Ellison, Baldwin, Coates: #BlackLivesMatter, a Reader

Published in 1944, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy by Gunnar Myrdal, prompted black novelist Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1913–April 16, 1994) to offer a review, one that is much more than a review, including:

This was a period, the 1870s, wherein scientific method, with its supposed objectivity and neutrality to values, was thought to be the answer to all problems. There is no better example of the confusion and opportunism springing from this false assumption than the relation of American social science to the Negro problem. And let us make no easy distinctions here between Northern and Southern social scientists; both groups used their graphs, charts and other paraphernalia to prove the Negro’s biological, psychological, intellectual and moral inferiority, one group to justify the South’s exploitation of Negroes, and the other to justify the North’s refusal to do anything basic about it. Here was a science whose role, beneath its illusionary non-concern with values, was to reconcile the practical morality of American capitalism with the ideal morality of the American Creed.

And:

The most striking example of this failure is to be seen in the New Deal administration’s perpetuation of a Jim Crow army, and the shamefaced support of it given by the Communists. It would be easy—on the basis of some of the slogans attributed to Negro people by the Communists from time to time, and the New Deal’s frequent retreats on Negro issues—to question the sincerity of these two groups. Or, in the case of the New Deal, to attribute its failure to its desire to hold power in a concrete political situation, while the failure of the Communists could be laid to “Red perfidy.” But this would be silly. Sincerity is not a quality that one expects of political parties, not even revolutionary ones. To question their sincerity makes room for the old idea of paternalism, and the corny notion that these groups have an obligation to “do something for the Negro.”

James Baldwin‘s A Report from Occupied Territory (1966)

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Case for Reparations (2014)

Ta-Nehisi Coates Completely Shuts Down Shelby Steele In Epic Fashion In This Reparations Debate (see video clip)

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow

Black Lives Matter: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males (2015)

“Black Girls Matter”: An Interview With Kimberle Crenshaw and Luke Harris

South Carolina and Education Reform: A Reader

Hartsville, South Carolina sits just north of I-20 and north-west of I-95 about a 30-minute drive from Florence.

Geography matters in SC when discussing education because the state has a long and tarnished history of pockets of poverty and educational inequity now commonly known as the Corridor of Shame [1], a name coined in a documentary addressing that inequity as it correlates with the I-95 corridor running mostly north and south paralleling the SC coast.

The town’s schools are part of Darlington County School District that serves approximately equal numbers of white and black students, although significantly skewed by poverty as reflected in the district’s 2014 report card detailing tested students:

Darlington 2014

Hartsville is the focus of an upcoming PBS documentary co-produced by Sam Chaltain, who writes about the community:

Take Hartsville. Until recently, no one there had ever asked Thompson or her colleagues what they noticed about their child passengers on the bus, or thought to connect their observations to the behavior teachers might witness in the classroom. Moreover, while Hartsville’s teachers were expected to be knowledgeable about their students’ academic standing, they were not expected to be attuned to their psychological states.

That began to change in 2011, when the community announced a five-year plan to transform its elementary schools. It partnered with Yale University’s School Development Program, which helps schools identify and meet the developmental needs of children. It began to evaluate its schools by a broader set of measurements – including the number of disciplinary referrals a bus driver had to write each morning. And it started to coordinate its social services to ensure a more equitable set of support structures for Hartsville’s poorest families.

This focus on Hartsville specifically and SC more broadly is important for understanding the entire education reform movement in the U.S. for several reasons.

The standards/testing issues in SC are complex (the anti-Common Core movement in SC is mostly ill-informed and falls along libertarian lines, for example) and represent well patterns found across the country during the mostly state-based accountability era (see below).

SC was one of the first accountability states, and we have had about 5-6 sets of standards and new tests over 30-plus years (see below). Throughout those years, almost no one in political leadership has acknowledged SC being in the bottom quartile of poverty in the U.S.—huge pockets of poverty and affluence—is the real educational crisis.

Like New Orleans, I think, SC is a perfect model of all that is wrong with the education reform debate.

I recommend viewing the 180 Days focus on Hartsville through the complicated and often jumbled politics and education reform over the past three decades in SC, much of which I have addressed in the reader offered below, organized by major accountability issues and policies:

Value-Added Methods of Teacher Evaluation:

South Carolina Officially Vamboozled

Review [UPDATED]: “How to Evaluate and Retain Effective Teachers” (League of Women Voters of SC)

SC and Common Core:

South Carolina and Common Core: A Next Step?

Death to Common Core! Long Live Failed Education Policy!

Should SC Ditch Common Core?

