Witness today: the pathetic — and uncanny — Washington circus concerning the debt and the debt ceiling crisis; the economy is still moving at a snail’s pace, now reacting even more negatively to Washington’s ideologically based idiocies; evidence of climate change is everywhere around us; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan baffle the mind, forever responding to terror and poor Western management; U.S. public education is in the toilet, put there by more controversial political brinkmanship, and continuing to ensure we live in a bifurcated society; unemployment is stagnant, as a result, and more and more people out of work or working in jobs well below their capacity; production is at a standstill, and in some places, such as Ohio, industry has left town — Main Street is emptying out; children and women, some of the most vulnerable in our society, are without health care; the gap between the richest of the privileged white and Hispanics and blacks is wider than it’s ever been in history; some of our cities — Newark for instance — are being left in the dust kicked up by the materialism of the few.
These tragic items are but the results of our manmade decline. Let me say this again: if you look around — health care, education, finance, industry, the environment, our deteriorating infrastructure, the decline of certain cities, particularly those inhabited by people of color and immigrants — every single problem we have today exists because we’ve made it so. Our educated elite have taken us down.
How can the most powerful nation in history come to this? The answer, I dare, is simple: we’ve educated the elite — politicians, lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, and so on — into beings that have long ago left their humanity at the curb, supplanted by delusions of grandeur, the avarice that so carefully destroys everything it touches. Education has become school for profit and self-gain.
As I’ve said in these pages before, what we have here is a crisis in — and about — EDUCATION, writ large (see here, too). Education has forgotten — or repressed — it’s allegiance to Humanity, its very real purpose of creating empathetic, creative citizens.
We can learn something from the models we say we follow, in this case, the Greek Stoics. The Stoics had a radical point, as Martha S. Nussbaum tells us in Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education, “that we should give our first allegiance to no mere form of government, not temporal power, but to the moral community made up by the humanity of all human beings.” We’ve moved far from this goal, this reality; it’s no longer a compass point.
Of course, the failure of our EDUCATION — the educating for excellence, efficiency and production, education focused solely on the means of production and accounting, the creation of cogs on the wheel of mediocrity — is devoid of any moral posture. It is an immoral education.
When morality fails or is oppressed, ideologies spring to the rescue. In every tragic circumstance, we face today, each can be said to be driven by ideologies — not rationality, not dialog, compromise and bargaining, the hallmarks of Democracy.
Ideologies give us a false sense of reality, an artificial view of the world — and ourselves. Ideologies, as we can see today in Washington, scorn knowledge; these are motivated or, better, are narrated by the corporation. Who will win, whether or not the debt ceiling is raised? Who will win if US ratings are reduced? That’s right: the banks, no matter what happens, win. They win the world. (This is, of course, the grand example, the ultimate example of inverted totalitarianism, where the corporations dictate and the witless masses, sleeping away in illusions of plentitude, are lead to slaughter.)
How did this world come about?
The rise of industrialism influenced not only the structure of mass education but also its organizational culture. Like factories, schools are special facilities with clear boundaries that separate them from the outside world. They have set hours of operation and prescribed rules of conduct. They are based on the principles of standardization and conformity.
Robinson could be describing the modern prison, instead — separate …from the outside world, prescribed rules of conduct, standardization, and conformity.
What schools have done is effectively standardize and conform and, therefore, shut down the imagination, killed creativity, in the words of Ken Robinson. What then can grow from here? What we have, says John Ralston Saul, in The Unconscious Civilization, is a “human … reduced to a measurable value, like a machine or a piece of property. We can choose to achieve a high value and live comfortably or be dumped unceremoniously onto the heap of marginality.”
Can we change this? Can we combat this?
Yes, we can. There are examples. One primary example is Bard College. This institution is not held to a separation from the outside world; it is in the world, creatively addressing our culture’s greatest challenges.
Leo Botstein, Bard College President since 1975, is perhaps the best and, likely, the most enlightened of college presidents. He has led this college from prescribed — and accepted — rules of conduct and carefully defined new rules of conduct that follow a moral understanding of our human responsibilities to each other. This is, indeed, for my money, the only real example, today, of a classical liberal arts education.
