Archives for category: Inequity

Arthur Camins, scientist and technologist, warns that public policy in both education and healthcare is deeply flawed and cannot be fixed with patches. No matter how many potholes are fixed, the underlying problems go untouched and unchanged.

Our flawed policy is the result of deeply ingrained flawed thinking.

The United States, he writes, is the victim of a combination of forty years of skepticism of government solutions and acceptance of “let’s be realistic about what we can accomplish” thinking.

For example, for decades scattershot treatments of outcomes have characterized bi-partisan education improvement efforts with little to nothing to show for it except undermined public education and stress. The driving causes of inequitable outcomes, systemic inequity, its enabler, racism, and resultant precarious lives remain rampant and unaddressed. 

Instead, the dominant education interventions have been to push or blame individuals. These include rewards and punishments for educators or students based on standardized test scores; rigid discipline regimes; and, more recently, a focus on developing grit to work through, put up with, or overcome rather than eliminate challenging social and economic conditions.

Equally, if not more, insidious is you-can’t-save-everyone solutions, such as escape hatches for some kids through charter schools and vouchers, most of which are no better than local public schools.  More broadly, the lack of universal health care and inequitable funding of schools through local real estate yield the same help-a-few result.

Open the link and read the rest.

This part of Capital & Main’s examination of union busting reviews the targeting of academics who study labor by corporate critics. It was written by Jo Constantz.

Many scholars who study the history and economics of organized labor are sympathetic to the union cause. These academics often encounter threats, harassment, and defunding of their research.

It begins:

Throttled by both strong-arm tactics from anti-union interests and a chronic lack of support from universities, the field of labor studies has dwindled in the U.S. in recent years.

Researchers in the field have been the target of legal threats and lawsuits, onerous public records requests and misinformation campaigns from union avoidance consultants, business executives, corporate lawyers and conservative think tanks. It’s one aspect of the business lobby’s relentless war against unions in recent decades, which has seen companies spend more than $340 million a year on consultants to defeat organizing efforts by their employees and helped sink union membership.

Labor studies, an interdisciplinary field in academia that examines workplace issues and worker organizations, reveals working conditions that motivate people to want to join a union. Much of the scholarship has illuminated the central role that labor’s decline has played in exacerbating income inequality. In doing so, the field has aroused the ire of anti-union companies and their allies. The field has never been a major force in academia and many centers have been gradually shuttered due to lack of funding or merged with other departments. Only a handful of universities currently offer a major or minor in labor studies. Faculty are often untenured, vulnerable to layoffs and budget cuts, and they are often not replaced when they retire.

Open the link and read on.

Chicago was the starting place for Arne Duncan’s very bad ideas about school reform. Duncan boasted about how many schools he closed, working on the theory that the students would transfer to a better school or a charter school. As Eve Ewing documented in her book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, Duncan’s punitive approach wreaked havoc on black and LatinX students, communities, and of course, neighborhood schools. Arne Duncan, the President who appointed him (Obama), and the mayor who followed his failing model (Rahm Emanuel), pushed policies that hurt children and educators. The mainstream media has not yet held them accountable. Perhaps this settlement will. Meanwhile, the thousands of African American teachers who were fired in New Orleans lost their court battle and will never receive either compensation or acknowledgement of the injustice done to them.

Chicago Teachers Union

STATEMENT: 
For Immediate Release| ctulocal1.org

CONTACT: Chris Geovanis, 312-329-6250312-446-4939 (m)ChrisGeovanis@ctulocal1.org

Mayor’s Board of Ed to vote on compensating Black educators harmed by racially disparate ‘turn-arounds’

CHICAGO, Dec. 13, 2021 — The Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement today in wake of CPS’ statement on the Board of Education’s upcoming consideration this Wednesday of a settlement agreement related to the racially disproportionate layoffs and terminations of Black teachers and paraprofessionals in ‘turned-around’ schools in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Chicago Teachers Union aims to defend public education in the City of Chicago for staff and students—including for the vast majority of Black and LatinX people in the city. 

