Monthly Archives: August 2011

Joey Vento, Multicultural Ideology, and the ‘Speak English’ Sign

by Christopher Paslay

(In memory of the recent passing of Joey Vento, I am re-posting this article which originally appeared on Chalk & Talk on 2/14/09.)

“This is America.  When ordering, please speak English.”

By now we know the story.  Joey Vento, owner of the famous Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia, placed a small sign in the window of his restaurant asking customers to order in English.  Although the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations filed a discrimination complaint against Geno’s (which the commission eventually lost), Vento said the sign was never meant to be offensive.

“This country is a melting pot, but what makes it work is the English language,” Vento told members of the commission.

How we react to this “speak English” sign says a lot about who we are and what we believe in.  Those who find it offensive are probably cultural pluralists.  Those who agree with its message are most likely assimilationists.

If you’re not familiar with these concepts, allow me to elaborate on their meanings.

According to James A. Banks, author of Cultural Diversity and Education, “It is extremely important, argues the pluralist, for individuals to develop a commitment to their culture and ethnic group, especially if that group is oppressed by more powerful groups within society. . . . each member of a culture or ethnic group has a moral obligation to join the liberation struggle.”

In other words, cultural pluralists believe you should not only be permitted to speak in your native tongue, but you should do it with pride, and resist anyone or anything that tells you otherwise.

On the other hand, according to Banks, assimilationists believe the following: “. . . strong ethnic attachments are dysfunctional in a modernized civic community.  The assimilationist sees integration as a societal goal in a modernized state, not ethnic segregation or separation.  The assimilationist thinks that the best way to promote the goals of society and to develop commitments to democratic ideals is to promote the full socialization of all individuals and groups into the shared national civic culture.”

In other words, This is America.  When ordering, speak English. 

Today, the debate between cultural pluralism and assimilation isn’t limited to chessesteak shops in South Philly.  America’s schools are jumping into the fray as well.  Educational policy makers and those interested in school reform are battling over ideas and curriculum in regards to multicultural education.  And like the heated debate over Vento’s sign, each camp has a set agenda and interprets research very differently.

When it comes to education, the pluralist believes that the cultures of ethnic groups are not deviant or deficient in any way, but are well ordered and highly structured—although different from the dominant culture.   To quote Banks, pluralists believe “curriculum should be revised to reflect the cognitive styles, cultural history, and experiences of cultural groups, especially students of color.”

Educational assimilationists believe that learning characteristics are universal across cultures, and that the socialization practices of the dominant culture enhances learning, while the socialization styles of ethnic groups hold their members back from succeeding in school.  “Emphasis should be on the shared culture within the nation-state because all citizens must learn to participate in a civic culture that requires universal skills and competencies,” Banks writes of the beliefs of assimilationists.

Both the cultural pluralist and assimilationist concepts have their drawbacks.  The pluralist theory is lacking because it often fails to prepare students to cope adequately with the real world beyond their ethnic or cultural community.  And because learning characteristics are not always universalistic, but to some extent, cultural-specific, the assimilationist theory is not completely foolproof.

The answer to curriculum reform is what Banks calls Multicultural Ideology.  Banks states, “. . . educational policy can best be guided by an eclectic ideology that reflects both the cultural pluralist position and the assimilation position, but avoids their extremes.”

In other words, we need educational policies that promote social cohesion and a minimum of mainstream socialization, but at the same time, take into consideration a student’s learning style based on his or her culture or ethnic background.

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Arlene Ackerman’s Million Dollar Lynching

by Christopher Paslay

Activist Novella Williams complains Arlene Ackerman was ‘lynched’ by Mayor Nutter and other local leaders.   

At yesterday’s School Reform Commission meeting, activist Novella Williams complained that former Philadelphia school’s chief Arlene Ackerman was lynched by the SRC and local African American politicians, including SRC Chairman Robert Archie, Mayor Nutter, state Rep. Dwight Evans, and Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery.

“She deserved not to be lynched by three of four black men,” Williams said.  “I didn’t think my men was going to destroy her.”

William’s comments were similar to those Jesse Jackson made about Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in June of 2010, when Gilbert personally attacked LeBron James and said that he “cowardly betrayed” the city of Cleveland by taking $120 million to play in Miami. 

