Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Under Seige

Very few, if any, urban public school systems have been spared from the pompous neo-liberal mentality of today’s education reform cabal.

Beware: Do NOT confuse the term “neo-liberalism” with “social liberalism.” There is NO connection.

Neo-liberalism is an economic theory that outlines a set of policies which support and promote the economic system of capitalism. According to CorpWatch, the main points of neo-liberalism include:

  • THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating "free" enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government [Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers' rights].
  • CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care [In the name of reducing government's role and supporting government subsidies and tax benefits for business].
  • DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits.
  • PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water [Usually done in the name of greater efficiency].
  • ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF "THE PUBLIC GOOD" or "COMMUNITY" and replacing it with "individual responsibility."

If you've been following the arguments for today's school reform movement, all these principals will sound familiar.

Americans usually associate “reform” with a movement that will make things better, for example, reforming child labor laws. However, this is a case where U.S. citizens need to be much less naive!

The ultimate outcome of today’s public education “reform” is the elimination of our children's schools as a public institution, followed by a rebuilding where all schools will be operated privately. This time, reform isn't going to mean any type of improvement which the trusting, average person is likely to have in their mind.

In the 19 months since I started this blog, I’ve connected with parents, teachers, and community members in Boston, New York City, Albany, Baltimore, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Portland, Oregon. In each of those cities, people are experiencing the same neo-liberal siege of their local public school system. In some cases, the condition is at a very advanced stage.

Recently I had an exchange with the authors of Seattle Education 2010, a blog that focuses on charter schools as well as the presence of the Broad Foundation within Seattle public schools. They display the following quote from Albert Einstein at the bottom of their website:

‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.’

The rational mind beams brightly from the minds controlling public education reform today. Think about places like Harvard Business School and about all those now-interested-in-education MBAs. Think about Milton Friedman who designed the blueprint for the total corporate privatization of Earth. He was originally a mathematician and statistician who became an economist. And think about the billionaires who are suddenly devoted to "improving" public education. Eli Broad was a precocious Certified Public Accountant (the youngest ever in Michigan at the time) who became a corporate CEO. Bill Gates was a precocious computer scientist before he became a corporate CEO and the wealthiest, and thus the most powerful, person who has ever lived on this planet. There would be little balance in the minds of today’s education reform leaders; they are weighted down by their strategic business-minded rationality.

The danger of today’s education “reform” movement is that the arguments which defend it are so damn logical. That logic – potentiated by the billions spent on developing and pushing it – may be what is giving it so much strength. But might doesn't necessarily make right.

Unfortunately, their logic wins, especially when so many people don’t view propaganda with a critical eye, don't know that they need to be skeptical about grand claims, have absolute trust in “philanthropists,” and want the ugly problems which chronically exist in inner-cities to simply disappear.

They think to themselves, why not fixate on data? What's wrong with testing children a little bit more, and a little bit more? Why aren't teachers to blame when their students have trouble absorbing information in the classroom? Why not replace teachers with smart, analytically-minded, Ivy League-trained, 22-year-olds, even if they've only had six weeks of summer training? Why wouldn’t the KIPP model work for every single child, it makes them so obedient? What's wrong with calling students, their teachers and their schools "failures" when test scores don't measure up? What could possibly go wrong if our nation's public schools were replaced with those that are privately-run?

I really liked the Einstein quote, so I looked it up and found more great quotes about rationality and creativity.

On Rationality...

Being rational does not necessarily kill creativity, but it can very easily do so. This is because we are not rational, even though we think we are. Psychologists call it ‘bounded rationality' because although we have a deep need to appear rational, the world is simply too complex for us to fully understand.


‘Analysis kills spontaneity. The grain once ground into flour germinates no more.’ — Henri-Frédéric Amiel

‘No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical.’ — Niels Bohr

‘Sir, we must beware of needless innovation, especially when guided by logic.’ — Winston Churchill

‘Logic, like whiskey, loses its beneficial effect when taken in too large quantities.’ — Lord Dunsany

‘Many of the things you can count, don’t count. Many of the things you can’t count, really count.’ — Albert Einstein

‘Rules and models destroy genius and art.’ — William Hazlitt

‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’ — Martin Rees

‘Most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.’ — James Harvey Robinson

‘Pure logic is the ruin of the spirit.’ — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

‘The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.’ — George Bernard Shaw

'People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.’ — William Butler Yeats

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The School as a Staging Area

I offer you an example from “Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City” by Elijah Anderson (1999), Chapter 2 (Campaigning for Respect), pp. 93 to 98.

