Culture, politics, economics and the state of education

Written by admin   // September 28, 2012   // Comments Off

Signifyin’

by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt

The parent advocacy organization Common Sense says the average Black child invests nearly nine hours a day on ‘media’ while less than six hours a day in the classroom.

Over 80% of ‘learning’ takes place outside of school, although surveys suggests parents are number four on their child’s list of influencers—behind peers, media and entertainers (primarily rap artists).

Seventy percent of Black children live in households headed by a poor, uneducated, single mothers, many if not most of whom don’t value education with the enthusiasm their parents did. Nor do they view themselves as ‘African Americans,’ if they even understand the cultural concept.

Not surprisingly, statistics show that children emerging from those households are 10 times more likely to drop out of school, have a flirtation with the law, get pregnant and continue the cycle of poverty as if it is their birthright. Nearly 50% of all Milwaukee children live in poverty.

I’m not throwing out these depressing statistics to fill up space, but to lay the groundwork for a suggestion that may resurrect a long discarded, yet viable solution to the root cause of this social phenomena—a more effective, relevant educational system.

Most ‘experts’ suggest the best way to break this cycle of poverty, despair and social dysfunctionality is by providing youth with tools—the passport, if you will–to step outside of the revolving door that has become the accepted norm for the Black community.

There are few who would disagree with that conclusion, yet in the last three decades we have abandoned our quest to empower ourselves through education, and have instead fought several nonsensical battles over who holds our best interests (controls our agenda), and who should control the systems and institutions that supposedly benefit us. (Let me give you hints, most of them don’t look like us.)

Think about it: We’ve fought for two centuries for equal access, and then equal opportunity, followed by separation but never truly equal, community control and now for options and alternatives.

We’ve followed a dozen pied pipers, worn out dozens of shoes and when most of those efforts resulted in fruitless achievements and patronizing placebos, we asked the fairy godfathers in Oz to let us carve out our own yellow brick road, even through we didn’t have a shovel, concrete or map to direct us. (Actually, we left the map in Kansas, and found ourselves following someone else’s blueprint, and thus shouldn’t have been surprised when we ended back at square one.)

The battle has taken so long, and has detoured in so many directions; many can’t remember what we were fighting for. Nor do they see that outsiders have used our energies to first misdirect, then to confuse and now to have us turn on each other, while they take our resources to the suburbs and our children’s futures to the (un)welfare office.

(Hang on, this fairy tale isn’t as confusing as you might assume at this point).

Our children have become pawns as our latest battleground has been waged over delivery systems, instead of what those systems deliver.

It was at last Saturday’s meeting of Community Brainstorm that a light went off in my head, and the words that I spoke–while indoctrinating the audience on the local history of educational reform movement since 1970–struck me like a ton of yellow bricks.

My presentation followed a 15 minute diatribe by former Milwaukee School Board Director Leon Todd, who went on a rant about how the infamous Koch brothers have targeted Milwaukee for a corporate takeover, including buying the former Jackie Robinson Middle School building to, I assume, set up a slave labor camp.

Todd’s nonsensical rant (that had some of us reflecting back to his days on the school board when he fought to keep North Division closed to neighborhood students, declared the African Immersion School evil because ‘they were teaching Voodoo,’ and pushed a busing plan that wrecked the continuum of education while destroying Black neighborhood schools (Yeah, I’m saying he and others were the problem and true conspirators).

Given that the session’s theme was ‘Public, Private and Charter Schools, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly,’ my presentation was more to the subject, as I explained the genesis of the educational reform movement in Milwaukee, and the fact that the school choice crusade grew out of a meeting between representatives of several successful community schools and the Superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools, Robert S. Peterkin.

That’s a fact, and no amount of revisionist history will change that! Slightly less than 20 years after the Milwaukee Urban League petitioned the Milwaukee School Board to apply for a federal grant to start a voucher program in Milwaukee, the head of MPS discussed a similar program with representatives of several community based schools, including Harambee, Urban Day and Bruce Guadalupe.

Peterkin’s stated goal was to form an educational partnership, where the unique qualities of renowned community schools could be expanded upon and either replicated or supplemented by MPS.

As soon as the words left my mouth Saturday, visions of a system of schools to replace a public school system filled my mind. Where would we be today if Peterkin’s vision had materialized?

Following my presentation, MPS Board President Michael Bonds probably shocked some die hard status quo antagonists in the audience when he said the issue wasn’t the delivery systems—public, choice or charter—but instead how do we as a community work to educate all children within the structural paradigm that currently exists.

