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Ras Baraka is a high school principal and City Council member in Newark. He is running for mayor of Newark against a candidate funded by hedge fund managers and corporate reformers. Baraka was endorsed by the Network for Public Education.

Contact Frank Baraff (914) 469-3775

For Release Friday, April 18th

Baraka praises Ministers Fight for a Moratorium on One Newark School Reorganization Plan

Statement by Ras Baraka

“Nearly one year ago, the City Council passed my resolution calling for a moratorium on all of Cami Anderson’s public school initiatives. A year later, Ms. Anderson continues to run away from input by Newark citizens and continues to carry out her relentless drive to close our neighborhood schools.

Today, the ministers of Newark have joined me in calling for a moratorium on the destructive One Newark Plan to close our schools, a plan already being implemented against the will of the people of Newark.”

77 members of Newark’s clergy signed a joint statement to Cami Anderson, who was appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run the schools of that city. Newark has been under state control for 20 years. Anderson’s “Ne Newark” plan will close many public schools and turn them over to charter corporations. Anderson refuses to attend meetings of the elected (but powerless) school board because she as treated disrespectfully at the last meeting she attended. Byway, she doesn’t need their approval so why should she attend theit public meetings. She disrespects them. She knows that her opinion is the only one that matters. This is not democracy.

Here is the ministers’ statement:


As religious leaders in the City of Newark, New Jersey, we submit the
following position statement regarding the One Newark Public School Plan.
This position statement represents our collective concerns with respect to the
current state of affairs facing the Newark Public School system.

We are extremely concerned about the level of public anger we see
growing in the community, based upon an overwhelming sense of
frustration, community disenfranchisement, and alienation that has resulted
from the One Newark Public School Plan the Superintendent of Schools has
proposed. It is not overly dramatic for us to say that we are extremely
worried about the level and tone of the current emotional discourse.

It is venomous and it is our view that unless we have an urgent, objective,
egalitarian discussion about what is happening now in the Newark school
system, the climate within the City will continue to deteriorate. As religious
leaders, we cannot, in clear conscience, ignore the moral imperative that a
society empowers and engages human beings to lead in charting the course
of their own destiny.

There are many well-educated, reasonable minded, and rational
individuals, parents, educators and citizens in general in the City of Newark.
They all share an intense passion for excellence in education; they have
come to feel that their input and voice have been repeatedly ignored. It is
unfair to characterize Newarkers opposing the current approach to change as
irrational and resistant to change in any case. Many voices of reason have
been largely denied meaningful input into the decision-making process.

We are unanimous in our view that major change is needed in Newark
Public Schools. Excellence in education is paramount to the forward
progress of the City of Newark and the lives of its citizens. This statement
neither condemns nor endorses Charter Schools. However, the primary
responsibility of the Newark School Superintendent should be to ensure
excellent educational opportunities in the traditional Newark public school

The One Newark Public School Plan, as currently proposed, is already
producing irreversible changes and fomenting widespread outrage. It has
caused unnecessary instability in the Newark public school system, as well
as the lives of thousands of its families. The disruptive and divisive nature
of the One Newark Pubic School Plan could have catastrophic and farreaching
consequences for the children of Newark, the reputation of the
State of New Jersey, and have implications for urban education nationally.

The presentation and implementation process of the One Newark
Public School Plan has been fraught with problems. There are elements
within it that are controversial, and make unsubstantiated claims for
potential success. It has precipitated tremendous teacher turnover and has
adversely affected the overall morale of Newark schools and various
stakeholders directly or indirectly associated and affiliated with the Newark
Public School systems.

Therefore, the undersigned clergy call for a MORATORIUM on the
Implementation of the One Newark Public School Plan until a process can
be found to obtain meaningful and credible engagement of the Newark
community. We call upon the Newark Superintendent of Schools, the
Acting Commissioner of Education, and the Governor of the State of New
Jersey to agree to a suspension of any further action pertaining to the One
Newark Public School Plan until an alternative educational plan can be
developed with substantial input from stakeholders at all levels of the
Newark community.

In summary, an alternative educational plan should:
)o> Employ data driven pedagogical practices.
~ Offer stakeholders an opportunity to play a substantive role in
determining the educational future of the children of Newark.
~ Provide for the citizens of Newark the opportunity to participate
in, plan, and adopt a long term educational strategy of change
that outlasts political tides, transitions, and tenures.
)o> Establish a working partnership between the State of New
Jersey and the citizens of the City of Newark to successfully
educate our children.

