Monday, April 24, 2006

Lessons Learned

The school system in New York City, both public and parochial, has been in a state of flux for at least twenty years or more. I'm one of a few thousand NYC high school grads with a diploma signed by Anthony Alvarado, who in the mid-1980's was touted as the savior of the troubled, underperforming school system. He left after charges of misconduct. After Alvarado, came Ramon Cortines, and Rudy Crew, both highly regarded school reformists. They would be the last chancellors with true educational backgrounds. With the election of New York's first Republican mayor in many years, came the bright idea that schools should be run like businesses. A poorly performing division within a company would be shut down. A well performing division would be rewarded. Joel Klein, a lawyer with no experience in education save for a 4-month gig teaching elementary school math in 1969, was put at the helm of the New York public school system, a volatile organism of a million students, 83,000 teachers, and a $15 billion budget.

Yes, test scores did improve under his watch, but what do tests prove other than you know enough information to pick correctly from several choices? New York City still receives fewer education dollars per student than its upstate neighbors (thanks George!), which means underperforming school continue to lag behind because of insufficient support. Public school teachers are still paid less than private school teachers, and suburban teachers, which means the best teachers are fleeing the cities. And, underperforming schools are closing, including Wingate High School, the subject of a AP News story.

I'm not suggesting that schools like Wingate, even with a stellar list of alumnae like Jackie Robinson and California Senator Barbara Boxer, or a school like Erasmus Hall, whose equally stellar alumnae include Barbra Streisand, should remain open for sentimental reasons. I believe they should stay open, get some real money, put out the kids who express no interest in learning because they'd prefer jail over a job, and put in better (or hell, more) books, computers, and teachers to help those kids who do want to learn. Underperforming schools are found in largely Black and Latino, immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, and they are often the only available school to these kids. What message is being sent to kids in crappy neighborhoods when their one great chance at succeeding and improving their station is taken from them? Is it really fair to give more and more to those schools that are doing well? Will we not perpetuate a "culture of failure," as Klein has shared, by not doing all that we could to help these schools? What will really happen to the kids displaced by school closings?

I've shared in the past my reticence toward homeschooling because I fear it is isolating and may create a nation of kids who then grow up to create insular communities, and my lack of trust in the school voucher system because it says that public school don't matter. Not that school vouchers would help some of these displaced kids get into parochial school as many city Catholic schools, often seen as a superior alternative to crowded, unsafe, poorly-taught classes. Again, most schools slated for closure are in urban areas, heavily Black and Latino, heavily immigrant. The privatization, the corporatization of everything social is creating a sharp divide between the classes, and that is bound to implode.

So, what are we learning and what are we teaching our kids?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Heteronormativity

I know that's a lot to say. Using the idiot's guide to etymology, heteronormativity loosely means that normalizing of opposite-ness, in this case opposite-sex attraction, sexuality, and relationships. A small group of bloggers have decided that April 22 is Blog Against Heteronormativity Day.

I had this whole piece, this ongoing mess o'blah blah about how the visibility of heterosexuality has made it the accepted norm, thus you have "heteronormativity" and I went on and on about how we are so limited in our thinking that if you're pro-something, you have to be anti-something, like pro-Black automatically means pro-White, and pro-female means you can't possibly be pro-male. I had a lot of rather all-over-the-place thoughts that were meant to convey my feelings on blogging against heteronormativity (thus my post at damn near the end of the day). But, I decided at the last minute to make my post from the last National Coming Out Day available instead because I think it says what I think blogging against heteronormativity is about. The visible becomes the normal, for good or for bad, so the more visible non-heterosexual people are, the more "normal" (eesh, that word is so awkward to me) they become.

So, for all you bloggers who've done your thing for today, thank you. For all of you who read this post, and what I really want to say for today, thank you also.

Happy reading.

Friday, April 14, 2006

What Would Jesus Do?

