Saturday, April 28, 2007

Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat

Finally, a shot across the bow of the TC Steamboat. Thanks to the NYsun for having the courage to print what the Times' and others should have printed a long time ago.
Coach Class
Next fall many New York City public school teachers may find their "literacy coach" — most likely a young woman — compelling them to teach reading and writing exclusively by the methods of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.
The project, headed by educator Lucy Calkins, was taken on in 2003 by Chancellor Klein in a three-year, $5.4 million no-bid contract to revamp how literacy is taught in New York's schools. Next year, the project will continue to offer services in many schools. Along with onsite labs, leadership seminars, and curricular materials, literacy coaching is a key tool toward fulfilling the Department of Education contract, and Ms. Calkins's desire to "radically transform schools."
I got a glimpse of how the project goes about training these coaches when I attended a free, open-to-the-public workshop last month called, "The Project's Latest and Best Thinking for Literacy Coaches (and Others who Provide Professional Development for Teachers)."
While Ms. Calkins, in a recent e-mail asserted, "We don't regard the work we do as re-training teachers — we provide professional development to interested colleagues," this respectful spirit of collegial cooperation, unfortunately, was not borne out in the workshop.
In fact, beyond all the lingo and sweet talk about "co-authoring" and "co-discovery," the message that came through the loudest was the project's certainty that they knew what was best for teachers, even if teachers themselves didn't. This certainty made it permissible to do whatever it took to get teachers to comply with the project's goals — meaning employing methods that were infantilizing and awkward.
The workshop instructor, an affable and well-spoken woman, tried valiantly to describe the dizzyingly complex apparatus coaches are instructed to use when standing beside a teacher. She sketched out how coaches were to have teachers "copy cat" their "mini-lessons" or "freeze frame" so the coach could "whisper in the moment" — in front of the children — the lesson they wanted teachers to learn.
While trying to grasp all the involved steps that a coach has to implement, an audience member asked a question that seemed to be on everyone's lips: "How do you keep your methods from feeling offensive to teachers?"
The instructor replied by admitting that often teachers did tend to feel offended, and that it was a "perennial problem." But she quickly went on to say, "It's important for principals to tell their teachers that they have to comply; to say, ‘This is the culture of our school now; this is what we do.'" She went on to add a somewhat ominous comment, "a lot of teachers get weeded out," suggesting that those who don't conform are forced out. Although in what way this enforced expulsion occurs was left disturbingly vague.
This kind of hubris is not surprising — it mirrors the attitude of Ms. Calkins herself. Again, looking beyond her fancy rhetoric that promises "dialogue" and "respect," she routinely advocates that teachers "feign interest" in children's stories and has written, "When we assist a writer, it is often helpful if the writer is fooled into thinking she's done the job herself!" Why should we expect her attitude toward teachers to be any less manipulative?
Ironically, the project prides itself in being a champion for helping kids find a "voice" through having them write "stories that matter" — that is, about their own lives. Yet the voices that seem to come through the loudest are those of the project's coaches and administrators.
The notion that a band of experts can come in and re-train thousands of teachers — many of whom are veterans at the job — poses, at best, myriad challenges, from pedagogical controversy to how it's all imparted. Think: a stranger coming into your house and telling you how to run your household.
This isn't to suggest that teachers can't benefit from having time set aside for collaboration, brainstorming, reflection, or supervision. Indeed, who wouldn't want a coach by their side, offering help, encouragement, cheering them on?
Just not these coaches, and not this program. The combination of the project's Byzantine structures, questionable content, excessive self-interest, and willingness to encourage the "weeding out" of those who don't see the world as they do, makes their enterprise an inappropriate choice for New York's schools.

Reader comment on: Coach Class
Submitted by Ann, Apr 27, 2007 10:37

Teacher's College has had a long, profitable relationship with NYC public schools. They have capitalized on their reputation as a leader in education policy and high-quality teacher preparation to garner their "expertise" into what seems to be state-of-the-art methodology. Years ago they joined NYC public schools in an effort to convert junior high schools to promoting a middle school philosophy- with the assurance that their program could improve the turbulent school years. In reality, it was a program that gave the impression that teachers had to change their methodology to meet the special needs of adolescents. While it may have been impressive on paper - their recommendations made little difference in the quality of education. This "new" program is another example of Ivy college elitism. Unfortunately, in our country, Ivy League has become synonymous with knowing "what is best" for the less fortunate (disadvantaged, underprivileged, minority, etc.). As a former NYC teacher, I knew many competent, dedicated educators in the NYC school system who could have helped make effective improvements if they were given an opportunity. I'm not referring to flexibility in the classroom, but rather initiating school policy. However, the "powers that be" consistently looked to outside "expertise" and are willing to pay a ransom for that advice. Wouldn't it be more fitting to allow City school teachers and administrators be able to make the needed changes? Instead of hearing about millions of dollars thrown at outside think tanks, it would be refreshing to let the people in the "front lines" make the adjustments, and reap the financial benefits as well. Merit pay has been a controversial issue, because it challenges the credibility and efforts of teachers, however, I doubt merit pay has ever referred to funding programs generated by NYC school employees. We constantly hear about how our governmental education policies encourage innovation (2005, Margaret Spelling - A Road Map to State Implementation), but innovation seems to only be financially rewarding if you're backed by an Ivy League background, or some well funded outside corporation expertise. There are numerous foundations willing to "reward" exceptional teachers for their efforts, but compare that amount of money to the billions spent nationwide on "expert" advice.
Isn't it time to stop disregarding and ignoring teachers and school administrator efforts by paying huge sums of taxpayer funds for outside education policy? Try letting the people who work directly with the children and their families to be able to experiment with their own ideas for improving their services. Give the millions back to the people who really need those funds. Looking at public education today, I believe the push for charter schools, vouchers, and any other alternative education policy are dishonest, erosive attempts to destroy and discredit the efforts of so many competent people. Those other choices don't have the constraints placed on them that public school personnel have. Teachers in charter schools don't have any superior training or knowledge. In fact, it would be interesting to learn what they mean when they claim they have zero tolerance for disruptive students, and how they miraculously figured out an effective way to eliminate such behavior. We too, in public school had zero tolerance, but we didn't have many options in how to address the problem. We had to accept everyone, no matter how difficult the child or family was. How many charter schools HAVE TO admit everyone? They claim they admit on a first come first serve basis, but it would be curious to learn what they do when they encounter a "problem". Do they willingly admit those families or invest a lot of time towards rehabilitation? If they are so successful, then it would make sense that public school teachers can do the same. There is something that charter schools isn't revealing - maybe it has something to do with their ability to weed out problems and send those students back to the dumping ground: a local public school
I'm not suggesting that NYC schools aren't in need of change, but in truth, their current situation should also be credited to many well-intended outside initiatives that have cost the City millions down through the years. Make those funds accessible to existing City employees, and I believe you could see a higher level of motivation. Let their voices be heard and I believe you would see a dramatic improvement in the morale of people who really do care.