It is with great humility and grave concern for our future that we
submit this plea for consideration and compromise. As members of the
clergy in this great city, it is our earnest prayer that peace and harmony will
prevail, and that every child in Newark will experience a brighter future.

1. Rev. George Blackwell
2. Pastor Malachi Brantley
3. Dr. Mamie Bridgeforth
4. Min. J. Brown
5. Min. Denise Carr
6. Pastor Joe Carter
7. Min. Dale Ciceron
8. Pastor Patrick Council
9. Rev. E. Doxy
10. Dr. K. Doxy
11. Rev. J. Escobar
12. Pastor Sean Evans
13. Pastor Friday
14. Pastor Philip Gilmore
15. Dr. Aubrey Gregory
16. Dr. G 1 oria Harris
17. Pastor Gerard Hart
18. Apostle Gennie Holte
19. Dr. William Howard
20. Pastor Craig Jackson
21. Pastor Irving Johnson
22. Min. Mitchell Johnson
23. Bishop Jethro James
24. Pastor David Jefferson
25. Dr. Albert Lewis
26. Imam Aqeel Matea
27. Pastor Darren Munroe
28. Rev. Dr. Jacobs Obaiaeio
29. Pastor Raines
30.Pastor Hilton Rawls, Jr.
31. Rev. Louise Scott-Rountree
32. Rev. Dr. M.D. Rountree
33. Pastor Tyrone Sharpe, Sr.
34. Rev. Gerald Whitaker
3 5. Min. Keith Wilks
36. Rev. Bernard Wilks
37. Rev. Andre Speight
38. Min. Juanita Mayo
39. Rev. Eric Beckham
40. Dr. Ahmed Screvens
41. Rev. George Martinez, Pres.
Good Neighbor Baptist Church
Shiloh Baptist Church
Faith Christian Center
Dominion Fellowship Mnistries
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
New Hope Baptist Church
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
St. John Baptist Church
The Great Commission
The Great Commission
New Light Missionary Baptist Church
Pavilion of God Ministries
St. John’s Community Baptist Church
Newark Gospel Tabernacle
Beth-El International Church
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
Ray of Hope Ministries
Bethany Baptist Church
Agape Christian Ministries Worship Center
Metropolitan Dominion Fellowship
New Light Holy Church
Paradise Baptist Church
Metropolitan Baptist Church
World Gospel Music Association
United Muslim, Inc.
Chosen Generation Ministries
Trinity United Methodist Church
Greater Grace Fellowship Church
Good Neighbor Baptist Church
Macedonia Ministries
New Life Family Bible Church
Christ Church
Dominion Fellowship Ministries
Metropolitan/ Dominion
God’s Deliverance Praise and Outreach
Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church
Clear View Baptist Church
Bethesda Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
42. Rev. John Teabout
43. Rev. Clarence Smith
44. Rev. Grady James
45. Rev. Martin Legree
46. Rev. James Collins
47. Rev. Vincent Rouse
48. Rev. R. Curry
49. Rev. Kimberly Credit
50. Rev. Henry Clay
51. Evang. Sara Lee
52. Rev. Andre Milteer
53. Rev. Robert Morrest
54. Rev. Roy Jones, VP
55. Rev. Ileathon McLeod
56. Rev. Kareem Christian
57. Rev. Ralph Thomas
58. Min. Barbara Turpin
59. Rev. Bennett Johnson
60. Rev. James Bailey III
61. Min. Darious Smith
62. Min. Frankie Phelps
63. Rev. Alfonzo Williams, Sr.
64. Rev. Anthony Mitchell
65. Rev. Andre Coffee
66. Rev. Ray Frazier
67. Pastor Lloyd Terrell
68. Rev. Vincent Grove
69. Rev. Orlando Vick
70. Rev. Jeffrey Bryant
71. Rev. Ralph M. Branch, Jr.
72. Rev. Cornelius W. Martin
73. Rev. Floyd Gaskins
74. Dr. T. Durr
7 5. Pastor Michael T. Westbrook
76. Rev. Douglass L. Williams
77. Dr. Perry Simmons
Greater Friendship Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
First Bethel Baptist Church, Irvington
Little Friendship Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
Smyrna Missionary Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
Sunlight Baptist Church
Mt. Olivet Baptist Church
St. Peter’s Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
Abyssinian Baptist Church
Trinity Baptist Church
Emanuel Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference of Newark
St. Peter’s Baptist Church
Vineyard Baptist Church
Mt. Calvary Baptist Church
Mt. Calvary Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
Union Chapel AME
First Timothy Baptist Church
Baptist Minister’s Conference ofNewark
Franklin-St. John United Methodist Church
Providence Missionary Baptist Church
Greater Providence Missionary Baptist Church
Tabernacle Baptist Church
Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church
Unity Freedom Baptist Church
Grace Temple Baptist Church
Gospel Cathedral Baptist Church
Greater Life Christian Fellowship Church
Zion Hill Baptist Church
Abyssinian Baptist Church

