American Violence and Education


I’ve been asked by Joe Brooks, my editor at Community Works Journal, to write something about the school shootings and education.  It was extremely hard for many reasons, but I’ve tried.  As I sometimes do, I’ll “test” the piece in Medium, first, and see how it runs; I’ll test it here, too.

So here it is: American Violence and Education

It begins thus:

I can’t make things out anymore. I don’t know what we’re doing. American culture is upside down and, as an educator, I have no idea what to do, what to say, how to find “the teachable moment.” I’m lost. I suspect we may all be feeling lost. The world outside the classroom is way too big, too harrowing, too confusing. Death and suffering have become all too common. It seems as if we’re operating in two distinctly different worlds, one is inside the classroom where we theorize, study, calculate, ponder, the other, outside the classroom, that world we dare only glance at from time-to-time, is brutal, relentless in its inhumane insistence that life is cheap.

In a course I’m working through Brent Easton Ellis’ disturbing, post-modern 1991 Gothic novel, American Psycho, giving the requisite warnings about the extremely graphic violence, because students wanted me to do so, differentiating between escapist literature (Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Gray, and so on), and Literature that means to have the reader turn inward, difficult as that is, and examine her life, the lives around her. American Psycho is the latter. Kids, our students, want to feel safe, be safe; they want to avoid “the horror” of it all; they don’t want to reside in the inhumanity outside our neat little classrooms.

But these worlds are clashing.

Continue reading…

Happy 4th of July — to All Left Out of Freedom, Independence and Hope

We’ll never know what happened in Sofitel Suite 2086.  What we do know, however, is that there is more than one victim.  The hotel maid is a victim. DSK’s wife, Anne Sinclair, is a victim, too.

The ironically named the “Audacity of Hope,” that sneaked out under the cover of night from a Greek port with aid to Gaza, was stopped by the Greek Coast Guard.   Forty US passengers were on board, inspired, I’m sure, by rays of hope for the people of Gaza.  There are a lot of victims here, too.  Palestinians.  Israelis, too.  Of course, freedom, self-reliance, independence and hope are victims as well.  In the Israeli – Palestinian conflict we’re all victims. There are no winners here.  It’s a dark course we’ve embarked on here.

Not a single latino baseball player (40 percent of major league baseball players are latino) will boycott this year’s All-Star Game in Arizona, who passed an anti-immigration law.

We march on, celebrating the American 4th of July — yet thousands upon thousands cannot celebrate with the same audacity.  Of course, the top executives of the most powerful companies that now rule — that is, that run our government for their benefit can, indeed, celebrate unprecedented freedoms.  But for the countless poor, those that reside in the inner most regions of our large cities, their lives are walled up.

It’s to them, the people and their kids that I’ve come to know in such places as the South Ward of Newark, that I write.  It’s to them I send my wishes.  And I send these wishes using the words of sociologist William Julius Wilson, who I have used plenty of times before in these pages.

I think it’s best to simply allow Wilson to speak without commentary, so I’ll cite some definitive conclusions pertaining to The Economic Plight of Inner-City Black Males chapter in Wilson’s book, More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City, again a text I’ve used numerous times and that must be read and acted upon.

Listen carefully.  Read these out loud, several times, and see what happens:

Indeed, the employment woes of poor black men represent part of ‘the new urban poverty,’ which I define as poor, segregated neighborhoods in which substantial proportions of the adult population are either officially unemployed or have dropped out of, or never entered, the labor force.

…neighborhoods with larger fractions of nonwhites tend to be associated with higher rates of unemployment…[The data shows] that education plays a key role in enabling black men to secure employment.

By 2007, blacks were about 15 percent less likely than other workers to have a job in manufacturing. The dwindling proportion of African American workers in manufacturing is important because manufacturing jobs, especially those in the auto industry, have been a significant source of better-paid employment for black Americans since World War II.

