Educate All Students, Support Public Education

December 23, 2011

Rethinking Schools Article Goes Viral: Students Asked to Critically Consider Gender Stereotypes

Filed under: Rethinking Schools — millerlf @ 2:25 pm

The following Rethinking Schools article, written by Melissa BollowTempel a Milwaukee Public School teacher, was posted this past week on Huffington Post. It has gone viral state-wide in Wisconsin, nationally and internationally.

It’s Ok to Be Neither

Teaching that supports gender-variant children 

By Melissa Bollow Tempel Fall 2011, Rethinking Schools at:

Alie arrived at our 1st-grade classroom wearing a sweatshirt with a hood. I asked her to take off her hood, and she refused. I thought she was just being difficult and ignored it. After breakfast we got in line for art, and I noticed that she still had not removed her hood. When we arrived at the art room, I said: “Allie, I’m not playing. It’s time for art. The rule is no hoods or hats in school.”

She looked up with tears in her eyes and I realized there was something wrong. Her classmates went into the art room and we moved to the art storage area so her classmates wouldn’t hear our conversation. I softened my tone and asked her if she’d like to tell me what was wrong.

“My ponytail,” she cried.

“Can I see?” I asked.

She nodded and pulled down her hood. Allie’s braids had come undone overnight and there hadn’t been time to redo them in the morning, so they had to be put back in a ponytail. It was high up on the back of her head like those of many girls in our class, but I could see that to Allie it just felt wrong. With Allie’s permission, I took the elastic out and re-braided her hair so it could hang down.

“How’s that?” I asked.

She smiled. “Good,” she said and skipped off to join her friends in art.

‘Why Do You Look Like a Boy?’

Allison was biologically a girl but felt more comfortable wearing Tony Hawk long-sleeved T-shirts, baggy jeans, and black tennis shoes. Her parents were accepting and supportive. Her mother braided her hair in cornrows because Allie thought it made her look like Will Smith’s son, Trey, in the remake of The Karate Kid. She preferred to be called Allie. The first day of school, children who hadn’t been in Allie’s class in kindergarten referred to her as “he.”

I didn’t want to assume I knew how Allie wanted me to respond to the continual gender mistakes, so I made a phone call home and Allie’s mom put me on speakerphone.

“Allie,” she said, “Ms. Melissa is on the phone. She would like to know if you want her to correct your classmates when they say you are a boy, or if you would rather that she just doesn’t say anything.”

Allie was shy on the phone. “Um . . .

tell them that I am a girl,” she whispered.

The next day when I corrected classmates and told them that Allie was a girl, they asked her a lot of questions that she wasn’t prepared for: “Why do you look like a boy?” “If you’re a girl, why do you always wear boys’ clothes?” Some even told her that she wasn’t supposed to wear boys’ clothes if she was a girl. It became evident that I would have to address gender directly in order to make the classroom environment more comfortable for Allie and to squash the gender stereotypes that my 1st graders had absorbed in their short lives.

Gender Training Starts Early 

Gender is not a subject that I would have broached in primary grades a few years ago. In fact, I remember scoffing with colleagues when we heard about a young kindergarten teacher who taught gender-related curriculum. We thought her lessons were a waste of instructional time and laughed at her “girl and boy” lessons.

My own thoughts about gender curriculum shifted when I became a mother. As I shopped for infant clothes for my first daughter, I was disgusted that almost everything was pink and there was no mistaking the boys’ section of the store from the girls’. I refused to make my baby daughter fit in the box that society had created for her. “What if she doesn’t like pink?” I thought. “What if she likes tigers and dinosaurs?”

As my two daughters grew, I talked with them about gender stereotypes. I let them choose “boys’” clothes if they wanted to (and often encouraged them because they are more practical). The first week of kindergarten, my younger daughter’s teacher told me that she had a heated argument with a boy while they played dress up. “She insisted that boys can wear dresses if they want to,” the teacher told me. I beamed with pride.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had a child dealing with gender variance (defined as “behavior or gender expression that does not conform to dominant gender norms of male and female”) in my classroom that I realized how important it is to teach about gender and break down gender stereotypes. Why did I wait so long? I should have taken a hint from that kindergarten teacher years ago. As I thought about how to approach the topic, I realized that the lessons I was developing weren’t just for Allie. She had sparked my thinking, but all the children in my class needed to learn to think critically about gender stereotypes and gender nonconformity.

