A Heritage of Disrespect? Deborah Meier writes to Diane Ravitch in Education Week

A Heritage of Disrespect?

By Deborah Meier on May 26, 2011 11:12 AM | Education Week

Dear Diane,*

“They never had a formal education, and they don’t understand the value of
 education,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently said of the poor. “The old Norman Rockwell family is gone.”

Bloomberg got properly chastised for these words, but they get at the heart of the matter. We have a heritage of disrespect for the poor. Either they don’t know what they’re doing or they deserve what they get. (While we insist on bragging about our rags-to-riches family histories to prove the latter.)

Meanwhile, over the past 100 years we have raised the bar from a few years of schooling to a high school degree and now a bachelor’s degree. If you can’t do it, well, you had your chance. Its value? It’s measurable to dollars and cents in your pocket. Yes, Siena College always knew better, Diane.

At the same time, the gap between the poor and rich has grown exponentially, and the amount that’s inheritable has grown apace. And, the odds of running into each other in the grocery store, the post office, or at a local meeting—ala Rockwell—has grown ever more remote.

I have in front of me a beautiful book of photographs called “Pioneers in Education;” It’s about National-Louis University where I spoke a few weeks ago. The authors note that the nation’s founders valued education from the start. Thus the founding in 1636 of Harvard, then Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, and Columbia—all before the American Revolution. But education for “the masses”? (Or women, or people of color? Almost zilch.)

The idea of educating everyone—universally and freely—is not as ancient as I am. When I was born in 1931 a majority of Americans had not dropped into high school.

It wasn’t and isn’t the poor who, ala Bloomberg, failed to “value” education. It was those with far more power and resources who made the rules that kept them out. It took an enormous battle, led by labor unions and do-gooders, on behalf of our natural thirst for knowledge and self-respect. How dare the elite question the value others placed on getting a good education for their children? But it is part of our shared history to do so.

Even the “pioneers” honored in the book above cheered the move of the predecessor of National-Louis University (to quote the blurb) “from the dangerous South Side of Chicago to beautiful Evanston.”

And it’s not a lot better now. Visit Evanston and then Chicago’s South Side. Our schools of education have done a lot to try to “convert” teachers to a greater understanding—even empathy—for those they serve. But their work requires uncovering generations of put-downs and deeply entrenched beliefs that are reinforced by the difficulties teachers face in classrooms and schools. The humiliations of being a K-8 teacher or even a K-12 teacher when I entered the field in 1963 were constant. The one hope for self-respect lay behind closed doors in a world of children. We’ve opened the doors, making teachers more vulnerable, not less.

Organizing unions a half-century ago helped us, but it takes two sides to produce contracts. Contracts adapted themselves to the top-down model in place as often as they fought against it. Insubordination remained the mortal sin. Strikes were illegal, and until the late 1960s few K-6 teachers were militant, accustomed as they were to both “children first” rhetoric and being treated like children.

As the historian of our schools, have I got it wrong, Diane? Do you think we can we overcome this history? Probably only if we have the patience not to expect miracles and the impatient knowledge that schooling’s liberating message can resonate inside and outside the classroom.

Schools can’t offer all children a decent living. There aren’t enough chairs to go around. But we can argue that making sense of the world, having greater knowledge and skill, and the self-confidence and self-respect to stand up for oneself are worthwhile—regardless. Such faith won’t overcome the odds of getting the empty chair when the music stops, but it will make life more interesting and maybe get us thinking together about what must change.

That’s what we struggled to provide in the public schools my colleagues and I invented 20 to 40 years ago. We succeeded, and hundreds popped up. But friendly foundations and corporate “allies” were seeking faster solutions. They dismissed us as utopian and small scale. Perhaps they also dismissed us because our definition of “achievement” was both grander and more reliable than test scores.

Maybe it isn’t in the stars. But only as schools treat adults—parents and teachers—as respected citizens of the school community can we expect them to turn out kids who see themselves as citizens of the larger society. Only such citizens can protect democracy, much less our planet!

I’m embarrassed to admit—I actually believe this.


* Editor’s note: This entry was originally published with the headline: “How Dare Elites Question the Values of Others?”

Luis Rodriguez: Tia Chucha’s At 10 Years

A bookstore that’s like a favorite aunt

As it approaches its 10th anniversary, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore has become a cultural fixture in the northeast Valley.

By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles TimesMay 28, 2011

Since it opened in 2001, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore has endeavored to be the San Fernando Valley’s answer to City Lights, a Chicano-centric version of the San Francisco

Luis Rodriguez inside Tia Chucha. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

bibliophiles’ paradise that mid-wifed the Beat generation.

Yet only a few years ago, it was unclear whether the Sylmar-based combination bookstore, cafe, performance space and boutique publishing house would be around to mark its 10th anniversary in business this December.