“[Gilbert] speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Jackson said in a public statement.  “His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.” 

A runaway slave that makes $120 million, that is. 

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan also used the slavery analogy, calling the NBA a “big plantation” on which LeBron James was a “sharecropper.”       

Though Ackerman is no NBA superstar, her base salary of nearly $350,000 for the past three years was close to the NBA league minimum for a rookie, which in 2010-11 was $490,180; Ackerman was also given a car, two chauffeurs salaried at $44,000 each, a BlackBerry, a cellphone and usage, a laptop, and a printer. 

And now Ackerman is being paid, all told, over a million dollars to walk away. 

As one person wrote on Philly.com’s comment board, “If getting a million dollars for not working is considered a lynching, sign me up. That’s like hitting the lottery.”

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Lies About Texas Schools

by Christopher Paslay

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was recently caught telling politically motivated lies about Texas education.     

Last week on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” Secretary Duncan criticized Gov. Rick Perry’s education record and attacked the performance of Texas schools by saying that “Texas has really struggled.  I feel very badly for the children there.”  Duncan went on to say that Texas had the lowest high school graduation rate in the country, and that there have been massive increases in class size and cutbacks in funding. 

Duncan later reiterated his attacks on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program, insisting Texas public schools had low standards and a high dropout rate. 

The only problem with Duncan’s facts, however, is that they weren’t facts at all.

Texas’ graduation rate has actually increased since Rick Perry took office.  In 2009, Texas ranked 7th in a 26 state comparison of the only states reporting four-year on-time graduation rates. That year Texas’ on-time graduation rate was 80.6%. The Texas on-time graduation rate for 2010 is now 84.3%; the national average is 71.6%.         

The idea that Texas class sizes have ballooned is false.  In fact, class sizes have dropped since 2000-01, the year Gov. Perry took over office; the state ranks 37th out of the 50 states in education funding.   

Texas schools also have very respectable standards.  According to Education Week’s Quality Counts report, Texas is ranked 13th out of 50 states.  Quality Counts also gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in college and career readiness.

Rodger Jones, an Editorial Writer for the Dallas Morning News, blasted Secretary Duncan for his dishonesty.  “We shouldn’t hear lies come out of the mouth of the nation’s top education official when he discusses the record of millions of students and dedicated educators. . . . Duncan should be ashamed for letting a political grudge interfere with the serious business of educating kids.  He apparently can’t get over the fact that Perry didn’t want to play his Race to the Top game.”

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott challenged Secretary Duncan’s statements as well.  In a letter to Duncan, Scott wrote:

“I have read your recent comments criticizing Texas public education, and I am disappointed that you have never raised your concerns during any of our personal conversations. . . . Your pity is misplaced and demeans the hard work that is taking place in schools across Texas. Texas students are doing very well and in many cases outperforming their national peers. . . .” 

Duncan’s off-the-mark statements even confused Andrew Rotherham, Time Magazine’s education columnist.  Rotherham couldn’t understand how Duncan could criticize Texas schools when they not only perform at the national average, but fair far better than Chicago’s public schools—the city where Duncan was the former superintendent.  Rotherham questioned Duncan about this issue, but Secretary Duncan was at a loss for answers.

“I would have to look at the details,” Duncan told Rotherham. 

It’s quite concerning that the US Secretary of Education doesn’t know the basic facts about his own former school district.  Even more troubling is how he mangled the information on Texas’ public schools.  Whether this was politically motivated or done through sheer ignorance, Duncan’s ability to lead America’s children into the 21st century has clearly come into question.

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CNN Links Chalk & Talk Article on Ackerman

by Christopher Paslay

Yesterday, CNN.com linked my Chalk & Talk article, “Arlene Ackerman Voted America’s Top Urban Superintendent, Ten Months Ago Today” under their Local Headlines section on their Politics page.

The link is still currently posted.  To visit the link, go to CNN.com, click on their Politics page, scroll down to “Local Headlines,” and set the town to Philadelphia by inputting any Philly zip code.  (Click here to visit CNN’s Politics page.) 

Thanks to CNN for listening!