We started off with a lesson about toys because it’s a simple topic I knew my students thought they had clear ideas about. The class gathered on the carpet and I read William’s Doll, which is about a boy who, against the wishes of his father, wants a doll more than anything.

After we read the story, I taped up two large pieces of paper and wrote “Boys” on one and “Girls” on the other. “Students,” I said, “what are some toys that are for boys?” Eagerly, the students began to shout out their answers: “Legos!” “Hot Wheels!” “Skateboards!” “Bikes!” The list grew quite long. “OK,” I said, “now tell me some toys that are for girls.” “Baby dolls!” “Nail polish!” “Barbies!” “Makeup!”

When we had two extensive lists, I read both lists out loud to the class and then studied them carefully.

“Hmm,” I said. “Here it says that Legos are for boys. Can girls play with Legos?”

“Yes!” most of them replied without hesitation.

“I wonder if any of the girls in our class like to play with Hot Wheels?”

“I do! I do!” blurted out some of the girls. We continued with the rest of the items on our “Boys” list, making a check mark next to each one as it was declared acceptable for girls.

Then we went on to the “Girls” list. We started with baby dolls. Because we had just read and discussed William’s Doll, the children were OK with boys playing with dolls. “It’s great practice for boys who want to be daddies when they grow up,” I mentioned.

But when we got to nail polish and makeup the children were unsure. “There are some very famous rock ’n’ roll bands,” I said, “and the men in those bands wear a lot of makeup.” Some of the children gasped.

Then Isabela raised her hand: “Sometimes my uncle wears black nail polish.” The students took a moment to think about this.

“My cousin wears nail polish, too!” said another student. Soon many students were eager to share examples of how people pushed the limits on gender. Our school engineer, Ms. Joan, drove a motorcycle. Jeremy liked to dance. I could see the gears turning in their brains as the gender lines started to blur.

Supporting Gender Variance Every Day

I knew that broadening my students’ ideas of what was acceptable for boys and girls was an important first step, but to make Allie feel comfortable and proud of herself, I was going to have to go further.

For example, as teachers, we often use gender to divide students into groups or teams. It seems easy and obvious. Many of us do this when we line students up to go to the bathroom. In one conversation that I had with Allie’s mother, she told me that Allie did not like using public bathrooms because many times Allie would be accused of being in the wrong bathroom. As soon as she told me I felt bad. By dividing the children into two lines by assigned gender, I had unintentionally made the children whose labels aren’t so clear feel uncomfortable in more ways than one.

When we lined up to go to the bathroom, I kept my students in one line until we reached the bathroom, and then let them separate to enter their bathrooms. Allie usually said she didn’t need to use the bathroom. The few times that she did, I offered the bathroom around the corner, a single-stall bathroom that was usually unoccupied. When the kids came out of the bathroom, they wanted to line up as most classrooms do, in boys’ and girls’ lines. Instead, I thought up a new way for them to line up each day. For example: “If you like popsicles, line up here. If you like ice cream, line up here.” They loved this and it kept them entertained while they waited for their classmates. Here are a few more examples:

Which would you choose?

  • Skateboard/Bike
  • Milk/Juice
  • Dogs/Cats
  • Hot day/Snow day
  • Fiction/Nonfiction
  • Soccer/Basketball
  • Beach/Pool

I also became very aware of using the phrase “boys and girls” to address my students. Instead, I used gender-neutral terms like “students” or “children.” At first, the more I thought about it, the more often I’d say “boys and girls.” I tried not to be too hard on myself when I slipped, and eventually I got out of the habit and used “students” regularly.

Around the same time, another child’s mother told me that her son had been taunted for wearing a Hello Kitty Band-Aid. She mentioned that his sister was also teased at school for having a lunch bag with skulls on it. I planned more lessons to combat gender stereotypes in our classroom.

‘It’s OK to Be Different’ In order to deepen our discussion of gender, I selected another read-aloud. Before we read, I asked my students: “I would like to know—how many of you like to dance?” Most raised their hands.“How many of you have been told you can’t do something because it was ‘only for boys’ or ‘only for girls’?” Many hands went up.Then I read Oliver Button Is a Sissy. In the book, Oliver is bullied because he prefers dancing to sports. The students quickly realized that this was not fair and empathized with Oliver Button.

The following day we read It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr. Parr’s books are quite popular in the primary grades because they include an element of humor and simple, colorful illustrations. We read:

It’s OK to wear glasses.

