Monday, April 27, 2015

A Profoundly Powerful Movement is Possible if...

Wanted to share Chris Thinnes blog about the Network for Public Education conference held in Chicago this past weekend.  I was unable to attend but did hear some of the speeches streamed online, especially the final with Karen Jennings Lewis.
   I admit I am no fan of Diane Ravitch, Randy Weingarten or even the beautiful Lily Eskelsen Garcia who is trying to be progressive but just can't give up the need for 'standards' - that obviously fake structure that was started by publishing companies and President Bush the second (and before).  I wouldn't have gone to NPE for that reason - I would prefer if people had gone to various states to support grassroots organizing efforts.  You can hear some of the speeches and panels here at Schoolhouse Live.
   Karen Lewis however seems to understand the importance of organizing and democracy. While the strike in Chicago was not what she wanted, it was what her membership wanted. She sees this as a long term struggle, not just a battle against CCSS and high-stakes testing.  Even if those two go away we will be left with thousands of our students in private charters that are bleeding our public schools dry. Listening to her on Sunday one can see the difference between a leader who is there for the publicity versus one who understands the need for deep organizing. I hope some of our local leaders will listen to this - and see that they need to listen to their membership as well as being in the struggle for the long haul.
   Chris Thinnes blog ("If These Two Movements Found Common Cause") was helpful to me because he pointed out one of the best speakers in our struggle - Jesse Hagopian. I had heard Jesse Hagopian speak at a wonderful conference in San Diego -- the Association of Raza Educators.
Jesse is the first educator I have heard make the links to the need to change the system. Not that others don't believe this, but I haven't heard any of the national leaders make the connections until I heard him speak.  Jesse is not afraid to make the connections. In addition, of course, he has been in the forefront of the struggle for public education. So he is not just theoretically in tune, but practically on the ground a great organizer.  He also said he had been in Zanzibar last year, but I didn't get to ask him about it. Wish I had.  Zanzibar deserves another post.
This from Diane Ravitch about Jesse Hagopian's talk:   "Jesse Hagopian’s discussion of the racist roots of standardized testing. Jesse was accompanied by Seattle’s education director for the NAACP, which issued a protest against standardized testing."

I wrote this for Chris Thinnes' blog but didn't post it:    "Thank you Chris. Your piece is wonderful. I think back to the movements for social justice that began in the tens, 20s, 30s with socialists and yes, communists, that made equal rights and social justice the frontline of the struggle for working class rights. And because that was a powerful unity, the social justice activists were attacked, marginalized, and often made to starve (as in the case of my family and others like us).  And I believe this is the reason why we don't have the leadership we need in the unions.  But we will if what you are saying is implemented because it is critical to our winning the battle against deform and privatization. I fear that it is going to be a bloody battle.  But I thank you for clarifying the issues that will make or break us."

So if somehow we can get beyond our sophomoric pleas for goodness from the 1% and can galvanize people to fight in ever greater numbers for combined social justice issues, we just might win. Remember #BlackLivesMatter and #OptOutNow and #defendchildren are not separate issues. They will only be won when we unite.

P.S. Don't miss this great group of 20 new classic books for children. Included is The Dot by Peter Reynolds, my favorite artist for non-artists.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Love can change the world.

Written January 20, 2015 - after the celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
The more I think about the celebration of MLK’s birthday and his life, and how far back we have regressed, the sadder I become.  For some time now I think people thought we were making progress because the young people voted in an African American president, took to the streets for Occupy, and continue to fight for #BlackLivesMatter.  But in fact, we have gone backwards, and our polarization is at an all time high.
     Today Oxfam issued a report that 1% of people own more than 50% of resources and wealth.  Unless you are dead, you have felt the effects of this distortion and greed.  It’s what my husband calls a disorder - should be added to the DSM — as a particular disorder of the 1%.  Their need for greed and acquisition has no boundaries, and will continue to wreck havoc on the world.  We see it everywhere we look —  I must stop reading the newspaper where I see stories of homeless men and women being beaten and set fire to so they die.  There is such serious sociopathy in our society that sometimes the only response is flight.  Fighting seems hopeless.  The 1% own the police and the army and most of those who think they can become the 1% and so act in their service.  Running dogs of the rich are now more than the rabbits they hunt down.  Or at least it seems that way.
     My horoscope today:  “Of all the forces that can change the world, love is still the most powerful.  Do not doubt that your small, loving interactions person-to-person will make a difference.”    I have never believed any of that claptrap and only read the horoscopes to see how far off they are, or how distorted is my own sign, Pisces.  Love is not a clear cut thing — there are all kinds of love in my experience.  There is true self love, that has nothing to do with narcissism, there are those who truly love their children and again, devoid of narcissism.  There is the unconditional love of a dependent child (never experienced that with my own child) or the reverse, the unconditional love of a parent.  There is puppy love, early love, that seems more to do with hormones and pheromones than any depth of love.  And there is friendship that is love, that says, I would do anything for you.