Because they tend to be educated in poorly performing public schools, low-skilled black males often enter the job market lacking some of the basic tools that would help them confront changes in their employment prospects. Such schools have rigid district bureaucracies, poor morale among teachers and school principals, low expectations for students, and negative ideologies that justify poor student performance. Inner-city schools fall well below more advantaged suburban schools in science and and math resources, and they lack teachers with appropriate preparation in these subjects. As a result, students from these schools tend to have poor reading and math skills, important tools for competing in the globalized labor market. Few thoughtful observers of public education would disagree with the view that the poor employment prospects of low-skilled black males are in no small measure related to their public-education experience.

Their lack of education, which contributes to joblessness, is certainly related to their risk of incarceration.

…national cultural shifts in values and attitudes contributed to a political context associated with a resurgent Republican Party that focused on punitive ‘solutions’ and worsened the plight of low-skilled black men.

In short, cultural shifts in attitudes towards crime and punishment created structural circumstances — a more punitive justice system — that have had a powerful impact on low-skilled black males.

…research by Devah Pager revealed that a white applicant with a felony conviction was more likely to receive a callback or job offer than was a black applicant with a clean record.

Thus, whereas the subculture of defeatism is a result of having too little pride to succeed in the labor market, the subculture of resistance reflects too much pride to accept menial employment.

So much for the audacity of hope!  Have a wonderful 4th of July!

Preliminary Notes NCORE (Day 4 – PM)



In the afternoon and final session  for me, I went to a documentary, Muslim Cool:

Muslim Cool

Themes: Citizenship, Race and Ethnicity, Religion, Fundamentalism, Freedom of Speech, Militarism, Homeland Security, The Constitution of the US, the Environment, Love and Marriage, Gangbangers, Drugs and Violence, Class, Socio-Economic insecurity

You name it, this movie asks that we re-think our tendency to over-classify the Other; thus the dominant class evolves a narrative contracdictory to the Other’s lived experience.  New Muslim Cool defines hotpoints in a changing and (hopefully) evolving society that pits race, ethnicity and class against the perceptions of a dominant class that willingly enables surveillance and force as means of negating the narrative of the Other, those people that look and behave differently then what’s mythologized as the norm: the answer to happiness is a wide birthed consumerism that externalizes those that can’t.

It’s so uncanny, that I’m pissed!

I’m pissed. How ’bout you? You pissed?

Not about life in general, even in the face of such challenges. Not pissed about government and politics, so blind these seem to be to our daily needs. No.

Are you pissed about the rest of us — about us? Are you pissed about how easily we’ve abdicated our responsibilities? Are you pissed about how easy it is to blame just about anyone — religions, government, armed forces, education, doctors and lawyers and insurance companies, multinational corporations, our food production? Does this ease with which we can blame everyone, except ourselves, make you uncomfortable? Isn’t it odd how we blame as if all these entities, private and public, exist outside our lives?

We awakened, Wednesday, May 19, to Arlen Specter’s career ending primary defeat in Pennsylvania and Rand Paul’s Kentucky victory, which he says is the Tea Party speaking. The talk — media’s and politico’s — is cheap: voters are tired of the same old in Washington; we’re tired — we’re being told — of the insiders, the old Washington establishment politics that’s grid locked in partisan bickering. The idiocy I’m pissed about is the notion that voters are actually opting for candidates that are not a part of the circles of power — Joe Sestak and Rand Paul. How ignorant is that? It’s proof that politicians and their symbiotic relationship with mainstream media are working well to ensure a sleepy citizenry that’s been educated to simply follow. Ignorance and laziness piss me off — I’ve had it.

Joe Sestak, who defeated Arlen Specter, is a U.S. representative, a Democrat elected in 2006; he is a retired two-star admiral with 31 years of service in the Navy. He grew up in a large family in Delaware County, and followed his father, a World War II captain, into the Navy. Joe Sestak graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy second in his class, and rose through the ranks to become a three-star admiral; he holds a master’s and doctoral degree from Harvard University. He was a defense adviser for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He commanded the George Washington aircraft carrier battle group during combat operations in Afghanistan. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Sestak became the first director of “Deep Blue,” an anti-terrorism think tank within the Navy.