It’s OK to come from a different place.

It’s OK to be a different color.

As we read, I asked questions to empower the students: “Who used to live in a different place?” Students proudly held up their hands. “Awesome!” I replied. “My mom comes from a different place, too. She used to live in Hong Kong.”

Then I guided the direction of the conversation toward gender. As a class, we brainstormed a list of things that students thought were “OK” even though they might challenge society’s gender norms. Monica told us very matter-of-factly, “It’s OK for a girl to marry a girl,” and Jordan said, “My dad carries a purse and that’s OK!” At that point I explained that my father and my friend Wayne both call their man purse a “murse.” The children were fascinated.
Illustration: Katherine Streeter

Toward the end of the discussion I explained: “People make all kinds of different decisions about gender. Sometimes, as we grow, we might not want to pick one or the other, and that’s OK; we don’t have to.” I wanted them to begin to see that our lessons were not only about expanding the gender boxes that we’ve been put into, but also questioning or eliminating them altogether.

Afterward, I had the students do a simple write-and-respond exercise. I asked them to pick one activity that they associated with girls and one associated with boys to write about and illustrate. Monica drew two brides in beautiful wedding gowns. Miguel drew a man with a purse slung over his shoulder. I showed off the pictures on the hallway bulletin board around the words “It’s OK to Be Different.”

Although things were getting better for Allie, she still faced many challenges. At the end of the school year, Allie’s mother told me a heartbreaking story. She said that for Allie’s recent birthday party, her grandmother had bought her colorful, formfitting clothes and then demanded them back when Allie did not like them. “Does she know she is a girl?” she yelled, and announced she would never buy her clothes again.

It was so sad to hear this. I visualized Allie on her special day, excitedly ripping open gifts in front of her family and friends only to find, again and again, the gifts were things that she would never be comfortable with. As a mother, the feeling of extreme disappointment was unbearable for me to imagine.

I have just begun to empathize with the challenges that gender-variant children deal with. For some it may seem inappropriate to address these issues in the classroom. My job is not to answer the questions “Why?” or “How?” Allie is the way she is (although asking those questions and doing some research in order to better understand was definitely part of my process). My job is not to judge, but to teach, and I can’t teach if the students in my class are distracted or uncomfortable. My job is also about preparing students to be a part of our society, ready to work and play with all kinds of people. I found that teaching about gender stereotypes is another social justice issue that needs to be addressed, like racism or immigrant rights, or protecting the environment.

Later in the year, I opened my inbox one morning and read: “Andrew says he wants a Baby Alive doll and he doesn’t care if it’s for girls. Thank you, Ms. Melissa!”


dePaola, Tomie. Oliver Button Is a Sissy. Orlando, Fla.: Sandpiper Books, 1979.

Parr, Todd. It’s Okay to Be Different. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Zolotow, Charlotte. William’s Doll. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985.

For more information:

Melissa Bollow Tempel ( works as a teacher for the students of the Milwaukee Public Schools and  is an editor of Rethinking Schools.

To view the article on the Huffington Post go to:

December 21, 2011

Holiday Greeting to All My Scrooge and Grinch Friends

Filed under: Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 5:43 pm

From Larry Miller

Have a wonderful holiday, with all my blessings, to those of you who—

– are without compassion,

– think facts don’t matter,

–will not lift a finger to help another human being,

–like tax breaks for the rich,

– are proud that the Bradley Foundation is located in Milwaukee,

–think Scott Walker is doing a fine job,

–respond to my blog with disdain and anger,

– think the Tea Party has a point,

– miss the good old days of Ronald Reagan,

–think the unemployed should just get a job,

–think the homeless should just find a place to live,

–prefer the 1% to the 99%,

– drive slowly in the left hand lane to Madison,

–believe in the MMAC,

–think Michael Gableman is an honorable Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice,

–think Milwaukee Public Schools should be blown up,

–think teachers need to stop whining,

–rely on Charlie Sykes and Rush Limbaugh for their news,

–think climate change (global warming) is not human generated,

–think that Newt Gingrich can save America,

–think Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security should be privatized, and

–think if you just work hard, you will experience the American dream.

December 20, 2011

Newt Gingrich berates poor and black children

Filed under: Racism,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 6:47 am

Larry Miller Published Dec. 18, 2011

In recent statements Newt Gingrich argued that “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of work and have nobody around them who works … So they have no habit of showing up on Monday.”

