Papa

As Steve Paul explains, July is an important month for Ernest Hemingway:

The month of July brings the anniversary of three defining Hemingway moments: He was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois; he took his own life on July 2, 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho. And on July 8, 1918, while he was serving in the Red Cross ambulance service attached to the Italian army, he was wounded by the explosion of an Austro-Hungarian trench mortar shell. The blast sliced 227 pieces of metal fragments into his body, gave him what felt like a near-death experience and ultimately shaped one persistent subtext of Hemingway’s literary career.

For me, 21 July 2014 sits just a few weeks after the birth of my first granddaughter by my only daughter—and with that event the never-ending question posed to me: What is she going to call you?

My first urge has always been “Whatever she calls me,” to leave this to this wonderful new child who will have an inordinate amount of her life decided for her as we are wont to do with children, sadly.

I named by maternal grandfather Tu-daddy, and so there is some nostalgia in that desire to leave this to my granddaughter.

But if I must choose a name, it will be Papa for Papa Hemingway. Hemingway’s first wife Hadley explains in an audio clip how Hemingway became Papa:

In this clip, Alice Sokoloff asks Hadley if she remembers how the name “Papa” began, which was sometime during their years in Paris. As we know, Hemingway was wonderful at assigning nicknames to almost everyone he knew. Throughout the tapes, Hadley enjoys remembering affectionate names between them such as “Bumby” and “Bumili”, “Hemingstein”, “Tattie”, “Hash”, “Feather Kitty”, “Wax Puppy”, and “Tiny”.

“You did a lot of playing with words,” Alice observes, later in the tape. “We both loved words”, Hadley agrees, “I loved words as much as he did but I wasn’t a magician.”

As a writer, one who loves wordplay, and someone who nicknames (I am also a name clipper: Sky for Skylar, Jess for Jessica), I have much in common with Hemingway, who poses a tremendous problem for me.

Yes, I know there is much wrong with and in Hemingway’s writing and life. And I struggle with my technical attraction to his economy of language—his craft—against those issues of misogyny and complicated glorification of the very violent man’s world.

The world is complicated—as I grow to understand better every day—so I have a special, although conflicted, place in my writer’s heart for Hemingway, and if my granddaughter takes to Papa, well, so much the better for this world, a world I want to be kinder and more gracious because she is now here as another part of the lineage begun with my daughter.

As Hadley notes above, there is a magic to words, and magic rises above this world we fumble all too often. Words, then, are hope, the sort of hope we embrace when we conjure yet more of us on this planet.

Yes, Papa is fine by me.

Blogs Using Hemingway

Gates Moratorium Another Scam: Beware the Roadbuilders pt. 2

The Analogy, Hyperbole Problem: “With explanation kind” (Tone, pt. 5)

From Failing to Killing Writing: Computer-Based Grading

Our Dystopia Is Now: The Circle (Eggers) and Feed (Anderson)

Common Core in the Real World: Destroying Literacy through Standardization (Again)

Poetry

the archeology of white people

“No new federal spending” Equals “This really doesn’t matter”

New York Times columnist Mykoto Rich’s lede sounds promising:

President Obama will announce on Monday that 60 of the nation’s largest school districts are joining his initiative to improve the educational futures of young African-American and Hispanic boys, beginning in preschool and extending through high school graduation.

But the most important point comes in the fourth paragraph:

No new federal spending is attached to the initiative. The new efforts, which will also seek support from the nonprofit and private sectors, are being coordinated by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts.

In the U.S., “No new federal spending” equals “This really doesn’t matter.”

Can you imagine no new federal spending being attached to any military initiative?

What about no new federal spending to bail out the banks?

Of course not. But the U.S. has made a clear choice: Fund the interests of the rich and powerful (for them, the dirty money of government isn’t so dirty) and leave the fortunes of the impoverished and victims of inequity to the Invisible Hand of the free market.

We may want to note that at least the Obama administration has made a somewhat bold move to acknowledge the crippling disadvantages faced by African American and Latino boys in the U.S.—and here we should pause and make sure we acknowledge that as the civil rights issue of our time. And because of that acknowledgement, the NYT makes a rare concession to these facts, as Rich explains late in her piece:

Black and Latino students have long experienced a pattern of inequality along racial lines in American schools. According to data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students and attend schools with less-experienced teachers. Many also attend schools that do not offer advanced math and science courses.