In February 2007, Tia Chucha’s was forced to seek new quarters to make way for a high-tech laundromat. Customers and supporters fretted aloud. A community meeting was held. A Times story lamented that a cultural “muse” was about to skip out on the northeast Valley.

As it turned out, the muse was simply migrating. For the last two years, Tia Chucha’s has been operating out of a Sylmar strip mall storefront just off the 210 Freeway, not far from its former location, though the new space is only about half the size of its previous digs.

But under the restlessly energetic ownership of Luis Rodriguez, his wife Maria Trinidad Rodriguez (known to everyone as Trini) and brother-in-law Enrique Sanchez, the nonprofit Tia Chucha’s continues to serve as a cultural oasis for a clientele with mostly modest incomes and limited access to wireless Internet, bookstores, movie theaters and live performance venues.

“All the arts is getting concentrated downtown and at the beaches. You can’t get to a movie house from here, you can’t get to a bookstore from here,” said Rodriguez, 56, a poet, reformed ex-gang banger and author of the bestselling memoir “Always Running.”  Click here to read more. . .

Gil Scott-Heron

Thanks to Rock & Rap Confidential for this notification.

Great clip for “The Bottle” here

May 27, 2011
Gil Scott-Heron, Spoken-Word Musician, Dies at 62


NEW YORK (AP) — Musician Gil Scott-Heron, who helped lay the groundwork
for rap by fusing minimalistic percussion, political expression and
spoken-word poetry on songs such as “The Revolution Will Not Be
Televised,” died Friday at age 62.

A friend, Doris C. Nolan, who answered the telephone listed for his
Manhattan recording company, said he died in the afternoon at St. Luke’s
Hospital after becoming sick upon returning from a European trip.

“We’re all sort of shattered,” she said.

Scott-Heron’s influence on rap was such that he sometimes was referred
to as the Godfather of Rap, a title he rejected.

“If there was any individual initiative that I was responsible for it
might have been that there was music in certain poems of mine, with
complete progression and repeating ‘hooks,’ which made them more like
songs than just recitations with percussion,” he wrote in the
introduction to his 1990 collection of poems, “Now and Then.”

He referred to his signature mix of percussion, politics and performed
poetry as bluesology or Third World music. But then he said it was
simply “black music or black American music.”

“Because Black Americans are now a tremendously diverse essence of all
the places we’ve come from and the music and rhythms we brought with
us,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, his influence on generations of rappers has been
demonstrated through sampling of his recordings by artists, including
Kanye West.

Scott-Heron recorded the song that would make him famous, “The
Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which critiqued mass media, for the
album “125th and Lenox” in Harlem in the 1970s. He followed up that
recording with more than a dozen albums, initially collaborating with
musician Brian Jackson. His most recent album was “I’m New Here,” which
he began recording in 2007 and was released in 2010.

Throughout his musical career, he took on political issues of his time,
including apartheid in South Africa and nuclear arms. He had been shaped
by the politics of the 1960s and the black literature, especially of the
Harlem Renaissance.

Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949. He was raised in
Jackson, Tenn., and in New York before attending college at Lincoln
University in Pennsylvania.

Before turning to music, he was a novelist, at age 19, with the
publication of “The Vulture,” a murder mystery.

He also was the author of “The Nigger Factory,” a social satire.

Did Robert Johnson Ever Get To Chicago? Dave Marsh Muses on HollerIfYaHearMe

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

100 Years of Robert Johnson

Dave Marsh writes:

Somebody asked if Robert Johnson ever got to Chicago. I looked for the fact in a few places and then realized that what I was going to get was somebody’s version but that it was more complicated than anybody’s version. I’m not sure I have a version, certainly not one I’m married to, but if I did, this is what it would be. [Click on HollerIf to read the rest of this essay]

Carlos Santana: “I Am Here To Give Voice To The Invisible.”

Santana is Booed for Using Baseball’s Civil Rights Game to Speak Out for Civil Rights

May 16, 2011  in The Nation

Major League Baseball’s annual Civil Rights Game was poised to be a migraine-inducing exercise in Orwellian irony. Forget about the fact that Civil Rights was to be honored in Atlanta, where fans root for a team called the Braves and cheer in unison with the ubiquitous “tomahawk chop.”

Forget about the fact that the Braves have been embroiled in controversy since pitching coach Roger McDowell aimed violent, homophobic threats at several fans. Forget that this is a team that has done events with Focus on the Family, an organization that is to Civil Rights what Newt Gingrich is to marital fidelity.