In my view, any discussion about reform in inner-city schools that does not overtly refer to an understanding of Anderson’s observations and conclusions will miss the target and be pointless. A full internalization of the message in the body of his work will be needed to comprehend the situation, before any reformer even attempts to develop a truly useful strategy.


The inner-city school is an outpost of the traditions of the wider society. Racially segregated and situated in an impoverished inner-city community in which violence, drugs, and crime are rampant, it is characterized by the street/decent dynamic. During their early years, most of the children accept the legitimacy of the school, and then eagerly approach the task of learning. As time passes, however, in their relentless campaign for the respect that will be meaningful in their public environment, youth increasingly embrace the street code. By the fourth grade, enough children have opted for the code of the street that it begins to compete effectively with the culture of the school, and the code begins to dominate their public culture—in school as well as out—becoming a way of life for many and eventually conflating with the culture of the school itself. Such a school becomes a primary staging area for the campaign for respect.

In this social setting, decent kids learn to code switch, while street kids become more singularly committed to the street. Such a division, as previously stated, is largely a function of persistent poverty and local neighborhood effects, which include social isolation and alienation, but it is also strongly related to family background, available peers, and role models. For many alienated young black people, attending school and doing well becomes negatively associated with acting white. In what is essentially a racially black street-world, as shown in Tyree’s case, one develops a strong need to show others he can handle himself socially and physically on the ghetto streets, a powerful community value in and of itself. This “street knowledge” is esteemed, and the quest for it and the consideration for those who have it begin to predominate, ultimately competing with, if not undermining, the mission of the school.

With each passing year the school loses ground as more and more students adopt a street orientation, if only for self-defense in the neighborhood. But often what is out on the streets is brought into the classrooms. The most troublesome students are then encouraged by peers to act out, to get over on the teachers, to test authority by probing for weaknesses. Particularly during mild weather, many students in the upper grades attend school sporadically or stop coming altogether, because street activities effectively compete for their time. Even while in school, they walk the halls instead of attending class, and their encounters there often mirror those on the street, marked by tension and fights.

Some of the seriously street-oriented kids may have mental health issues; some have been abused by their parents; others are depressed. The most troubled may fight with teachers, bring guns and knives to school, and threaten people. The idea of deprivation and anger is important here. In this highly competitive setting, the most deprived youths, who can easily be made to feel bad, sometimes become jealous of peers. To avoid feeling bad, these kids may lift themselves up by putting others down. A common tactic is to “bust on” or “signify” at someone, verbally teasing the person, at times to the point of tears. Sometimes the prettiest girls can get beaten up out of jealousy. From so much envy and jealousy, beefs easily erupt, beginning with ritual “bumping” and ending in serious physical confrontations to settle things. Bumping rights are then negotiated, determining who is allowed to bump whom, to pick on whom, and in what circumstances. In essence, these young people are campaigning for place, esteem, and ultimately respect.

In this situation, the school becomes transformed in the most profound sense into a staging area for the streets, a place where people come to present themselves, to represent where they come from, and to stay even with or to dominate their peers. Violence is always a possibility, for the typically troubled school is surrounded by persistent poverty, where scarcity of valued things is the rule, thus lending a competitive edge to the social environment. However, the trophies to be won are not of academic kind, rather they are those of the street, particularly respect. In this campaign, young people must be prepared not only to fight, but also to take great care with their appearance. The right look means not wearing old or “bummy” clothes, or sneakers that are worn or dirty or out of style. Esteem is so precarious that it can be taken away with just a word, and kids are constantly challenge to defend what they have. Social life becomes a zero-sum scenario: “If you have something and exhibit it, it means I’m less. Who do you think you are by doing that?” The decent kids mimic the street ones, behaving in street ways that often confuse teachers (and also prospective employers and police who might be incapable of distinguishing the decent from the street). Some teachers are unable to differentiate between he two groups. Overwhelmed by clothes, the look, or the swagger, they cannot discern the shy kid underneath, which may be why teachers classify the majority of young people as “street.”