Bard has embarked on several endeavors: Bard High School Early College seeks to provide an alternative to the traditional high school, a “rigorous course of study that emphasizes thinking through writing, discussion, and inquiry.” Imagine if other elite liberal arts colleges learned from Bard and took up alternatives to high schools like this? What can we do? Bard has announced its collaboration with the Newark Public School System as well.
The small college is involved in the Bard Prison Initiative, creating opportunities for incarcerated men and women to earn Bard degrees. In From Ball and Chain to Cap and Gown: Getting a Degree B. A. Behind Bars, a PBS special story about the Bard Prison Initiative, we can see the essence of the liberal arts education at work.
But Bard has not stopped there.
It has a Masters of Arts in Teaching Program, too, allowing students to be certified in New York and California. It is a program focused on “both rural and urban-high needs school districts.” No one is doing this. Absolutely no one. Bard is in the vanguard.
And if this is not enough, Bard has established an Honors College in collaboration with Al-Quds — the Al-Quds – Bard Partnership, in Jerusalem. Along with St. Petersburg State University, Bard has developed “The Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences … the first Department in Russia to be founded upon the principles of liberal education. It emerged from Smolny College (officially the Program in «Arts and Humanities»), which was created in 1994 by St. Petersburg State University in close collaboration with Bard College (USA). Bard College’s interest in curricular innovation and the reform of international education coincided with the interests of a group of creatively-minded scholars from St. Petersburg State University.” In other words, in the international arena, Bard is not going to the usual places, as all other schools do; rather, Bard has opted to go where there are obvious challenges — and opportunities.
How is it possible that a small school in Upstate New York can do so much? Endowments of other liberal arts institutions tower over Bard’s, approximately a mere $270 million. How is it possible to do so much with what in higher education is so little these days? It has 1800 students. A faculty of about 224 professors. The cost of attending Bard is comparable to other elite liberal arts colleges, $55 — so what’s the difference? It has a beautiful campus. It has all the accouterments we expect from these schools — the arts, wonderful grounds, athletic facilities, new technologies abound. So what gives?
Answer: imagination and will, a conviction that what we must do in education if we’re going to contribute to the reversing of the tide of malaise, complacency, avarice and the blind pursuit of materialism is not compete, but rather, join hands and cooperate, collaborate, listen and learn by thinking critically, dialog and bargain. Like no other institution for its size Bard is doing more for humanity than most larger — and more distinguished — universities.
Might we jump on this wagon and see where creativity can take us, rather than staying on the ideological tracks to despair?
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!
I. Newark and the New World Order
Newark is a microcosm of what’s happening across the United States. The city is being isolated by privatization efforts from the rest of America and people are struggling and suffering. Politicians — Governor Christie and Newark Mayor Corey Booker, his foil — are merely mouthpieces for this effort, though they speak the language of inclusion. But Newark is being disseminated, nevertheless. In this Orwellian nightmare, the children — as they are in war — are the most vulnerable and suffering the most.
The unraveling of civil liberties and social justice is evident in the latest confusion — and fight — about the Facebook donation to Newark’s schools. This is an example of a long history of dissemination in Newark. It’s the same old story, one that Newark — and other cities like Newark — have experienced before. On one side of the equation, we have Booker telling Oprah that he’ll include Newark’s parents in the decision making process; on the other we have parents feeling alienated and concerned with Booker’s appointment of Chris Cerf as the a new acting state commissioner of Education, the top post. Cerf heads a commission to double the Zuckerberg donation (they’ve already raised $43 million). Cerf is also a founding partner of a consulting firm for school districts. This is what we use to call carpetbagging, a derogatory term, suggesting opportunism and exploitation from outsiders. The feeling in Newark is that Cerf’s approach appears to be a for-profit enterprise, particularly if we take a look at Cerf’s peers that include a venture capitalist and hedge fund managers. This follows a general trend, incorporated by Governor Christie, to put private firms in charge of under-performing schools in Camden, NJ.
