entire school-closing, stop-and-frisking, gentrifying, bike-lane drawing vision for New York than to have everyone victimized by this vision to take the streets and shut the city down?

We know the UFT will not support us. The first words out of their mouths will be “Taylor Law”, followed by all the usual hems and haws about why nothing of substance can be done to resist.

So it must be done by going around the UFT. It must be done by going around the entire Neoliberal apparatus in which the UFT has been complicit.

The only question is how? What strategies and what tactics should be used? How do we sustain this action in the face of court injunctions, jack-booted police and media ridicule that is sure to meet such action?

Those questions are still being debated.

But I am reminded of a quote by Nietzsche: “if one has his why, then he can put up with almost any how.”

Marta Valle High School and the Case of the Misspelled Sign

The non-story of the misspelled crossing sign on the street outside of Marta Valle High School has been making its rounds lately. The Department of Transportation painted the words “School Shcool Xing” in the gutter outside of the Lower East Side community school. The mistake went unchallenged for months, leading many to point fingers at the school for not having it corrected.

Why am I writing about this non-story? Because Marta Valle is where I spent the first 6 years of my career.

I still have a special connection to the place. It was a secondary school when I was there, serving grades 7-12. The population was very small, with most of the kids being from the neighborhood. It was a place in constant flux, and probably still is, going through administrators and teachers like Kleenex. The few veteran teachers who I know are still there are particularly dedicated. They would have to be, since there has never been much direction, discipline or support for teachers.

It is a shame that the school is getting this type of negative attention. The kids I taught at Marta Valle had little reason to have any school spirit. It would not be uncommon to hear kids say that the school was “budget” or “fake”. Kids are perceptive and they know when their school is not being given a chance. This story will do nothing to improve the standing of the school in their eyes.

The building looks like a jail. There are gates over the windows and giant metal bars at the front of the school that lock people out during non-school hours. At the same time, the surrounding neighborhood has undergone complete gentrification. Dozens of hipster bars and restaurants opened up during my tenure there, while the rents of the cubbyhole apartments in the area skyrocketed well out of the range of both the families and teachers associated with Marta Valle. Most of the students at Marta Valle are relegated to the housing projects of the Lower East Side: Baruch, Riis, Wald, Rutgers and Smith. Being located in the lap of luxury only serves to highlight to the students how neglected their school really is.

I can imagine the current generation of students at Marta Valle, who are probably the younger siblings of the generation I taught, using all of the hype around this simple mistake as further proof that their school is “budget”. I really do not know who to blame for this error, nor do I know if blame should be ascribed to anybody at all. What I do know is that the media’s mad rush to destroy the image of public schools has led them to run this story. As a result, a few hundred young people who are trapped in poverty on the Lower East Side have been given yet another reason to be alienated from their school. This coming on the heels of the New York Times celebrating a completely vacuous video made by students at the Renaissance Charter High School.

I hope all of the local newspapers and television stations that have been chuckling over this story for the past few days are satisfied. When any of them want to do a real story, I will be here waiting to regale them with the tales of abject poverty and alienation that constitute this little-known pocket of Lower Manhattan.