Meet The Mets

youtube deleted my account-no video

My contribution to poetry month was built on a school outing to the Mets game of 4/23/07. I showed this slide show prior to the visit to build up some excitement and knowledge for the kids.

Then I changed it using photos that the Mets' photographers took of the group and had posted up on the Mets' site for people to purchase

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Google Maps: "My Map" Feature

Google Maps has a new feature. It allows you to make your own map

Here's one I did of "My Lower East Side" that includes stuff about the historic "Knickerbocker Village" reunion of 4/15/07

Brothers In Arms 2: The Story Of The 761st Tank Battalion

Many of the images in the Brothers In Arms' slide show posting of 4/6/07 came from the drawings of Sgt. Charles King, a gifted artist who had trained at the Art Institute of Chicago (above). His tragic story:,1518,457332,00.html
Last Words to Live By
By Dana Canedy, January 2, 2007
First Sgt. Charles M. King is remembered by his fiancée, Dana Canedy, an editor at The New York Times.
He drew pictures of himself with angel wings. He left a set of his dog tags on a nightstand in my Manhattan apartment. He bought a tiny blue sweat suit for our baby to wear home from the hospital. Then he began to write what would become a 200-page journal for our son, in case he did not make it back from the desert in Iraq.
Dear son, Charles wrote on the last page of the journal, "I hope this book is somewhat helpful to you. Please forgive me for the poor handwriting and grammar. I tried to finish this book before I was deployed to Iraq. It has to be something special to you. I've been writing it in the states, Kuwait and Iraq.
The journal will have to speak for Charles now. He was killed Oct. 14 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his armored vehicle in Baghdad. Charles, 48, had been assigned to the Army's First Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, based in Fort Hood, Tex. He was a month from completing his tour of duty.
For our son's first Christmas, Charles had hoped to take him on a carriage ride through Central Park. Instead, Jordan, now 9 months old, and I snuggled under a blanket in a horse-drawn buggy. The driver seemed puzzled about why I was riding alone with a baby and crying on Christmas Day. I told him.
"No charge," he said at the end of the ride, an act of kindness in a city that can magnify loneliness.
On paper, Charles revealed himself in a way he rarely did in person. He thought hard about what to say to a son who would have no memory of him. Even if Jordan will never hear the cadence of his father's voice, he will know the wisdom of his words.
Never be ashamed to cry. No man is too good to get on his knee and humble himself to God. Follow your heart and look for the strength of a woman.
Charles tried to anticipate questions in the years to come. Favorite team? I am a diehard Cleveland Browns fan. Favorite meal? Chicken, fried or baked, candied yams, collard greens and cornbread. Childhood chores? Shoveling snow and cutting grass. First kiss? Eighth grade.
In neat block letters, he wrote about faith and failure, heartache and hope. He offered tips on how to behave on a date and where to hide money on vacation. Rainy days have their pleasures, he noted: Every now and then you get lucky and catch a rainbow.
Charles mailed the book to me in July, after one of his soldiers was killed and he had recovered the body from a tank. The journal was incomplete, but the horror of the young man's death shook Charles so deeply that he wanted to send it even though he had more to say. He finished it when he came home on a two-week leave in August to meet Jordan, then 5 months old. He was so intoxicated by love for his son that he barely slept, instead keeping vigil over the baby.
I can fill in some of the blanks left for Jordan about his father. When we met in my hometown of Radcliff, Ky., near Fort Knox, I did not consider Charles my type at first. He was bashful, a homebody and got his news from television rather than newspapers (heresy, since I'm a New York Times editor).
But he won me over. One day a couple of years ago, I pulled out a list of the traits I wanted in a husband and realized that Charles had almost all of them. He rose early to begin each day with prayers and a list of goals that he ticked off as he accomplished them. He was meticulous, even insisting on doing my ironing because he deemed my wrinkle-removing skills deficient. His rock-hard warrior's body made him appear tough, but he had a tender heart.
He doted on Christina, now 16, his daughter from a marriage that ended in divorce. He made her blush when he showed her a tattoo with her name on his arm. Toward women, he displayed an old-fashioned chivalry, something he expected of our son. Remember who taught you to speak, to walk and to be a gentleman, he wrote to Jordan in his journal. These are your first teachers, my little prince. Protect them, embrace them and always treat them like a queen.
Though as a black man he sometimes felt the sting of discrimination, Charles betrayed no bitterness. It's not fair to judge someone by the color of their skin, where they're raised or their religious beliefs, he wrote. Appreciate people for who they are and learn from their differences.
He had his faults, of course. Charles could be moody, easily wounded and infuriatingly quiet, especially during an argument. And at times, I felt, he put the military ahead of family.
He had enlisted in 1987, drawn by the discipline and challenges. Charles had other options - he was a gifted artist who had trained at the Art Institute of Chicago - but felt fulfilled as a soldier, something I respected but never really understood. He had a chest full of medals and a fierce devotion to his men.