Boys in particular are at a disadvantage. Black and Latino boys are less likely to graduate from high school than white boys, but also less likely than African-American or Latino girls. And in elementary school, they already fall far behind their white counterparts in reading skills: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of standardized tests administered to a random sampling of American children, only 14 percent of black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys scored proficient or above on the fourth-grade reading tests in 2013, compared with 42 percent of white boys and 21 percent of both black and Hispanic girls.

But without government spending, initiatives are nothing more than rhetoric and distraction—further evidence of our commitment to capitalism first and possibly to the exclusion of democracy and equity, as I have examined before:

More difficult to confront than either mendacity or foma, it appears, is the hard truth that the human pursuit of equity must come before merit can matter and that in order to achieve that possibility, the human condition must commit to a spirit of community and collaboration, not competition.

Regretfully, most in power are apt to continue to not let that cat out of the bag.

Capitalism and the free market, however, are not the domains of ethical and moral social action. The human experience in the U.S. has shown us time and again that left unfettered, that market feeds itself on the workers in order to fatten the owners.

The lives and faces of African American and Latino boys in the U.S. are the regrettable portraits of our failures as a people. We are now confronted with an option to embrace our collective power and shared humanity—that which is government, the public sphere, the Commons.

There is often a reason a cliche becomes a cliche—the wisdom of all that is True becomes repeated until we have cliche. In the U.S., our new motto should be: Put your money where your mouth is.

Until then, we remain malnourished by the empty calories of rhetoric.

NOTE: For an alternative view, please read Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism.

A Brief Meditation on What Has Failed

What has failed in the U.S.?

Democracy? No. We have failed democracy.

Public education ? No. We have failed public education.

The free press? No. We have failed the free press.

Capitalism? No. This is exactly how capitalism works–consuming all and laying waste to democracy, human dignity, and equity.

Of all that is the U.S., capitalism is working as it is designed to work.

And that is our greatest failure.

O, Free Press, Where Art Thou?

As I have noted, a common thread running through my blogs is the carelessness among the media covering education.

Case in point, yet another tone-deaf and completely unsupportable piece has appeared in the The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC): Duncan deserves high marks.

With just a modicum of effort, almost every claim made in this piece is easily refuted by something the mainstream press seems determined to ignore, evidence.

I have called for the “Oliver Ruler” and  a critical free press as well as posting an open letter to journalists, but many journalists remain committed to “balance” and thus are unwilling to evaluate the quality of claims or the credibility of people or positions.

But there appears to be some hope across the pond (it seems Oliver’s land can see what we cannot):

Stop giving airtime to crackpots, Phil Plait

BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes

So once again, not all issues have “both sides” and thus do not require seeking out balance for the sake of balance. As well, not all people or claims are credible; therefore, that those people or claims exist does not justify their being acknowledged. It is essentially malpractice to treat unequal claims as equal.

While the BBC is directly addressing science, in the U.S. the education reform agenda is currently being crippled by inexpert and incompetent leadership that is being reinforced by a media blinded by their pursuit of balance at the expense of credibility and evidence.

Leaving me still pining, O, free press, where art thou?

GUEST POST: Denny Taylor, Garn Press

GUEST POST: Denny Taylor, Garn Press

 Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am writing to urgently request your help. If you find the political circumstance and the research base for the four propositions that I have outlined in this letter are compelling, and you support the course of action suggested here please send this letter to friends and colleagues. Use your websites, Facebook, and any other means to get the message out. Given that I rarely enter the public sphere my friends will know that the situation of which I write is pressing. Time is of the essence, I fear.

Some of you will have read books I have written based on forty years of longitudinal research in family, community, and schools settings with children, families, and teachers who live and work in challenging social and physical environments. Except for my doctoral dissertation, all my research has taken place in sites of urban and rural poverty.

About fifteen years ago I became more focused on catastrophic events, including extreme weather events, industrial disasters, war and armed conflict, and acts of mass violence that occur with little warning and in a matter of a few seconds change the lives of children, teachers, and their families forever.

I haven’t published during this fifteen year time period, but I have been working as a researcher and writing on a daily basis. Much of the time I have spent studying the research on trauma and mass trauma with a mentor in the field. Still more time has been spent studying Earth system science, and eventually writing qualitative research papers that were peer reviewed by researchers in the physical sciences. Based on the reviews, I have participated in research conferences and meetings with Earth system scientists whose research focuses on quantitative studies on the anthropogenic changes that are taking place to the planet.