To be sure, much of the students’ behavior may be purely defensive, which requires significant expenditures of social energy. This situation intends to victimize the weakest players and certainly disrupts the business of the school. In time, when unattended, the street element (and those who would be “street”) dominates the school and its local terrain. In the most troubled schools, the street element becomes so powerful that beefs and scores can only be settled by death. Again, most of the young people in these settings are inclined toward decency, but when the street elements rule, they are encouraged to campaign for respect by adopting a street attitude, look, and presentation of self. In this context the decent kids often must struggle to maintain their credibility, like the fifteen-year-old boy I observed who typically changed his “square” clothes for a black leather jacket (thereby adopting a street look) after he got around the corner from his home and out of his mother’s view. In order to preserve his own self-respect and the respect of his peers, he would also hide his books under his jacket while walking to school, bidding to appear street.

In school as in the neighborhood, adolescents are concerned with developing a sense of who they are, what they are, and what they will be. They try on many different personal roles, and they experiment with many scripts. Some work, others don’t. How do the roles of decent and street play out in their search for an identity, and what parts do others play? What stages do the young people go through? What is the “career” of identity as this career takes shape?

Observing the interactions of adolescents in school and talking with them reveal how important school authority is to young people, but too often the authority figures are viewed as alien and unreceptive. The teachers and administrators are concerned that their own authority be taken seriously, and claims to authority are always up for grabs—if not subject to out-and-out challenge.

Young people, of course, do not go about developing their identities based solely on privileges and rewards granted by teachers, but this dynamic does exist to some degree. Often students perceive (more or less accurately) that the institution and its staff are utterly unreceptive to their street presentations. Mixed with their inability to distinguish the decent child from the street child, the teachers’ efforts to combat the street may cause them to lump the good students with the bad, generally viewing all who display street emblems as adversaries. Here, their concerns might be as much with teaching as with controlling their charges.

In response, the decent children place ever greater stock in their ability to code-switch, adopting one set of behaviors for inside the building and one for outside. But, as indicated above—particularly in the heat of the campaign for respect—the two roles often merge, and what is considered proper in either setting can become one and the same. When this confusion goes unchecked, discipline in the school situation becomes elusive, particularly for those children who seem “to get away with it.”

When students become convinced that they cannot receive their props from teachers and staff, they turn elsewhere, typically to the street, encouraging others to follow their lead, particularly when the unobtainable appears to be granted only on the basis of acting white. The sour grapes attitude notwithstanding, a powerful incentive for these young people then emerges, especially for those sitting on the cultural fence, to invest themselves in the so-called oppositional culture, which may be confused with their ”black identity.” Such a resolution allows these alienated students to campaign for respect on their own terms, in a world they control.

Impacted by profound social isolation, the children face the basic problem of alienation. Many students become smug in their lack of appreciation of what the business of the school is and how it is connected with the world outside. In addition, they seldom encounter successful black people who have gone through school and gone on to do well.

Education is thus undermined because the mission of the school cannot equal the mission of the kids. To accept the school would be to give in and act white, to give up the value of the street for some other thing. And the value of that other thing has not been sufficiently explained to the children to make them want to give up the ways of the street and take on the ideology of the school. So the outpost of mainstream society tries to deliver its message to kids in an environment that has little regard for that society. In fact, the code of the street, and by extension the oppositional culture, competes very effectively with traditional values. As the young people come to see the school and its agents are unreceptive to them, embracing the oppositional culture becomes more important as a way to salvage self-esteem. The mission of the school is called into question, if not undermined.

Alienated black students take on the oppositional role so effectively that they often become models for other disaffected students. They do it because they are profoundly at odds with the with culture and can see themselves as visibly different. But other alienated students may mimic them because they are such strong models.

The culture of the street doesn’t allow backing down. When the boys at the Youth Study Center (Philadelphia’s juvenile detention facility) saw a video on conflict resolution as an alternative to fighting, they just school their heads. They knew that you never back down. That is to set you up as a doormat. You have to be tough. If you show fear, others will exploit it. So you always have to give the impression that you are strong, that you are a “thorough dude.” Even a teacher who shows fear becomes vulnerable and can be emotionally undone by the kids. When that happens, the kids know they’ve won. So there is an adversarial relationship between the teachers and the students. The teachers’ role is to keep the kids in line. The students’ role is either to behave or to try to get over on the teacher.

The school is a microcosm of the community in a sense. Although police and disciplinarians are on patrol, kids are parading up and down the halls, socializing, even buying and selling drugs. The same things are going on inside the school as outside it. Yet it remains a haven, a place where one can go and expect relative order.

Our Omnipotent's Dream

I just can’t shake off a feeling of disgust and dread after learning earlier this week about Bill Gates' $4 million donation to Learn NY. Gates personally paid for a great deal of the propaganda which pushed for preserving mayoral control in NYC. For anyone listening, this incident is telling us volumes. It’s screaming at us to pay attention and to do something, so I did.