The reason Atlanta was such a brutally awkward setting for a Sunday Civil Rights setting, was because Friday saw the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, sign HR 87, a law that shreds the Civil Rights of the state’s Latino population. Modeled after Arizona’s horrific and unconstitutional SB 1070, HR 87 authorizes state and local police the federal powers to demand immigration papers from people they suspect to be undocumented. Those without papers on request will find themselves behind bars. Civil rights hero, Atlanta’s John Lewis has spoken out forcefully against the legislation saying “This is a recipe for discrimination. We’ve come too far to return to the dark past.”

But there was Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, celebrating civil rights in the Georgia, and chortling excitedly about the 2011 All-Star game in Arizona. In the hands of Selig, irony becomes arsenic. Thank God that Commisioner Selig was stupid enough to choose the Civil Rights Game to honor, among others, the great musician Carlos Santana. Santana was supposed to be the Latino stand-in, a smiling symbol of baseball’s diversity. And maybe, he would even play a song!

But Bud picked the wrong Latino. Carlos Santana took the microphone and said that he was representing all immigrants. Then Santana added, “The people of Arizona, and the people of Atlanta, Georgia, you should be ashamed of yourselves.” In a perfect display of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Georgia, the cheers quickly turned to boos. Yes, Carlos Santana was booed on Civil Rights Day in Atlanta for talking about Civil Rights.

Then in the press box, Santana held an impromptu press conference where he let loose with an improvised speech to rival one of his virtuoso guitar solos. He said, “This law is not correct. It’s a cruel law, actually, This is about fear. Stop shucking and jiving. People are afraid we’re going to steal your job. No we aren’t. You’re not going to change sheets and clean toilets. I would invite all Latin people to do nothing for about two weeks so you can see who really, really is running the economy. Who cleans the sheets? Who cleans the toilets? Who babysits? I am here to give voice to the invisible.”

He went on to say, “Most people at this point they are either afraid to really say what needs to be said, this is the United States the land of the free. If people want the immigration law to keep passing in every state then everybody should get out and just leave the American Indians here. This is about Civil Rights.”

Where was Bud Selig during all this drama? It seems that Selig slunk out of a stadium backdoor in the 5th inning. If there is one thing Bud has become an expert at, it’s ducking his head when the issues of immigration, civil rights, and Major League Baseball collide. If Selig really gave a damn about Civil Rights, he would heed the words of Carlos Santana. He would move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona. He would recognize that the sport of Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Curt Flood has an obligation to stand for something more than just using their memory to cover up the injustices of the present. If Bud Selig cared about Civil Rights, he would above all else, have to develop something resembling a spine. But if Bud is altogether unfamiliar with the concept of courage, he received one hell of an object lesson from Carlos Santana.

Democracy Now Interviews Harry Belafonte On Art And Using The Platform You Have

“Sing Your Song”: Harry Belafonte on Art & Politics, Civil Rights & His Critique of President Obama


Interview on Democracy Now! by Amy Goodman. Legendary musician, actor, activist and humanitarian Harry Belafonte joins us for the hour to talk about his battle against racism, his mentor Paul Robeson, the power of music to push for political change, his close relationship with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the U.S. role in Haiti. A new documentary chronicles his life, called Sing Your Song. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Belafonte grew up on the streets of Harlem and Jamaica. In the 1950s, he spearheaded the calypso craze and became the first artist in recording history with a million-selling album. He was also the first African-American musician to win an Emmy. Along with his rise to worldwide stardom, Belafonte became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. One of Dr. King’s closest confidants, he helped organize the March on Washington in 1963. “Going into the South of the United States, listening to the voices of rural black America, listening to the voices of those who sang out against the Ku Klux Klan and out against segregation, and women, who were the most oppressed of all, rising to the occasion to protest against their conditions, became the arena where my first songs were to emerge,” Belafonte tells Democracy Now! [Click here to view the broadcast or to read the transcript]

Stitched To The Earth: Diana Berek Art Opens At The Red Lion Lincoln Square

Stitched to the Earth #9: Grandmother's Garden

Stitched to the Earth:

Narratives of Work

Embodied in


Fragments of Recycled

Blue Jeans

An Exhibit by Diana Berek

June 4, 2011 to July 2, 2011


Saturday, June 4, 6PM to 8 PM

The Anchor Gallery at

Red Lion Lincoln Square

4749 N Rockwell (at Lawrence)

Chicago, IL

just steps from the Brown Line

more information: e-mail phoebemoon@mindspring.com

The Fabric of the Journey: Artist’s Statement

“I know your wheat fields and copper mines and hobo jungles.  I’ve left sweat on your prairies and, as an eagle, perched on the pinnacle of your Rocky Mountains, I’ve seen your splendid beauty from Kansas to Oregon.  Grant me one wish. Be more good than beautiful. Show me yams and cotton and steel and coal unstained by corruption and tears.  You would be a gentle thing without your thugs and lynch mobs.  Some day I’ll tear out your claws. come close and love you.”