My own research has evolved, and I have found my place between scientists, policy makers, and the public. The mix of social and physical sciences is making it possible for me to share the findings of these fifteen years of daily study, which are firmly grounded in scientific evidence, and in the lived knowledge that has come from living and working in places where catastrophic events have taken place.

There are eight book length manuscripts on my bookshelf and the first three books based on them are being published this summer. These books are very different from each other, but they all focus on the interconnections between two of the greatest threats to our children’s future:

  1. The dismantling of the US public education system; and
  2. The acceleration of anthropogenic change to the planet.

The Earth system scientists from the global scientific community who participated in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report categorized climate change as “unequivocal”, and 195 countries signed documents in agreement with these scientists. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has produced 40 reports, the first in 2005, raising concerns about climate change and in the 2014 report the GAO has elevated the impacts of climate change to “high risk” status. The Department of Defense (DOD) has issued similar reports and warnings and is preparing for catastrophic events that might occur because of climate change.

But the US Congress still refuses to act. Many members of Congress are still denying that climate change is unequivocal, and they refuse to acknowledge that both the people of the United States and the entire global community are at “high risk”.

Even more inexplicable is the fact that there is now one political party in the US Congress that is not only denying climate change, but has powerful members on Congressional sub-committees convened to focus on climate change who are also outspoken in denying basic science.

The three books connect the dots between the dismantling of the US public education system and the denial of climate change, and they present four propositions:

First Proposition: By defunding public education the federal government is selling the future of children in the US to private corporations, creating huge revenues for companies and a bonanza for shareholders, while at the same time undermining and destabilizing the neighborhoods and communities in which schools are privatized.

Second Proposition: By profligating denial of climate change, defunding and limiting expenditures on mitigating climate and environmental problems, the US Congress is actively engaged in protecting the corporate interests that have supported their political campaigns, while willfully ignoring the very real and very grave threat that exists to the American people, especially children, and to all human life on the planet.

Third proposition: By defunding public education and selling the children in the US to private corporations that are in large part responsible for climate change and the destruction of the environment, the federal government is ensuring the indoctrination of America’s children into the State-Corporate Complex that is threatening their future, while at the same time actively interfering with their capacity to develop the problem-solving capabilities they will need to tackle the potentially life-threatening anthropogenic changes to the planet that they will experience in their lifetime.

Fourth proposition:If we are serious about preparing our children for an uncertain future, in which they will be confronted by many perils, then we must stop the corporate education revolution immediately and recreate the public school system based on democratic principles, ensuring equality and opportunity for all children to participate in projects and activities that will ensure their active engagement in re-visioning and re-imagining human life on Earth.

For our children and the planet, the third and fourth propositions are far reaching in their implications. The three books unpackage the political propaganda, and focus on the scientific research that is being obfuscated for political power, and corporate revenues and profits. Each book explores the relationships that exist between what Noam Chomsky calls “the State-Corporate Complex” and the acceleration of climate change, and the defunding and corporatization of public education. Together they provide compelling evidence why the Common Core should be abandoned and Pearson’s “global education revolution” immediately ended.

Here are the titles of the three books:

Nineteen Clues: Great Transformation Can Be Achieved Through Collective (just published in paper and also available in electronic formats for Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and iBooks).

Save Our Children, Save Our School, Pearson Broke the Golden Rule (proof copies of this political satire have arrived and the actual book should be available in two weeks with eBooks to follow).

Keys to the Future: A Parent-Teacher Guide to Saving the Planet (is in the final edit stage and will be available in paper by September, again with eBooks to follow).

Together, based on the evidence, these books make the case that there are three things we know for sure:

  1. What happens to the future lives of our children and grandchildren depends on us;
  2. We should not expect the powerbrokers of the State-Corporate Complex to come to our aid or rescue our children;
  3. Extreme inequality is not only bad for people it is bad for the planet – the poor are at greater peril than the rich.

Many teachers and parents are already leading the way in the struggle for equality and more humane learning environments for children. Their courageous activism is the struggle not only for the re-establishment of the public education system, but also for the future of humanity.

The dangers to our children are real, and at Garn we volunteering our time to work for the Press, because we regard ourselves as first responders in an emergency situation. Our mission is to publish books with actionable knowledge that can be of use to educators and the public. We are hopeful for the future and we put our trust in the people, especially parents and teachers, who are working to make the planet a child safe zone.

Please consider supporting Garn Press by sharing this letter with everyone in your social networks and encouraging your friends and colleagues to read the books. Reviews are welcome!