What is happening in Newark around education — again a powerful example of inverted totalitarianism — is the result of a history of neglect. This is a history replete with structural changes, some racist, some not, that have, nevertheless, resulted in the disenfranchisement and isolation of an entire city and its citizens. These structural forces run together with cultural forces that contribute to racial inequality. The latest confusion and battle about the Facebook donation to Newark’s schools is yet another example of how the structural and cultural forces that contribute to racial inequality are exploited for — and by — an elite few. Now, though, tragically so, this too involves black politicians that use race for personal gain. This is not new, but it has now taken on an extraordinarily powerful force — it is subtle and dastardly, it is, as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva suggests in his book Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, a “strange enigma.”
II. From Newark’s Riots to the New World Order
People emigrated to Newark to find the Promised Land – Puerto Ricans, Italians, Albanians, Irish, Spaniards, Jamaicans, Haitians, Mexicans, West Africans, Brazilians, Ecuadorians, Trinidadians and Portuguese all came with hope looking for new horizons.
Newark is New Jersey’s largest and second-most diverse city, after neighboring Jersey City. Just eight miles west of Manhattan and two miles north of Staten Island, Newark was founded in 1666 by Connecticut Puritans; it was a model American city until the end of World War II.
In 1922, the “Four Corners” – meaning the intersection of Market and Broad – was the busiest intersection in the United States. It served as a regional center of retail commerce, anchored by four flourishing department stores: Hahne & Company, L. Bamberger and Company, L.S. Plaut and Company, and Kresge’s. New skyscrapers were built every year, the two tallest being the 40-story Art Deco National Newark Building and the Lefcourt-Newark Building. But then tax laws began rewarding the building of new factories in outlying areas rather than rehabilitating the city’s old factories – the allure of short term profit versus the benefits of long term thinking, a familiar American story. Newark lost its sources of revenue, and it has not been the same since.
Several forces in America began reshaping the concentration of populations, adversely affecting African Americans by denying the opportunity to move from segregated inner-city neighborhoods, William Julius Wilson, the Harvard sociologist, tells us in More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City:
As separate political jurisdiction, suburbs [also] exercised a great deal of autonomy through covenants and deed restrictions. In the face of mounting pressure for integration in the 1960’s, ‘suburbs chose to diversify by race rather than by class. They retained zoning and other restrictions that allowed only affluent blacks (and in some instances Jews) to enter, thereby intensifying the concentration of the urban poor.’
As the population of blacks grew in the North, as did housing demands, there was more of an emphasis on keeping blacks out of communities. These were structural conditions setting up urban poverty. Adding to the housing problem economic forces were also at work. “In other words,” says Wilson, “the relationship between technology and international competition [has] eroded the basic institutions of the mass production system…These global economic transformations have adversely affected the competitive position of many US Rust Belt cities. For example, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh perform poorly on employment growth, an important traditional measure of economic performance.”
Jobs left Newark for suburban tax breaks. Historically — structurally speaking — racist housing practices, globalization (science and technology and the gravitation towards cheap labor) and the move out of the inner city of qualified workers gutted the infrastructure of Newark. Newark lost its tax base; its revenue flew to the suburbs where blacks were not allowed. This reality is most evident in the abandoned buildings and empty lots of Newark; it’s evident in the lack of infrastructure support — hospitals, competitive schools, playgrounds, the lack of police protection and the dismantling of city (and state) workers and their unions. This is ongoing, case in point is the Facebook conflict. Wilson is also instructive here:
Two of the most visible indicators of neighborhood decline are abandoned buildings and vacant lots. According to one recent report, there are 60,000 abandoned and vacant properties in Philadelphia, 40,000 in Detroit, and 26,000 in Baltimore. These inner-city properties have lost residents in the wake of the out-migration of more economically mobile families, and the relocation of many manufacturing industries.
In the seminal study, The New Geography, by Joel Kotkin, we learn that, “The more technology frees us from the tyranny of place and past affiliation, the greater the need for individual places to make themselves more attractive.” But this is an impossibility when there is no revenue. There is no reason to believe that cities, as we know them, will survive these changes — they may not (see also here).
By 1966, then, Newark had a black majority and was experiencing the fastest turnover than most other northern cities.