Alluding to “43% of black teenage unemployment,” he said, “What if they cleaned the bathrooms? What if they mopped the floors? (What) if they had money of their own and didn’t have to become a pimp, prostitute or drug dealer?”

Gingrich’s implication that poor and black children are lazy and undisciplined is the same racist and revisionist historical argument that was used in defense of slavery, Jim Crow segregation and job discrimination. He adds to this insult that black teenagers should become cheap labor to replace janitorial services.

I wonder how many homes of the “really poor” and working poor Mr. Gingrich has visited.

As an MPS teacher, I served the children and families Gingrich is stereotyping. Since the introduction of W-2 in Wisconsin, I know very few households where no one is working. In fact, in most households more than one person is working, including teenagers, in order to have spending money and often to help support their families. The problem is they are working at low-wage jobs.

I often helped students get jobs. I would help them fill out applications, provide references and accompany them when they went to make first contact with prospective employers. Because of the need to work, many of my students were not able to have a typical high school experience, having no time for sports and extracurricular activities.

Mr. Gingrich, no one wants to be poor. Money does matter.

Yes, Mr. Gingrich, the working poor are poor, but they are working hard to survive with the hope of achieving the American dream.

African American drivers in Milwaukee are seven times more likely to be pulled over by police than their white counterparts

Filed under: Racism — millerlf @ 6:28 am

National Coalition of Black American Men, Inc. 2727 N 67th Street

Milwaukee, WI 53210

414-763-4545/ 414-915-5297 Wendell J. Harris, President


Whoever said that Milwaukee is the “Home of the Free?” Racial profiling in Milwaukee traffic stops proves the exact opposite – that African American drivers in Milwaukee are seven times more likely to be pulled over by police than their white counterparts, while Latinos are five times more likely to be stopped.

In a review of 45,703 MPD traffic stops in the first four months of 2011, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found that racial disparities were evident in all seven police districts in Milwaukee. However, the greatest racial disparities were found in Districts 1 and 6, which are predominately white and have the lowest crime rates. This finding directly contradicts Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn’s explanation that traffic law enforcement is a non-biased “targeted crime-fighting approach” in high crime neighborhoods that typically have larger minority populations.

Nearly anybody with reasonable intelligence can recognize that traffic law enforcement in Milwaukee is overwhelmingly a pretext for further police investigation. It is a vestige of the ongoing “War on Drugs,” which has resulted nationally in many

negative encounters between police officers and minority groups stemming from the false premise that minorities commit most drug offenses. During the traffic stops, African American and Latino citizens are often coaxed, pressed and intimidated to give“consent”to have their vehicles searched for weapons, drugs and other contraband. Despite being stopped much more often than whites, police found contraband in searches involving Black drivers at nearly the same rate as whites – about 22 percent of the time.

What does this say about “equal protection’ under the law? What does it say about recognition and respect of African American and other minority group civil rights? Every civil rights and human rights organization in the state of Wisconsin ought to be tripping over themselves to get to work. Instead, they fall gingerly in line to accept racial discrimination in policing as a necessary evil so long as the “overarching” concern is a reduction in crime.

Many African Americans today feel violated, and there have been dire consequences — most notably in the “mass incarceration” of Blacks. Previous researchers have already pointed out that while Blacks constitute 13% of the country’s drug users, they account for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 55% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison. Similar results have been found in Wisconsin, where blacks comprise only 5% of the state population, but nearly 50% of the adult prison population, and where the black/white disparity gap for new prison sentences for drug offenses is extraordinary – specifically, about 64 to 1. This means that African Americans (especially young Black men) are 64 times more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted than whites who have the same or highly similar drug offences.

In closing, it is important that we fight racial profiling in Milwaukee’s policing strategies to reduce crime in our neighborhoods. Milwaukee police pull over and hassle thousands of innocent African Americans each year, whose only crime is being black. This must end, because African Americans – as hard as it may be to understand — have rights, too. In short, we must not trample over the rights of the law-abiding many in order to get at gang and criminal elements of our community who constitute the few.

Wendell J. Harris,


National Coalition of Black American Men, Inc.