You don't see many of those bracelets, or other theme park-type merchandise with the magic letters W.W.J.D. these days, and I'm kinda glad. As with the whole Prayer of Jabez jazz (based on the prayer of one Jabez, who asked God to bless him, and "enlarge" his territory), it has petered out somewhat. I don't think most people really got it anyway. Back to the Prayer of Jabez, most folks stopped at the "enlarge my territory" part, and didn't think about the rest, which reads, "that I may cause no harm."

And there is where the trouble starts. I think most Christians are fairly well-intentioned. They don't want to sin, commit those acts which are harmful to self or others, and thus count against them on the Day of Judgement, the moment when facing God after one's death. And, they don't want to sin by associating themselves with, or support those who sin or support policies that may encourage sin. I'm not a theologian, and I don't wish to engage in exegesis right now, so fix it for yourself if you think I'm off base on the sin business. The question about what we who believe (fill in the blank here) should do, is answered in the book of Matthew. An earnest seeker asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, and the response is to first love God with everything you have and are, and second, to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The trouble starts with loving your neighbors as you love yourself, but I think the average Christocrat (the self-defined Christian who mixes politics with religion) prefers to love those who are most like themselves.

Yeah, it's "politically incorrect" to be racist or sexist, but it happens all the time. What isn't racist about investing more in prisons than in schools, particularly in urban areas with high non-White populations? What isn't sexist about sweeping legislation that outlaws the right to abortions under most circumstances? It's deemed perfectly acceptable to be anti-gay, even though Jesus never said a word about same-sex relationships. Excessive behavior, whether it's overeating (also known as gluttony), overwork and unequal distribution of wealth (anyone else notice that a whole bunch of policy making, loud-talking, heavily influential Christocrats are affluent?), are sinful, yet the church is full of fat people driving luxury cars. Jesus shot down violent punishment for violent crime, was a victim of capital punishment himself, yet the death penalty is supported by Christocrats.

Today is Good Friday, a day marked by Christians around the world. Good Friday was the day that Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion, a particularly grisly way to die (the body is attached to a wooden cross, the weight of the body pulls it toward the ground, with eventual suffocation as a result of compression of the chest). Some Christians fast, using the deprivation to partially feel Jesus' suffering. Some churches hold three-hour services, with sermons based on the Seven Last Words of Christ (not literally the last seven words said, but the last seven statements of significance). Then comes Easter, the day of the Resurrection, when Jesus arises from the dead, taking the sins of the world with Him and proving that He, as the earthly embodiment of God, is greater than death, or Death.

I've framed this loosely, and mean no disrespect by doing so, so don't flame me. It's just that what makes real Christianity so difficult, so inaccessible for so many, is that a lot of it is hard to get, which is why, I think, Christocracy has replaced Christianity as an American religion. Christocrats make comfortable sacrifices. Christians make sacrifices. Christocrats make policies that make sure other Christocrats comfortable. Cut taxes for the affluent, instead of taxing tham more, which would support the less affluent by making more money available to build their neighborhoods and schools. Make abortion illegal, birth control harder to get, support abstinence-based sex education, and make it more difficult for unmarried people (heterosexual or homosexual) to adopt, instead of encouraging responsible sexual behavior with honest and accurate sex education, placing parentless and unwanted children with people who willingly want to and are able to parent. Take money away from public schools used more by working-and lower class people through school vouchers that support private schools, already supported by those who can afford it. And, as a result of decreasing quality of education, encourage crime as a means of survival, and create prison cities built by the prison industry, which becomes more privatized each year. Use violence as a means of achieving peace, or a way to discourage violent crime.

What, indeed, would Jesus do today? Who would he be? Would he be a pregnant teen, pregnant because she thought it couldn't happen the first time? Would he be a young Black gay man, a high school dropout who left school because he couldn't put up with being called faggot day after day? Would he be a Chinese immigrant coming to the U.S. in search of a better way to feed his family? A young White woman from a broken town in the Midwest, working as a prostitute, a runaway living on the street because it was better than being raped night after night by her mother's latest boyfriend? A crack baby raised by a gay male couple who have been together for 15 years? A young soldier from a working-class family who wanted to serve his country, but now isn't sure what he's fighting for, and when the fighting will end?