Our hope at Garn is that when our children and grandchildren ask us what we did to respond to climate change we will be able to tell them that:

  1. We saved their schools and made them sites of equity and justice;
  2. We made their schools places where every child developed the capacity to be resourceful and resilient;
  3. We insisted that they had the opportunity to participate in great projects about the Earth and about the Universe;
  4. We made sure their education included both the scientific and the literary so they could see the deep connections between these ways of thinking and ways of being;
  5. We were adamant that they learned together in classrooms that valued the ways in which they could support one another;
  6. We insisted that their classes included the arts, dance, music, drama, painting and drawing in seamless lessons that encouraged joyfulness and a sense of belonging to a community.

We will be able to tell them that because of the ways in which we insisted they were educated the ethos of the nation changed. Because of their children the public began to regard the Earth differently. People began to reassess what was important to them. They acted on what they already knew, that liberty cannot exist without justice, and that the price of great wealth for a few was too high for the public to pay and would no longer be tolerated.

We will tell them we stood strong, and we used these newfound beliefs in our re-Imagining of the ways we live on the planet. We will tell them because we love our children so much the world changed.

We must do whatever we can to make this happen, so we can tell our children, “We worked together and we made the Earth a child-safe zone.”

Denny Taylor

New York

July 15, 2014

“Gravity”: The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Woman

In the film Gravity, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) fulfills what appears to be a prerequisite for women in films: She undresses alone:

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

As a science fiction film fan, I immediately thought of Sigourney Weaver in Alien:

Sigourney Weaver, Alien

At the end of the film, when Ryan Stone crawls out of the water, again in her underwear, I was by then struck as well by Stone’s cropped hair and the camera’s apparent fascination with Stone’s (Bullock’s) physique, both of which can be fairly described as man-like—not unlike her name:

Matt Kowalski: What kind of name is Ryan for a girl?
Ryan Stone: Dad wanted a boy.

While I found Gravity to be a powerful and well-crafted film—stunning cinematography, stellar acting, tight and compelling narrative—I am less enamored by the rugged individualism theme and the need to frame Stone as a (wo)man. The triumph of Stone is one grounded entirely in her conforming to male norms, much of which is portrayed in her androgynous body, boyish haircut, and man’s name (even the “stone” of her last name erases the emotional core of the character that could have been celebrated more fully than the weightless tear scene).

Instead of Gravity, the film possibly should have been titled Oxygen or Breathe, but Gravity ultimately does capture the weight of the male gaze and the weight of the male norm that anchor the motifs and theme of the film—regretfully, not elements celebrating Stone as a woman, but ones that reduce her to the same tired messages coming from Hollywood about the Great White Masculine Hope.

While the film appears to downplay Matt Kowalski (George Clooney)—the quintessential man’s man in film and life and Stone’s cavalier Obi-Wan Kenobi, always there (even in delusion) to make sure she bucks up—that secondary role proves to be a distraction because Stone must assume the qualities Kowalski would have played if the roles were reversed—lest we forget Clooney strips alone in films as well:

George Clooney, The American

The larger message found in Gravity is the inability of mainstream films to celebrate women as women. Consider the superhero makeover of Katniss in the Hunger Games films, as revealed in the second film’s poster:

Catching Fire promotional poster

And Lisbeth Salander in the U.S. film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, notably her Batman-esque scenes in leather and on her motorcycle (as well as her snarled, “There will be blood”):

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in U.S. film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Woman

A week ago today, I was in the delivery room while my only daughter gave birth to my first granddaughter. That experience was surrounded by the professional brilliance of a nursing staff (all women) who provided my daughter the medical and emotional support that made a difficult and painful experience far less difficult than it could have been.

As a father, I was helpless, watching, worrying.

Once my granddaughter was born, and the baby and mother were healthy and safe, I could not stop considering how this day had held up to everyone the unbearable lightness of being a woman.

Yes, childbirth is a solitary thing, and maybe even heroic, but it is nothing like the rugged individualism myth (childbirth is communal and life-affirming; rugged individualism is competitive and conquering) and it is everything like the essential qualities of women that we should be celebrating: the selflessness, the endurance, and that which we call “maternal.”

But the nurses as well—with their professionalism and care—demonstrated a woman’s world, their pay and status secondary to the doctor (a man).

Just the day before the birth of my granddaughter, Nikki Lee wrote Ride like a girl, a blog exploring how riding a bicycle captures something like being a woman daily: vulnerability, being blamed even when a victim. Lee ends with:

These are just a few of the thousand little environmental microaggressions that you don’t have to deal with when you’re sitting behind the wheel of a car. Any individual one isn’t a big deal, and plenty of cyclists don’t pay active attention to them at all. After a while you just kind of deal with it, because listing out these small annoyances mostly serves to make you feel bad.