On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on a settlement between the Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1, and CPS relating to layoffs and terminations from their positions that had a disparate racial impact on African American teachers and paraprofessionals resulting from the Board’s turnaround policies and in certain CPS schools in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

The agreement concludes nearly 10 years of litigation and will result in the creation and distribution of a settlement fund to benefit those staff members affected by the turnarounds. Resolving this matter is in CPS students’ best interest and will allow the District to move forward while the impacted teachers and staff will receive some compensation for the harm that was done to them. As a union, we have fought for increased funding for schools, adequate staffing and fair treatment of all teachers, regardless of race.

The cases settled are Chicago Teachers Union et al. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Case Nos. 12-cv-10311 and 15-cv-8149), both pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The CTU will issue further statements once the final terms of the settlement are documented and submitted to the court for approval.”

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The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299, and by extension, over 350,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information, please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.Sent via ActionNetwork.org. To update your email address, change your name or address, or to stop receiving emails from CTU Press, please click here.

CBS News reported on an analysis by the U.S. Treasury showing that the richest Americans avoid paying $163 billion each year.

The top 1% of Americans are avoiding paying an estimated $163 billion in taxes a year, according to the Treasury Department. In contrast, more than 99% of taxes on regular incomes — paid via a paycheck — get paid.

That discrepancy is pushing the estimated tax gap, the amount of money owed by taxpayers that isn’t collected, to nearly around $600 billion annually, and to approximately $7 trillion in lost revenue over the next decade, the Treasury Department finds.

Tax evasion is concentrated among the wealthy in part because high-income taxpayers are able to employ experts who can better shield them from reporting their true incomes, the Treasury Department argued in a blog post. More complicated incomes such as partnerships and proprietorships – more frequent among high earners — have a far greater noncompliance rate that can hit as high as 55%.

“The tax gap can be a major source of inequity. Today’s tax code contains two sets of rules: one for regular wage and salary workers who report virtually all the income they earn; and another for wealthy taxpayers, who are often able to avoid a large share of the taxes they owe,” wrote Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Natasha Sarin.

Meanwhile our roads, bridges, tunnels, and other vital infrastructure are underfunded. Schools need to invest in physical improvements. Class sizes are too large, especially in urban districts. Teachers are underpaid in comparison to other professionals with the same education credentials.

Taxes are too low on those who can most afford to pay them. Tax avoidance is thriving while our society’s basic needs are not.

It’s past time for nation building at home.

This clear and thoughtful article was written by Michael Turmelle, director of education and career initiatives, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The Republican-controlled legislation intends to pass sweeping voucher legislation that would harm the public schools attended by the great majority of the state’s children.

He writes:


If you have ever needed a hospital or a pharmacy; driven on well-engineered highways; eaten food that was grown and shipped safely; felt the protective assurance of our armed forces and intelligence services; used a cell phone; gotten a vaccine to guard against a deadly disease, then you have benefited from public schools.

This is the social contract we have made: since we all rely on an educated populace to do countless things we all depend on every day, we all chip in to a system of public schools to educate people. We all agree to support this common good that benefits us all — whether our kids happen to be in school, or if we even have kids of our own. 

We all need strong public schools because we need all our children to be able to get the robust education that will allow them to go on to become the nurses and doctors, the engineers and entrepreneurs, the public-health researchers and food-safety inspectors, the firefighters and intelligence analysts and teachers who will support our communities and economy tomorrow. 

The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is in the midst of a 10-year initiative to improve outcomes for New Hampshire children and families who face significant barriers to opportunity.

Public K-12 schools play a critical role in providing that opportunity by delivering on the very American promise of an education for all — no matter how much money your parents have, or where you live, or the color of your skin or if you get around on your feet or in a wheelchair. null

But the public good that is public education is being imperiled in New Hampshire in ways that put children’s education and the well-being of our communities and our economy at risk.

How? 

By inequity.

Some schools in New Hampshire have well-paid veteran teachers, top-notch facilities, state-of-the-art equipment and resources. Some districts struggle to pay dedicated educators, have constant teacher turnover, patched-together buildings and outdated resources. The former are in wealthy towns, the latter are not. 