Dr. Bonds also talked about major reforms taking place at MPS, and how his administration has moved away from prioritizing the needs of adults and the status quo monopoly (my word, not his), to what is best for children. (Wow, that’s a novel, if not revolutionary concept I would say).

Adding the final piece of the puzzle was noted educator and Africentric consultant Taki Raton who (re) introduced the unprecedented accomplishments of the Africentric curriculum as an educational paradigm.

Taki explained why most Black children are not learning under the current educational paradigm, and then laid forth the reasons why small, independent Africancentric schools around he country are having phenomenal success. Students in many of those schools, outperform White students in the best public and private academies. That accomplishment is all the more inspiring given that the Africentric schools are grossly under funded, and many do not have ‘traditionally’ credentialed teachers

Raton explained a common thread of those schools is that children grounded in a strong cultural paradigm, which gives them a sense of purpose and direction. Knowing who and what they are empowers them and when combined with strong expectations and fundamentals in the three ‘Rs’ propels them to greatness.

These schools have consistently proven that they can level the playing field and fill the void created by a cultural of poverty and social dysfunctionality.

Interestingly, progressive, culturally attuned Black leadership advocated for the introduction of Africentricism in the 1980s, only to be drown out by a loud chorus that opined desegregation was the track to freedom and equality. Twenty years later, the achievement gap between Black and White children is as wide as the Grand Canyon, and the cycle of poverty is cemented.

Obviously, Black Milwaukee must pause and reconsider where this current educational train is taking us.

Is it possible that an Africentric core curriculum, replacing the school system with a system of schools, and prioritizing the needs of children over that of bureaucracies and special interests is the key to reversing the abysmal state of affairs? Did we have the answer 30 years ago but instead of actualizing the concept, allowed ourselves to be caught up in the politics and economics of education?

One of my favorite poems declares, “in the end, we’ll arrive at the beginning, and know it for the first time.”

I suggest we’ve come full circle, and the solution is slapping us right in the face. Hopefully, this time we won’t turn the other cheek.–Hotep.

Place editorial and photo under MCJ Editorial under perspectives–

Deja Vu!

That feeling overwhelmed us as we watched the tape of Derek Williams struggling to breath in the back of a Milwaukee Police squad car last year just minutes before his subsequent death, which was ruled a homicide by the County Medical Examiner’s office a year after first calling it death by natural causes, which sparked comparisons to Ernest Lacy.

For those who may not know–or remember as if it was yesterday, Lacy was a young Black Milwaukee man who died 30 years ago at the hands of the police after being stopped because he “allegedly” fit the discription of a suspect in a rape that took place in a neighborhood near Wisconsin Avenue.

Lacy’s death moved Milwaukee’s Black community to anger and action. Led by Michael McGee, Sr. (before he became an alderman) and Howard Fuller (before he became one of the nation’s leading advocates of education reform), Black Milwaukeeans took to the streets and the courts calling shouting defiantly ”justice for Ernest Lacy.”

Some justice was received. Five officers involved in Lacy’s death were found guilty by the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission for failing to render first aid to Lacy.

A new law, introduced by then State Sen. Gary George, was passed limiting the tenure of the Milwaukee Police Chief, who at the time was Harold Brier who, not long after the verdict and the new law came down, resigned as chief.

Fast forward to 2012 and the eerie feeling that comes over us when we realize how much the Williams tragedy mirrors the Lacy one: Police brutality, a questionable, needless death; outrage, demands for justice and calls for…no, demands for change within the police department.

We congratulate the members of the Common Council, the NAACP and Mayor Tom Barrett for calling for a federal investigation into the Williams death.

Yet their demands and expected actions of the justice system won’t soon–if ever–heal the damage done to community-police relations.

As a matter of fact, it could be argued the relationship died with Williams July 6, 2011.

No amount of mia culpas by the MPD, the coroner’s office, the DA’s office; no amount of legislation to increase “transparency” within the department and “communication between the community and police” will bring Williams back to his family or reconnect the fragile bond that had been carefully forged with the city’s minority communities by MPD Chief Edward Flynn since taking over as head of the department.

Not only must the officers who acted so callously in Williams’ death answer for their actions, Flynn too must answer for his officers’ behavior. Just as he has aggressively worked to reduce crime on our streets, the chief must be as aggressive rooting out the “bad actors” under his command.
He must also institute training procedures and policies that will change the “culture” on the force so that his officers respect human life, dignity, and the right citizens have to respectful treatment.
Only then can he and his department expunge the feeling our community is experiencing having witnessed this tragic situation–and the pain it caused–before .