SC, Reading Policy, and Grade Retention:

Just Say No to Just Read, Florida, South Carolina

Retain to Impede: When Reading Legislation Fails (Again)

SC and Opt-Out:

SC Parents Warned: “no state provision…to opt-out of state-or district-wide testing”

SC, Oklahoma, and Florida:

GreenvilleOnline: SC should choose Oklahoma, not Florida

SC’s Former Superintendent Zais:

SC’s Zais Mistake

SC and Accountability:

Welcome to SC: A Heaping Stumbling-Bumbling Mess of Ineptitude

SC and Charter Schools:

Should SC Increase Charter School Investment?

SC and Exit Exams:

Ending Exit Exams a Start, But Not Enough

SC’s Conservative Leadership:

Conservative Leadership Poor Stewardship of Public Funds

[1] This documentary focuses on a court case in South Carolina initiated by high-poverty school districts surrounding primarily the I-95 corridor of the state, paralleling the east coast and stretching from the NE to the SE region. The documentary suffers from melodramatic production values (music, slow-motion panning of sad children’s faces), but the essential claim of the film is important for confronting the social inequity that is reflected in educational inequity, particularly in the South. Issues included in the film are school funding, community-based schools, access to high-quality educational opportunities and facilities, teacher assignments related to student characteristics, and state education accountability mechanisms. Some related resources (SC school report cards, poverty indices, related blog posts) to the documentary support examining the film in my educational documentary May experience course.

De-professionalization for Profit: “Leery of teachers”

In Common Core’s unintended consequence?, Jonathan Sapers examines a report from the Center for Education Policy (CEP), self-described as “a national, independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools.”

CEP has discovered “that in roughly two-thirds of districts in Common Core states, teachers have developed or are developing their own curricular materials in math (66 percent) and English Language Arts (65 percent). In more than 80 percent of districts, the CEP found that at least one source for curriculum materials was local — from teachers, the district itself or other districts in the state.”

As has been the pattern throughout roughly thirty years of public school accountability—one characterized by a revolving door of state standards and high-stakes testing—new standards and tests mean profit opportunities for education-focused businesses.

Sapers reports:

However, Jay Diskey, executive director of the PreK-12 Learning Group of the Association of American Publishers, said publishers are pulling their weight. “We have more than 150 members in our PreK-12 Learning Group. And the ones I’ve seen over the past several years or more have tried very hard to align with Common Core standards in reading and math.”…

Some teachers and districts are viewing the dearth of materials as an opportunity, but experts and even some educators say putting the job of creating curriculum materials into the hands of teachers may not necessarily be a good thing [emphasis added].

And this is where the article takes a troubling turn, as highlighted here:

leery of teachers

“Leery of Teachers”

My career as an educator includes 18 years teaching English in a SC public high school throughout the 1980s and 1990s, followed by the most recent 13 years as a teacher educator in higher education.

Those experiences and in my work teaching future teachers, I note that a powerful and problematic difference between a K-12 teacher and a college professor is the locus of authority in terms of the content of any course.

Historically and currently, the authority over content for K-12 teachers has too often been textbooks, curriculum guides, standards, and high-stakes tests.

For college professors, the single most important element of teaching authority is that professors are the locus of authority of the content they teach; in fact, many if not most college professors have little or no formal training in pedagogy, how to teach.

The great irony of this distinction is that between K-12 teachers and professors, K-12 teachers have the greater expertise in teaching, but a far reduced status as a professional when compared to professors.

Along with the locus of authority over the content, the status of professional is strongly related to autonomy and respect—which brings me back to the “unintended consequence” above.

The attitude toward K-12 teachers not having time to create curriculum is valid, but the reason they do not have time includes the incessant changing of bureaucratic mandates that consume their time and that K-12 teachers do not have professional schedules (which professors do) in which to conduct research and create curriculum (which are often related at the university level).

However, the “leery” as well as the unsubstantiated claim that teachers do not have the “professional background” to create curriculum is a genuinely ugly example of the de-professionalization of teaching—a process aided by a historical marginalizing of teaching (significantly as an element of professional sexism), the bureaucratizing of teaching, and the union-busting momentum in recent years.

We should be exploring the real intended consequence of Common Core: billions are to be made off the standards and testing charade, and teachers creating their own curriculum and materials infringes on that profit.

Teaching at all levels includes curriculum, instruction, and assessment, but central to those elements are the unique set of students each teacher faces every day.

Curriculum, instruction, and assessment mean almost nothing without the context of students, and the only person qualified to make those decisions is the teacher.

If we must be leery, let’s be leery about think tanks, publishing companies, and mainstream media who all seem to have little respect for the professionalism of teaching.

See Also

Teaching: Too Hard for Teachers, Peter Greene

Passive Progressivism

Hamlet:
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

King:
What dost thou mean by this?

Hamlet:
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.