I just sent off letters to Diane Ravitch, Gerald Bracey, Jay Matthews, Richard Rothstein, Phil Kovacs and David Berliner, and I’m planning to send ones to a good number of elected politicians as well. I suppose I just don’t care if any of them think I’m a little nuts.

This is an example of what I wrote in my email message to the people above. The email subject line was: “Gates influence over NYC schools and beyond.”

Dear _____,

I hope your summer has gone well. Today I'm writing to you about a specific concern. Of course you'll probably be aware of it, but since you have a national voice, I’m just trying to do my part by asking if you might somehow eventually help bring it to the attention of more Americans.

I am deeply concerned after learning about Bill Gates' $4 million donation that specifically paid for the propaganda which pushed for preserving mayoral control in NYC. This one incident is telling us volumes.

This country needs to call for limits to be put on this man; his near-infinite wealth gives him a frightening amount of power. NO single American, no matter how rich or smart they are, or well-intentioned they tell everyone they are – or think they might be – should have that much power. Gates is only one person, with one set of ideas, but he is so vastly wealthy that he can purchase whatever educational policy he wants, either local or national. What if the way to go that Gates imagines is right, is completely wrong?

Putting it in perspective, consider that for Gates (with a net worth now listed by Forbes as $40 billion) a $4 million donation is the equivalent of a $5 donation given by a person who is making $50,000. In the sphere where PUBLIC policy is determined, Gates has become omnipotent. But this country is still supposed to be a democracy, right?

We’re in highly dangerous territory when single individuals are unrestrained with buying public policy because they have unimaginable wealth. Where is the transparency? Where are the restrictions? Even political campaigns have those rules!

Remember the NY Times article that talked about how the modern-day philanthropists now expect to see specific returns from their gifts? That manipulative approach makes Carnegie seem so nice. What was ever wrong with giving beautiful libraries to needy communities?

This whole thing is extremely scary and I hope you’ll consider helping with spreading the word. Thanks for listening.

Take care,

PS: I think the problem is connected to the fact that we, as average people, can’t fathom the wealth of the billionaires. Even lesser billionaires would have an incredible amount of power over anything at which they directed their wealth, be it good or evil. There are no checks or balances.

For instance, if Michael Bloomberg ($16 billion) paid $4 million to buy propaganda that pushed a public policy he preferred, it would be the equivalent of an average person (net worth of $50,000) donating $12.50 to a cause he/she preferred. And if Eli Broad ($5.2 billion) paid $4 million to buy propaganda that pushed a public policy he preferred, it would be the equivalent of an average person (net worth of $50,000) donating $38.46 to a cause he/she preferred.

I do realize that some people temper their criticism of Gates because they appreciate some of the work that the Gates Foundation has supported. I suppose I can accept this, but my concern still stands about Gates having achieved some level of near-omnipotence in regard to education policy on both local and national levels.

When it's so easy for one person to make such a large private donation to be used directly for propaganda, how can others compete?

As the Post article said:

The donation helped pay for Learn-NY's extensive public-relations, media and lobbying efforts in Albany and the city. The effort include [sic] advertisements, parent organizing and canvassing -- including a five-borough bus tour and trips to the state capital.

In other words, much of the grassroot support for mayoral control wasn’t genuine; it was either heavily orchestrated or manufactured. This makes me sick.

Imagine if $4 million wasn't going to be enough to push through what Gates wanted. It would have meant nothing to him to toss in another $4, $6 or $20 million their way. In other words, he could easily supply whatever it would take to make his dream come true.

Consider the insignificance of the relative values of those amounts to him. For instance, if your personal net worth is around $50,000, it wouldn’t be that hard for you to unload another $5 or $10 if you believed in a cause and knew that the extra $5 or $10 would make things go your way. It's about the cost of a sandwich.

This issue is about relativity and scale; it's way too easy for Gates to utterly overwhelm everyone else. One person who can afford to donate $4 million to a cause buys the same amount of influence as 800,000 people of average income who would donate $5. That many people is just under the size of the population of the 12th or 13th largest American cities (San Francisco, CA at 808,976 and Jacksonville, FL at 807,815).

The problem with what Gates is doing is its unfathomable scale, of a size that's relatively new on the American scene. It's just not okay.

