Archives for category: Personal

I was born July 1, 1938, at 12:01 am at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. I was my parents’ third child. We lived in a tiny house on Dunlop Street. Five more children followed over the next 10 years. We would eventually be five boys and three girls.

 

I went to public schools from K-12. Then, encouraged by my rabbi and his wife, I applied to Wellesley and was accepted. Going east to college changed my life.

 

Birthdays make you think back on your life as you get older. When you are young, birthdays make you either want to party or think about the future.

 

I’ll save the look back for my memoirs, if I ever find the time.

 

I’m still looking forward. The struggle to save public education against privatization and to protect kids from test-mania will grow stronger. The opt out movement will spread across the nation. Researchers will continue to demonstrate the failed policies of high-stakes testing and privatization.

 

You can help. If you want to make a gift for my birthday, join the Network for Public Education. Give as generously as you can. The Network helps grassroots activists across the nation and connects them to allies.

 

Here is the contact information: The Network for Public Education. Open the link to learn how to contribute online and/or become a member. This organization is fighting for public schools, for students, parents, teachers, and all other citizens who care about the future of our democracy.

 

If you want to send a check, here is the address:

 

Network for Public Education
P.O. Box 44200
Tucson, AZ
85733

 

 

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided by 5-4 that the right to marry the person of one’s choice is fundamental and cannot be denied by the states. This was a controversial decision, obviously, but it was very important in removing a barrier to many families who are joined in love and would like to be joined in marriage. I have seen estimates that 50,000 or more children live with gay parents, and Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged that these children should have the security of knowing that their family is legally recognized. Some of my readers may be aware of the story I told last Friday night at New York City’s gay synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), but not the details. Others may be shocked. I pondered whether to share my speech with you. But I decided that, since I am two days short of my 77th birthday, it is too late to hide anything.

 

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), June 26, 2015

 

What a historic day!

 

I am so honored and privileged to speak here tonight and join you in celebrating.

 

Over the past few days, I read the history of CBST. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum sent me a book about the founding and development of New York City’s first gay synagogue. It is a story of courage and survival.

 

Who would have believed, when that first minyan of 10 men met in 1973 that, 42 years later, the US Supreme Court would affirm marriage equality for all?

 

When I read the history, I discovered that Sharon Kleinbaum is truly “The One.” I read that the CBST search committee conducted a national search; they interviewed many candidates. Rabbi Sharon did not apply, but they heard about her. When they met Rabbi Sharon in 1992, they all agreed: She is The One. Hers was the only name they forwarded to the board.

 

I knew she was The One when she invited me to speak tonight–somehow she knew, in her great depth of wisdom and foresight, that this would be a great day in gay history. And of course exactly the right time for me to come out in public for the first time.

 

Some of you may know my writings about education. I was for many years a prominent advocate of testing, choice, and accountability. Five years ago, I renounced my long-held views and declared myself an opponent of high-stakes testing, vouchers, and privately managed charters, in a book called “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” In 2013, I wrote another book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privation Movement and the Danger to America’s Schools. I have written, blogged, and spoken out across the nation about the menace of privatization. The privatization movement is funded by billionaires, hedge fund managers, and rightwing governors (of both parties), and its goal is to destroy public education, to bust teachers unions, and to undermine the teaching profession. They call themselves reformers but they are just trying to confuse the public about their real goals, which the public would reject. This movement is a threat not only to public education but to the future of our democracy.

 

But my change of mind about education issues was dwarfed by my life change. I was married to a very fine man for 25 years. We had three children, one of whom died of leukemia.

 

Thirty years ago, at a conference in Minneapolis sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities–the best thing Bill Bennett ever did–I met the love of my life. I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

 

Over the past three decades, we have made a wonderful life together. She has taken care of me in sickness and health, through a pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, total knee replacement, and more. In the presence of our immediate family and close friends, we were married by Rabbi Kleinbaum at our home in Brooklyn on December 12, 2012.

 

My wife, Mary Butz, was born in Brooklyn. She is Roman Catholic and of German descent. She spent 35 years as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and executive director for leadership in the NYC Board of Education. Some people think I learned everything I know about education from her, but I did know a few things before I met her.

 

She is the funniest, kindest person I know, also the most honest and ethical.

 

Just two anecdotes.

 

Soon after we started living together, Mary realized that I became depressed around the time of major Jewish holidays. One Yom Kippur, she insisted that we go to the CBST services at the Javits Center, where thousands of LGBT people gathered. I was happy but nervous, because I was still closeted. Would anyone see me? What would they say?

 

Well, Mary went to the ladies’ room, and ran into many NYC school teachers. No one expressed surprise that she was a lesbian. Instead, everyone said, “Mary, I didn’t know you were Jewish.”

 

Then there was the time in 2006 when I was invited to speak at Davos, the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. This was a very big deal. They were paying my way and I asked them to pay the way for my domestic partner. They adamantly refused. I insisted. They still refused. Finally, I realized that we had a language problem, when they explained that no one was allowed to bring their domestics with them. When they finally understood that we were a gay couple, all was well.