December 19, 2011

A Must Listen: Democratic Party Spokesman, Graeme Zielinski, Silences WTMJ Morning News Host On Recall

Filed under: Reading,Scott Walker — millerlf @ 6:13 am

Scott Walker has lead Wisconsin to number one in the country in job loss and education cuts. To hear a true “smack down” of the right wing, listen to the following WTMJ broadcast at:

December 18, 2011

Census shows half of Americans are poor or low-income

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 11:23 am

The news that should be dominating the airwaves is the recent report that half of the American people live in poverty or near poverty conditions. It should be the main discussion at the Republican debates, from White House news conferences and from all news sources. Instead it has been treated in the news cycle and political circles as just another fleeting fact of life that American’s must accept.

Dec. 15, 2011  Hope Yen, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The latest census data depict a middle class that’s shrinking as un­employment stays high and the government’s safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

“Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too ‘rich’ to qualify,” said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.

“The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal,” he said. “If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years.”

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are sparring over legislation that would renew a Social Security payroll tax cut, part of a year-end political showdown over economic priorities that could also trim unemployment benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce entitlement spending.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

“There’s no doubt the recession has thrown a lot of people out of work and incomes have fallen,” Rector said. “As we come out of recession, it will be important that these programs promote self-sufficiency rather than dependence and encourage people to look for work.”

Housing costs soar

Mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold — roughly $45,000 for a family of four — because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job. Housing and childcare costs are consuming up to half of a family’s income.

States in the South and West had the highest shares of low-income families, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, which have scaled back or eliminated aid programs for the needy. By raw numbers, such families were most numerous in California and Texas, each with more than 1 million.

The struggling Americans include Zenobia Bechtol, 18, in Austin, Texas, who earns minimum wage as a parttime pizza delivery driver. Bechtol and her 7-month-old baby were recently evicted from their bedbug-infested apartment after her boyfriend, an electrician, lost his job in the sluggish economy.

After an 18-month job search, Bechtol’s boyfriend now works as a waiter, and the family of three is temporarily living with her mother.

“We’re paying my mom $200 a month for rent, and after diapers and formula and gas for work, we barely have enough money to spend,” said Bechtol, a high school graduate who wants to go to college. “If it weren’t for food stamps and other government money for families who need help, we wouldn’t have been able to survive.”

About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That’s up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.

The new measure of poverty takes into account medical, commuting and other living costs. Doing that helped push the number of people below 200 percent of the poverty level up from 104 million, or 1 in 3 Americans, that was officially reported in September.

Children at risk

Broken down by age, children were most likely to be poor or low-income — about 57 percent — followed by seniors over 65. By race and ethnicity, Hispanics topped the list at 73 percent, followed by blacks, Asians and non-Hispanic whites.

Even by traditional measures, many working families are hurting.

Following the recession that began in late 2007, the share of working families who are low income has risen for three straight years to 31.2 percent, or 10.2 million. That proportion is the highest in at least a decade, up from 27 percent in 2002, according to a new analysis by the Working Poor Families Project and the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group based in Washington.

Among low-income families, about one-third were considered poor while the remainder — 6.9 million — earned income just above the poverty line. Many states phase out eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid, tax credit and other government aid programs for lowincome Americans as they approach 200 percent of the poverty level.

The majority of low-income families — 62 percent — spent more than onethird of their earnings on housing, surpassing a common guideline for what is considered affordable. By some census surveys, childcare costs consume close to another one-fifth.

Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higherincome brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

A survey of 29 cities conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors being released Thursday points to a gloomy outlook for those on the lower end of the income scale.

Many mayors cited the challenges of meeting increased demands for food assistance, expressing particular concern about possible cuts to federal programs such as food stamps and WIC, which assists low-income pregnant women and mothers. Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger in cities, followed by poverty, low wages and high housing costs.

“People who never thought they would need food are in need of help,” said Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Mo., who cochairs a task force on hunger and homelessness.


Census Bureau:

U.S. Conference of Mayors:

December 17, 2011


Filed under: Voter Suppression — millerlf @ 11:54 am

The Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera today filed a lawsuit in Dane County Wisconsin Circuit Court challenging Wisconsin’s Photo ID Law.  The lawsuit, which is attached, asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional because it violates the right to vote under the Article III, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution which – unlike the U.S. Constitution– explicitly guarantees all eligible Wisconsin residents the right to vote.

The NAACP/Voces lawsuit follows the same roadmap that Missouri voters used to successfully overturn the Missouri photo ID law in 2006, when the Missouri Supreme Court invalidated photo ID under the State of Missouri Constitution’s right to vote.