He taught the youngest, barely out of high school, to balance their checkbooks, counseled them about girlfriends and sometimes bailed them out of jail. When he was home in August, I had a baby shower for him. One guest recently reminded me that he had spent much of the evening worrying about his troops back in Iraq.
Charles knew the perils of war. During the months before he went away and the days he returned on leave, we talked often about what might happen. In his journal, he wrote about the loss of fellow soldiers. Still, I could not bear to answer when Charles turned to me one day and asked, "You don't think I'm coming back, do you?" We never said aloud that the fear that he might not return was why we decided to have a child before we planned a wedding, rather than risk never having the chance.
But Charles missed Jordan's birth because he refused to take a leave from Iraq until all of his soldiers had gone home first, a decision that hurt me at first. And he volunteered for the mission on which he died, a military official told his sister, Gail T. King. Although he was not required to join the resupply convoy in Baghdad, he believed that his soldiers needed someone experienced with them. "He would say, 'My boys are out there, I've got to go check on my boys,' " said First Sgt. Arenteanis A. Jenkins, Charles's roommate in Iraq.
In my grief, that decision haunts me. Charles's father faults himself for not begging his son to avoid taking unnecessary risks. But he acknowledges that it would not have made a difference. "He was a born leader," said his father, Charlie J. King. "And he believed what he was doing was right."
Back in April, after a roadside bombing remarkably similar to that which would claim him, Charles wrote about death and duty.
The 18th was a long, solemn night, he wrote in Jordan's journal. We had a memorial for two soldiers who were killed by an improvised explosive device. None of my soldiers went to the memorial. Their excuse was that they didn't want to go because it was depressing. I told them it was selfish of them not to pay their respects to two men who were selfless in giving their lives for their country.
Things may not always be easy or pleasant for you, that's life, but always pay your respects for the way people lived and what they stood for. It's the honorable thing to do.
When Jordan is old enough to ask how his father died, I will tell him of Charles's courage and assure him of Charles's love. And I will try to comfort him with his father's words.
God blessed me above all I could imagine, Charles wrote in the journal. I have no regrets, serving your country is great.
He had tucked a message to me in the front of Jordan's journal. This is the letter every soldier should write, he said. For us, life will move on through Jordan. He will be an extension of us and hopefully everything that we stand for. ... I would like to see him grow up to be a man, but only God knows what the future holds.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Scholastic's Poetry Machine

(youtube removed) I've taken a break from the voyage of the Mikulu with the 3rd graders and did poetry with them. Scholastic has a really good poetry machine on their site and we created these poems together. I then took a screen shot of them and added a recorded narration. Coolie got some laughs with J Foncker. Scholastic should have known better with a name like that.

Small Victories

The road to the destruction of public education and towards privatization hit a temporary roadblock yesterday
excerpts from an excellent analysis from norm at ednotesonline.blogspot
There has never been any give from Tweed, only take. That they sat down at all is a sign of weakness. Instead of negotiations, there should have been take it or leave it demands. The May 9 demo was long overdue.

The basic idiocy of the reorganization plan is still in place (ok, gang, everyone compete, total power in the hands of principals (all too many power hungry and pathological) - except they need permission of the district Superintendents).

The fact that the continued idiocies that will result from mayoral control seem guaranteed to continue in perpetuity. Nothing has changed for the people in the school community who have suffered over the past the past 5 years.

On class size, I don't care what they say or what committees they form. They do not believe that reducing class size will have the same impact spending money on professional development will. That is their mantra, inherited from Anthony Alvarado. They will say one thing and do another. To put any trust in Tweed given their record is a mistake.

It is funny that Tweed can say they are going to do A,B,C,D horrible things and when they modify D, everyone cheers like it's a victory.

From the very beginning, the focus on the reorganization rather than the entire package of control of the schools by big city mayors and its impact on the schools has made a deal like this likely. And when the leader, the UFT, is always looking to make a deal, the entire movement seemed doomed from the beginning. The groups left out of the process were used and will be very reluctant to get involved in the future. An historic opportunity to bring forces together to become an educational force has been lost. But long-time observers of how the UFT operates are not surprised.

From day one of BloomKlein, the UFT wanted a seat at the table and seems to have gotten it. They also are and will continue to support mayoral control. Their candidate Spitzer confirmed it today.

The strength of any coalition is in the numbers they can bring to the table.

As pointed out, "CEJ is one of the many Community Involvement organizations financed by the Annenberg Institute of Social Reform at Brown University, headed up by Norm Fruchter, formerly of NYU."