And disparities in funding correlate with disparities in outcomes.

In New Hampshire, according to an independent report produced for the state’s Commission to Study School Funding: “The highest poverty school districts have the lowest student outcomes. The negative relationship between poverty and outcomes is very strong.” 

New Hampshire’s state constitution mandates that the state provide an “adequate” education to all children. Since a coalition of “property-poor” towns sued the state in the 1990s, various funding formulas have been applied by the legislature — all of which have continued to rely predominantly on local property taxes to foot the majority of the bill for public education. The amount the state sends to districts remains far below what districts must spend. Another group of districts sued the state in 2019, asserting state adequacy aid would need to triple to meet the basic requirements set out in state law. The state Supreme Court sent the “ConVal lawsuit” (so named for the Contoocook Valley school district, one of the districts that brought the suit) back to Superior Count in March for a trial. Manchester and Nashua, the two largest districts in the state, joined the suit this month.

All children in every public school in New Hampshire (not just the ones in wealthy towns) should have the resources, facilities and teachers needed to ensure them a world-class education and the best outcomes possible. Our current unequal system of supporting schools creates two separate and unequal classes of education for our kids, robbing too many of them of the American promise of equal opportunity.

By a troubling move toward privatization. 

Running through some recent proposed legislation and public discourse is a disquieting attack on the idea of public education as a public good. 

The school voucher program being considered by the legislature is a system under which taxpayer-generated state aid earmarked to educate children in public schools is redirected to private schools or home education.

Voucher programs would risk further exacerbating funding inequity in New Hampshire schools and leaving the most vulnerable children — the ones who rely most on the promise of public education – in schools with fewer resources, increasingly inadequate facilities and diminished opportunity. An analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Reaching Higher New Hampshire shows that the program would cost the state nearly $70 million in new state spending over three years.

Vouchers do not help kids do better. Multiple independent studies from states that have implemented vouchers have shown that voucher programs do not improve academic outcomes. Voucher programs also deepen racial segregation in schools (which has also shown to diminish outcomes for all children) and leave LGBTQ students vulnerable to discrimination.

Taking public funds from our public schools to pay for private education is not a good answer for how to make our schools stronger for the nine out of 10 of New Hampshire’s children who use them.

Just like public fire departments, highways and health departments, public education is a public good that benefits us all. And just like all those other things, it deserves robust investment, access to it should be equitable — and we absolutely cannot do without it.

You may recall that sociologist and author Eve Ewing wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that said it was time to end the debate about charter schools and celebrate all good schools, whatever they are called. This is one of the talking points of the charter industry, which prefers the public not to notice how many charter schools close every year, how many are low-performing, and how many are run by non-educators who turn a handsome profit.

My response was here.

The New York Times published letters to the editor about the Ewing article. Only one was favorable, written by Jeanne Allen, who runs a charter advocacy organization called the “Center for Education Reform,” funded by rightwing billionaires and Wall Street financiers. CER promotes all kinds of school choice and is hostile to public schools.

The first letter was written by Denis Smith of Ohio, who has appeared on this blog:

To the Editor:

Re “End the Fight Over Charter Schools,” by Eve L. Ewing (Op-Ed, Feb. 23):

Why do we allow two separate but seemingly parallel systems of education, using scarce public funds that are taken from traditional public schools to fund charters, a seeming experiment gone awry? Why do we allow one entity that is accountable and has governance conveyed from the voters in each community and allow the other to avoid the same transparency and accountability?

Here in Ohio, charters are exempt from 150 sections of law that the public schools must be in compliance with to legally operate, yet the public schools are required to support charters with the school district’s transportation system and other services at no cost.

So no, we can’t stop fighting about the subject of charters until we have the same rules for both. If one is exempt from wholesale sections of the law, then by definition it is not a public school but something else, a school that acquires public funds to operate yet has its own rules and is free from much oversight.

Denis D. Smith
Westerville, Ohio
The writer, a charter school critic, is a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, responsible for assuring legal compliance in the operations of these schools.