Evaluating the riots of 1967, Newark educator Nathan Wright, Jr., Episcopalian minister, scholar and poet, the author of 18 books, and a leading advocate of the black power movement said, “No typical American city has as yet experienced such a precipitous change from a white to a black majority.”
At the height of the civil rights movement, Nathan Wright, Jr., was working in the Department of Urban Work of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. In his Introduction to Ready to Riot, a sociological analysis of the conditions in black ghettos that led to the 1967 rebellions, Wright described the fear of his wife Barbara, a daycare worker, and their 17-year-old daughter, as they drove into central Newark on the second night of what he called “civic rebellion.”
“There was an air of expectancy but not of anger,” Reverend Wright tells us. “Barbara and Bunky (his wife and daughter) locked themselves in the car and I stepped onto the sidewalk …Almost immediately there was chaos. The liquor store was ransacked. Men ran by with bottles of liquor in their hands and under their arms…With a sound of thunder the large plate-glass window of the bank, just a few feet from our car, was broken. Mrs. Wright and Bunky were in near terror.”
It was July of 1967 and the disturbances spread quickly to other black urban areas. The National Conference on Black Power was about to convene in Newark, with Dr. Wright as the organizer and chairperson. One of the first major undertakings of the black power movement, the conference brought 1,100 delegates to Newark from 42 cities and 197 black organizations. It called for blacks to build an economic power base with a “Buy Black” campaign, for the establishment of black national holidays and black universities, and broached the topic of black separatism. The conference marked a change in the civil rights movement from demanding individual rights to group solidarity. Dr. Wright was at the pinnacle of his political influence. (It’s also important to note that prior to 1967, Malcolm X, in the mid to late 50’s, as described in the new biography by Manning Marable, A Life of Reinvention, was already following a separatist agenda, advocating for black run businesses, schools, institutions).
The 1967 Newark riots – between July 12 and July 17, 1967 – were six days of rioting, looting and destruction. Many African-Americans, especially younger community leaders, felt they had remained largely disenfranchised in Newark despite the fact that Newark became one of the first majority black cities in America alongside Washington, D.C.. “Seen as a society boxed into frustration,” Reverend Wright says in Ready to Riot, “the city as a whole may be said to have an ill-tempered tendency toward repression on the one hand and aggression on the other.” Local African-American residents felt powerless and disenfranchised and felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and often suffered police brutality; unemployment, poverty, and concerns about low-quality housing contributed to the tinderbox.
“In the mind of the distraught black community there was a growing sense of frustration, brutality, and repression,” said Wright. Are we at this point, again?
The riots are often cited as a major factor in the decline of Newark and its neighboring communities; however, the actual factors include decades of racial, economic, and political forces that generated inner city poverty, which helped spark race riots across America in the 1960s. By the 1960s and ’70s, as industry fled Newark, so did the white middle class, leaving behind a poor population. During this same time, the population of many suburban communities in northern New Jersey expanded rapidly.
The remnants of legalized discrimination that brought about the riots have left their mark on Newark, the poor and the very poor, and the young people among them without a community to sustain them. For sustainability to be successful, nourishment and the necessities of life are the ground floor – the peace President Obama spoke about in Oslo. “It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security,” said President Obama. “It is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive,” he said in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, December 11, 2009. But in Newark the self-destruction that accompanies the psychologically oppressive weight of poverty and hopelessness – unemployment twice as high as in white communities, higher crimes, mortgage defaults that tract higher, and the malaise and pessimism that only benefits liquor stores and drug dealers – holds people from below and drags them down. This is not the path to freedom. It remains, as it did in 1967, a path to destruction.
“The dark ghettos are social, political, educational, and – above all – economic colonies,” wrote Kenneth Clark back in 1965 in his seminal work, Dark Ghetto. “Their inhabitants are subject peoples,” he wrote, “victims of greed, cruelty, insensitivity, guilt, and fear of their masters.” Has anything changed?