On Friday, Néw York Times’ columnist David Brooks wrote a column excoriating critics of the Common Core standards as “clowns.”

He didn’t seem aware that his personal opinion piece, devoid of documentation other than anecdotes, is precisely the kind of writing that David Voleman abhors. In his most famous statement about the Common Core, Coleman said that when you grow up, no one gives a &$@& about what you think or feel. Brooks told us what he thinks and feels, but gets all the facts wrong.

Here is Mercedes Schneider at her best.

Schneider writes:


David Brooks, Common Core Circus Performer

Why newspapers hire individuals to regularly offer the public unsubstantiated opinions baffles me. I am a researcher. Unless my posts are grounded in my personal experience, I offer my readers links to document my position on matters about which I write.

David Brooks is an opinion writer. He publishes his opinions regularly in the New York Times (NYT) and has done so since 2003.

Brooks is not a teacher. He has no firsthand experience with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Nevertheless, Brooks has an opinion on the matter, and the NYT has published his opinion because, well, the NYT publishes Brooks’ opinions.

Brooks supports CCSS. That is his opinion.

Allow me to present another opinion: that of the “lead architect” of CCSS, David Coleman. Coleman is quoted here from his presentation, Bringing the Common Core to Life:

Do you know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today?…It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with these two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a **** about what you feel or think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. [Emphasis added.]

How is that for irony? David Brooks writes his opinion on CCSS, and the “lead architect” of CCSS is knocking opinion writing.

Brooks’ opinion is that opponents to CCSS are part of a “circus.”

How sad it is that Brooks does not realize that he is part of the very circus about which he writes. Brooks believes he writes about CCSS from an op/ed perch outside of the Big Top. However, his place is in the ring of the many who support CCSS on the unsubstantiated opinion that CCSS is necessary to American public education; that it was properly and democratically created and chosen by stakeholders; that it is the solution to some supposed failure of American public education, and that opponents of CCSS act only from “hysteria.”

In his op/ed, Brooks presents the “reality” of CCSS as it appears to him in the Fun House mirror.

Brooks refers to a time “about seven years ago.” That would be 2007, the year that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was declared a failure. Brooks notes “it was widely acknowledged that state education standards were a complete mess.” So, in his effort to support CCSS, Brooks blames varied state standards for “huge numbers of students were graduating from high school unprepared either for college work or modern employment.”

Brooks provides no evidence to support his statements. How “non-CCSS” of him.

He even contradicts himself by the end of his article: “The new standards won’t revolutionize education. It’s not enough to set goals; you have to figure out how to meet them.”

Those who actually have careers in the classroom know there is more to the issue than “setting goals” and “meeting them” based upon a set of standards.

In 2007, David Hursh of the University of Rochester published a paper on the failure of NCLB. Hursh does not mention “common standards” as a solution to some widespread failure of public education.  However, he does mention other complex issues that have a bearing on the classroom and which are ignored by the likes of Brooks in promoting the CCSS “solution”:

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) marks the largest intervention of the federal government into education in the history of the United States. NCLB received and continues to receive support, in part because it promises to improve student learning and to close the achievement gap between White students and students of color. However, NCLB has failed to live up to its promises and may exacerbate inequality. Furthermore, by focusing on education as the solution to social and economic inequality, it diverts the public’s attention away from the issues such as poverty, lack of decent paying jobs and health care, that need to be confronted if inequality is to be reduced. [Emphasis added.]

Notice how the focus has shifted from the NCLB goal of “closing the achievement gap” to the Race to the Top (RTTT) goal of “competitiveness in the global economy.”

Neither NCLB with its “100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014″ nor RTTT with its “internationally benchmarked standards and assessments, teacher evaluation, data systems, and ‘turning around low performing’ schools” accounts for economic influences upon learning, not the least of which is the relationship between student learning and community economic viability.