Veteran blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes about education in Indiana. In this post, he describes a controversy in the Legislature about whether a portion of a district should be allowed to secede in order to join a “whiter” district.

Some Indiana House Republicans lost their cool last week when Democratic colleagues dared to raise the issue of race. According to the Indianapolis Star, the Republican legislators “shouted down and booed Black lawmakers during floor debate on a bill that some see as discriminatory.”

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, became emotional and walked off the House floor when Republicans interrupted his attempt to speak, the Star reported. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, began talking about his own experiences with racism and “was met with ‘boos’ from several … GOP lawmakers.”

But Porter and Smith were right. Lawmakers were debating House Bill 1367, which would allow Greene Township in St. Joseph County to secede from South Bend Community Schools and join John Glenn School Corp. Greene Township’s population is 98% white, according to census data, while nearly three-fourths of South Bend students are Black, Hispanic or multiracial. John Glenn’s enrollment is 90% white and less than 1% Black. How can you debate a bill like that and not talk about race?

Indiana’s Legislature is encouraging school choice, of course, despite the fact that these choice policies are desegregating schools across the state. Black legislators are outraged, as they should be.

When legislators promote laws that make schools more segregated, their actions should be scrutinized.

The same should apply to Indiana’s state-sanctioned open enrollment policy, in which families may transfer their children from the school district where they live to another, provided there’s room. The policy accounts for about half the “school choice” in the state. In theory, it lets parents choose the public school that best fits their children’s needs, as long as they can provide transportation. In practice, families are leaving racially diverse urban schools for mostly white suburban or rural districts.

Muncie Community Schools, for example, where 57% of students are white, lose nearly a quarter of their prospective students through inter-district transfers. Many go to nearby districts where over 90% of students are white. Figures are similar for Marion Community Schools, where 48% of students are white and many leave for districts that are 80% or more white.

The resegregation that is occurring across the nation, especially in the South, has been hastened by the secession of white families who want their children to enroll in a whiter district.

The VOX article continues:

In one recent case in Alabama, white families in Gardendale–a suburb of Birmingham–attempted to secede from the Jefferson County school district. A lower court judge approved their request, but it was overturned by an appeals court.

While the Gardendale plan was ultimately halted, other school secessions have been allowed to occur, the secession study authors note. “It’s hard not to look at many of these instances of secession and see them as a modern-day effort by Southern whites to avoid diverse schools,” Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a study co-author and an associate professor of educational leadership, policy, and justice at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a press release. “This is especially true given the obstacles to comprehensive cross-district integration policies.”

As these efforts continue, and in some cases accelerate, the study authors caution that more attention needs to be paid to the impacts of school secessions, which they call “a new form of resisting desegregation amid the growing diversity of the South’s public schools.”

“Secession has weakened the potential for greater school integration across the South’s broadly defined communities,” the researchers note, “fracturing White and Black and White and Hispanic students into separate school systems.”

The secession movement in the South has reached Indiana, where it appears to be gaining traction. Will the courts stand by the Brown vs. Board decision of 1954?

The Biden administration chose a pro-testing advocate, Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust New York, to announce the decision that states must administer the federally mandated tests this spring. Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education nor has Cindy Marten been confirmed as Deputy Secretary. Who made this decision? Joe Biden? Jill Biden? Ian Rosenblum, who has not yet been confirmed as Deputy Assistant Secretary? (The Assistant Secretary has not even been announced.) Is the Obama administration back?

Joe Biden said unequivocally at a Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh when he was campaigning that he would end the federal mandate for standardized testing. Denisha Jones, lawyer, teacher educator, board member of Defending the Early Years, and the Network for Public Education, asked candidate Biden if he would end standardized testing. Watch his answer here.

This is hugely disappointing, first, because it is a broken promise; second, because it imposes standardized testing in the midst of a pandemic when access to education has been grossly uneven and unequal; third, because it diverts the attention of teachers and students to a meaningless exercise.

Please read this article that I wrote a few weeks ago for Valerie Strauss’s blog: What You Need to Know about Standardized Testing. It begins with the history of IQ testing, which was the forerunner to standardized testing, and shows its relationship to eugenics and racism.