The life cycle includes death. Death is followed by life. What are we putting to death? And what are we giving life to?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

When Justice Doesn't Equal Legal

Bear with me, this may get a bit convoluted. As you may recall, December 2005 was not just Happy Birthday Jesus & Celebration of Mass Consumerism Month, but it also saw a three-day strike by New York City transit workers. For three days, millions of New Yorkers were forced to find alternate means of transportation because the subways and buses in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn were shut down by striking workers. Offered what was to them a lousy contract, including having to pay into health care plans (crappy but legal) and changes to their pension plan (crappy and prohibited), they said "hell no, we won't go" to work.

Millions, including me, were inconvenienced. And yes, according to the Taylor Law, which loosely (very loosely) interpreted, prohibits employees in industries or service that are vital to the functioning of society (air traffic controllers, cops, transit workers) from work stoppage. Anyone found guilty of said work stoppage is subject to fines and jails. But, for most New Yorkers, the Taylor Law wasn't as profound as the sense of inconvenience. Who wanted to walk however-many miles in bitter cold (and there did happen to be a freeze just when the strike took place) to go to work? Who wanted to pay for a cab, or find a carpool to go to work? I didn't try either because I was still in a cast, and wouldn't be caught dead walking the 9 miles from home to my office. Who wanted to have to push back holiday shopping or find a car to fill already clogged streets to complete said holiday shopping? God knows little Man-Man, Jordan, Sean, Henry, Kyphon, Shaquaneesha, Heather, Rainbow, or Ling Ling Schwartz shouldn't have to do without their Xbox for Xmas. And, merchants, already struggling to pay high store rents by selling craptastic merchandise, were pissed off too. No buses means no one buying penis-engraved gold fronts (for y'all what don't know, fronts or grills are gold or platinum pieces fitted over the front teeth). And, somebody has to buy them joints.

On the other front (not for your teeth), the Feds want to clamp down on illegal immigration by making it officially a felony, subject to jail time. Although somebody has to clean those toilets, build those overpriced snap-set houses, play mammy to Ling Ling Schwartz so mommy can be all she can be out in the workforce, Americans, so-called real Americans, want to do the aforementioned jobs at twice the price our illegal friends will. Never mind that for good or bad, they support the economy by buying things and paying rent (stop acting like taxes are the only thing that support the economy -- if rich people paid taxes in any fair proportion, we wouldn't have this discussion), and by building and making the things other people make money off of, and don't always pay appropriate taxes on, and by providing services that allow higher classes to provide other services that either maintain or build the economy (remember, someone has to watch the baby while Mom and Dad make stock trades).

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not in favor of illegal behavior just because. I don't support illegal immigration, but if America does such a good job of spreading the gospel of the good life in America (and that's what brought my mother here from the Caribbean), then we can't expect that people won't want to come. And it's pure racism that clamped down on immigration of black and brown people (Africans, Caribbeans, Mexicans, in particular) versus whites (Irish, eastern Europeans), according to the Immigration and Nationalization Act of 1965, which set a higher cap for white immigrants. I'm also not in favor of non-English speakers not learning English, simply because there are basic things you must understand English in order to accomplish -- did you know that a potential driver can take the New York State writtin drivers' exam in languages other than English?

There are times when justice, defined as the quality of being impartial or fair, isn't the same as legal. Transit Workers' Union president Roger Toussaint was sentenced for sanctioning a strike by transit workers. The strike wasn't legal, but just. Immigration, legal or otherwise, is inconvenient, but done by people seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families. It may not always be legal, but it is just. And are we not interested in justice, or are we simply interested in what's legal?