Or should we all just give up now?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Power Hoarding Billionaire Buddies

Bill Gates (billionaire #1)* personally paid $4 million (secretly, of course) to cover the costs of propaganda so that his billionaire buddy, Michael Bloomberg (billionaire #8) would retain complete power over the public schools in New York City, according to an article in today's New York Post. Not surprisingly, Eli Broad (billionaire #48) also gave millions to the organization that produced the propaganda. I wouldn't be surprised if I found out that the pro-school choice Walton's (billionaires siblings at #4, 5, 6 times two, a tie) gave Bloomberg some of their money as well. See "Gates’ $4 Mil Lesson Aided School Control” by Carl Campanile:

"America's richest man chipped in to help preserve mayoral control of New York City schools.

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates -- a pal of fellow billionaire Mayor Bloomberg -- has secretly bankrolled Learn-NY, the group that joined the campaign led by The Post to extend mayoral control.

Gates funneled about $4 million to the pro-mayoral-control forces during the fierce, dragged-out legislative debate, The Post has learned. A spokesman for Gates confirmed the donation and the approximate size.

The donation helped pay for Learn-NY's extensive public-relations, media and lobbying efforts in Albany and the city. The effort include advertisements, parent organizing and canvassing -- including a five-borough bus tour and trips to the state capital…"

And as you think about the fact that the billionaires are well underway with making sure that the NYC public school system is converted to one of charter schools, be sure carve out some time in your day to watch Milton Friedman explain why we should have free-market education in “What’s Wrong with our Schools,” volume 6 of the original 1980 series on PBS, Free to Choose.

At some point, be sure to check out the article on the Huffington Post (8/14/09), “Income Inequality Is At An All-Time High” and contemplate the past and present trajectories of power and wealth in the good ol' U.S. of A. Naomi Klein in "Shock Doctrine" further explains how the Chicago School philosophy created by Friedman is connected to everything that's going on.

Look out your windows, folks. The storm is here.

Then of course there is this video of John Pilger speaking about our new president, Barack Obama. Pilger is an Australian journalist and documentary maker, two-time winner of
Britain's Journalist of the Year Award.

Follow this with a summary by “The Opening Bell of today’s New York Times education article which describes Obama’s approach to public education reform:

“…the Obama administration is using the $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" fund to incentivize "state after state to rewrite education laws to open the door to more charter schools and expand the use of student test scores for judging teachers." This "aggressive" use of stimulus funds by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan "is provoking heated debates over the uses of standardized testing and the proper federal role in education, issues that flared frequently" amid NCLB enforcement efforts during President George W. Bush's administration. The Times notes that the Obama administration's education "stance has caught by surprise educators and officials who had hoped" that Obama's calls to overhaul NCLB while campaigning for the presidency "would mean a reduced federal role and less reliance on standardized testing."

In other words, in regard to education Obama and Duncan are just doing more of the same, a la Bush, as Pilger outlined above about international policies. Others have noticed, too.

The bits and pieces put together should make more people wonder about what's really going on.

*When considering Gates' $4 million donation to Learn NY to help preserve mayoral control in NYC, be aware that -- to him -- this figure is the equivalent of $5 to a person making $50,000. If readers don't believe me, they can do the math themselves.

The idea of a single person with this much power is extremely scary.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Big Nut to Crack

Dear Ms. Mitchell,

I am writing to you from Oakland, California where I am longtime public school parent and public school activist. I have a deep interest in urban public school issues and read a great deal about them. Today I discovered your recent piece about Arne Duncan on an education blog called “This Week in Education.”

I want to let you know that I am grateful for your article and for posting the video of your interview with Mr. Duncan. I am particularly appreciative that you asked him why his focus is on test score data rather than on quality of life issues at schools, such as improving school climate, focusing on children's social and emotional issues, and developing ways to counter early expressions of urban violence. From my point of view, his response clearly demonstrated a simple lack of understanding.

I firmly believe that today’s education reformers are missing the mark because they are not addressing these things first. And I also believe that perhaps the reason for this is because they have never personally experienced the schools attended by children of the underclass, nor are they much willing to tap into the substantial body of knowledge of people who have. Too many of them have attended private schools and Ivy League colleges, and are only willing to send their children to the same. They're in charge of education for the masses, but are very much out of touch.

There is no doubt in my mind: the conditions relating to urban violence, and how they impact urban school climates, are the most pressing problems in our nation's inner city schools. They are the main barriers to better student performance and higher teacher retention. And as charter schools draw off the strongest families in our cities, the concentration of students from less-able parents – who are also the ones who present the greatest challenges – is becoming higher and higher at the traditional public schools.

