Lessons from History for the Here and Now: Thoughts Inspired by “When Muslims Admired the West and Were Admired Back”

I highly recommend reading this article (link below) by UCLA history professor Nile Green. We need to learn more from the lessons of history as we endeavour to forge mutually enriching ties between Muslims and the “western world” in the present.

One of the key elements of such community, as the article illuminates, is the recognition of and unity in universal struggles across cultural frontiers. Insistence on this emancipatory principle is one of the reasons I find Slavoj Zizek’s works so compelling, and timely.

In the article, the Muslim students living abroad in London admired and learned from the feminist struggle there, and were moved to action. What could be more universal–and inspiring–than that?!

The only area where I see a need for expansion is with regard to the mutuality of responsibility to reach out and learn from the “other”. The onus cannot be solely on Muslims to do so. We all, as human beings, share in this fundamental responsibility. And in so doing we are walking the exhilarating walk of making a better world. Let’s do this!

Read and share the article here: Zócalo Public Square :: When Muslims Admired the West and Were Admired Back

On Education: A Clarion Call from Howard Gardner

intelligences

I first read this important article back in October. Since then I’ve been pondering the paradox of how, on the one hand, Gardner’s theory is truly straightforward and graspable, yet on the other hand it’s been widely misinterpreted and misapplied. This is not to say that the ideas are not complex, because they truly are. However, all educators are capable of understanding and creatively implementing them, if given the time, freedom and resources to do so. So, why, then, have these misunderstandings and misapplications emerged? What are the barriers that stand in the way of effectively implementing them?

Certainly a great many of these deviations could be simply owing to the fact that Gardner’s theories are novel ones. As with any new endeavor, early earnest attempts at execution will yield mixed results. However, it seems (as evinced by Gardner’s corrective, now 20 years later) that these misapplications represent a more fundamental disconnect from his insights. So, to me the question becomes, “What are the obstacles in today’s educational models that prevent the application of this crucial understanding?”

To answer this question, it’s important to look at the present state of education and the trajectory it’s currently on. Increasingly, the trend is toward homogenization–and not in any positive sense. This is reflected in the standardized-testing-sickness that afflicts our public schools and stifles educators’ and students’ creativity. It is also seen in the implementation of the Common Core Standards. Veteran educator Marion Brady lays out “Eight problems with Common Core Standards” that should be required reading and a focal point of conversation for everyone interested in education today.

Along with this suffocating homogenization comes degrading monetization, defined by Merriam-Webster as using something of value as a source of profit. The profit sought by the capitalists steering education today is not an exploration and realization of “the potentials of humanness” upheld as a primary goal by Marion Brady, and reflected in the hopes and dreams of most educators. Instead, it’s boiled down to the lowest common denominator of our communities being “best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy” (quoting from the Common Core Mission Statement). In other words, the inherently unequal and inhumane antagonisms of global capitalism are explicitly woven into these fatally flawed standards.

Within this framework, we can see why Gardner’s primary lessons for educators, to simultaneously individualize and pluralize, run into a brick wall. With the first key ingredient–individualization–the need for smaller class sizes becomes crucial. This enables teachers to really get to know and assess their students on a one-to-one basis, and to utilize techniques that make learning accessible to all. Gardner also cites the value of “apps” in this regard, but I’ve yet to engage the relevant research. Nevertheless, we should continue to insist on smaller class sizes, and not accept the lie that the funds aren’t sufficient or available. When the government decided to bail out the banks, no such limits were imposed.

As for the second key ingredient–pluralization–this is directly undermined by standardized testing. Teachers are obligated to “teach to the test”, and increasingly their jobs hang in the balance, depending on how well their students have been trained to regurgitate facts and figures. Little space is left, then, for educators to creatively ply their craft and bring students forward as inquisitive, optimistic human beings. Perhaps the most insidious result of this miseducation is the disillusionment with education itself fostered in students, and even in teachers.

In closing, it’s important that voices of opposition stand up and fight for a far better vision of education than the one that’s being driven by the Gates Foundation and others whose interests are located outside of the classroom. Their goal is to more fully infuse the dog-eat-dog outlook of capitalism into education and convert it into yet another arena for profit-making. We must reject this path and unite with the people of Mexico, Canada, and many other places around the world who are also swimming against the educational tide, as if the future depends on it–because it does. And it must be a grassroots movement, comprised first and foremost of students, teachers, parents and communities. A recent Washington Post article revealed that the leader of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union is joining forces with a former union-busting governor and businessman to promote the Common Core. If we want justice, we need to draw on our greatest strength: just us.