How do they get to be considered representative of local parent groups while groups actually elected (and which had passed resolutions against the reorganizations, no small reason why they weren't at the table) are left out? Who does Fruchter, who has supported much of what Tweed has done, represent?

Where was the "transparency" in these negotiations so many people on this list have been calling on the DOE to show?

The proper way to go about the process would have been to get reps together of all groups to decide on a strategy. But the UFT is always looking to make a deal even at the expense of some of its allies.

A unique opportunity has been missed.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Say It Ain't So Jo(nas)

Yesterday (4/15) was the occasion of a long planned Knickerbocker Village reunion. Thirteen of us plus a treasured teacher, Mrs. Jonas of PS177, braved the terrible storm and got together at the Wing Shoon Restaurant (the Old Garden Cafeteria) on East Broadway. We had a great time. One unbelievable fact I learned was that Mrs. Jonas, who later in her career became a Special Education supervisor in Brooklyn, was a "rabbi" in the career of the Frank DeStefano (pictured on the right). Well, nobody's perfect.

Sonia Endorsement

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball

My Tribute to Jackie on the 60th Anniversary of his first major league game
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

It went zoomin cross the left field wall.

Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.
And when he swung his bat,
 the crowd went wild,

Because he knocked that ball a solid mile.

Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.
Satchel Paige is mellow,

So is Campanella, 
Newcombe and Doby, too.

But it's a natural fact,
 when Jackie comes to bat,

The other team is through.
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all.

He stole home.

Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone.
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all.

He stole home.

Yes, yes, Jackie's a real gone guy

Sonia Diaz Belichick

I noticed the other day that there was a great upsurge in my blog readership. What could account for it? The last time that happened is when some British and Australian sites found my pictures of Russell Crowe that I took when he was filming in Harlem in the fall. I think what may happened this time were people finding a pic I had of Bill Belichick's chick, Sharon Shenocca. Also folks from Baltimore checking out their new Deputy Superintendent's, Sonia Diaz's (Dis) Qualifications. Well, thngs have resumed to normal, so I thought I punch it up with some new stuff about that newswworthy duo. Evidently Bill took a different woman to the NCAA finals. that's her above. Sharon, who lives in Park Slope probably couldn't go because she had to put in time at the Park Slope Food Coop. As for Sonia, she's got a shiny new face. Guess, it's one of those expensive facial grubs gone awry.
Here's a letter to the editor from the Baltimore Sun
Wrong leadership for county schools
It seems that Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston has hired Sonia Diaz, someone he has known for 10 years, in spite of the fact that she was recently fired by the Las Cruces school system in New Mexico after only four months as its leader ("'Assertive' leader to apply audit," March 7).
Las Cruces cited her poor management style, yet Mr. Hairston says, "We needed someone who understands leadership."
I would suggest that someone who "understands leadership" might be able to squeeze more than four months out of a leadership position.
Kenneth Shapiro

Read this from the which had a lot to do with canning Sonia only a few months into her regime in New Mexico. I guess it's the same educational bravo sierra all over

"As to applying business systems models to our school, no amount of data gathering will mean anything if it doesn't have this little thing called COMMON SENSE following it. New Mexico's continuous improvement model, as well as what's happening at Oñate and throughout the state with hostile 'systems' takeovers, will make NO difference, because it's systems for the sake of systems, there is zero common sense, especially from the site coaches.These schools perpetually don't make AYP, it's because they're too caught up in doing all of these nit picking activities that irritate the teachers and mean nothing to the students. Common sense has left our schools, and in its place we have absolutely and utter b-s.
If our Leveled Book Room went beyond Q we wouldn't have to buy or create curriculum. Some teachers at our newest school didn't get Math books till February. Can you spell irresponsible?
I feel so much better now that I can observe students using "research based best practices" and determine student needs. I'll bet dollars to donuts that most of the jargon talkers who use the terminology research based best practices are the same yahoos who fill their conversations with acronyms and don't know exactly what their own conversations mean. But boy don't they sound smart! Meanwhile our parents, (the customers stupid!), are left wondering what we are teaching their children and they have less and less faith in us."

Springtime For Hucksters In Morningside Heights

May there be a day that April Showers forever rain on Lucy's meaningless jargon parade
video removed
Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,
When the sun gives way to April showers,
Here is the point you should never miss.

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it's raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn't raining rain, you know, (It's raining violets,)
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list'ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list'ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Paul Robeson: The Tallest Tree In The Forest

I got to see and hear one of the country's most brilliant political thinkers last night, Paul Robeson Jr. He spoke at the Museum Of The City Of New York as part of the Fighting Fascism exhibit series. (The exhibit is terrific) A blurb from his latest book which I bought while there. "For more than 20 years, Robeson was "close aide and personal representative" to his father, actor and activist Paul Robeson Sr. Robeson's latest book, following Paul Robeson Jr. Speaks to America: The Politics of Multiculturalism and The Undiscovered Paul Robeson, An Artist's Journey, continues the elder Robeson's tradition of speaking out thoughtfully and frankly, and sketches a vision of American history where Black Americans, from slavery forward, have been forced to live a "separate reality" from white Americans. He begins with the race implications of 9/11, where he finds hurtful spin by Giuliani ("The Mayor's implied message was clear: We have a lily-white fire department, and we're going to keep it that way"), and moves on to "Eight Coups in American History" ("George Bush's mission in the White House is to establish nationwide a modern version of the old Confederacy based on the New South"), an account of the War on Terror and of voter fraud in the last two presidential elections, and a program for Black Americans to support the Progressive party along class lines." Paul has the CD of the Lincoln Brigade slide show that I made next to him. More about the event on Give Us Each Day Our Paily Pan