I wrote about the fact that based upon employment projections for 2014, 2016 and 2020, Louisiana will have far more jobs available for high school dropouts and high school graduates than it will college graduates.

CCSS Fun House writers like Brooks do not address the disconnect between the call for “academic rigor” and the sagging economies that cannot support the Brooks-style finger-wag.

Know what else is funny? In 2007, when NCLB was openly acknowledged to be a failure, some legislators were still crying, “Stay the course.”

Sounds like CCSS “stay the course” opinions here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here….

You get the picture.

Another interesting fact about 2007: It was the year that David Coleman started his national-standards-writing company-gone nonprofit (first 990 on file not until 2011), Student Achievement Partners (SAP). Prior to SAP, Coleman and fellow CCSS “lead writer” Jason Zimba started a company to analyze NCLB test data.

Coleman had his foot in the proverbial NCLB door and “just happened” to start a company completely devoted to CCSS in 2007, the year that the NCLB circus began to show impending collapse.

A truly astounding, “state-led” coincidence.

Brooks also states that “the new standards are more rigorous than the old,” yet he also uses the Fordham Institute “finding” that CCSS is only “better” than standards in 37 states. I wrote about the 2010 Fordham Institute “grading” of state standards here and Fordham CCSS peddler Mike Petrilli here. Petrilli even tried the “stay the course” line in Indiana– a state with standards that Fordham graded as superior to CCSS.

Attempting to convince a state with standards “superior” to CCSS to keep CCSS is part of the CCSS sales job, yet this act somehow escapes Brooks’ notice.

How convenient.

As to another convenient Brooks oversight: The 2010 Fordham “grading” of state standards offers no logic between scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Fordham grade for a state’s standards. Thus, a state could have low NAEP scores and have a high Fordham grade on standards, or vice-versa. No logic. Nevertheless, Brooks assumes Fordham to be standards-grading “experts,” and Fordham Executive Vice President (nice title) Petrilli travels the country (for examples, see here, and here, and here, and here) advising states to “stay the course” with CCSS standards that Fordham admits are not better than all state standards.

As to Brooks’ assertion that CCSS “unpopularity” is “false”: He believes it is enough to cite some survey evidence (no reference provided) for Kentucky and Tennessee, and New York (linked)– three states. More Fun House illusion: that “evidence” of CCSS “popularity” in three states justifies a nationwide CCSS.  Not so.

As to survey “evidence” on CCSS and education perceptions in general: I have written detailed accounts on a number of these surveys, all in 2013: NAESP (principals) surveyStand for Children Louisiana surveyGates Scholastic survey (partial results release); NEA surveyAssociated Press (AP) surveyAP and Gallup surveyAFT survey.

My “overwhelming” conclusion:  CCSS was an imposed education “reform” that administrators, teachers, and the public were forced to deal with. CCSS is not “popular”; it was tolerated at best as indicated by these 2013 survey results. As to the public perception: in 2013, the public was largely unaware of CCSS. Now they know. Now CCSS is in the news; it is in the classrooms, and it is in the statehouses.

CCSS-related legislation abounds.

As to Brooks’ Fun House assertion that CCSS is “state led, let us not forget the infamous CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman, who made the following statement to data analysts in Boston on May 31, 2013:

When I was involved in convincing governors and others around this country to adopt these standards, it was not “Obama likes them.” Do you think that would have gone well with the Republican crowd? [Emphasis added.]


Though it might be difficult for Brooks to admit, Coleman just declared himself “CCSS Ringmaster.”

To Coleman, CCSS was a product to sell to “governors,” and he couldn’t say that “Obama likes” CCSS if he expected to make the sale to “the Republican crowd.”

Coleman must have made an effective sales pitch; in 2009– before CCSS was complete– 46 “states” had already “agreed to be state led.”

And so, our Big Top performance has come full circle in this post that began and ended with the CCSS Ringmaster, David Coleman.

It is one feat to “convince governors” to buy into CCSS; it is quite another to “convince” America.

Brooks is right; the circus in indeed “in town,” and in his opinion-spouting position, Brooks is attempting to sell tickets to The Greatest So-called “Standards” Show on Earth.

Those familiar with the CCSS imposition know better than to buy Brooks’ line that CCSS is “a perfectly sensible yet slightly boring idea.

From reading Brooks’ unanchored appeal, one issue is certain: This fount of unsolicited CCSS opinion is not a classroom teacher.

Let us leave him now, unsold tickets still in his ungrounded-opinion-writing hands.