In the middle, I summarize the pointlessness of the tests:

Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.

This is wrong.

The tests are a measure, not a remedy.

The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.

Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.

All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.

This is of little value to teachers.

This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.

The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.

Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.

In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.

If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.

So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.

Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.

But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?

All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.

As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.

We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.

We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”

We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.

For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.

It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.

The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.

At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.

American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.

One of the first and most important decisions that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona will make is whether to grant waivers to the states that want to suspend the annual federal testing mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some states–like New York–intend to request waivers, in light of the turmoil and unequal access to education caused by the pandemic. Others–like Texas and Arkansas–plan to proceed with their regular testing program regardless of the harm inflicted on students, teachers, and families by the past year.

Education Trust, headed by former Secretary of Education John King, has organized several groups to demand that Secretary Cardona refuse any requests by states for waivers. It makes no sense for a group of corporate reformers to insist that the Secretary of Education reject the requests of states that sincerely believe their students will be harmed if the federal government refuses to grant waivers at their request. Shouldn’t states have the authority to decide what is in the best interests of their students?

As I explained in my article in the Washington Post, the standardized tests have no diagnostic value. The tests are given in the spring, and the results are returned in the fall, six months later. Teachers never learn what their individual students do or do not know. The tests do not help the students or their teachers. They do not reduce inequity. They do not narrow or close achievement gaps. Because of the tests, schools have sacrificed the arts, civics, history, science, even recess. They have harmed the quality of education.

It is time to turn the corner on two decades of failed test-and-punish strategies. The last NAEP showed that the kids at the very bottom actually lost ground in recent years, despite (or because of) the heavy emphasis on testing. If we really cared about equity, we would reduce class sizes in the high-needs schools and make sure that they were staffed with experienced teachers. There are many positive ways to improve the schools, and more standardized testing is not one of them.

What can parents do? Opt out. It is wrong to test students this spring when access to education was disrupted by the pandemic. Do not allow your child to take the tests. They are pointless and meaningless, this year more than usual.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, shares ideas about teaching in difficult times.


My high school and GED students always loved wrestling with the ideas presented by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bruce Springsteen. I’m sure they would now agree that America needs both – Coates’ Between the World and Me, centered around Coates’ letter to 15-year-old son, and the 71-year-old Springsteen’s Letter to You. Actually we need both masterpieces and Kamilah Forbes’ HBO adaptation of Coates’ advice on how to “become conscious citizens of this beautiful and terrible world.”

Coates’ Between the World and Me tackles “the question of my life,” which is “how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream.” It focuses on the fatal police shooting of his fellow Howard University student, Prince Jones. It illustrates how “the plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

But as Michiko Kakutani observed in her New York Times review, such assertions “skate over the very real — and still dismally insufficient — progress that has been made,” but Coates occasionally acknowledges there have been improvements. Kakutani writes, “His book often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.” And, seeming to concur with that interpretation when discussing the HBO presentation, Coates says it is evidence that “the story America tells about itself and how it tells it is a statement on how much things have changed.”

In the wake of the string of murders by police of unarmed black Americans that are now videotaped, the brilliant 80-minute program prioritizes the police shooting of Prince Jones in Prince Georges County. The location is important because Between the World and Me described the county as a “great enclave of black people who seemed, as much as anyone, to have seized control of their bodies.” But even there, “Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all of the fears that marked it from birth.”

It takes a full book, however, to recount the story of Coates who was raised in Baltimore, the son of a Vietnam veteran, who was a Black Panther and a librarian. As a student, Coates missed the wider historical context of racism. But the Howard faculty did “their duty to disabuse me of my weaponized history.” He reached a balance, however, and as an Atlantic Magazine reporter he drove a revision of the history of the New Deal, the post-WWII Fair Deal and the GI Bill. Despite the good they did for white people, Coates documents the lies perpetuated by these chapters of the “American Dream.”