Monday, April 09, 2007

Give Us Each Day Our Daily Pan

I've been limping along with a weak borrowed internet connection the last couple of weeks (thanks to my gracious neighbors the Gruenbergs).Verizon is coming to reconnect me on Wednesday after I foolishly went with Earthlink. If you think Verizon is bad, Earthlink (despite the J.D. Powers hype) is much, much worse. Along with the Knickerbocker reunion I've been devoting time to my new obsession, my panorama site (title above and new link on the favorites on the sidebar) The opening page has the same picture of my parents with my Uncle Hy and Aunt Lil that is above.

Immigrant History Week 2007

video removed

Monday-Sunday, April 16 – 22, 2007
Immigrant History Week is a city-wide celebration that honors the experiences and contributions of immigrants in NYC. Established by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004 and coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Immigrant History Week is a rich collection of free or low-cost programs that build cross-cultural understanding between diverse New Yorkers.

I made this taking images from Byron's old Ellis Island collection and combined it with a powerful song from Ragtime, "The Wheels Of A Dream." You can fahgettaboutit in regard to the schools doing any of those wonderful old fashioned topical units to coincide, because April is Poetry Month on the TC Reading/Writing Workshop schedule

The lyrics:

I see his face.
I hear his heartbeat. I look in those eyes.
How wise they seem.
Well, when he is old enough
I will show him America
And he will ride
on the wheels of a dream.

We'll go down South

Go down South,

And see your people

See my folks.

Won't they take to him

They'll take to him

Like cats to cream!

Then we'll travel on from there.

California or who knows where!

And we will ride
On the wheels of a dream.

Yes, the wheels are turning for us, girl.
And the times are starting to roll.
Any man can get where he wants to
If he's got some fire in his soul.
We'll see justice, Sarah,
And plenty of men
Who will stand up
And give us our due.
Oh, Sarah, it's more than promises.
Sarah, it must be true.
A country that let's a man like me
Own a car, raise a child, build a life with you...

With you...

With you...

Beyond that road,
Beyond this lifetime
That care full of hope
Will always gleam!
With the promise of happiness
And the freedom he'll live to know.
He'll travel with head held high,
Just as far as his heart can go
And he will ride-
Our son will ride-
On the wheels of a dream.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Strange Things Are Happening 2

Next Sunday I'm getting together with a bunch of old pals and little league teammates from Knickerbocker Village. Some of these guys I haven't seen in 40 years.There has been a lot of riotous email that has gone on between the bunch of us over the last few months in anticipation of the event. There has also been a great deal of sadness as we have found through our sharing that there are many of our generation who have passed away. For example, from our 4th grade class, Marcia Hieger, who was the smartest, is gone. What's even sadder is that both she and her younger brother pre-deceased their parents. One discussion thread was about our old teachers at PS 177 on the Lower East Side. A favorite for my age group was our sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Jonas. When she left to have a baby I went to visit her with Marcia and our mothers, probably sometime in 1959. Her house was in Brooklyn. I took a crack at finding her with some internet tricks and I struck gold. She remembered me immediately and talked of that visit to her house (the same one she is still living in). She sounded just as sharp and formidable as she did almost 50 years before and I instinctively shifted into little boy mode. I'm bringing her along to the reunion. It will be like Mrs. Holland's Opus! Mrs. Jonas was a treasure of information about life on the "other side of the desk" in our old school. One gem that she revealed was that my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Klara Apat is now Mrs. Klara Silverstein.
Now that's a hot one or is they say in the hood, "That's Tuff!"

The Best TV Drama: St. Elsewhere

youtube removed

I rate this my favorite tv drama. I've been watching the recently re-issued first season DVD. I made a "then and now" dedication slide show for the stars of the first season. I forgot how good Howie Mandel is compared to his current version.