Abby White is a junior at Shaker Heights High School in Ohio and an editor at her high school newspaper. She researched the Common Core, read the standards, interviewed faculty, and developed her own views about their strengths and weaknesses.

She wrote this article for her school newspaper, the Shakerite.

She has done more research than many newspaper reporters, who like to quote what people say for and against the Common Core, without deigning to read them. She works harder to understand and explain the subject than many people twice her age.

Without spoiling her effort to analyze the standards, I present here her biggest concern: how do we know they will measure up to all the promises?

She writes:

“That’s like devising a new surgical method to fix a man’s heart condition, not testing that method, and going ahead with the surgery anyway. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would never act so rashly. Sure, the new method could work; it could also kill the patient.

“The Common Core State Standards are changing the face of America’s education for approximately 50 million students, teachers and other public school faculty — not including parents. Imposing such a huge change with no gauge of its effectiveness is downright irresponsible. Our education system is the patient, and we have no guarantee it won’t die on the operating table. In fact, right now, I don’t think its chances are good.”

See more at:

Advocates for school choice like to say they believe in a free market in education. They say, let the consumer choose, let the market decide. And with this ideology, they merrily seek to undermine public education.

But is there a free market?

I received this comment from a reader:

“There is absolutely nothing “free market competitive” about the charter school movement. The only thing they are competing for is to strip away federal tax subsidies from public schools. I say, terminate all federal tax subsidies. Why should federal taxes subsidize Michael Milken? Public school funding should just stay funded by local taxes.

“The hedge funds are all good businessmen of course, because they smell the free government money. That’s what businessmen always do. Particularly Wall St. They love taxpayer guarantees.

“Free market competition means you are able to sell your product because it is better than the competition with NO government subsidy.”

Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He sees right through the Obama education policy and recognizes that it is a continuation of George W. Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind.


In this astonishingly candid interview with Josh Eidelson in Salon, Rep. Grijalva lacerates Race to the Top, high-stakes testing, privatization, and the other features of the Obama education policy.


Rep. Grijalva recognizes that the Obama program is now driven by financial interests:


Obama’s education secretary is “a market-based person,” his education policy manifests a “market-based philosophy,” and “we continue to starve public schools,” the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus charged in an interview Wednesday afternoon.


The privatization of education “began as driven by ideology, but now [it’s] getting momentum because of the financial aspects,” Rep. Raul Grijalva argued to Salon. The Arizona Democrat called charter schools “a step towards” privatization, called the Chicago teachers’ strike a “necessary pushback” and warned of a “self-fulfilling conflict of interest.”



Grijalva was the first Congressman to support the Network for Public Education’s call for public hearings on the overuse of standardized testing, their costs, and misuse. Not only does he see the problem with high-stakes testing, but he understands that test scores are used to set schools up to fail and to be privatized.


He told Eidelson:


One of the things driving, right now, education is … mandatory testing … the frequency, the quantity of the testing that’s going on …

I understand accountability. I don’t have a problem with testing as a teaching tool, to help to guide the improvement in children. But what’s happened is the standardized testing has become the end-all-be-all in terms of curriculum, in terms of how you prepare students for the future.

And I think that issues related to what these tests are, how we are impacting communities that have, let’s say, learning disabilities … students who use primarily languages other than English, how are we dealing with cultural differences …

A whole hearing on testing, the culture of testing, and what it is producing for public education.

What you see … is a real move toward the privatization of schools, based on what test results are. A school doesn’t do well, a school doesn’t do well again, then suddenly there is a movement to either let that school be run by private management [or] let the students then go somewhere else — usually to a private charter school.


Rep. Grijalva sees the pattern on the rug: The game is rigged to starve public schools and force families to seek private alternatives:


And so we see enrollment in our public education system dropping as a consequence of people leaving the schools, or the schools being converted into more private institutions as opposed to the public schools … Public schools are still held to the standards that they should be held to … whatever situation they come into school, that [children] always be treated and educated in the same manner. Yet other schools outside the public institution system can pick and choose who they want to educate … and leave to the public schools a less and less diverse grouping of students, a more difficult group of students, with shrinking resources. At the same time all of this is going on, the funding at a national level and at a state level continues to shrink for public education.