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Arlene Ackerman Voted America’s Top Urban Superintendent, Ten Months Ago Today

by Christopher Paslay

Last fall, before the PSSA test cheating scandal, before the Philadelphia School District faced a $630 million budget deficit, before the IRS audit into District financial practices and the no-bid security contract debacle with IBS Communications and the “Accountability Agreement” with the city—before politicians began proposing laws to limit her power and writing letters to the governor requesting her immediate termination—Dr. Ackerman was the best urban superintendent in the country. 

On October 21st, 2010, Dr. Ackerman received the Richard R. Green Award, the nation’s top prize for urban education leadership awarded by the Council of the Great City Schools

“Arlene Ackerman is one of the best big-city school superintendents in the country and is most worthy of the nation’s highest individual award in urban education,” said Council Executive Director Michael Casserly in a press release dated 10/21/10. “She is smart, dedicated, innovative, effective, and completely committed to our urban schoolchildren. Our sincere congratulations.”

In a testimonial video presented at the award ceremony (which took place while the federal government was conducting a civil-rights inquiry into racial violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School), the City and School District also spoke Dr. Ackerman’s praises. 

“The city of Philadelphia has benefited greatly from Dr. Arlene Ackerman’s courageous leadership,” Mayor Michael Nutter said.  “She has shown remarkable dedication to our city’s students and families and has given renewed hope to all of us by showing us just how truly great we can be.”       

School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie said, “Congratulations, Dr. Ackerman, on being the recipient of this award.  Through your leadership qualities, the School District of Philadelphia has been transformed into one of the best in the United States.”

“Dr. Ackerman is a strong woman of faith,” said Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, Senior Pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church.  “And like Esther in the Bible, I believe that God has sent her to Philadelphia for such a time as this.”    

These words, and this award, ten months ago today.

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Huffington Post Links Chalk & Talk Article on Education Page

by Christopher Paslay

On August 8th, The Huffington Post linked my Chalk & Talk article, “Secretary Duncan Uses NCLB Waivers to Push School Reform Agenda,” on its education page.  It was listed on the Huff Post’s “Around the Web” section, and accompanied Joy Resmovits’s article “Obama Education Waiver Plan Could Result In Individual State Accountability Systems.”  (Click here to visit the page.) 

Resmovtis opened by stating, “As students head back to school, the Obama administration is using executive power in an unprecedented move to circumvent a congressional standstill on No Child Left Behind, arguing that the federal education law thwarts states’ distinct policymaking abilities.”

I wrote something similar in the piece the Huff Post linked, although I provided a stronger criticism of Secretary Duncan, bringing to light the fact that the Obama administration is manipulating the regulations behind NCLB to push its own questionable reform agenda.   

Thanks to The Huffington Post for listening.

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Ackerman Supporter Burns a Copy of the Inquirer Outside School District Headquarters

 by Christopher Paslay

After city schools’ chief Arlene Ackerman told the media outside of school district headquarters today that she isn’t going anywhere, activist Sacaree Rhodes burned a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.         

Kristen Graham, an education beat reporter for the Inquirer, wrote about the incident on her blog:   

“After Ackerman spoke, activist Sacaree Rhodes burned a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying the paper’s coverage of Ackerman has been racist.

‘The devil is on our feet,’ Rhodes shouted as the paper burned.  ‘The Daily News and the Inquirer has done nothing but treated this woman like she has committed a crime!  The only crime she has committed is demanding justice for all.’

‘You’re going to pay for it,’ Rhodes added.”

This is the second time in a week an Ackerman supporter has threatened violence.  One week ago, school police officer Pamela Williams, who is under investigation by the Philadelphia School District for leading recent rallies in support of Ackerman while on disability, publically voiced her displeasure that the district is planning to cut eight of its proposed 11 Promise Academies.

Williams told district officials at a meeting last week to “come out front and do the right thing. . . . If you don’t do it right, I’m going to call in the troops.”  She went on to say that if the district doesn’t fund the Promise Academies, the city “will be another London. Our children will begin to revolt. They’re already mad. They’re already angry.”

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Questions go beyond schools CEO

“The Philadelphia School District is experiencing a leadership crisis. Amid all the controversy surrounding Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, however, it’s easy to forget to ask whether the School Reform Commission is serving the interests of the city’s public schools.