At the end of the day, you can always hang up your helmet and declare bike commuting “a great idea and all, but just not worth it”.

What if you didn’t have a choice?

And that brings me back to Gravity, where filmmakers do have choices, and audiences have choices.

Objectifying and reducing women to the male gaze appears to be the choice we are bound to, a gravity of another kind.

Debating Common Core Is Proof that Educators Have Lost

Recently, many within and among the AFT and NEA communities have been applauding that summer conventions have devoted time to debating the Common Core, some going as far as hailing that debate as proof of democracy in action.

The key problem with those claims is that the Common Core debate has been decided for educators, and not by educators. And thus, debating the Common Core is proof that educators have lost.

AFT, NEA, and the Democratic party (all long associated with supporting public education) are failing that commitment because each is focused primarily on preserving the organization and not seeking the principles that these organizations were intended to honor (see Susan Ohanian).

The entire Common Core charade, in fact, has revealed the worst aspect of partisanship—the need to support Team A over Team B in the pursuit of winning, ethics and principles be damned. Ultimately, that educators are applauding the debate about Common Core is further evidence that who controls the table wins. And thus, I want to repost the following:

Who Controls the Table Wins

NOTE: The current education reform agenda focusing primarily on Common Core remains to be a failure of leadership. Public school teachers, public schools, and public school students are little more than collateral damage in the battle to see who can out-standard and out-test and out-rigor whom. Professional organizations, unions, and political leadership are fighting for a place at the table—not securing the sort of future public schools should offer all children in the U.S.

In her discussion of science fiction (SF), Margaret Atwood examines and confronts the nuances among SF, speculative fiction, fantasy, and utopian/dystopian fiction, and throughout, she highlights the power of these overlapping genres to explore the “What if?” by blending dramatizations of human history with human possibility. These genres have the power as well to force us to re-see now in the imagined context of other times and places. [1]

So in the spirit of “What if?” let’s consider a brief thought experiment.

Let’s imagine an other world where the Discovery Institute—a think tank that promotes, among other agendas, the infusion of Intelligent Design as a scientific alternative to the current state of evolutionary understanding in the sciences—decides to evaluate how evolution is taught in colleges and universities across the U.S., with the stated goal of reforming the content and teaching of evolution by labeling and ranking the current departments of biology based on standards for teaching the origin and evolution of humans designed by the Discovery Institute.

Let’s also imagine that governors and the federal government decide to fund and support this process, and that the Discovery Institute has reached an agreement with a major magazine—let’s say U.S. & News World Report—to publish these reports because the U.S. public holds views rejecting evolution and embracing Creationism that appear to match more closely the Discovery Institute than the current knowledge-base of evolutionary biologists.

Now, let’s imagine what the response of those biologists and their departments would be? Would they clamor to fill the seats at this table set by the Discovery Institute and the political leadership among the states and in the federal government? My speculation is to say no they wouldn’t because biologists trust and work at the table they set for their field, and as a central aspect of their professionalism, they would sit firmly at their table, that is in fact not a fixed or dogmatic setting, but a place where those with expertise and experience in the field create and wrestle with the agenda.

Having the Common Core Debate Is Conceding the Table

As with many works of SF, my thought experiment above is a thin mask for exactly what has occurred in education and education reform over the past three decades and intensified in the last decade.

From the accountability movement begun in the 1980s to the implementation of No Child Left Behind to the call for Common Core State Standards (CC) and to the demonizing of teachers along with the rise of calls for teacher education reform (such as the National Council on Teacher Quality [NCTQ]), the pattern in the thought experiment above has been identical to what education has experienced except for one key element: Educators, administrators, union leaders, and professional organizations have knocked each other down and tripped over their own feet to grab the seats at the table being established and set by think-tanks, entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, and politicians.

And here is the essential problem and distinction between K-12 education and higher education. K-12 education is hierarchical, bureaucratic, and blinded by a market ideology (customer service) that de-professionalizes teachers; college education has been historically more apt to embrace academic freedom, professor expertise and autonomy, and field integrity (although these qualities are certainly under assault and eroding).

Calls to join the agendas that are de-professionalizing and marginalizing teachers are concessions to those without expertise and experience establishing the table, and in effect, they’re winning before the discussion ever starts. Hollow rings the refrains that cry out for joining the table because joining the table immediately silences any credible call for questioning the efficacy of the table.