 

So here we are in a new world. We no longer have to find circumlocutions for our husbands and wives. We enjoy the same marriage rights as others.

 

It has been a long struggle and it will no doubt continue on other fronts to protect the rights of people who are LGBT.

 

I would be remiss if I did not urge you to engage in social and political activism on a broader front. Our nation is beset by growing income inequality and wealth inequality. The Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court struck a blow against our democracy by allowing the super-rich to spend obscene amounts of money on political campaigns, supporting candidates who will protect the privileges of the rich and powerful.

 

Our victory in the courts today must summon us to fight for all those who are marginalized and who are deemed losers in our harshly competitive society.

 

We can’t have a great society unless we have a good society. It can be neither good nor great unless it is good for all Americans.

 

Thank you.

I consider you my friends, and I would like to share some happy memories.

Last weekend, I drove to Massachusetts, for my 55th college reunion at Wellesley College. I always drive to reunion with three dear friends who were classmates.

We stayed in one of the dorms. I had forgotten how beautiful the campus is. I still remember arriving on campus in the fall of 1956. I was a very bright but entirely unsophisticated, innocent, naive kid from the Houston public schools. I never visited the campus before I attended. I applied because my rabbi’s wife went there, and she encouraged me. I went to a Seven Sisters reception, applied, and was accepted.

I recall my first September, standing in awe as I looked at the trees ablaze in bright hues of vivid yellow, orange, and red. We never saw that in Houston.

I loved Wellesley. I loved that it was a women’s college, and I could speak up without risking being “too smart” for a girl. Boys didn’t like that. There were many classmates smarter than I, so I could enjoy the stimulation of engaging in discussions about the world without having to act like a lady.

The high point of reunion at Wellesley is the alumnae parade. Everyone is lined up with the members of their class. At the very end is the oldest class, which this year was the class of 1940. They graduated 75 years ago! All of them rode in beautiful, open cars from the 1920s and 1930s. They wave, and as they pass, we cheer loudly for them. Then comes the class of 1945; some are walking, some are in the antique convertibles or golf carts. Then the class of 1950, then 1955. More cheering, more applauding (we shout our class cheer).

Then it is our time to fall in behind the class of 1955, and it is our turn to be cheered by the younger classes. We march past 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, and finally 2010. As we advance, the cheering grows louder. And I can’t help but notice that as the classes grow younger, they are more diverse. More women of color. By the time we reach the class of 2010, the cheering and applause are thunderous, amplified by a brass and banjo band playing old-time music.

I love the parade because it is not only fun and colorful, but it reminds you about the cycle of life. You realize that with each reunion, you get closer to the end of the procession. The oldest class surviving is only 20 years older than us!

I did something special this year. I endowed the Education Department with funding for an annual lecture series and for student internships and grants for student research. I also am leaving a bequest to fund a full professorship in the Education Department. No one has ever given them money for internships, research, or an endowed chair. This is my way of thanking Wellesley for changing my life. I will write more about this later.

I will inaugurate the lecture series on October 22, 2015. If you live anywhere in the area, please mark it in your calendar.

I am in Chicago for a family wedding this weekend. Tonight I had dinner with my dear friend Karen Lewis and her husband John. We had a lovely get-together.

When I came home, I discovered that the blog had passed the 21 million number. I am not a data-driven person, but I enjoyed knowing that I was able to share my platform with so many of you. you. Together, I think we are turning the tide against bad ideas. We will not stop until we have ended the menace of privately managed schools and high stakes testing. We want our children to love learning.

FYI, I am on vacation in France. Yesterday we visited the palace at Versailles. The life of the royals was so sumptuous that it was obscene. For the first time, I viscerally understood the French Revolution. Injustice and inequity breed hostility, rage, and eventually it boils over.

I read my emails and will keep posting. I’m off now to see the sights.

Yesterday was the third birthday of this blog. I started the blog on April 26, 2012. Today it reached 20 million page views!

Thank you to every reader who enjoys the content or who reads it as a reality check about the toxic, failed policies called “reform.” (Or both.) The mainstream media are infatuated with the reformers’ bold ideas to disrupt the education of the nation’s children.

But guess what? Their ideas don’t work. Their ideas hurt children. Their ideas close schools and hurt communities. Their ideas demoralize teachers. They focus everyone on test scores. Thry don’t improve education, they cheapen it.

Education has civic and humane purposes that can’t be measured by a standardized test.

Educating children is hard work that requires dedicated service and a commitment to the children, not for a year or two, but as a career.

Thank you for keeping me going with uour suggestions, your links to local events, and your support. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your loyalty.

This current madness will not last. Don’t quit, stand tall and keep teaching, keep fighting for better education.

Please join the Network for Public Education. Come to our next annual conference. Protect your children. Do what you love. Help is on the way. We are many. They are few. We will win.

I flew to Salt Lake City on April 15, to lecture the next morning at Brigham Young University in Provo, about an hour from SLC. This is the longest trip I have taken since my knee surgery a year ago. BYU is a private, faith-based institution, firmly grounded in the Mormon religion. About 95% of the students are Mormon. The church subsidizes tuition, which is less than $6,000 a year. That is no more than the public university. I learn wherever I go, and I looked forward to learning about education in Utah.