excerpts from a very insightful review from by Mark Labowskie at
Before the indie rock-drenched epiphanies of Grey’s Anatomy, before the adrenalized, crisis-a-minute pace of ER, there was St. Elsewhere, which invented the modern TV medical drama. Breaking with the monochromatic, one-protagonist / one-story formula of Ben Casey and Marcus Welby, M.D., St. Elsewhere was the second show (after Hill Street Blues, which NBC debuted the prior year) to bring soap opera techniques to bear on “serious” drama. It featured an expansive, ensemble cast (12 actors are billed in the opening credits of the first season, along with many recurring guest stars), multiple plotlines in each episode, and ongoing story arcs that frequently involved cliffhangers and the phrase “Previously on…” Rather than focusing on a central character, St. Elsewhere helped popularize the TV trend of making a community— frequently a workplace—the main character. Cast members came and went over the course of its run, but the focus was always on St. Eligius itself, a rundown, under-funded teaching hospital in South Boston.
In addition to modernizing narrative structure, St. Elsewhere also shook up the visual language of the TV drama, using long tracking shots and jittery hand-held camera work (now a TV cliché) to lend a sense of immediacy and continuity to the action. Frequently, the camera will track from one group of actors to another in a single shot, binding several disparate storylines into a larger context. Although primitive compared to the swirling cinematography of ER, the long takes are still impressively choreographed and acted, and helped give TV a visual life it had never had before.
The show alternates seamlessly between medical cases and personal lives, between wrenchingly tragic storylines and bizarrely humorous ones. A baby-faced Tim Robbins, in his first professional role, shows up for a few episodes as an entitled anarchist whom the hospital is forced to treat. A mental patient who thinks he’s a bird roams the hospital (the first of many to escape from St. Eligius’ seemingly open-door psych ward) posing as “Dr. Bullfinch”, visiting patients and attending in surgeries. In the bluntly titled “Down’s Syndrome”, a couple struggles with whether or not to abort their possibly handicapped child; with a minimum of hysteria, the show smartly limns both sides of the argument before building to a toughly unsentimental conclusion.
The doctors struggle with cases, careers, family and romance. Dr. Craig berates and traumatizes the residents, especially the promising Ehrlich, who makes a continual embarrassment of himself. Fiscus, an emergency room doctor, is mugged by a patient and starts carrying a gun to work. The skeevy Dr. Ben Samuels (David Birney), a star surgeon at the hospital, saves lives and ravishes ladies. Dr. Morrison uses every case as a springboard for ruminations on the morality and ethics of medicine. Future semi-famous actors who turn up as guest stars include Ally Sheedy, Michael Madsen, Ray Liotta, Jane Kaczmarek, Judith Light, Laraine Newman, Christopher Guest, Tom Hulce and David Duchovny—who has a brief but memorable bit role in the fifth episode.
What’s remarkable about St. Elsewhere, in contrast to most network shows today, is how much of the drama is understated and implicit. There is, thank God, no voice over extracting pithy morals from every situation. The characters themselves are not wholly articulate. And, notwithstanding some dips into corny melodrama, the show accepts characters and situations as complex and multi-sided. We don’t need to be told why the buppie Dr. Chandler has an ongoing feud with an older, more traditional black nurse; we don’t need to be told why Dr. Fiscus, so skinny and frizzy-haired and perpetually joking, is the kind of guy a woman will date for a while but won’t seriously consider settling down with. Dr. Craig may be an arrogant, smug pill of a man, but he’s also a brilliant doctor, and the show doesn’t ask us to see him as either villainous or secretly vulnerable (unlike, say, the supposedly tough Dr. Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, who these days cries if someone calls her “ma’am.”)—he is what he is and we accept that as part of the fabric of everyday life.
The show has a much broader canvas and dispersed focus than most hour-long shows today. No one character dominates—Dr. Morrison may have a major storyline in one episode, and then be a bit player in the next three. Storylines disappear and recur, and sometimes are only advanced in a scene or two per episode.  The show often conveys a strong sense of an overwhelming flow, of the diurnal life of the hospital.
Of course, most TV shows are still getting their sea legs the first season, and this one was also innovating a genre. Several of the more boring or mismanaged characters—like Cynthia Sikes as Dr. Annie Cavanero and Terrence Knox as Dr. Peter White—don’t make it through the whole run of the series (you can see why), while Birney, G.W. Bailey and Kavi Raz don’t even survive the first season. (Birney was a popular TV star in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, and may have thought that his lothario character was going to be the de facto leading man; as it turned out, he was outshined by nearly all of the supporting cast and was gradually phased out, to the extent that he barely appears in the last few episodes of the season).
You can see, as the season progresses, the show figuring itself out, seeing which elements are the strongest: Ehrlich and Fiscus, and their testy friendship, gradually become more and more prominent, as does Craig and Ehrlich’s wonderfully complicated relationship (it’s so obvious that Craig’s continual disparagement of Ehrlich is secretly a sign of respect for him that it’s almost regrettable when someone finally articulates this). Recurring characters that would go on to become regulars also prove their stripes in the first season, upstaging some of the nominal stars: Ellen Bry’s cutie-pie Nurse Daniels; Norman Lloyd’s ailing Dr. Auschlander (the world’s longest case of liver cancer); and Barbara Whinnery’s Looney Tunes pathologist Dr. Cathy Martin, the show’s one, sustained note of total surrealism.
St. Elsewhere also suffers from the Liberal White Martyr Complex, though thankfully Dr. Morrison doesn’t dominate nearly as much as Anthony Edwards did on ER. David Morse, with his hoarse voice, floppy perm and strenuously low-key demeanor makes Morrison an overwhelmingly insufferable character. Every single case is an opportunity for him to act aggrieved and put out about something; he never once evinces any compassion for his patients, only for his own suffering noblesse. In one episode, an Eastern European man shanghais Morrison into making house calls in an immigrant neighborhood. The man tries to teach Morrison lessons in “compassion”, while Morrison whines about his right to privacy; the whole storyline is like a contest to see which of them can be more self-righteous.
But television, ultimately, is about the long haul. St. Elsewhere may have been still figuring itself out in the first season, but it already had the two most important elements in place: a distinctive, original tone, and a number of compelling characters that you want to watch week after week, for years on end.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Strange Things Are Happening

Red Buttons (Aaron Chwatt) died last year at 87. He went to PS63 on East 3rd Street. He lived on East 3rd, between B and C. The building is no longer there. Below is the 1920 census for the Chwatt family
When Red had his own tv show in the mid fifties he had a line from a routine he did that was very popular, "Strange Things Are Happening." Around a month ago I lost my cell phone near CCNY on 138th Street and a good samiratan (Jose) found it and I got it back. I gave him a reward, which he said was unnecessary ("I did it for the good karma," he said) Yesterday, while walking to the subway from Costco near Bush Terminal in Brooklyn I spotted a cell phone on the street. I called the number and got a Spanish guy who worked in a furniture store in Sunset Park. He said, "Get a cab and I'll pay for it and bring it to the store." Being a "Jew" even with someone else's money I resisted hailing a yellow cab and walked instead to 4th Avenue to get a cheaper car service.. The fair was supposed to be $6 for the .75 mile ride. When we pulled up to the store, Pedro was outside and he gratefully handed me a $20 and said take the cab to get you back. I turned around and handed it to the driver and had him drive me home which was about another 2 miles away. Everyone was happy. Hopefully I'll get some good karma since I had my car in the shop after discovering I had forgotten to get it inspected last month and I had just found out that unexpectedly I owed a lot of money, plus interest to the IRS.