Eidelson asks him the crucial question–do you think there is any hope for change from the Obama administration, and Rep. Grijalva gives an insightful, powerful response:


I think the fight is keeping some of the worst from happening, No. 1. No. 2, as long as we are resource-deprived in public schools, they’ll never be in that competitive mode that Duncan talks about, OK? As long as we shift public resources to accommodate private ventures in education, and as long as you continue to be myopic about “one mandated test tells us all,” “one Common Core will be the solution …”

There’s also, you know, a shrinking of our curriculum in order to satisfy prepping for tests, as opposed to getting people ready in a more holistic way to be better human beings, and educated better …

If you continue to starve the schools, public education, then they’re never going to be [in] a position to be competitive. And if you do independent analysis, the public education system, compared to private charter schools, is no worse and no better. You know, there’s not a significant difference – yet … we continue to starve public schools. That’s why you see enrollment drop …

There’s a demographic shift going on in our schools … So this is a time to invest in those schools, because this generation of kids of color — with many of them having English learners coming into our public schools — those are the new Americans … Those are the generations of the future …

The public schools have always been one of the most powerful integrative social institutions that we have in our country, that build community and build the kind of allegiance to the values of this nation as part of the education process. Now you have a new demographic group coming into our schools, you’re disinvesting from the schools, and you’re leaving the public schools to that demographic with less resources and less attention. This is a really, really wrong time to be pulling [away] from the commitment to public schools. And it’s probably one of the times in our history when we should be doing more investment. Because this is the generation that is going to have the greatest responsibility for our nation come 10, 20 years from now.

Jon Zimmerman is a colleague of mine at New York University and a fellow historian of education. He uses his deep knowledge of history to write on many topics. He is amazingly prolific.

Zimmerman writes:


April 16, 2014

Brandeis Betrays its Educational Mission

Jonathan Zimmerman

In 1949, Wayne State University president David Henry blocked an invited speaker from appearing on campus. The speaker was Herbert Phillips, a well-known philosophy professor. And the reason was simple: Phillips was a Communist.

“It is now clear that the Communist is to be regarded not as an ordinary citizen but as an enemy of national welfare,” Henry explained. “I cannot believe that the university is under any obligation in the name of education, to give him an audience.”

I thought of this episode—and many similar ones–as I read about Brandeis University’s decision to withdraw its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the prominent women’s rights activist who was slated to appear at its commencement exercises in May. Citing Ali’s controversial remarks about Islam, Brandeis said these comments were “inconsistent” with its “core values.”

But the core value of the university is—or should be—open dialogue and discussion. And it was Brandeis—not Ali—who who violated it, just as universities did by keeping out Communist and other left-leaning speakers during the McCarthy era.

A Somalian native who fled a forced marriage, Ali moved to Holland and was eventually elected to its Parliament. She also wrote the screenplay for a 2004 film about the treatment of Muslim women, which earned her death threats and led her to move to the United States.

And in a 2007 interview, Ali called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”; later that year, she told another interviewer that “there is no moderate Islam” and that it must be “defeated.”

Over the top? Definitely. Offensive? I think so. But Ali’s comments hardly put her in the same category as Nazis or white supremacists, as several critics have recently charged. Unlike fascist ideologues, who stressed the second-class status of women and their duty to reproduce for the fatherland, Ali has spent her life fighting for female independence and equality.

She has also been at the center of an ongoing debate about the degree to which Islam has enhanced or inhibited women’s rights. I was appalled by her blanket condemnation of the religion, which contains much more diversity than Ali allowed. But she has raised utterly legitimate questions, and the university should be in the business of exploring rather than quashing them.

Ditto for Communists in the 1940s and 1950s, who raised tough issues about the morality of capitalism and its role in promoting imperialism. Some American Communists went to absurd lengths in apologizing for murderous behavior by the Soviet Union, to be sure, and a small number of them actually spied for the USSR. But they also had important things to say about economic and international affairs, if Americans cared to listen.

At nearly all of our colleges and universities, they didn’t. Communist novelist Howard Fast was banned from speaking at Columbia and at my own institution, New York University. Likewise, the German Communist Gerhart Eisler was barred from the University of Michigan and several other schools.

And it wasn’t just Communists who were kept out; so was anyone suspected of sympathizing with them. So Miner Teachers College—a historically black school in Washington, D.C.—blocked the writer Pearl Buck from speaking; another teachers’ college in California banned Carey McWilliams, editor of the Nation; and Ohio State University turned away Cecil Hinshaw, a leading Quaker pacifist.

Each situation was different, but the rationale was always the same: Communists (and their “fellow travelers”) were supposedly inimical to the essential mission of the institution. And it’s also what protesters at Notre Dame said in 2009, when the university tapped President Obama as its graduation speaker.