NAACP President James Hall stated: “Hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible Wisconsin voters lack acceptable photo ID under the new law.   A very large number of these are African-American and Latino voters in Milwaukee.  The photo ID law compels hundreds of thousands of such voters to invest numerous hours, and days in many instances, dealing with various government agencies and bureaucracy just to get the documents like birth certificate, social security cards, and other documents that are required to obtain a photo ID.   Many voters also pay significant amounts for these documents, especially birth certificates.”

Twelve voters who have been forced to incur unreasonable amounts of time and expense attempting to obtain their photo IDs are also plaintiffs in the NAACP/Voces lawsuit.  The individual plaintiffs have spent many days traveling and waiting at various government agencies.

Plaintiff Mary McClintock is a wheelchair-bound elector who had to take three trips via para-transit vans to the downtown DMV offices to obtain her photo ID to vote.  Ms. McClintock stated: “I have voted in every election that I can remember.  This is crazy that I would have to make three separate trips downtown just to be able to do what I have been doing my entire life.”

Plaintiff Danettea Lane, a mother and head of household of four children whose sole source of income is a monthly W-2 check in the amount of $608, had to pay $20 for a birth certificate to the County and also make four different trips to the DMV offices to finally obtain her photo ID in order to vote.

  Another individual plaintiff, Ricky Lewis, who is an honorably discharged U.S. Marine, explained his unsuccessful odyssey to obtain photo ID this way:

 “I have tried, and tried to get a photo ID so I can vote.   I first came right here at the DMV to get my photo ID last summer.  I showed them all kinds of ID.  I showed them photo IDs – one from the V.A and one from Milwaukee County.  I also showed them my discharge papers from the Marines.  I showed them a utility bill.  They said it wasn’t enough and they told me I needed a birth certificate and social security card. So, I went to the social security office, but they couldn’t give me a social security card because I didn’t have a birth certificate.  So I went over to the courthouse, and they didn’t have my birth certificate.  So I wrote a letter to Madison and the vital records office, and sent them a check for $20.  They sent me back a birth certificate.  But guess what.  It had the wrong name – it had my name as Tyrone DeBerry.   Tyrone is my middle name, and DeBerry is my mom’s maiden name.  They said if you want to get your birth certificate corrected, you have to file a lawsuit in circuit court.  Well, I am not gonna do that.  I am gonna stand up and fight with the people of Milwaukee, and the NAACP, and protect everyone’s right to vote and get rid of Gov. Walker’s Photo ID law.”

December 15, 2011

If I Were A White, Male Middle Aged Forbes Columnist…

Filed under: Racism — millerlf @ 5:39 pm

Akiba Solomon hits back at Forbes Magazine writer who wrote racist piece “If I Were a Poor Black Kid.”

Colorlines 12/14/2011

In a reaction to President Obama’s big, pragmatic, race-free economic inequality speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, “Forbes” tech writer Gene Marks crafted a recklessly condescending column called “If I Were a Poor Black Kid.” In just two days, this white, middle aged keyboard monkey madness has garnered 518 comments on the site and God knows how many page views. It’s officially Internet catnip.

Now Marks, who in his bio describes himself as “a short, balding and mediocre certified public accountant,” starts off well enough:

The President’s speech got me thinking. My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city. My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder. This is a fact. In 2011.

But things start to fall apart when Marks takes on the rhetorical style of Miss Grant’s “You got big dreams” speech from “Fame” Season 1:

I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. … It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available. Like technology.

Having established his alleged expertise, Marks goes on to negate the very privilege he’s stating and put the onus of hundreds of years of structural racism and decade after decade of class stratification on the shoulders of, drum roll, poor black kids:

If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities. Getting good grades is the key to having more options. With good grades you can choose different, better paths. If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you’re severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.

The assumption here, of course, is that poor black kids in West Philadelphia (the ‘hood I’m from, by the way) don’t like reading and writing, that they’re too busy hippidity hopping and bling-fixating to make their shitty schools work for them.

Within this frame, Marks offers a range of subpar-to-mediocre stopgaps. For instance, if he were a poor black kid, he would “visit study sites like SparkNotes and CliffsNotes to help me understand books.” (Right. Because nothing says “I’m prepared to compete in a global information economy” like CliffsNotes.)

Without giving any meaningful consideration to the new digital divide, Marks also says he’d “watch relevant teachings on Academic Earth, TED and the Khan Academy,” when possible “get my books for free at Project Gutenberg” and “learn how to do research at the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia to help me with my studies.”