     So where am I going with this?  Where do I want to go? To find some solution to the hatred that is dividing, and actually splintering our entire country.  
This New Yorker cover was interesting - came in the mail January 22.  Odd cover.  What do you think?  Can love change the world?  Can we reverse all this hatred?  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What is more important to us: a broken window or a man/woman's life? My experience in 1969 at a protest against the International Industrialist Conference.

WHAT DO WE VALUE MOST? A BROKEN WINDOW, OR A MAN’S LIFE?   How African American children have to grow up too fast. How a 12 year old can be mistaken for a 20 year old.  How destruction of property is still more publicized than the killing of people, especially African Americans.

     It was 1969 and we were in the depths of the Vietnam War, tired of reading in our newspapers and watching on TV (if we had one —I didn’t at the time) how many Vietnamese we had killed each day, to say nothing of the U.S. soldiers being killed and destroyed psychologically.  I already knew then that a war not fought for honorable reasons is a war that will maim a person for life, for even the veterans of the Spanish Civil war, a just war, returned with shell shocked memories of the death they had caused or witnessed. Perhaps this blog post should be called:
WHY DO WE RIOT?  A riot is the language of the disenfranchised and marginalized and those who feel just plain hopeless? “A riot is the language of the unheard.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.
1969 was a year when the International Industrialists Conference was being held in San Francisco at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.  The meeting was composed of the 700 richest corporations or their representatives mostly from the advanced industrialist  countries. They were to decide the fate of the entire world, and not anyone could stop whatever they decided should become law and/or policy.  I actually found an article devoted to this moment of protest that I am about to relay - click on the title above.   
       “The men who heard Wells Fargo's Ernie Arbuckle say that "the separation of private business and public affairs... is no longer tenable," who wined and dined in the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmont while the Tac Squad cleared away the rabble demonstrating outside, were by and large satisfied that if they were not in complete control of events they could and should be. When Rockefeller told them that the choice was "ours to make," the international capitalist clan -- all 700 of them -- believed him.”
       I was one of the rabble. We had started at Washington Square Park in North Beach. I had gathered there with many others to protest the idea that the capitalist class could make decisions that would determine the fate of everyone in the world without anyone else’s input.  A very courageous friend of mine in Progressive Labor Party who looked quite beautifully bourgeois was able to penetrate the meeting for a minute and get over a small message to the gathering.  Otherwise we were left to yell our anger outside. 
     Remember that the war was still going on, that there were still great gaps between haves and have nots all over the world, and especially in our own country (or so we thought).  That the fight for civil rights seemed unresolved because the basic economic lives of our brothers and sisters had not changed.  The War on Poverty had begun but was never successful. The War in Vietnam still raged and meant so many poor people in the United States and Vietnam were being killed at the behest of these capitalists.
     According to the above link:  “Blamed for inflation, the Vietnam war stalked the conference -- the cost of empire -- but it was not much talked about. Of greater interest to participants was the creation of an international managerial class, the problems of economic nationalism, the disaffection of the young, and the propagation of the socially conscious rhetoric of the new imperialism.”
    [Note: related possibly is the conference of the G8 but not directly.]
Here is a link to a book about the International Industrialists Conference by SDS  -   A copy of this exists at the Univ. of California Davis — Shields Library.  