Joining the CC table concedes that education somehow fails due to a lack of standards, that teachers somehow in 2014 need someone else to tell them what to teach.

Joining the CC table to make sure they are implemented “properly” admits teachers are not professionals, not experts as every biologist in U.S. colleges and universities demands for herself or himself.

Joining the teacher education reform movement, participating in NCTQ’s assault on teacher education masked as reform, concedes that a think-tank knows something the entire field of teacher education has yet to determine.

Joining the test-prep mantra and the “no excuses” tables acknowledges and confirms a deficit view of children and transmissional view of knowledge/learning/teaching that dehumanize children and teachers while working against democracy, human agency, and human autonomy.

In my critical examination of school choice, I did not speculate about some other world, but compared the education reform movement to the medical profession. In the late twentieth century doctors fell victim to the market, allowing patients to exert their “customer” muscle when those patients demanded antibiotics. Doctors who acquiesced maintained and gained patients-as-customers; doctors who followed their professional autonomy and did not prescribe antibiotics unless they were warranted lost patients.

Inexpert customers determine standards and evaluate professionals in the market paradigm that promotes a simplistic view of choice proclaiming the customer is always right.

When doctors let patients set the table, what was the result? MRSA and a whole new medical dilemma, one that the medical profession had to reclaim by asserting their expertise and experience. [2]

Begging to join the tables built by the self-proclaimed reformers without expertise or experience is abdicating any potential power among teachers unions, teacher professional organizations, and educators.

Instead, teachers—as well as any unions or professional organizations formed in their names—must establish and participate fully in our own tables because who controls the table wins.

The education reform movement, then, is not about educators claiming our place at self-proclaimed reformers’ tables, but about having the professional integrity and autonomy to decide what tables matter based on our expertise.

Notes

[1] Originally published at Daily Kos April 15, 2012.

[2] DeBellis, R. J., & Zdanawicz, M. (2000, November). Bacteria battle back: Addressing antibiotic resistance. Boston: Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science. Retrieved from http://www.tufts.edu/med/apua/Educ/CME/BBB.pdf ; Ong, S. et al. (2007, September). Antibiotic use for emergency department patients with upper respiratory infections: Prescribing practices, patient expectations, and patient satisfaction. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 50(3), 213-220.

ESPN, Mansplaining, and the U.S. Media

What do NPR, conservative talk radio/media, and ESPN radio have in common?

Upon first blush, likely nothing. And that proves both what they have in common as well as how that unrecognized is the problem.

Let’s start with NPR, as Tracie Powell reports:

Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s education team lead blogger, used one of the network’s official Twitter accounts to tweet that she reaches out to diverse sources, but “only white guys get back to” her. Naturally, the post is catching a lot of attention on Twitter, and rightfully so.

And while this admission is being framed as controversial, I have noted that NPR represents a pattern of whitewashing (see HERE, HERE, and HERE); in other words, what is presented as objective or balanced journalism is actually honoring a white male (and thus dominant) perspective as the unexamined given.

From George Will and Cal Thomas—the old-guard right-wing punditocracy—to Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and others in the so-called new conservative media, whitewashing is the not-so-subtle racism, misogyny, and classism that pass for credible public discourse.

But as long as media objectivity remains a thin mask for (white) mansplaining, the so-called liberal media (NPR, for example) and the right-wing media are fundamentally indistinguishable. It is, then, important that we look closely at ESPN radio, the tour-de-force of (white) mansplaining.

ESPN, Mansplaining, and the U.S. Media

ESPN radio offers listeners a line up that is the antithesis of diversity: Mike & Mike, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, and SVP & Russillo.

This is hour upon hour of white guys holding forth as if their perspective has credibility (often it does not), as if their topics are monumentally important (often they are not), and as if their 20-something, fraternity view of the universe deserves our undivided attention (and that never does).

While the ESPN radio line up is solidly a bunch of white guys (and mostly snarky, arrogant white guys), it is also worth noting that African Americans and women serve roles as side-kicks (and on-air, the women look awfully similar to the eye-candy norm of Fox news).

Instead of careful, nuanced, or informed journalism, ESPN radio offers discourse driven by personality, arrogance, and the corrosive power of (white) mansplaining.

And while it may seem easy or justifiable to discount the danger of this dynamic because this is just sports, the obscene professional sport complex in the U.S. (like ESPN radio itself) is actually fertile ground for exploring lingering issues of race, class, and gender plaguing U.S. efforts at democracy and equity. If anything in the U.S. remains a man’s hostile world, it is professional sport (see HERE and HERE).

