On to the New Year

Dear Readers,

Mostly I stayed at home in December, and enjoyed family coming up to visit—all the grandkids (the youngest is almost 18!), kids (the youngest is 50!) and friends. But there were sad moments too. Harold Seletsky, husband of the late Alice Seletsky (who was a great CPE teacher for many many years) died over the holiday. The funeral was eye-opening as we heard from people who knew Harold in such different contexts. Their words reminded me that while he was always Harold’ish, he had an impact far greater than I realized among many people I never knew of. We matter in ways we often are unaware of.

I am getting ready for a few trips to New York City. One trip is to see Central Park East and talk with the current staff, 38 years after we first opened our doors. More on that when I return from there.

Meanwhile I am going through all the clippings I have cut out and piled on my desk—items that I wanted to write about, or at least to think more deeply about. But they keep piling up and it is hard to go back and sort them in some useful way. They are also all rather discouraging, and I am trying to remind myself that there is no telling… the future changes at unexpected times for unexpected reasons. A respectable poll notes that the American people overwhelmingly support higher taxes on the rich and no cutbacks on Social Security and Medicare. Yet, the same American people (more or less) voted overwhelmingly for candidates who hold the opposite view. Should this be good news or bad?

On my “favorite” topic—schooling—it is clear to me that the school public has had it with so-called accountability and teacher-bashing. But this same trend is also picking up steam. In part because my allies are largely invisible to the media and the supporters of the anti-union, anti-public schooling reform crowd is unbelievably visible in every form of media ever invented. And the two sides use the same titles/slogans for their organizations! Democracy figures heavily – especially by the monied crowd. And while their tactics seem obvious to me, they nevertheless have gotten away with being viewed as the upholders of equity and democracy. They are self-styled opponents of the “status quo” when it comes to public enterprises. And they have succeeded in getting the media to treat teachers, unions and other educators as reactionaries, defenders of unfairness, and as a dangerous and powerful self-interest group!!!

According to them, if it were not for our failing public schools there would be little or no achievement gap, and employment would rise alongside of better teachers, better teaching, less talk about security, seniority and the right to fairness; in short, less public interference in public schools.

This is hardly something new—the cry of our schools are failing has been heard before; almost line-by line, every few decades. But I believe this time there is a substantial chance that the bashing of public schooling and teachers will succeed in destroying public education in favor of a helter-skelter totally unaccountable privately-owned and publicly funded system of highly segregated schooling—segregated by race, ethnicity and social class. And I think it will, as usual, be a two-tier system of schooling. For the urban poor it will be designed strictly to fill the 2lst century form of menial labor.

The one thing it will not do is produce schools for the poor that are aimed at creating a feisty, democratically savvy citizenry—one prepared to rethink a society that accepts the highest level of inequality (and immobility!) of all modern nations. Obama’s dialogue with Joe the Plumber is seen as a terrible blunder, since he acknowledged that he thought one of government’s functions was to produce a fairer distribution of life’s goodies.

It is time folks like us started talking about democracy—one of whose fundamental foundational imperatives is a society in which all citizens live in some reasonable equity with all others. The gaps between the rich and poor in the USA today are far greater than their test scores, and daily getting worse. The chances for the 80% at the bottom half to be heard, to be organized, to play a public role decreases daily.

Can this be reversed?

I have just read a two short books by Isaac Asimov (!) on Roman history. It reminds me that there have been far more brutal wars of conquest, far greater genocides, and far greater inequities in the history just of Western Europe. But the rich have always been fearful of when the “others” catch on to what is happening—they seem very confident these days that they have made that impossible. I am hoping that the human drive for fairness will bubble up again. Hope is a virtue as long as one does not depend too much on it alone.

Here is to a few triumphs in 2011 for the “good guys”—that is, my side. And for continued joy and happiness to my family and friends—my fingers are crossed that they all have or get jobs, lovers, new friends and the energy and will “to keep doing what needs to be done.” Day by day.


P.S. It is an amusing thought to realize that the most powerful people in America are now philanthropists—those rich enough to give away a lot of money as long as they can control its uses. As the daughter of the leader one of NYC’s biggest philanthropies, I can imagine my father’s denunciation of their paternalistic practices of philanthropy. More on that later (since I found an amazing speech on just that subject that Joe Willen gave almost 50 years ago).