Nelson Peery, Black Fire, 1993

Stitched to the Earth is an exhibit of fabric constructions using fragments of discarded denim blue jeans which are sewn together and stretched over stretcher bars (a frame) to be a composition in which the worn and faded material becomes the pigment as well as the support. In that sense, they are “paintings”. While some of the resultant constructions take on the appearance of aerial landscapes, others become abstract narratives of the history of work.  This is because the worn and frayed denim points to the time spent and the physical work or play experienced in wearing the jeans. There is a story unfolding before us as we look at them.

I am fascinated by the history of blue jeans as a functional article of clothing for work, leisure, high fashion and pop culture — so much woven into this cloth. In this series, the fragments of blue jeans are a metaphor for the fragmented lives spent in search of the myth of American renewal.

In 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that the principal American archetype was the continual expansion of the frontier and its corollary of always being able to start over by moving on.  Turner, and others before and after him posited that the American frontier was a vast empty landscape waiting for American development and American Democracy to unroll like a giant carpet from “sea to shining sea”. The concept of an open waiting frontier persisted in the American imagination in spite of the reality that many civilizations with rich, diverse cultures had inhabited the land for centuries. The broken treaties and clashes over territory and land rights did nothing to diminish misguided hopes and dreams of wave upon wave of western settlers, cowboys, gold rush miners, developers, entrepreneurs (like Levi Strauss) and politicians.  “Nothing was permanent, failure was only a temporary state of existence. . . the perennial optimism engendered by the frontier was nothing less than the seminal characteristic of American society”. (“The Resurgence of Frontier Politics” Non-Partisan 9/19/06).

The 20th century saw the geographic frontier fill up with cities and disappear. With its going, the first period of American history closed.  The next period of American history continued to seek imperial frontiers through  expansionist policies in Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and The Phillipines.  New frontiers also developed in science, art, literature and cinema.  John F. Kennedy campaigned on the slogan  of “A New Frontier”.  The close of the frontier era was the beginning of the American culture’s romantic creation of a frontier myth.

This romantic frontier myth is as embedded in the denim fabric of our blue jeans as is the grit and sweat of 2 centuries of labor that farmed the land, built the railroads, mined the coal and worked in the factories.  Because of the durability of denim and the uniquely functional design created by Levi Strauss, blue jeans, still, are the clothing of work and leisure for everyone: rich or poor, urban or rural, farmland or Indian reservation, and everything in between. The idea of endless frontier and renewal is particularly interesting in this historical moment of our national debate over migration and immigration.

We fall in love with our blue jeans.  We seek the perfect fit. We wear them until they are in shreds or we buy them already distressed, stone washed or pre-worn vintage. Blue jeans are the symbol of our complex and often contradictory American character.  Ralph Lauren advertises his designer blue jeans in the large, western landscape.   Levis Inc. appeals to the average beer drinking, hard working guy with their ads, while Calvin Klein sets his designer jeans in a sexy, seductive challenge to pursue personal success and individual freedom in the upwardly mobile urban frontier.

In this exhibit, I focus on the aspirations of people struggling to pursue their vision of a promised land.  In reassembling fragments of blue jeans, I look for the “story” of working class people through the metaphor of fragments of denim, much of it rescued from dumpsters in the alley, discarded, like a broken dream.  Within the warp and weft is the fierce need for renewal in a land of hope and dreams. The beautiful patination of the washed blue dye tells of happier moments, family celebrations and material achievements, but there are also the torn knees, frayed  holes and faded patches that point to hard work, disappointments, losses and setbacks. Some of these compositions explore our work on the land in the settling of the frontier and the building of cities. In others, I have concentrated on the narrative of migration and the recognition of the hardship of workers seeking their “promised land”.  Denim is the fabric of our collective journey.

The AFL-CIO Declares (Semi) Independence

Updated: Today

The Labor Movement

Friday, May 6, 2011 08:30 ET

Richard Trumka declares labor’s independence

The man who shamed Democrats for anti-Obama racism vows to put AFL-CIO cash into its own future, not the party’s

Richard Trumka declares labor's independence

President Barack Obama and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

One of the shining moments of the 2008 presidential campaign came when AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka confronted the racism that was making some white union members, even staunch Democrats, reluctant to vote for Barack Obama. The son and grandson of miners from Nemacolin, Pa., who went into the mines himself, then went to law school, then became UMWA president, Trumka described the way he challenged an old family friend and local Democrat who confided she wouldn’t vote for the Democratic nominee because he was black. He told the story in a series of speeches that summer; one went up on YouTube, where it’s been view. . . [click here to continue reading]