An article by Bill Anderson from the SF Bay Guardian    and  gives more of a personal view and several conversations with some of the industrialists who clearly hated us.  “They get rich, poor folks die” we chanted.  “There is an enormous difference between the developed countries and the underdeveloped ones.” says Bill Anderson from an interview with a capitalist from Kodak.  [an aside: The piece in the Bay Guardian is more impressionist than factual.  Bill was a poet - see this blog about him:  ]
     At this time I was working with a group of musicians who were all professional — only I was able to be a part because I knew the words to revolutionary and labor songs.  1969 was full of movement in the Bay Area - we went to Richmond Calif to support the striking Safeway Workers, who immediately invited us to a party once they got their strike check (only the poor are truly generous, I learned that night).  We were supporting strikes and playing concerts all over the bay area for different reasons. We didn’t last but we had fun.  Our name was BAY AREA PROGRESSIVE MUSICIANS ASSOCIATION - BAPMA and we included one of Country Joe and the Fish’s great musicians.
     I was depressed to learn that the Weatherman took credit for the failure of this demonstration — apparently the Weathermen were there to riot. And in the end it was people such as myself who got arrested, even though we were completely innocent.  I was arrested along with the wife of the head of the Venceremos faction of SDS [a professor at Stanford who was fired despite his TENURE - so even professors can be fired] — a third grouping within SDS.  She and I were just walking and ahead of us mostly young men were breaking big fancy stores’ windows.  We got blamed.   A comment on Ayers’ post by a Dougie Fresh:  scroll down to where Dougie fresh says:
"I love it how some right wing types attack Bernardine with blatantly sexist and racist slurs
Hey,I saw Bernardine speak at the Memorial Day Rally in Berkeley for People’s Park in May,1969.She had it going on.
Bill,we who knew you when have much love for you.I had my own issues with Weather but y’all “dared to struggle,dared to win”when many of us were scared to jeopardize our middle class comforts by taking the chances you did.
In Sept,1969.we did a “Days of Rage”at the International Industrialists Conference in San Francisco in which I took a bust and a beatdown.I always saw were we a precursor to the rumble in Chi-town the following month.
Keep on representing.The work of the Sixties is not yet over.”

Then there is the Tamiment Library & Archives — at NYU which includes National Guardian photos:    One could probably find a photo or two of the demo.  I believe I still have newspaper clippings. Box 4, Folder 24 - labeled “International Industrialists Conference”.  Good to know this is available.
     James Laue papers contain a pamphlet —    
     Weatherman archives - ugh -    Look at all that happened in 1969 - the IIC was just a blip in all the “days of rage” for which the “weatherpeople" take credit. I  would not be proud of this record of “rage”.  In June, SDS split — at the Chicago convention.  This was the year of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial for gosh sakes.  So no one noticed our demo in San Francisco. It was also my second arrest in less than a year and I faced 3 months in jail if it were noticed. Fortunately the computer presence in law enforcement had not yet made its mark.  In fact, the man taking my fingerprints was kind and told me I should consider becoming a parole agent. After all, I had a Bachelors’ Degree.
     I am writing this piece to make sense of the fact that not very much happened to us that day, unlike the response to “riots” in 1965 in Los Angeles, Newark, etc. or 1992 in Los Angeles.  We were charged with malicious mischief and time served as I recall.  Personally I did not condone destruction of property as a way to express my anger.  But I did sense that our outrage over what was occurring, and still is, in our country and the world could never be adequately expressed by any means.  I wonder further that we don’t just destroy ourselves and each other as we continue to blame “the other”.  

The Other America — “A riot is the language of the unheard”  ML King Jr.

Friday, June 6, 2014

How I Got Involved in the Anti-Predatory Reform Movement

In 2009 I lost my job as Coordinating Field Librarian for the southeast area of Los Angeles Unified School District – responsibility for 50 K-12 school libraries.  Rather than fight to get a position in a local school library (because many of my friends and colleagues were in danger of losing THEIR jobs), I decided to retire.  I had worked for over 40 years.  But I truly wasn’t ready to retire.

In order to support our school libraries (California is 51st in funding them, behind Guam) and bilingual education, I had been following the writing of Dr. Stephen Krashen and through him, the writings of Susan Ohanian.  The two became my guiding lights in understanding the mess that public education had become.  I began seeing posts on the Internet, on Facebook – and Robert Valiant’s DUMP DUNCAN Facebook page really caught my eye.  I knew that my district was infected with the Broad virus.  So I kept looking for more information that tied the Common Core and Charters, Vouchers and VAM together as the plan to take over our public schools and completely privatize them.  After all, it was Duncan who said the Katrina was the best thing that happened to the schools in New Orleans.