III. Newark and the New World Order — Tomorrow’s Promises
The confusing dilemma around the Zuckerberg Facebook 100 million dollars to improve Newark schools is the result of this structural-cultural history. One of the most dastardly cultural results is that Governor Christie and Mayor Booker believe that the citizens of Newark — and the citizens of poor communities in New Jersey — cannot be trusted to re-build their communities. They are completely left out of the equation. If there is going to be rebuilding, it’s going to be outsourced. We see the reality of this already. This perspective and attitude figures largely in a myth about poverty and the inner-city.We must again turn to Wilson for a cogent explanation:
…there is a widespread notion in America that the problems plaguing people in the inner city have little to do with racial discrimination or the effects of living in segregated poverty. For many Americans, the individual and the family bear the main responsibility for their low social and economic achievement in society. If unchallenged, this view may suggest that cultural traits are the root of problems experienced by the ghetto poor.
We have to challenge this perspective. It’s held quite obviously by Christie and Booker — this is why we see the problem with the Facebook money; this is also why we see the complete dismantling of all services in Newark and New Jersey proper, if we look at the poorer communities. Don’t let color fool you, Booker is first a politician — and politicians are always about changing color.
The recesses of the domestic space become sites for history’s most intricate invasions. In that displacement, the borders between home and world become confused; and, uncannily, the private and the public become part of each others, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting.
That we are disoriented, is obvious. That we are also divided, this too is quite evident, particularly when black politicians further the alienation we sense. And the fact that the private and the public are one and the same, something that Cornel West has also argued long ago, further confuses our sense of place, our histories.
Who are we? Who and what do we want to be? Who decides?
We have us to blame in all this, the malaise we’re in, though we’re quick to blame political figures. We have us to blame because we don’t examine ourselves, locating ourselves in this history of oppression that is quite readily available to us for our critique. As I’ve said before, just the other day in a post, I’m merely one voice — among many, I believe — who see these things like, nevertheless, I relegated to the shadows, the boundaries of culture, to use Bhabha, again, marginalized and disenfranchised l, and thus speaking only into silences.
Guantanamo is still open for business, following the Bush-Cheney doctrine. Iraq is on a tighrope. Afghanistan is a quagmire — confusing and violent with no end in sight, corruption at every turn and the Taliban negotiating a come back with their tribal leader, Karzai (he brought them in to begin with). Unemployment is a plague upon our house. The economy is stagnant, for the lack of a better or more optimistic word — nothing new or promising in the not so distant future. Wall Street is totally out of touch with the rest of the country, mired in its hubris, having drawn up the bridge, leaving the illusion they helped create on our side to work through. Health care — what can we say about health care, the single most significant sign of how unbelievably short sided we are in government? And government, the crux of the problem, cowardly and ignorant, lacking any sense of an imaginative approach to a future that already is here, pushing us further down as if a great weight is upon us.
Obama showed promise during his campaign. Many of us voted for Obama because of the promises — change, yes we can. Well, no, apparently not, we can’t. Obama is stuck in age old partisan politics complicated by special interests that circulate about him like sharks looking for prey. Obama can’t function and live up to his potential, preferring a professorial approach that, as a professor myself, know to be a way to conceal the truth of things, the passion that’s not to interfere with the reasoned sense of reality, the illusion of objectivity that students — the citizens — know quite well does not exist, not even in the sciences. Thus, Obama can’t be Obama — he’s become something else.
The problem with Obama not being Obama is not the upcoming mid-term elections; the dilemma is that we will all be so dissolutioned by the time the next presidential election that we will be hard pressed to vote for him again, leaving the presidency wide open for the fascist-like remains, the crumbs left in the wake of Bush-Cheney — the racist Tea Party contingency that’s followed by the ignorant bliss of Sarah Palin. The picture gets uglier and uglier as we look further and further.
Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio has come over to the Obama Health Care Senate plan — what’s left of the original and approved by the Senate — because he feels that this legislation is so important that it could literally be the first of the blocks taken from underneath the Obama Presidency and topple it.
It’s not the merits of the plan that warrant Kucinich’s vote, but rather, saving the Presidency from the extraordinarily negative and bigoted sharks nibbling at the President’s ankles that inspired his allegiance.
This is a mark of our decline, not a gesture of progress and creativty. While the world clamors for diversity and difference to solve problems, our government — and those that want to run our government — aspire to homogeneity, sameness, the status quo. This will kill us completely.