If only some in the media would step away from the alluring norm of (white) mansplaining that lulls us deeper into complacency.

The U.S. needs a critical free press whether that press is covering things great or small because major and so-called mainstream media continue to carry George Will and Cal Thomas as if their world views are credible, and not the toxic nastiness they perpetuate.

I invite you to suffer through 20 or 30 minutes of Limbaugh and then about the same time spent with Colin Cowherd. The nearly incoherent navel-gazing mansplaining between the two of them is indistinguishable—but it takes a bit of care to understand that among almost all of the mainstream media the space between right-wing talk radio, ESPN radio, and so-called credible outlets such as NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, and many others is negligible.

If a white man isn’t telling us what and how to think (with a heaping dose of arrogance and juvenile glee), then the foundation of any and all being presented is (white) mansplaining—whether someone is contemplating whether LeBron James is holding the NBA hostage or NPR is fawning over schools teaching impoverished children of color “grit” through the whitewashed story of Steve Jobs.

For those of us fighting the fight and working daily in public education, that the teaching profession is dominated by women and that the students most in need of public education are living in poverty and children of color represent the pervasive and corrosive power of (white) mansplaining at all levels of society, but nowhere is that more distinct than in all aspects of the media, whether we are considering news or entertainment (as if there is a difference).

Too often, as well, when mainstream media allow surface diversity (gender [1] or race), those journalists are throttled by the fair-and-balanced norms—(white) mansplaining—that whitewashes any real diversity of thought.

In the 21st century, the U.S. is ample evidence that we have failed democracy, the free press, and universal public education. And those failures feed the current state of inequity that constitutes the country.

It cannot be stated often enough, then, that the U.S. needs a critical free press and that public narratives need a new mythology, one that not only replaces but refutes the current culture of (white) mansplaining that surrounds us daily.

[1] Consider the female lead of Gravity and how the narrative and motifs of the film play to and re-enforce a rugged individualism theme. The woman (played by Sandra Bullock) has a man’s name, Ryan Stone, and presents a physical presence that walks a thin line between objectifying a woman and highlighting her man-like “look,” athletic, hair cropped short. This is no celebration of a powerful female, but a message that this woman deserves our praise because she rises to the norms of men, created by men. Again, this is not substantially different than the motif on ESPN of praising African American athletes as “articulate.”

Racism not Below the Surface in U.S., Still

Since it is just sports, that LeBran James and Carmelo Anthony are wielding a significant amount of power during the NBA off-season could easily go unnoticed except for sports fans and those enthralled by ESPN and sports media.

But how James and Anthony are framed should be placed in context, notably the recent confrontation and arrest of an African American female professor at Arizona State University and this post, It’s Not Race, It’s Class…And Other Stories Folks Now Tell.

The U.S. is not post-racial, and claims that the country is may be that most powerful evidence that racism is not even below the surface, that denying racism has an evidence problem. It seems important—much like the “thug” labeling of Richard Sherman—that James is being accused of holding the NBA hostage.

Shouldn’t we investigate how often powerful and wealthy white men are framed in such language? (Never.)

In that context, I think we should revisit, then, the NBA finals from 2011, one in which the framing of James and Nowitzki reveal how professional sports in the U.S. expose the enduring power of racism as well as illuminate the pervasive influence of racism throughout education reform.

NBA Finals and “No Excuses” Charters

After game one of the 2011 NBA Finals, pundits began to clamor to reappraise the status of the Miami Heat, a team nearly equally loved and despised for the same reason—the acquisition of LeBron James. But in the closing seconds of game two, Dirk Nowitzki made a spinning, driving lay up with his splinted left hand to seal a huge fourth-quarter comeback, spurring Gregg Doyel at CBSSports.com to write a column titled “Heat return to their smug ways and Mavs make them pay.”

Consider some of Doyel’s comments. Frame this about the Heat—”Ultimately, this was everything we have come to expect from these fascinating, infuriating Miami Heat: Hollywood as hell. Damn good. But a bit too full of themselves”—with this comment about Nowitzki:

Dirk Nowitzki is the anti-Heat—a quiet, humble, mentally tough SOB. He played with a splint on the middle finger of his left hand, and for more than 45 minutes he didn’t play well. But he scored Dallas’ final nine points, seven in the last minute, four with his left hand. That game-winning layup? He created it, then finished it, with his left hand. It probably hurt, but Nowitzki had more important things to worry about than pain. He had a game to win.