I don’t know, maybe it’s me — maybe I’m misreading Sestak’s CV: Naval Academy, Harvard, commander of an aircraft carrier, congressman — are these not highly priced establishment posts synonimous with power and influence? If Joe Sestak didn’t fully and completely embrace the establishment and thus learn how power works in government — primarily its relationship between congress, the senate, the Pentagon and, of course, the private sector — how did he get to where he is today, flying a Jimi Hendrix freak flag? “Now, if 6 turned up to be 9, I don’t mind, I don’t mind?” Really? I mind since the 6 never turned out to be 9 — 6 is 6 and Sestak and Specter are the same, except one is 80 and has been around for 30 years. Maybe Specter should go, but not because Sestak is somehow something new and different — he’s not.

Rand Paul is the son of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate whose libertarian backers often take credit for being the germ of the Tea Party. No, that can’t be re-establishing the establishment. Mr. Paul has backing from Mr. Bunning, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and evangelical leader James Dobson, the founder of the Colorado-based Christian organization Focus on the Family. Absolutely, this is not more of the same!

How utterly uncanny is the absolute stupidity of the voters buying into the notion that any of these candidates is somehow not lured by the greatest aphrodisiac of all, power? If these are real “do-gooders,” then once in Washington, they’ll experience how power is maintained by those that need it in their hands most. If they don’t go along, their careers in the spectacle will be short-lived.

We know that the Katrina tragedy was not a natural catastrophe, but rather, a devastation caused by the Army Corps of Engineers. We know, too, that hubris, greed and human error (seen as neglect of the facts) caused the disaster in the Gulf. We know that terrorists grow from poverty and illiteracy, much as did the American discontent — some of it violent — in the 1960’s, case in point being the Newark Riots.* And we know quite well about the deterioration of public life in America and the rise of mediocrity and buffoonery, such as we see in cases like the media’s fixation with Elena Kagan’s sexuality and Representative Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, a goober who preaches sex-abstinence and couldn’t abstain from sex, as we’ve learned from his resignation prompted by a part time affair with an aid that actually helped him video tape commentary about sex-abstinence.

I’m pissed that with so much evidence we can’t seem to face the reality that we’re humans with lots and lots of faults, making mistakes at every turn. We seem to be convinced that the institutions we inhabit — and that inhabit us — will carry on without us, failing to see — or is it repression? — that we have created the world in which we live; that what we see around us — the economy, poverty, education problems, health care, greed, avarice, the widening gap between the haves and have nots– all of these are who we are.  I’m pissed that in-between state dinners, Presidents Obama and Calderon will not discuss America’s socio-economic dependency on drugs and weapons; that Wall Street and Main Street are complicit in the drug trade.  And I’m pissed that, as Charles Bowden says in Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the  Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, we’re not involved in a “drug war,” but rather, in a “war for drugs.”  We’re all in this together and we’re in denial.  “For decades, investigative journalists, researchers and analysts have noted the symbiotic relationship amongst international narcotrafficking syndicates, neofascist political groups, U.S. intelligence agencies and U.S. Special Forces in the war against leftist adversaries” (read entire link, please).

Am I the only one pissed at the ease with which we are willing to accept the deception and the lies?

We have such a fragile hold on life. We don’t have a sure grip. Our hope bubbles up and pops. But maybe, just maybe this is why we’re in denial and so eager to grab onto anything — the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh’s “grandmother-horrifying derision that passes for humor on radio these days,” the bogus political – media narrative of change; and maybe this is why in our eagerness to reject all that seems familiar, we actually become more entrenched in the systematic decay of everything we’ve always created and have to live with. This denial of our reality pisses me off! It doesn’t you?