Armed with what he describes as “cheap computers” from outlets like Tiger Direct and the Dell Outlet, Marks’s hypothetical black kid will get himself into “nationally recognized magnet schools like Central, Girls High and Masterman,” competitive public institutions that require high standardized test scores and stellar grades. And for the ones who don’t make the cut, says Marks, there’s the option of private school tokenism:

Most private schools I know are filled to the brim with the 1%. That’s because these schools are exclusive and expensive, costing anywhere between $20 and $50k per year. But there’s a secret about them. Most have scholarship programs. Most have boards of trustees that want to give opportunities to kids that can’t afford the tuition. Many would provide funding for not only tuition but also for transportation or even boarding. Trust me, they want to show diversity. They want to show smiling, smart kids of many different colors and races on their fundraising brochures. If I was a poor black kid I’d be using technology to research these schools on the internet, too, and making them know that I exist and that I get good grades and want to go to their school.

The irony of Marks’s vision is that it’s so thoroughly mediocre. He can flaunt his own “I don’t know much about much” ethos because he’s not a poor black kid. The reality is that to compete in earnest with the children of middle class, white male tech writers, poor black kids (and their brown, Asian and Native American sistren and brethren) have to be beyond excellent. And they still might not get the fucking scholarship. Hell, they might not even have a secure, safe place to live. (Thanks subprime housing market!)

Marks could have used technology himself and Googled to find a few of the structural barriers he glances past. In just the past couple of months we’ve seen news that black students get suspended at a far higher rate for the same infractions as white students; that all but four of the students NYPD arrested this summer and fall were black or Latino; and that those poor black kids who evade the police-state in their schools and make it to college aren’t finding Marks’s easy-grab scholarships, since one in three of them owe more than $38,000.

As only artists can, my friend Lekan Jeyifo has been posting Marks-style prose on Facebook over the past couple of days. (This Nigerian-born, bongo-loc’ed illustrator and architect is also using Marks’s photo as his profile picture, but that’s another story.) My two favorites:

If I Was Trying Out For Varsity Basketball At Your Highschool – Forbes

I know becoming a star athlete at even the high school level can be extremely difficult. But that doesn’t mean that a woefully uncoordinated and morbidly obese child that has been home-schooled since 3 years of age can’t become the next Lebron James in today’s society…

If I Was Married To Your Wife – Forbes

I know maintaining a marriage is hard, believe me. But that doesn’t mean that attaining a healthy passionate and companionable relationship is out of your grasp. And no, I am not married, I am actually single…and also a male prostitute. But if I were married to your wife, I would love her better than you. Heck. I would make love to her better than you. I would make use of all of the tantric materials available in our public libraries and would learn how to bring her to orgasm by glancing at her. If I was married to your wife…

Lek’s satirical paragraphs speak more truth about structural inequality than Marks’s entire column. Given the gravity of the topic, that’s scary as hell.

Cashing In On Kids: Miami Herald Report on Florida Charter Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 5:22 pm

Posted on Saturday, 12.10.11  By Scot Hiassen and Kathleen McGrory, Miami Herald Special Series

Florida charter schools: big money, little oversight

Florida’s charter school movement has grown into $400-million-a-year powerhouse backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians, but with little oversight.

Preparing for her daughter’s graduation in the spring, Tuli Chediak received a blunt message from her daughter’s charter high school: Pay us $600 or your daughter won’t graduate.

She also received a harsh lesson about charter schools: Sometimes they play by their own rules.

During the past 15 years, Florida has embarked on a dramatic shift in public education, steering billions in taxpayer dollars from traditional school districts to independently run charter schools. What started as an educational movement has turned into one of the region’s fastest-growing industries, backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians.

But while charter schools have grown into a $400-million-a-year business in South Florida, receiving about $6,000 in taxpayer dollars for every student enrolled, they continue to operate with little public oversight. Even when charter schools have been caught violating state laws, school districts have few tools to demand compliance.

Charter schools have become a parallel school system unto themselves, a system controlled largely by for-profit management companies and private landlords — one and the same, in many cases — and rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.

In many instances, the educational mission of the school clashes with the profit-making mission of the management company, a Miami Herald examination of South Florida’s charter school industry has found. Consider:

• Some schools have ceded almost total control of their staff and finances to for-profit management companies that decide how the schools’ money is spent. The Life Skills Center of Miami-Dade County, for example, pays 97 percent of its income to a management company as a “continuing fee.” And when the governing board of two affiliated schools in Hollywood tried to eject its managers, the company refused to turn over school money it held — and threatened to press criminal charges against any school officials who attempted to access the money.