When I read this column, I immediately thought about a recent column by Dana Goldstein,“Integration and the ‘No Excuses’ Charter School Movement.” In her piece, she examines “no excuses” ideologies connected with the new charter school movement:

That said, there are some troubling questions about whether the most politically popular charter school model—the “No Excuses” model popularized by KIPP and embraced by Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network—is palatable to middle-class and affluent parents.

Later in her essay, Goldstein makes one comment that continues to trouble me: “What seems clear is that the ‘No Excuses’ model is not for everyone, and presents particular challenges to parents who are accustomed to the schedules and social routines of high-quality neighborhood public schools.”

It is the intersection of the column about game two of the NBA finals and Goldstein’s article on “no excuses” charter schools that reveals for us the powerful influence of middle-class norms (a code for “white”) on every aspect of American society.

Throughout the NBA playoffs this year, the story no one is talking about has been the narratives following Nowitzki and LeBron James.

The NBA in Black and White

Nowitzki, a German-born centerpiece of the Dallas Mavericks, has been repeatedly compared to Larry Bird, one of the NBA all-time greats who shares with Nowitzki an important quality—race—which appears to translate into a default assessment—working-class ethos, the ability to rise above limitations through hard work (the personification of middle-class myths).

James, while often championed as the “next” Michael Jordan, has increasingly been compared to Magic Johnson, the arch-rival of Bird from an era decades in the past. Also like the Magic comparison, James now carries the “Hollywood” label—and that means too much talent and not enough humility, not enough effort.

And as the narrative about the Heat and the Mavericks (let’s not ignore the coincidental symbolism in the team names and the geographical significance of Miami beach against Texas) continues to play out, we read the subtext of class and race that drives not what happens on the court but how the media and public craft those narratives as a response to the players.

Culturally, we want Nowitzki and the Mavericks to win because that proves us right [1], the triumph of the middle-class norm. And we hope that a Nowitzki/Maverick win will go one step further by putting James and the Heat in their place, creating the ultimate personification of the middle-class norm—James’s talent plus Nowitzki’s humble working-class persona.

And this is what troubles me about Goldstein’s sentence from above: “What seems clear is that the ‘No Excuses’ model is not for everyone.” This leaves open an endorsement for continuing to champion “no excuses” schools as long as they target children of color, children trapped in poverty, and children struggling against being English language learners.

Middle-class and affluent children don’t need “no excuses” schools, the unspoken message goes, because they are already on board; they are a part of the normalization of middle-class (white) myths of who people should be, what people should say, and how people should behave.

We should not be contemplating for whom “no excuses” schools are appropriate because “no excuses” schools are not appropriate for any children in a free society. “No excuses” schools are the worst type of classism and racism, and they are the ultimate reduction of education to enculturation.

“No excuses” ideology denies human agency, human dignity, perpetuating a Western caste system of knowing ones place.

Yes, as a society, we want LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh to sit down and shut up, but we also want some children to learn this as well. The elite remain elite as long as the rest remain compliant.

Adrienne Rich (2001) fears that what is “rendered unspeakable, [is] thus unthinkable” (p. 150). [2]

And Bill Ayers (2001) recognizes the silencing purposes of schools:

In school, a high value is placed on quiet: “Is everything quiet?” the superintendent asks the principal, and the principal the teacher, and the teacher the child. If everything is quiet, it is assumed that all is well. This is why many normal children—considering what kind of intelligence is expected and what will be rewarded here—become passive, quiet, obedient, dull. The environment practically demands it. (p. 51) [3]

The “no excuses” miracle schools are no miracles at all. They are mirages carefully crafted to reinforce cultural myths. They are nightmares for childhood and the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are tragic examples of allowing the ends to justify the means.

If we are a people who embrace human freedom and agency, if we are a people who believe all people are created equal, if we are a people who trust the power of education as central to that freedom and equality, then there simply is no excuse for perpetuating “no excuses” charter schools that are designed to squelch the possibility of LeBron James-type agency among more people and throughout our society, and not just safely within the confines of a basketball court.

For Further Reading

Other People’s Racism: Race, Rednecks, and Riots in a Southern High School

[1] Consider the same dynamic in the 2014 finals in terms of the San Antonio Spurs as a hard-working franchise, not a star franchise.

[2] Rich, A. (2001). Arts of the possible: Essays and conversations. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

[3] Ayers, W. (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher. 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College Press.

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