No Pasaran

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There is a new Lincoln Brigade exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York and a new book out about the Brigade
"No men ever entered the earth more honorably than those who died in Spain," wrote Ernest Hemingway in 1939. Between the years of 1936-1939, an estimated 1,000 Americans, many from New York, died fighting to protect the elected government of the Spanish Republic against a rebellion led by General Francisco Franco and backed by Hitler and Mussolini. Facing Fascism: New York and the Spanish Civil War examines the role that New Yorkers played in the conflict, as well as the political and social ideologies that motivated them to participate in activities ranging from rallying support, fundraising, and relief aid, to fighting--and sometimes dying--on the front lines in Spain. The stories of these New Yorkers will be told through photographs, letters, uniforms, weapons, and an array of personal and historical memorabilia.

the soundtrack, by John McCutcheon
From the farms, from the cities, from every land
Came the Abe Lincoln Brigade
With a dream in their hearts, with a gun in their hands
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade
No pasaran, no pasaran
So sang the Abe Lincoln Brigade
Across the years and the oceans
We still sing the song
Of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
Cries from the cities, shouts from the hills
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade
The fire in the hearts that is warming us still
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade
No pasaran, no pasaran
So sang the Abe Lincoln Brigade
Across the years and the oceans
We still sing the song
Of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
All the teachers, the artists
The workers who died
Oh the Abe Lincoln Brigade
Their stories still thrill me
We work side by side
With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
No pasaran, no pasaran
So sang the Abe Lincoln Brigade
Across the years and the oceans
We still sing the song
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade
So raise glasses and voices
Give them a toast
Of the Abe Lincoln Brigade
Those who die best are the ones who live most
Like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
No pasaran, no pasaran
So sang the Abe Lincoln Brigade
Across the years and the oceans
We still sing the song
Of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
No pasaran, no pasaran
So sang the the Abe Lincoln Brigade
Across the years and the oceans
We still sing the song
Of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

Aaron Siskind's Harlem Document

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I supplemented my Siskind collection with images scanned from a Schomberg postcard book courtety of Glennie Wilson's dad.
I used Dianne Reeve's One For my Baby as a sound track. Here's info on Siskind: "Early in his career, Aaron Siskind was attracted to documentary photography. He joined the New York Photo League, an offshoot of the radical Film and Photo League, that was committed to documenting the urban social scene. The sympathetic eye Siskind brought to his subjects is clearly illustrated in this selection of photographs from the Harlem Document, an in-depth photographic project sponsored by the Film and Photo League. This was perhaps the first time a white photographer documented this black community."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Unbearable Whiteness of Teaching

I've noticed how there are less and less minority teachers than years ago in NYC city schools and though we've gotten beyond the thinking that black kids need black teachers or any other like minded ethnic/color match I've certainly felt that it sure helps for a teacher to be familiar with a kids' demographic world. Here's Sam Anderson's take on the situation from:
NYC's Disappearing Black/Latino Public School Teachers
NYC Public Schools: Black and Latino/a Teachers Strongly Encouraged to NOT Apply
Veteran Black educator, activist and native Brooklynite, Sam Anderson, was recently asked by "Teachers Unite" five questions dealing with New York City's crisis of diminishing numbers of Black and Latino teachers as the student population becomes increasingly more Black and Latino.
Teachers Unite: How have the demographics of New York City's public school population, among teachers and students, changed since you've been involved in education?
Sam Anderson: Over the past 40 years New York City's public schools have gone from being comprised of predominantly white students to one that is now predominantly Black, Latino and Asian students.
However, when we look at the racial breakdown of the teaching and administrative staff, they are still overwhelmingly white to the point that nearly 80% of the teachers are white. All we have to do is look at the Department of Education's own data. More specifically, when we look at the sixteen year record of the racial breakdown of new hires, we see the re-enforcement of white teacher dominance clearly built into the DOE's personnel structure. Below are the data from the DOE about new hires (this was not easy to come by. But thanks to the persistent work of an Amsterdam News journalist, it is now in the public light).
Ethnicity of New Hires* by School Year:
1990-91 through 2005-06