Place article and photo under Letter to the Editor–

President of closing Everest

College vows not to abandon its students

To the Editor:

Last month, I arrived in Milwaukee to become the new President of Everest College, a downtown campus that currently offers practical, career-oriented courses to about 280 students. I will also be the school’s last president.

As the Milwaukee Community Journal reported on September 14, Everest has made the difficult decision to close our Milwaukee campus after about two years of operations. We came here in 2010 with a terrific new facility, many years of experience in higher education for working adults and high hopes.

Unfortunately, our campus did not achieve the academic and professional results that we and our accreditors demand for our students. We fell far short of the expectations we set for ourselves and we regret that deeply.

But we are not turning our back on this community or our current and former students. The national organization that owns Everest, Corinthian Colleges Inc., has made a substantial financial commitment to ensure that students who did not succeed will not be left in debt. And all of us at Everest Milwaukee are committed to offering those students who have enrolled with us a quality education throughout the remainder of their programs.

When Corinthian Colleges opened the Everest Milwaukee campus, we had good reason to expect success. Corinthian serves 91,000 students in 26 states and Canada, on 116 campuses and online. Some of our campuses have thrived in cities with challenging economic conditions, such as Detroit. Last year, Corinthian’s schools had more than 49,000 graduates and 68% of them found employment in their fields of study.

Corinthian’s schools demand, and routinely deliver, solid results. We are closing Everest Milwaukee because it did not perform. But we still have much hard work ahead of us. We will continue to conduct classes until all our currently enrolled students complete their programs next spring. And we will offer our students career services and job placement assistance for months after they graduate. As a veteran of 30 years in career education, I’m personally committed to helping our students succeed in the classroom and in the workplace.

All of us at Everest are sorry to leave Milwaukee. But in the months ahead, we are determined to do a good job for our students and our community.

Robert Johnson

President, Everest College Milwaukee

Article and photo (of Tammy Baldwin at Obama Rally) for Perspectives–

Tommy Thompson: Definately NOT What We Need in the United States Senate

by Phillip Walzak

What kind of person does the community need and deserve in the U.S. Senate? Who will represent our needs, our issues, and our interests?

These are some of the critical questions we need to ask ourselves less than six weeks before the November 6 election for U.S. Senate.

There are two candidates running, and the facts are clear–one will fight for us on every issue, every step of the way; the other will not.

Take the issue of Medicare. Medicare is a very successful, highly popular program that provides health care to our seniors. Thousands and thousands and thousands of our grandmothers and grandfathers rely on it every day–including many in our community right her in Milwaukee.
Tammy Baldwin has always fought for Medicare, and in the U.S. Senate she will work tirelessly to strengthen and defend this great program.

But Tommy Thompson, her opponent, has an entirely different view.

Because of his connections to the huge drug companies and powerful pharmaceutical special interests, Thompson says if elected to the U.S. Senate, he will repeal President Obama’s successful reforms that have improved Medicare coverage. He actually wants to do away with one of Barack Obama’s greatest achievements.

Instead, Thompson wants to reopen gaps in coverage that Obama closed. This would line the pockets of big drug companies, and increase out of pocket costs for seniors–many on tight fixed incomes.

Thompson also backs an extreme, conservative plan to end Medicare as we know it, and supports a voucher program that makes seniors pay higher health care costs. And when he worked as a senior partner at a powerful DC lobbying firm, he worked to make Medicare more expensive for seniors–while swelling the profit margin for the tycoons running the big drug and pharmaceutical companies.

Thompson even cut a sweetheart deal with the big drug and pharmaceutical companies that cost taxpayers a staggering $156 billion. This unbelievable arrangement was made when he worke for George W. Bush, and it actually made it illegal for Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for seniors.

Thompson received a number of perks for these big giveaways to the special interests. Documents show he earned at least $724,100 from the pharmaceutical industry after leaving the Busch administration.

This is part of the stunning $13 million Thompson raked in over the past few years as a partner at a powerful DC lobbying firm, leveraging his insider connections and friendships with the special interests to get rich.

It is this awful record on Medicare that Thompson brings to the race for U.S. Senate. That’s why it’s essential to answer some basic questions before you go to the polls on November 6. What kind of person does the community need and deserve in the U.S. Senate? Who will represent our needs, our issues, and our interests?

As his record on Medicare shows, it certainly isn’t Tommy Thompson. His history shows he’s NOT looking out for our grandparents, for our community, or for people in Milwaukee working hard to get by in these challenging times.


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