• Many management companies also control the land and buildings used by the schools — sometimes collecting more than 25 percent of a school’s revenue in lease payments, in addition to management fees. The owners of Academica, the state’s largest charter school operator, collect almost $19 million a year in lease payments on school properties they control in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, audit and property records show.

• Charter schools often rely on loans from management companies or other insiders to stay afloat, making charter school governing boards beholden to the managers they oversee. Loans to two Pompano Beach schools were disguised as gifts in financial documents to avoid scrutiny from the school district and make struggling schools appear solvent, the schools’ former managers said in court papers.

• At some financially weak schools, tight budgets have forced administrators to cut corners. The cash-strapped Balere Language Academy in South Miami Heights taught its seventh-grade students in a toolshed, records show. The Academy of Arts & Minds in Coconut Grove went weeks without textbooks. Schools have also been accused of using illegal tactics to bring in more money — charging students illegal fees for standard classes, or faking attendance records to earn more tax dollars, court records show.

• Charter schools in Miami-Dade take a disproportionately lower share of black, poor and disabled children, records show. One in three students in Miami-Dade traditional public schools are black, while one in five charter school students are black. School district officials also suspect some charter schools have deliberately sought out high-performing students — contrary to the schools’ contracts.

This year, several South Florida charter schools made headlines for violating local rules or state laws, including Arts & Minds, which was accused of charging illegal fees to students, and Balere, which the school district said turned into an after-hours nightclub on weekends. The district withheld funding from both schools — before concluding that it does not have the legal authority to do so.

That’s because Florida’s charter school laws — considered among the nation’s most charter school friendly — are aimed more at promoting the schools than policing them, leaving school districts with few ways to enforce the rules.

When school districts have taken a hard line with charter schools, they have found their decisions second-guessed by state education officials in Tallahassee. And as the number of charter schools has climbed — almost 200 now operate in Miami-Dade and Broward counties alone — state lawmakers have chipped away at local school districts’ ability to monitor them.

“It’s frustrating for school district officials,” said John Schuster, spokesman for the Miami-Dade school district. “The only cases where we can really intervene are safety-to-life, severe financial distress or poor academic performance.”


December 13, 2011

On-Line Charters Get Failing Grade

Filed under: Charter Schools,Virtual Schooling — millerlf @ 11:06 am

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

By STEPHANIE SAUL  Published: December 12, 2011 NYTimes

Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.

By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.

Agora is one of the largest in a portfolio of similar public schools across the country run by K12. Eight other for-profit companies also run online public elementary and high schools, enrolling a large chunk of the more than 200,000 full-time cyberpupils in the United States.

The pupils work from their homes, in some cases hundreds of miles from their teachers. There is no cafeteria, no gym and no playground. Teachers communicate with students by phone or in simulated classrooms on the Web. But while the notion of an online school evokes cutting-edge methods, much of the work is completed the old-fashioned way, with a pencil and paper while seated at a desk.

Kids mean money. Agora is expecting income of $72 million this school year, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total anticipated revenues of K12, the biggest player in the online-school business. The second-largest, Connections Education, with revenues estimated at $190 million, was bought this year by the education and publishing giant Pearson for $400 million.

The business taps into a formidable coalition of private groups and officials promoting nontraditional forms of public education. The growth of for-profit online schools, one of the more overtly commercial segments of the school choice movement, is rooted in the theory that corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet can revolutionize public education, offering high quality at reduced cost.

The New York Times has spent several months examining this idea, focusing on K12 Inc. A look at the company’s operations, based on interviews and a review of school finances and performance records, raises serious questions about whether K12 schools — and full-time online schools in general — benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed.

Instead, a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.

Current and former staff members of K12 Inc. schools say problems begin with intense recruitment efforts that fail to filter out students who are not suited for the program, which requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students. Online schools typically are characterized by high rates of withdrawal.

Teachers have had to take on more and more students, relaxing rigor and achievement along the way, according to interviews. While teachers do not have the burden of a full day of classes, they field questions from families, monitor students’ progress and review and grade schoolwork. Complaints about low pay and high class loads — with some high school teachers managing more than 250 students — have prompted a unionization battle at Agora, which has offices in Wayne, Pa.


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