Over 300,000 people signed a petition urging Notre Dame to revoke the invitation to Obama, a long-standing supporter of abortion rights. In hosting the President, the petition said, the institution was “betraying its Catholic mission.”

But turning away Obama would have betrayed the university’s academic mission: to promote dialogue and understanding across our myriad differences. Fortunately, Notre Dame held firm to its invitation. Obama gave his address, and hundreds of graduates demonstrated their opposition to his abortion views by affixing pictures of baby feet to their motor boards.

That brings us back to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who won’t have the opportunity to address the Brandeis graduation next month. More to the point, though, students won’t have the chance to challenge and debate her. That’s the core value of the university, and also of a liberal society. Too bad that Brandies—and its avowedly liberal defenders—seem to have forgotten it.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University. His most recent book is “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

From our friend Robert Shepherd, who may have watched the famous video in which David Coleman–architect of the Commin Core standards, now President of the College Board, which administers the SAT, original treasurer if Muchelle Rrhee’s StudentsFirst–uttered his immortal line about how no one “gives a &@(@” what you feel or think. This was his strong denunciation of personal expository writing. One of the best responses was written by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, a teacher of creative writing, who explained how important it is to allow and encourage young people to find and use their own voices. She wrote: “And where will we be as a nation if we graduate a generation of young people who can write an academic paper on the Civil War but have no power to convey the human experience?”

For David Coleman, in Honor of Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday

The very talented Peter Greene recently posted a humorous piece comparing Rheeformish language to a poop sandwich–nastiness wrapped in glowing phrases (e.g., “higher standards”). I generally love Peter’s writing, but I’ve never been fond of scatological humor. I’m not sure why I have this distaste (other than for the obvious reasons), since I consider swearing one of the most useful and engaging of the many boons conferred upon us by speech.

I once read, in “The American Scholar,” I think, or perhaps it was in “Verbatim,” a tragic report on the paucity of dedicated swear words in classical Latin. The Romans were always envious of the subtlety of the Greek tongue, of its rich resources for philosophical and literary purposes, but the Greeks were even less well endowed with profanities than the Romans were. The poor Romans had to result to graffiti, which they did with wild and glorious abandon, while the Greeks stuck to salacious decoration of vases.

I have a nice little collection of books on cursing in various languages. French, Spanish, German, Italian–the modern European languages, generally–are rich mines of lively expressions. But our language, which has been so promiscuous through the centuries, has to be the finest for cursing that we apes have yet developed. We English speakers are blessed with borrowed riches, there, that speakers of other tongues can only dream of.

So, when I watch a David Coleman video, there’s a lot for me to say, and a lot of choice language to say it with.

Those of you who are English teachers will be familiar with the Homeric catalog. It’s a literary technique that is basically a list. The simple list isn’t much to write home about, you might think, but this humble trope can be extraordinarily effective. Consider the following trove of treasures. What are these all names of? (Take a guess. Don’t cheat. The answer is below.)

Green Darner
Roseate Skimmer
Great Pondhawk
Ringed Cascader
Comet Darner
Banded Pennant
Orange Emperor
Banded Groundling
Black Percher
Little Scarlet
Tau Emerald
Southern Yellowjack
Vagrant Darter
Beautiful Demoiselle
Large Red
Mercury Bluet
Eastern Spectre
Somber Goldenring

Back to my dreams of properly cursing Coleman and the Core, of dumping the full Homeric catalog of English invective on them.

I have wanted to do so on Diane Ravitch’s blog, but Diane doesn’t allow such language in her living room, and I respect that. So I am sending this post, re Coleman and the Core, thinking that perhaps Diane won’t mind a little Shakespeare. (After all, it’s almost Shakespeare’s birthday. His 450th. Happy birthday, Willie!)

Let’s begin with some adjectives:

Artless, beslubbering, bootless, churlish, craven, dissembling, errant, fawning, forward, gleeking, impertinent, loggerheaded, mammering, merkin-faced, mewling, qualling, rank, reeky, rougish, pleeny, scurvie, venomed, villainous, warped and weedy,

And then add some compound participles:

beef-witted, boil-brained, dismal-dreaming, earth-vexing, fen-sucked, folly-fallen, idle-headed, rude-growing, spur-galled, . . .
And round it all off with a noun (pick any one that you please):


Or, if you want whole statements from the Bard himself:

“Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of the Nile.” (worms = snakes)

“Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.”