Who are the masters of Orwellian doublespeak behind “Parent Revolution”?

The following is my response to the LA Times OP-ED piece from 5/18/12:

A quick glimpse at the board of directors of Parent Revolution is quite revealing. They’re almost universally business people (that alone should make them education experts, right?), a lawyer that specializes in the defense of white-collar criminals (!!?) and some parent community activists (who perhaps do have the best intentions, but are nonetheless caught up with a real motley crew). Not a single actual classroom educator in the mix. Isn’t that telling? And who are their big funders? Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Rockefeller and others who are licking their chops at the notion of transitioning the free HUMAN RIGHT to public education for all to their dreams of education for profit. And they have the gall to decry CTA’s pool of money, which actually comes from the grassroots. I may have my differences with the union, but I will unflaggingly uphold its right to exist and to fight on behalf of students and teachers for a HUMAN RIGHT to FREE public education. Shame on the Times for publishing this thinly-veiled attempt at union busting. Next Tuesday, May 22 at 1pm we’re calling for everyone to help encircle the LAUSD headquarters with a “chain of letters” while the school board meets to decide the fates of Adult Ed, Early Childhood Ed and other essential programs, which they’re threatening to “zero out”. Visit saveadulted.org for more info, and get involved now, before it’s too late!

“We’re after the gold, and after that, the platinum!” or, why we’re not JUST fighting for 100% of Adult Ed

People who’ve known me for any significant stretch of time know that I am, culturally speaking, a “hip hop head”. As such, I often find that rap lyrics jump to mind when I’m pondering phenomena. Such has been the case for the past several weeks, as I’ve been thinking constantly about the fight to save adult education in Los Angeles. And the lyrics, paraphrased as the title of this piece, are from Reggie Noble, aka Redman, in his hip hop classic “Tonight’s da Night”.

So, how do these catchy words laced with urban swagger tie in to the struggle for Adult Ed? Well, to me there’s a point of orientation that ought to infuse the efforts of we who are fighting for these programs which dovetails quite nicely with this quote. Some background to the present situation will help illuminate what I see as the vital importance of such an orientation.

HOW HAVE THINGS COME TO THIS?

Turning back the clock several years, Adult Ed’s fiscal allotment comprised roughly double its present sum of $120 million, now a meager 2% of LAUSD’s total budget. And beyond being more bountiful, the funding in those days shone brighter with the assurance of Tier I categorical protection. That is to say that the monies set aside for Adult Ed programs were essentially off-limits; they could not be applied to expenses other than those for which they were destined: Adult Ed.

When the economic crisis hit, big changes befell our programs. With hindsight, it seems one of the most devastating shifts was the reclassification of Adult Ed funds from Tier I to Tier III status. This change meant that funds designated for Adult Ed programs would be granted the minimum level of protection—which is to say, none. Essentially, funds would be “penciled in” for Adult Ed, but would really be up for grabs should other programs be found needing. This put our programs on a slow death march which LAUSD is presently seeking to culminate.

In the intervening years, funding was pared back and caps were imposed on the maximum weekly working hours allowed for limited status (non-tenured) teachers. At the time, I was working at an adult school in southeast Los Angeles and my working hours, along with those of many of my colleagues, were abruptly cut. And beyond the hit we took economically, these reduced teaching hours meant that students also saw their class hours cut back.

In the atmosphere of gloom and doom fomented around the economic crisis by the mass media, many of us—myself included—felt powerless when these austerity measures were being imposed. Many of us also saw the real impact on our student population.

Students working in construction, restaurants and many other low-wage, high-stress jobs either found themselves out of work altogether, or found they needed to add extra hours to their already exhausting loads in these tough times. Many students who previously hadn’t worked, such as stay-at-home mothers, were now missing classes because they too had to find jobs. Ironically, the grip of the crisis pulled students away from the very programs they needed to find better employment opportunities in the first place.

In the vertigo of this downward spiral, many of us logically started seeking alternatives. Along with our students, we teachers began to investigate our “Plan B” to implement should the Adult Ed ship go down. Meeting after meeting was held where no news was the only good news, and more often than not we adjourned feeling less certain and more concerned for our future. Given that only a fraction of Adult Ed teachers are tenured, most of us already teetered on the verge of unemployment, even in good times. Our prospects were looking anything but optimistic.