Honestly, despite all the money and energy being thrown at urban school reform, we’re really not seeing much of an effect, because the path which has been taken is not correct. Frank public recognition of the biggest problem, and finding ways to address it, is nowhere to be found in typical ed-reform discussions.

The best source I've discovered for learning about the behavioral dynamics in the inner-city setting is Elijah Anderson, sociology professor at Yale, formerly of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of "Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City" and is also the editor of an insightful new book, “Against the Wall: Poor, Black, Young, and Male.” Both President Obama and Arne Duncan – as well as policymakers and America's citizens – would learn a great deal from Anderson’s work.

And on a related note, last winter I read a blog comment by a professor at Chico State University (Tony Waters on Bridging Differences) in which he referred to America’s “incarcerated class.” His phrase immediately rang true for me. The tragic and exponential rise in African American incarceration rates over the past decades is both causing, and resulting in, damage to many, many children. An increasingly tragic cycle is being produced.

This is a comment I posted yesterday on The Education Report:

On nearly every post here at the Education Report, people will eventually make comments that relate to the chronically intolerable/near-intolerable conditions caused by student misbehavior and its effects. Has anyone else noticed?

The in-hospitability of urban public school climates is NOT solely an OUSD issue, it’s present nationwide. The amount of student misbehavior that schools are expected to cope with these days is a big, widespread problem and has come about as a result of complicated and tragic societal forces, and decisions that seemed right at the moment but produced negative effects over time.

Does anyone know an entire school district with similar demographics that’s managing these challenges extremely well? Which specific schools in Oakland have this issue totally under control? How much do the student, teacher, and principal demographics influence their practices? How much can the techniques be replicated at other sites, and how can that be done?

Do some schools boast about their accomplishments, but then operate by rules or in conditions that can’t be transferred on a wider basis? Is the exclusive enrollment practiced by charters (like refusing to deal with the types of students in Special Day Classes or those who are more defiant) the only way to go? If so, where then should those many more difficult students be educated? Just how much of the difficult student behavior can be suppressed? What are the legal and civil rights issues that need to be considered?

I once heard a sociologist refer to America’s “incarcerated class.” Looking at the African American incarceration rates over the past decades, and thinking about the families those rates affect, maybe he’s onto something. So is it time yet to publicly admit that we probably have an established caste system in the US, and that the problems we’re talking about just might be connected to that?

The issue about school climate is THE “big nut” to crack. Finding strategies to deal with this difficult issue should have been placed at the very top of the urban educational reform list.

Unfortunately, educational reformers from the corporate world — who don’t understand or care about what is really going on in the trenches — are in control right now. They’ve been leading us down the path where everyone fixates on test scores, and scapegoats teachers, etc. because those are strategies that will eventually lead to the corporate world making a buck. Education entrepreneurship in a wide number of forms (tutoring, test materials, coaching, etc.) is now a huge, and growing, billion-dollar business, which developed from specific intent. In the 1980’s these people realized that the billions spent on public education was an untapped well of profit, so they made their political connections and have taken charge ever since. And so far we have let them.

If both OUSD and the City of Oakland would set its main focus on improving school climates, and if the school board and our superintendent addressed it at every turn, we could become a model for the rest of the nation — we’re a district of manageable size. But they will need firm pressure AND help in the form of fresh ideas and feedback. Constant put-downs and abandonment of the public schools don’t do anything to help our community as a whole.

How about more people writing letters to demand that the district turns its attention to school climate? How about asking the district to form a task force &/or department that compiles research, generates ideas, makes recommendations, monitors progress, and keeps up an exchange with the community? How about demanding that charter schools take their fair share of more challenging students? How about asking charters to use some of their innovation potential and extra funding to develop special programs for managing the more difficult students?

At any rate, these are the issues education reform needs to be dealing with, and I am certain you know this, too -- because of the questions you chose to ask Arne Duncan. How sad that his best response was “It’s crazy, it just doesn’t make any sense to me” and that his friend, John Rogers, said basically the same thing.

If these powerful people deeply understood the message in Anderson’s work, they would have been able to move beyond just describing things as “crazy.” They would know that the antisocial behavior exhibited by urban youth these days is, oddly, an adaptive and very human response to chronically horrific economic conditions. To understand urban violence, people need to read Anderson's explanation about the issue of "respect."

And if more people were aware of all these things, then maybe there would be hope for developing the plan for what needs to be done next.