Hamlet (Act 4, Scene 3)

The phrase “bleeding heart liberal” has always created in me some tension between skepticism about those who use it as a baseless slur against left-wing ideology and recognition that those calling themselves “liberal,” “progressive,” and/or “Democrat” are as likely to disappoint me as right-wingers (although for different reasons).

A Twitter conversation today with Camika Royal prompted by my Are We (Finally) Ready to Face Teacher Education’s Race Problem? led to this:

I have previously examined how the status quo of power in the U.S. seeks to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. only as a distorted passive radical, and I have recently called out my own field of teacher education for the tendency of education professors to complain and then comply.

Passivity and compliance, I note, are both necessary for maintaining the status quo of inequity in the U.S. and the central qualities among so-called progressives.

Progressivism rightly viewed is the antithesis of conservatism—although in the U.S. both terms are rarely understood, expressed correctly, or embodied in their original meanings.

Progressivism is inherently about not only recognizing the inevitability of change, but also embracing change for often idealistic ends (and thus, when taken to an extreme, the “bleeding heart liberal” paralyzed by that idealism).

Conservatism is about maintaining (conserving) conditions within a framework of traditional (enduring) values.

Neither term or ideology is understood or practiced with much faith in the U.S., but with great regret, I must note that the negative connotation of “bleeding heart liberal” rings all too true when we examine the behavior of many on the left, including self-professed progressives.

U.S. progressivism as liberalism is mostly about symbolism and lip-service.

Liberal Hollywood talks a great game, but never gets off the bench.

The liberal academy, much the same—ironically clinging to traditional norms of the aloof ivory tower that discourages public intellectualism as base, beneath the scholar.

And the liberal media? The greatest disappointment of all as the mainstream media in the U.S. is trapped in the objective pose of recognizing both sides of every issue—as if the world is a ninth-grade debate team contest.

Passive progressivism is more powerful in the U.S. than the conservative center that keeps the U.S. moving forward at a glacial creep anchored by racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, and widespread inequity.

Progressivism is nothing without the radicalism of action, as expressed by Howard Zinn:

From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical….The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.

Much as Democrat and Republican are different sides of the same partisan-politics coin, progressive and conservative are different sides of the same static coin in the U.S.

And thus action in the U.S. is marginalized as radicalism, serving only to benefit the world as we now have it.

To have a world otherwise, we must all embrace radicalism.

See also here and below:

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Academic Magnet High School serves the Charleston school district on the coast of South Carolina. The school functions under a choice umbrella, but requires students to submit to an admissions process.

SC is relatively more diverse than the U.S. on average in terms of white (+/- 70%)/black (+/- 30%) demographics, while less diverse in Hispanic/Latino (although those groups are growing significantly). Charleston certainly is even more diverse racially and culturally than the state.

Those realities have now prompted students at Academic Magnet to challenge the lack of diversity at their school:

Calls for a change in the admissions process at Academic Magnet High School continued Monday, with students urging the Charleston County School Board to tackle diversity issues at their school.

“Is the system that has produced an overwhelmingly white, upper-middle-class school in place of an equal opportunity magnet school for all Charleston County students fair?” asked Academic Magnet student Natalie Davidson….

Davidson said that although the school’s admissions process is “in a vacuum unbiased,” it has produced a “homogeneous” student body that is only 2 percent black in a school district that is 42 percent black.

The 2014 SC school report card for Academic Magnet shows absolute and growth ratings of excellent, but tested students included no African American or Hispanic/Latino students:

AMHS test 2014

Magnet and charter schools, however, are not the only choice mechanisms in SC since Greenville County school district offers (and aggressively markets) public school choice:

GCSD choice market

What has public school choice and charter choice produced in Greenville County?

Greenville Tech Charter High School, like Academic Magnet, has 2014 school report card ratings of excellent/excellent, but just over 80% of the students tested are white with no limit English proficiency students included:

GTCHS tested 2014 race

Public school choice has also resulted in highly segregated schools within the same district.

Berea High School has a consistent record of being a majority-minority school and also serves a diverse population of students by poverty and special needs:

BHS race

BHS poverty special needs

As a result, Berea High’s 2014 school report card looks quite different when compared to Academic Magnet or Greenville Tech Charter—good (absolute) and below average (growth) ratings, and a much different tested demographic of students:

BHS tested 2014

However, Riverside High School looks much more like Academic Magnet or Greenville Tech Charter—an excellent/excellent rating in 2014 and serving/testing a population 73% white:

RHS race

RHS tested 2014

Choice, then, in a variety of forms such as public school choice, charter schools, and magnet schools/academies are isolating students by race and class within highly diverse regions of a highly diverse state.