WHERE DO WE STAND TODAY?

Now, a new wave of hope is rising. Recent months and weeks have seen our righteous cause thrust more prominently into the media and mass-consciousness spotlight. (See saveadulted.org for numerous inspiring examples.) Many among us have consistently fought, and their efforts—along with those of us newly coming forward—are bearing exciting new fruit.

The real impact and necessity of our programs are felt directly by hundreds of thousands of people actively enrolled in adult classes, and felt indirectly by the millions more they touch in their workplaces, communities and social groupings. The more people learn about the true scope of Adult Ed programs (I’m amazed myself to learn more everyday), the more patently outrageous and intolerable efforts to shut them down become. And I feel that we’ve only just begun to tap into this sentiment and unleash its creative potential. And let there be no mistake: the students and their supporters are the single greatest force we have to save these programs now and enable them to thrive into the future. And as they’ll tell you without hesitation, “¡Sí, se puede!”: “Yes, we can!”

MOVING FORWARD… WHAT WE’RE AFTER

Recently, the United Adult Students (UAS) organization (lastudents.org) unanimously endorsed a statement declaring that “Adult Education is a Human Right”. This kind of straightforward yet lofty declaration has struck a chord broadly among teachers, students, and the public, and it has been well received in the media. This message is powerful because it’s profoundly true, and its further popularization can only serve to strengthen our movement.

Another crucial element of the UAS statement is the demand that Adult Ed be “FULLY FUNDED—including all community locations, whether leased or not.” We must stand up for every school and every class, from the bustling central campuses to the community-based classes in rescue missions, churches and day-laborer centers. The shutting down or curtailing of the least—numerically speaking—among us is an intolerable attack against us all.

As our movement grows and continues to gain strength we need to constantly refine our message and broaden our aims. Much of the media coverage surrounding attacks on these programs has stressed that they’re a real bargain. And it’s resoundingly true. For 2% of the budget, approximately 300,000 students—about 27% of LAUSD’s total student population—receive world-class instruction in ESL, computers, parenting, citizenship, academics for high school diplomas, GED prep, career technical skills and physical education and other classes for older adults.

However, the other side of this steal-of-a-deal—the hidden cost—is that Adult Ed teachers have never been given the kind of compensation and protection they so richly deserve. Just to cite a few examples, Adult Ed teachers are contracted only as hourly workers (in contrast to salaried K-12 instructors). We are only granted employment on a semester-to-semester basis, which means that the majority of us who aren’t tenured can never quite rest assured that we’ll be employed for the coming term.

Furthermore, opportunities for salary advancement and tenure status are few and far between, and those that exist are nevertheless made exceedingly difficult to access. If you’re truly passionate about your craft, as so many of us are, chances are you’ll continue your own education to achieve advanced degrees in the subjects you teach. In my experience, the best teachers are first and foremost great students. However, such accomplishments essentially go unrecognized by the district once you’ve hit the low ceiling imposed on advancement.

Finally, there is a solid basis and a great need for our programs to be vastly expanded. Where efforts have been made to reach out into the community with Adult Ed programs, all kinds of wonderful classes have been launched at churches, K-12 school sites, workplaces, libraries, rescue missions, and more. The only limit is that imposed by our imagination and creativity, because the need is there.

TONIGHT’S DA NIGHT

Let’s return to the Redman quote that we started with, and why it’s stayed on my mind of late. Of course, the gold and platinum to which he referred were the accolades and record sales he unapologetically aimed for. In a related sense, we should be unapologetic about our demand that 100% of Adult Ed as it’s currently constituted be maintained—our “gold”. But, just like Reggie Noble, we cannot rest content with just that. We also have to raise our aims, our struggle and our demands to reach for the “platinum”. That is to say that Adult Ed programs and teachers must be granted FAR GREATER respect, protections and funding than they have been up to this point. In line with all that I’ve laid out, I think this is only fair. It’s what is needed, and it’s what is possible if we fight to make it so.

In closing, I want to urge everybody reading this to get involved NOW. If you care about this issue and you want to see a world in which the human rights of all are respected, please, do not hesitate. On May 8th, the LAUSD school board will be presented with a draft budget which they will mull over for a week, and which will be made public on May 15th. This is the point at which the future of Adult Ed, as LAUSD plans it, will be announced to the world. Everything we do between now and then will make a world of difference in the outcome. Let’s not wait ‘til tomorrow… Tonight’s da night!