Some education advocates have wondered if it’s time to get rid of the SRC, the appointed body charged with overseeing the Philadelphia School District for the past decade. In a series of articles for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, the activist and retired Philadelphia schoolteacher Ron Whitehorne highlighted some of the major criticisms of the SRC, including that it provides no real oversight of the superintendent, simply rubber-stamping whatever comes across its desk. Whitehorne also noted that the SRC’s decisions are too often made behind closed doors, and that its meetings are not very accessible to parents and concerned citizens. . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Questions go beyond schools CEO.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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Purchase ‘The Village Proposal’ and Support Shared Responsibility in Education

Due out this September from Rowman & Littlefield!  Click here to preorder a copy and support shared responsibility in education!

Here’s what the education community, including Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, has been saying about Chris’s new book, The Village Proposal:

“Public schools have been blamed for every ill created by the larger society: poverty, the breakdown of a strong family unit, adolescent crime, adult crime, and so forth. Lost in all the reform talk, is the voice of the teacher. . . . Christopher Paslay is a teacher who knows what students need and what teachers need to help students achieve and succeed. We applaud his efforts in the classroom, in the school and now in his effort to inform the larger community by authoring The Village Proposal.”—Jerry T. Jordan, President, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

“Many educational books are written by so called ‘educational experts’ who would not last a day teaching in an urban high school. It is refreshing to read a book by someone who has walked the walk. This book is a well-written account by an actual insider of his challenges of teaching in a large, urban school setting, and what it takes to succeed in this environment. Chris Paslay comes to the conclusion that a teacher is the most important element of a student’s success in school, but they aren’t the only element. For a student to succeed, it really does involve a shared responsibility of ‘the village’ with the teacher as the point person.”—Brian Malloy, 2009 Philadelphia School District Teacher of the Year

“This book is a must read for anyone truly interested in the fight to reform our schools. Paslay’s honest account of his life and the challenges he faced to become a successful teacher in urban schools is exactly what is missing from today’s policy debates; the insightful perspective of someone who has been in the arena where too many fear to tread.”—Jack Stollsteimer, former Pennsylvania Safe Schools Advocate

The Village Proposal shows the success and failure of America’s public school system from top to bottom, and explains how everyone needs to have accountability when it comes to educating children. It’s a great read for those interested in the perspectives of an everyday schoolteacher.”—James Tarabocchia, 2009 Pennsylvania Career Teacher of the Year

“Chris Paslay uses personal memoir and documented research to make you think, really think, about education in our country. This is a must-read for every faculty book club.”—Cindi Rigsbee, 2009 finalist, National Teacher of the Year, and author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make

“Explore the learning process through the eyes of a teacher and understand how education must change if we are to recapture our past success. The Village Proposal also challenges those in the education business to stop exploiting problems for their own benefit. It is a must read and as it clearly demonstrates, there are no simple solutions and only by working together can we effectively change education.”—Harry Vincenzi, Ed.D., Psychologist and educator, co-author, Energy Tapping: How to rapidly eliminate anxiety, depression and cravings

The Village Proposal is based on the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. Part education commentary, part memoir, the book analyzes the theme of shared responsibility in public schools and evaluates the importance of sound teacher instruction; the effectiveness of America’s teacher colleges; the need for strong school leaders and supports; the need for strong parental and community involvement; the effectiveness of multiculturalism and social justice in closing the achievement gap; the relevancy of education policy; the impact of private business and politics on schools; and how the media and technology are influencing education.

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School Police Officer Pamela Williams Threatens to Use Violence to Fund Promise Academies

by Christopher Paslay

The activist and security officer threatens to use students to turn city into ‘another London’ if district doesn’t fund special schools.

School police officer Pamela Williams, who is under investigation by the Philadelphia School District for leading recent rallies in support of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman while on disability, publically voiced her displeasure that the district is planning to cut eight of its proposed 11 “Promise Academies,” city schools that have been reconstituted and provided with extra money and resources. 

At a meeting last week, according to a story in today’s Inquirer, she told district officials to “come out front and do the right thing. . . . If you don’t do it right, I’m going to call in the troops.”  She went on to say that if the district doesn’t fund the Promise Academies, the city “will be another London. Our children will begin to revolt. They’re already mad. They’re already angry.”

 

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