NA Asian Black Hisp White Unknown

1990-91 0.3% 3.2% 16.0% 11.9% 49.5% 19.1%

1991-92 0.1% 3.2% 16.0% 15.3% 58.4% 6.9%

1992-93 0.3% 2.9% 17.9% 15.1% 59.6% 4.2%

1993-94 0.4% 3.1% 18.4% 13.9% 59.6% 4.5%

1994-95 0.3% 3.2% 23.4% 18.4% 53.9% 0.8%

1995-96 0.3% 3.1% 22.9% 18.4% 54.1% 1.3%

1996-97 0.3% 3.4% 19.0% 14.4% 60.3% 2.6%

1997-98 0.4% 3.8% 20.1% 15.3% 56.7% 3.7%

1998-99 0.2% 3.8% 22.1% 15.2% 57.5% 1.1%

1999-00 0.2% 4.4% 24.8% 16.4% 53.8% 0.5%

2000-01 0.2% 4.2% 25.5% 16.3% 53.3% 0.4%

2001-02 0.2% 4.9% 27.2% 14.3% 53.3% 0.2%

2002-03 0.2% 5.6% 20.1% 12.7% 61.1% 0.3%

2003-04 0.2% 7.2% 16.7% 10.6% 65.0% 0.3%

2004-05 0.2% 8.3% 16.0% 11.1% 63.3% 1.2%

2005-06 0.3% 7.2% 14.5% 11.7% 65.0% 1.3%

2006-07* 0.3% 6.1% 14.1% 11.7% 65.5% 2.3%
*New Hires includes teachers who were hired between 8/25 through 10/31 of each year. ** Data on the 2006-07 New Hires is current as of 8.22.2006
Today's DOE new hires are more skewed towards white teachers than 10 years ago! This is clearly a reflection of the mindset of the top DOE officials who surround themselves in Tweed with white professionals and Black & Latino supportive staff (from security to low-mid level administrative staff). In addition, this high level staff is dominated by non-educators... from Klein on down to the mid-level corporate-like structures overseeing the actual nuts and bolts of the schooling process.
TU: How does the racial makeup of the teacher population impact on the education of children of color?
SA: There has been numerous studies and books written about the importance of the racial and nationality makeup of the teachers to the transference of the desire to learn as well as the quality of teaching and learning that will go on in a school. It is the normalcy of racism that we are trying to neutralize as well as, therefore, the normalcy of internalizing self-hating racist ideas about ones self. Well-trained teachers of color working with children of color with a curriculum that also includes their culture, their people's contribution to the development of the world have proven that they can boost the intellectual quality of children of color.
There is, within this, the importance of a teacher to understand the verbal and visual (body) language of a child. Way too often, white teachers don't have a clue about this or grossly mis-interpret stuff in the negative... and wind up further alienating the child of color from the educational experience.
In addition, Black/Latino parents will be more receptive to and open to critical suggestions from teachers of color than a white teacher (who is seen as just another social worker trying to pry into and define their family life).
TU: What do you view as the most significant reasons for the falling numbers of teachers of color in NYC public schools?
SA: The current Bloomberg-Klein approach to teacher recruitment is to hire "far and white." That is, go outside of New York City and emphasize recruiting white teachers over Black/Latino teachers. They have spent tens of millions of dollars making teaching in NYC schools a palatable and hip thing for white folks to do.
We know this to be the case by just looking at the stats of new hires during Bloomberg's reign: from 61% up to 65% for white new hires while Black new hires went from 20.1% down to 14.1%... while the student population increased to be well over 85% students of color! This can only be called negative affirmative action (or affirmative action for mainly white women...who constitute the bulk of new hires).
I have been suggesting that the DOE REVERSE their recruitment practices and focus on a ten-year plan to bring Black/Latino/Asian teachers up to match the racial demographics of the city's school children. By reversal I mean setting up a structure that encourages Black/Latino community folk to return to school and trains them to become teachers. Have tuition free programs within the CUNY-SUNY system where residents of NYC can go through college and become teachers. Take that $50 million plus teacher recruitment money and set up a highly publicized campaign to get men and women from our 250 neighborhoods to join this new army of teachers. Incentives, besides free tuition can be that the DOE pay 50% of the rent while going to college and 100% of the rent for the first three years of teaching; free tuition for the children of the teachers as long as they are teaching in NYC schools.
The private teaching institutions- Bank St., Columbia University’s Teachers College, New York University, etc. would be encouraged to join this effort through the city fully subsidizing 50-100 students enrolled in the Community Teachers Program if they are accepted to these institutions.
TU: Are there, or has there ever been, support systems for recruiting, supporting and retaining teachers of color?
SA: There are currently no overt support systems for supporting and retaining teachers of color. If the DOE says they do have something, then it should be a blatant embarrassment for them when we look at their combined Black new hire and RETENTION records: There is a DIMINISHING presence of Black/Latino teachers in NYC schools.
Klein has used a lame excuse as to why there are so few Black/Latino new hires: they are not interested in teaching and can get a better salary and endure less stress in the corporate world. Obviously, this "excuse" can be used upon potential white teachers also. But the current recruitment campaign lures young white teachers with enticing incentives and slick ads.
TU: What else do you think needs to happen for there to be more teachers of color in our system?
SA: This transformation cannot happen under mayoral control of the city’s schools... and especially under the current Bloomberg-Klein education fiefdom. They will stall and stall ‘til term limits move Bloomberg and his administration out in 2008-09. Hence, what I am proposing is something to fight for under a new mayor AND within the fight to stop the permanent setup of mayoral control over public education.

Dangling Conversation: To Measure What We've Lost

I love the line "Measure What We've Lost" Sort of what happens in public schools now under NCLB. You teach for 5 minutes then spend ten minutes measuring the kids to see what they've "lost" This guy is no Simon and Garfunkel, but he does a credible job

Its a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

And you read your emily dickinson,
And I my robert frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what weve lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes, we speak of things that matter,
With words that must be said,
Can analysis be worthwhile?
Is the theater really dead?
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
Youre a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation.
And the superficial sighs,
In the borders of our lives.