Perhaps counter-intuitively, that leads to another set of truths found in Springsteen’s lyrics, as well as his autobiography, exploring the “Pax Americana” of his youth. He explains how working class kids or, at least, white youth during “the American Century,” were “destined to live the decent hardworking lives of their parents … if they could scoot through these years of wild pounding hormones without getting hurt or hurting someone else.” Bruce was acculturated into a value system where you “remain true to your crew, your blood, your family, your turf, your greaser brothers and sisters and your country. This was the shit that would get you by when all of the rest came tumbling down.”

As told in “My Hometown,” when Springsteen was 8-years-old, he would sit on the lap of “my old man,” a troubled World War II veteran who was the beneficiary of the GI Bill, and see its bounty, riding “in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town.” Springsteen’s dad would “tousle my hair and say son take a good look around, this is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown.”

But even this dream for white industrial workers was foreclosed. Deindustrialization led to racial violence and with the shotgun blast which signaled, “Troubled times they had come to my hometown.”

It is no criticism of Coates’ wisdom to say it should be complemented by Springsteen’s story of economic injustice done to “black and white” which derailed the progress that was once real. “The Boss” sings of the tragedy which undermined much of the best of the “American Dream:”  “They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks. Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.

Your hometown. Your hometown Your hometown.”

Three decades later, Springsteen’s “American Skin” also supplements an understanding of the mindsets which have murdered so many black bodies. He begins the story of the “41 shots,” in Harlem, which kill Amadou Diallo as he tried to give his wallet to the police, through the cops’ eyes as “as they cross the bloody river to the other side.” Springsteen then sings about a black mother giving “the talk” to her son:

If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama, you’ll keep your hands in sight”

He concludes:

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

During this era of “Deaths by Despair,” which took off in the white working class America that helped boost Trumpism, Springsteen is the “last man standing,” the only survivor of his original band. He also uses multimedia poetry to make sense of America’s “dark evening stars. And the morning sky of blue…”

He has:

Got down on my knees
Grabbed my pen and bowed my head
Tried to summon all that my heart finds true
And send it in my letter to you

The CD doesn’t include the word “Trump.” I only saw what I believe is one clear reference to  him in “The Rainmaker.” It begins with “Parched crops dying ‘neath a dead sun. We’ve been praying but no good comes.” As they face, “The dog’s howling, homes stripped bare,” they admit, “We’ve been worried but now we’re scared.”

This fear opens the door to “the Rainmaker, a little faith for hire.” And the Rainmaker says that “white’s black and black’s white.” 

Getting back to the essential contribution of HBO’s Between the World and Me, Bruce Springsteen is my favorite poet/musical artist, but Kamilah Forbes draws on an all-star cast who place Coates’ “tactile, visceral” account of the “central truth” about the “domination of black bodies” in a profound context.  I’d say the amazing power of the images of the “entire diaspora” successfully allow Coates to speak the hardest truths without becoming excessively morbid. To really grasp Coates’ contribution, his indictments of America must be read along with the celebration of the multicultural, multigenerational expressions of black families, music, dance, art being sketched on the screen, and indomitable energy that Forbes brings together.

(I must also add that those touching scenes remind me of Springsteen’s videos of family, friends, and fellow musicians.)

The film version of Between the World and Mecombines historic and contemporary images family photos and videos, such as a baby boy feeding a candy bar to his dad, as well as historic battles, and the joyous dancing of children who would be killed, unarmed, by the police. Coates’ descriptions of Howard University as his “Mecca” juxtaposes the exuberant expressions of college students’ performances with that of tailgate parties of alumni reliving their Howard energies. Coates concludes this compilation of photos and films by saying they hold “power more gorgeous than any voting rights act.” 

Coates’ book – as opposed to a television special – had the space to acknowledge that white Americans also are a “new people.” They are “like us, a modern invention.” Coates concludes, and the awesome cast of the video also demonstrates how, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

I expect Coates would agree that both the indictments and the glories of American culture can be best understood when his books’ horrific truths are juxtaposed with both – the multiple genres of the HBO presentation and Bruce Springsteen’s versions of history which are also presented in multiple genres of lyrics, music, autobiography, and film.