“You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”

“You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!”

“Thou sycophantic, merkin-faced varlet.”

“Thou cream-faced loon!”

There. Glad I got that out of my system.

BTW. Those are names of dragonflies, above. Beautiful, aren’t they? Shakespeare loved odd names of things. Scholars have shown that he used in writing a wider vocabulary than any other author who has ever wrote in our glorious tongue. Again, happy birthday, Willie. What fools those Ed Deformers be!

Award-winning high school principal Carol Burris reports here on Arne Duncan’s latest foray into New York, where he highly praised the state’s controversial Commissioner of Education John King, disparaged disgruntled educators and parents as a mere distraction, and urged the state to “stay the course.”

Burris, a leader in the effort to expose and reverse some of the worst aspects of Race to the Top, explains why it is important not to stay the course, when the course is leading in the wrong direction.

She writes:

” There is no empirical evidence that rigorous state or national standards will result in higher student achievement or greater college readiness.

“Those who created the Common Core assumed that if we established rigorous standards, student achievement and economic competitiveness would increase. Duncan said, in his remarks at New York University, that it is common sense. Prior to the 15th century, common sense said the world was flat, but that did not make it true.”

She cites research to demonstrate that rigorous standards and high-stakes tests o not produce better education:

“This is not an argument for low standards or no standards—it is an argument that standards reform is not an effective driver of school improvement. Keep in mind that all state standards had high-stakes state tests associated with them. The more rigorous the standards, the more difficult the tests are. As high-stakes tests become more difficult, the curriculum becomes narrower and narrower. The tests soon drive teaching and learning.

“When I hear “I am for the Common Core standards, I am just not for the tests”, I cringe. While thoughtful educators look at the standards through their prism of good practice, test makers look at the standards as the basis for creating “items” that discriminate the learning of one child from another. In the end, the test maker calls the shots. It is no coincidence that the Common Core Standards, PARCC and Smarter Balanced were all born at the same time. In his remarks, Duncan referred to PARCC and Smarter Balanced as the “national tests.”

“The destination of school reform—ensuring that all students have the skills, content and habits needed for college and career success—is the right destination. The challenge is choosing the pathway that gets us there. Good intentions are not enough. If we continue to put our tax dollars and our efforts into “standards reform” because Mr. Duncan and his followers believe it is common sense, we will waste time and treasure.”

Bottom line: Race to the Top is no better than No Child Left Behind. It has no research to support its premises and will come to an ignominious end like its predecessor. Burris hopes that Duncan will change course but his bad ideas seem impervious to evidence.

Perhaps someday historians will figure out how the Obama administration pulled the wool over the eyes of so many people about its plans for urban schools. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama named Professor Linda Darling-Hammond as his senior education advisor. She went on national television to describe the progressive policies he would pursue if elected.

Soon after the election, President-elect Obama dropped Darling-Hammond and selected his basketball buddy Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. He introduced Duncan as someone who had enjoyed remarkable success in turning around the Chicago public schools. We now know that Duncan did not enjoy remarkable success, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is applying a wrecking ball to the Chicago public school system.

What went wrong? How did Obama fool us? Once he was elected, why did he choose as Secretary a non-educator who was determined to make standardized testing the centerpiece of his program, to advance the privatization of America’s public schools, to demoralize teachers, and to make common cause with the nation’s most rightwing governors? Why does Duncan never speak out against segregation? Why does he pretend that poverty doesn’t matter so long as poor kids have “great” teachers? Why does he never speak out against vouchers? What will historians say about Race to the Top, which turns out to have as much evidence as No Child Left Behind?


The Obama Administration’s “Scorched Earth Policy” for Urban Schools

By Dr. Mark Naison

The Obama Administration, in the five years it has been in office, has pursued an Education “Scorched Earth” policy in major urban centers, closing public schools en masse and replacing them with charter schools. And for the most part, Democratic Mayors have enthusiastically supported this policy. Only in the last year, there has been finally been some resistance to this policy, by newly elected Mayors in New York and Pittsburgh. That resistance must spread if public education is to survive and be revitalized in Urban America. Electing anti-testing, anti-charter school and pro public school Mayors in big cities should be a major priority of activists in the last three years of the Obama Presidency, along with building the multi-partisan movement against the Common Core Standards. That is the only way we can build public schools into strong community institutions where creative teaching and learning is practiced and honored.


Dr. Mark Naison is one of the Co-founders of BATs with Priscilla Sanstead


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