 

As I went to baggage claim, there were several families holding “welcome home” banners. I thought for sure they were welcoming service members back from Afghanistan or some other battleground, but I was wrong. They were welcoming young people back who had served as missionaries in distant lands.

 

When I arrived, it was snowing, which I didn’t mind except for the fact that I couldn’t see the magnificent mountains. I had a couple of hours of down time to rest, then went to dinner with a group of BYU faculty, Dean Mary Anne Prater, and presenters from Boise State. We had a very pleasant meal at a Brazilian restaurant where the food kept coming until everyone had enough.

 

My guide was Gary Seastrand, a veteran and knowledgable educator. He was gracious, attentive, and thoughtful. There are some things I can’t do–like climbing steps to the podium without a handrail–and Gary was always there to guard and protect me.

 

The next day I spoke, then engaged in a lively question and answer session.

 

During and between meals, this is what I learned about Utah.

 

It is the lowest spending state in the nation. The legislature is very charter-friendly. Several legislators gave up their elected positions to open charters. Needless to say, none of these charter founders is an educator. The charters are typically Caucasian, with few, if any, children with disabilities or English language learners. The charters get more funding than public schools. Utah had a referendum on vouchers in 2007, and it was rejected by a margin of 62-38. Of course, there are still voucher supporters in the legislature, but they have already been turned down resoundingly by the voters. So, charters now have become the functional substitute for free-market fundamentalists.

 

Utah adopted the Common Core but dropped out of the SBAC testing. AIR developed new tests for Utah. Last year, when the tests were administered for the first time, most students were found to be “not proficient,” which the media interprets as “failed.” That is the pattern everywhere. When tests are aligned with the Common Core, no matter who develops them, most students fail.

 

Despite the obstacles thrown in their way by the state, the educators I met—principals, assistant principals, teachers, superintendents, and teacher educators–seemed remarkably cheerful about their jobs. I was repeatedly told by people about their love of teaching and their genuine dedication to their students.

 

Of course, many asked for guidance about how best to protect their schools from the wave of privatization that emanates from the legislature. I talked about the inspirational Néw York opt out and encouraged them to work together in unity against harmful policies. In unity there is strength. I was often reminded that Utah has a strong individualistic strain, which somehow co-exists with the Mormon commitment to service and social responsibility. In a state where Mormons are a significant presence, it is that idealism that must eventually prevail if public education is to be preserved.

 

When I left the next day, the clouds had lifted, and I could not take my eyes away from the exquisite snow-capped mountains.

 

I hope to return to Utah, next time as a tourist. What a beautiful state, with beautiful people. I need more time to take in the physical beauty.

Thank you to the many readers who have turned this blog into a go-to place for all interested in the battle to save and improve public education!

Many reporters have told me that they check the blog to find out what is happening in education, since most of the mainstream media either doesn’t report on education or writes stories from the point of view of those who want to privatize the public schools.

 

The blog just passed 19 million page views, as it approaches its 3rd birthday (April 26). It reached 18 million on March 6. That is one million page views in one month. That’s a record for the blog.

 

Today also happens to be the day I fell exactly one year ago and ruined my knee. I am walking again, but I have a permanent disability. Given the fact that I take blood thinners due to previous bouts with clots, I was lucky that I did not get internal bleeding in the knee when I fell. If I had, I would not have survived it. So I have much to be thankful for today.

 

My joy in the blog is that it lets parents and educators know not only what is happening–the good and the bad–but that they are not alone. I try to provide a platform for other people’s voices. I have tried to create a community of discussion, debate, and free expression, all in the service of better education for all. I could have been writing another book. The blog has been my form of activism, and I have enjoyed every minute of creating it, facilitating it, weighing in to the comments, arguing when I don’t agree, offering encouragement when others are struggling.

 

Let me take this opportunity to urge you to sign up for the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Chicago on April 24-26. It will be an opportunity to meet with others who share your concerns and to meet some of your favorite bloggers, as well as some awesome speakers and panelists. You will leave feeling inspired and motivated. Join the Resistance to the Status Quo! Anthony Cody will be there, and here are his reasons why you should be too!

 

 

Given the confluence of two major religious events–Easter and Passover–it is a good time to wish you happiness whatever you celebrate.i went to a wonderful Passover Seder with 30 family members on Friday night and to the Easter Vigil at the Oratory of Saint Boniface in Brooklyn on Saturday night.

We must respect one another’s traditions and learn to live and let live.

Mercedes Schneider sends her Easter greetings to all.

Last night I watched the first segment of the CNN special on “Cancer: The Emperor of Maladies.” It was very well done. Most of the program was about childhood leukemia. It brought back many sad memories. Our Steven, a beautiful child age 2, died in 1966 of leukemia after six terrible months of suffering, in and out of the hospital. We thought he had the best of care. We prayed for a miracle that never happened.

The program interviewed the first child to survive. She was about 12 when she was diagnosed. The doctors in Boston gave her a “cocktail” of four drugs. She is now middle-aged. Her treatment started in 1964. When I heard the date, it broke my heart.

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