I bought the original Badass Teacher Association t-shirt from Mark Naison and wore it to a Los Angeles Unified School District Board Meeting where I criticized our Broad virus superintendent for lying to us and trying to fire teachers, hire TFA, and turn schools into technology factories. In fact, we do have schools that have employed what is called the “Blended learning” model where one teacher is responsible for 90 children.  Leonie Haimson and Class Size Matters is what we need in Los Angeles too.

My outrage grew and I kept reading Dr. Mark Naison in New York, Jo Lieb and Jesse Turner in Connecticut, Kipp Dawson and Yinzercation in Pennsylvania, Sandy Stenoff and Rosemarie Jensen in Florida. Phyllis Bush in Indiana, and so many more people, especially the bloggers:  Paul Thomas, Seattle Education’s Dora Taylor, Patrick Walsh, Kris Nielsen, Ken Priviti, Johnathan Chase, Fred Klonsky, and his brother too, Deborah Meier, Diane Ravitch, Renee DInnerstein, Leonie Haimson, and Mercedes Schneider with her solo driving trips to New York, her writing a book in a summer, and more. A blog that grabbed my heart was Peggy Robertson’s – I knew that we needed to take direct action. And Opt Out seemed the logical step to be taken.  I was thinking about my five year-old granddaughter who was suffering in a kindergarten that did nothing but pencil and paper work – no blocks, no paint, no clay, no dress-up, etc. etc.

I know I am leaving out a lot of people who have kept me going these past five years.  I find it exhausting at times.  I will be in Washington DC in July, and would love to be in Seattle in June.   If I could, I would go everywhere that we are needed, although, in fact, Los Angeles, is probably in the deepest doo-doo, because we have more charters than anywhere else in the country combined, and we have a Broad virus as our Superintendent – a man who purchased his PhD with the funds of another school district (Santa Monica).  We have just elected a wonderful UTLA President. But there is so much to be done.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Letters to Obama

Today I found that Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody have sent the 400 or so letters to Obama that they collected this month.  We of course had hoped there would be many many more. They were accompanied by the petition to Dump Duncan which I think has 6000 signatures.   While some may feel this is not a good time to approach and reproach Obama since he is running a seemingly close race against Romney, others feel that in fact he needs to know how teachers feel betrayed by him and the class he seems to represent.  He has furthered the cause of privatization of our schools, high-stakes testing, value added assessment of teachers, and more.  He and Duncan are destroying our public schools and of course, leading to the destruction of our unions.

I was also honored to find that my favorite blogger, Fred Klonsky, published my letter on his blog today.   He is so thoughtful, humorous, artistic, talented, intelligent, and more.

The letters can be accessed here.

Here is my letter:

Letter 1
October 17, 2012

President Barack Obama Dear Mr. Obama:
I am a retired teacher and teacher librarian, a mother, and a grandmother. I have worked in education for forty years. I attended all public schools in Los Angeles and went on to a fine public university for both undergraduate and graduate school. I have seen our schools go from places of nurture and caring that provided every subject a child needs, to essentially institutions that teach to the test and discourage creativity. As a teacher I chose to work in the areas of Los Angeles that were considered most dangerous and poverty-stricken. I felt that I was needed there more and I could do the most good.
So far you and your education secretary Arne Duncan act as if most teachers are lazy and unable to teach our students. I find this shocking and outright treasonous. You are judging something about which you know not. Neither you nor Arne Duncan have any idea what it is like to teach in most of our inner city schools. Neither you nor Arne Duncan attended any of these schools, much less rubbed shoulders with the students who are struggling just to get through the day. And, therefore, you haven’t seen what teachers do to keep our students in school, to try to reach them, help them with problems that are beyond monstrous in some cases. We encounter children who are homeless, victims of physical and sexual abuse, victims of neglect, and more. Our children are in neighborhoods where they encounter drive-by shootings and murder. Getting from home to school and back again is a torture.
We are lucky if our students can read by third grade. We are really fortunate if their parents taught them well in their first language so that learning a second language is much easier. Most of the time our students don’t have time to read a book, don’t have parents who can take time off from their two or three jobs to take their children to the library. And they certainly don’t have enough money for a home library.
Do you look at the statistics? Do you see who does well in school and who doesn’t and WHY? It isn’t because we can’t teach. The same teachers teaching the high scoring students are teaching the ones who score the lowest. And often these are the best and most caring teachers. Otherwise they would have gone to a private school at LOWER PAY to get away from the poverty belt.
More high stakes testing, more teaching to the test, and more stunted classrooms with 45 students in them, no art, music, PE or libraries – these conditions will not raise the level of our students. They will do the opposite.
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Listen to the experts in Finland. Look at what they do and how they value their teachers. And begin to implement some of THEIR policies and see if our children don’t do better.
But first of all, address the need for decent jobs for our students’ parents, and the need to adequately fund our schools and libraries. Speak to the real pressing needs of our country; stop waging wars in other lands and sending drones to kill innocents. Stop giving money to bail out the banks and start hiring people to rebuild our bridges, roads, schools and parks. Put the money where it is going to benefit the majority and not the 1%.

They will tell you what I am telling you in this letter, only more eloquently.

Joan Kramer
40- year educator
Haven’t stopped fighting yet 

I hope other teachers will write the President and keep up the fight for our schools, our students, our unions, our communities, and our future.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Charles Kramer's ties to Obama's Health Care Program

On July 17th I was taking a Google research class and learned how to research "news" by confining the search to any date I wanted.  In doing so I came across a great photo of my father testifying at the Senate Internal Securities committee -- before Rep. Richard Nixon, I believe -- about his work in the New Deal and his ties to "communism".   Meanwhile, after finding several "news" references to my father and his "comrades" Nathan Witt andJohn Abt, all of whom worked for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration in the 30's, I casually entered my father's name in the Web search box.  Strangely enough, a story came up that astonished me.  My father wrote the original health bill in 1947 for Senator Claude Pepper of Florida that sadly wasn't passed, but that somehow is linked to Obama's health care plan.  A right-wing ideologue published a book about Frank Marshall Davis, a friend of Obama's grandfather, who this ideologue says was Obama's mentor in Hawaii when Obama was TEN YEARS OLD.  So because this man was a "communist" and knew Claude Pepper, he must have told Obama about Dad's "socialized medicine" healthcare bill.  What is the Sir Walter Scott quote-- "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!" Clearly these right-wing ideologues are so intent on discrediting Obama that they will say anything without foundation.  This man even admits he has no proof.  But meanwhile he writes an entire book.  Oh what a scary world we live in!!  Here is a website that "proves" Obama's tainted ties to caring about humanity.  Please don't believe these people.  The majority of developed countries in the world have "socialized medicine".  In fact, Obama's health care should be single-payer health care.  In fact, this is what these right-wing ideologues truly fear -- real health care for all.

Sleazy Deasy's Effort to Control LAUSD

May 8th - attended a LAUSD Board Meeting to protest cuts to libraries, nurses, counselors, psychologist, etc. etc. etc.  Sat through two and a half hours of a staged presentation by so-called Dr. Sleasy Deasy.  He literally hired a local group to come and support him in cutting the hours and credits and teachers required for graduating from high school.  He also required that students earn a "C" average whereas formerly a "D" would do.  Only La Motte and Kayser argued against him.  The community group was the scariest of all because they were voting against their own children.  Clearly Dr. Sleaze wants to cut out kids who are failing so that the LAUSD scores will go up.  He wants to cut teachers and destroy the union so he can hire all Teach For America idiots.  This has to be the most destructive person who has hit LAUSD.  And this is because Monica Garcia and other board members took money when asked to make Deasy the sleaze ball head of the district.  DUMP MONICA is our first task to fight this.  We must change the forces on the Board and get people such as Kayser and La Motte -- the only ones who vote for teachers and students.  Here is a link to my speech that got caught on TV somehow.  I was just expressing my outrage at Deasy and the news picked it up.  Tokofsky said it best:  Deasy does a "fire, ready, aim" rather than studying what is really needed.