No longer vouchers or tuition tax credits, choice is now masked behind the allure of misleading labels—public, charter, magnet, academy—but ultimately resulting in one disturbing fact: choice segregates by design.

More choice will result in greater segregation and more shuffling, but market forces will never address equity and will always create winners and losers instead of establishing opportunities for all—as Academic Magnet demonstrates.

The call for fairness and diversity by students at Academic Magnet should be a call among all in SC and across the U.S.

See Also

Why Sending Your Child to a Charter School Hurts Other Children

On Memory and History: What’s in a Name?

In the 1996 film version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, John Proctor chooses his name over his life:

John Proctor: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

While Proctor speaks to the association between a name and honor, names also carry the burdens of gender and heritage. “I have guarded my name as people/ in other times kept their own clipped hair,” begins the speaker in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Naming Myself” from Another America. Later, she explains:

I could shed my name in the middle of life,
the ordinary thing, and it would flee
along with childhood and dead grandmothers
to that Limbo for discontinued maiden names.

But it would grow restless there.
I know this. It would ride over leaf smoke mountains
and steal horses.

Names also represent race and the lingering weight of the heaviest shackles of history. To that, Malcolm X explains his name:

Like Malcolm X, Countee Cullen confronts the name he was called, adding the power of memory, of how names and history combine:

Now I was eight and very small,
     And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
     His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

From his trip to Baltimore, Cullen concludes: “That’s all that I remember.”

The current debate over renaming Tillman Hall at Clemson University is yet another moment about the intersections of memory, history, and names. Possibly lost in the Tillman debate is the wider issue it represents.

“It’s true, South Carolinians would do well to remember Tillman’s legacy,” argues Paul Bowers, addressing directly the naming of Tillman Hall:

But we shouldn’t honor it, which is exactly what we’re doing by keeping his name on a building at a public university….

It’s another thing entirely for it to be named after Tillman, a progenitor and perpetuator of American apartheid who led lynch mobs during Reconstruction and boasted about it until his dying day.

Remembering history, the worst scars of history, is different than honoring those scars of history. And naming—whether it be a person’s name or a building’s—treads a thin line between remembering (as not to make the same mistake again) and honoring.

William Stafford’s “At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border” forces readers to consider through inversion that what we name is what we honor:

This is the field where the battle did not happen,…
where no monument stands,…

No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

The South presents a history that must not be forgotten, but includes much that should not be honored—including the person, ideologies, acts, and name of Benjamin Tillman.

And somewhere between John Proctor’s impassioned but fictionalized plea and Malcolm X’s steadfast and reasonable refusal to accept the name given him lies my recognition that what we name anyone or anything, and why, is powerful evidence of what we remember and why—and ultimately what we honor beneath claims otherwise.

In Lynching in America, that fact—as in Stafford’s poem—is highlighted:

Most Southern terror lynching victims were killed on sites that remain unmarked and unrecognized. The Southern landscape is cluttered with plaques, statues, and monuments that record, celebrate, and lionize generations of American defenders of white supremacy, including public officials and private citizens who perpetrated violent crimes against black citizens during the era of racial terror [emphasis added]. The absence of a prominent public memorial acknowledging racial terrorism is a powerful statement about our failure to value the African Americans who were killed or gravely wounded in this brutal campaign of racial violence. National commemoration of the atrocities inflicted on African Americans during decades of racial terrorism would begin building trust between the survivors of racial terrorism and the governments and legal systems that failed to protect them. (p. 22)

Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street has a chapter “My Name” that begins, “In English my name means hope,” adding, “It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine”:

She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window. (pp. 4-5)

Tradition is static, like “forgotten.” A name given, a name chiseled in granite, a name uttered each time someone gives directions.

Remembering in order to remain steadfast against the mistakes of the past does not require the echo of names, and renaming becomes an act of defiance and recognition, as Esperanza proclaims: “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees” (p. 5).

The call to rename Tillman Hall, then, is not about erasing or forgetting, but about the baptism of re-naming as an act of courage, a claiming of honor too often denied and too often ignored. The refusal to rename Tillman Hall proves James Baldwin right, although he made these observations sixty years ago:

[The South] clings to the myth of its past but it is being inexorably changed, meanwhile, by an entirely un-mythical present: its habits and its self-interest are at war. Everyone in the South feels this and this is why there is such panic on the bottom and such impotence at the top. …

[I]t is, admittedly, a difficult task to try to tell people the truth and it is clear that most Southern politicians have no intention of attempting it….

This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person. (“Nobody Knows My Name: A Letter from the South”)

Renaming is a baptism long overdue in the Bible Belt.

See Also

Why the Heck Do Latino Reporters on Public Radio Say Their Names That Way?, Quenna Kim