Thank You, Stan Wischnowski, for Two Decades of Solid Journalism in Philadelphia

by Christopher Paslay

Despite Wischonwski’s decades of promoting diversity, reforming school violence, and holding state government accountable, he’s leaving the Inquirer amid blowback over a ‘racist’ headline.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Stan Wischnowski is resigning.  As reported by the Inquirer:

Stan Wischnowski, the top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, has announced his resignation, days after discontent among the newspaper’s staff erupted over a headline on a column about the impact of the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. . . .

It was the placement of an insensitive headline over Inga Saffron’s column in the Tuesday newspaper that may have set the stage for Wischnowski’s departure. He joined the two other top editors in signing an apology to readers and staff, characterizing the headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” as “deeply offensive” and apologizing for it. The column had explored the destruction of buildings amid the looting that accompanied some of the nationwide protests over police violence.

Gregory Moore, co-chair of The Pulitzer Prize Board (left), presents the 2012 Public Service Prize to (left to right) John Sullivan, Kristin Graham, Sue Snyder and Stan Wischnowski of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Wischnowski, who worked at the Inquirer since 2000, believed in bringing positive change by holding all members of society accountable for their behavior and decision making, and dared look at all sides of an issue.  In 2011, Wischnowski oversaw an investigative series into the violence plaguing Philadelphia public schools—titled “Assault on Learning”—which went on to win a 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Community Service.  The series pulled no punches, taking an honest and detailed look at the violent realities of public schools and their surrounding communities.

The series not only helped reform Philadelphia School District discipline policy and school policing—ushering in positive behavior supports and restorative justice—but also called attention to systemic issues such as inadequate school funding, high teacher turnover, the underreporting of school violence, and the breakdown of the relationship between urban communities and schools.

The series is archived at the Pulitzer Prizes official website, and can be found here.  

Some of the more notable stories in the series are:

  • Climate of violence stifles city schools
  • Taking a closer look at the numbers behind school violence
  • Underreporting hides violence
  • Young and violent, even kindergartners
  • Violence targets teachers, staff
  • A flawed system of intervention
  • Some antiviolence efforts are working
  • Who is policing the Phila. school police?

The fact that this kind of honest journalism once existed is curious, as most of these stories—under pressure from political correctness and the anti-racism movement—would never run today; an investigation highlighting the violence of black and brown youth in their schools and surrounding communities is a big no-no in today’s culture.  According to Robin DiAngelo, whose book White Fragility is part of the Philadelphia School District’s anti-racism curriculum, this is known as “danger discourse” or “racetalk.”  This racetalk supposedly creates a racial “us” and “them,” and reinforces a racial hierarchy of whites as superior and dominant, and people of color as inferior and minoritized.

A racist white society, comprised of white supremacy and white privilege, is the one and only cause of inequality in America.  Privileged white oppressors target and victimize oppressed people of color, and any narrative to the contrary is rejected by an American culture obsessed with identity politics (interestingly, stereotyping all whites as “privileged” and “racist” somehow doesn’t create a racial “us” and “them”).  This is why the mantra “people over property” has emerged, despite the fact people and property cannot be so neatly separated, as multiple black lives have been lost in the looting and rioting over the past 10 days, and scores of black businesses—from Philadelphia to Los Angeles—have been burned down, many never to return.

According to “Buildings Matter, Too,” the Inquirer story beneath the headline Wischnowski is apparently resigning over:

“People over property” is great as a rhetorical slogan. But as a practical matter, the destruction of downtown buildings in Philadelphia — and in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and a dozen other American cities — is devastating for the future of cities. We know from the civil rights uprisings of the 1960s that the damage will ultimately end up hurting the very people the protests are meant to uplift. Just look at the black neighborhoods surrounding Ridge Avenue in Sharswood or along the western end of Cecil B. Moore Avenue. An incredible 56 years have passed since the Columbia Avenue riots swept through North Philadelphia, and yet those former shopping streets are graveyards of abandoned buildings. Residents still can’t get a supermarket to take a chance on their neighborhood.

Unfortunately, Stan Wischnowski veered outside the boundary of acceptable speech and thought, if only for a moment (and very likely unintentionally).  He indeed meant well, and even apologized to readers and staff publicly for the insensitive headline, rewriting it twice.  But this was not enough, not in today’s toxic, polarizing climate of identity politics; the Inquirer’s headline writing process may indeed be systemically racist, and a thorough review is underway.  Neither was his legacy of social justice, as Wischnowski doubled minority representation of the Inquirer’s editorial workforce under his watch, bringing it up to 27 percent in the past four years.  

Under Robin DiAngelo’s dynamics of anti-racism, intent is meaningless, and only impact matters.  As a white person you might mean well, but if people of color are offended or perceive any action as racist or insensitive, that’s all that matters; under an anti-racist framework, communication is one-sided, and the perception of reality only works in one direction.

Thank you, Stan Wischnowski, for two decades of solid journalism in Philadelphia. 

More Nonsensical Charges of ‘Discrimination’ from Education Law Center

by Christopher Paslay

Instead of addressing the root causes of dysfunctional behavior, the Education Law Center once again cries “racism”.    

From the Notebook:

Pennsylvania’s Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth programs are supposed to help turn around disorderly public school students, but they are academically inadequate and discriminatory, according to a complaint by the nonprofit Education Law Center.

The ELC alleges that a disproportionate number of African-Americans and students with disabilities are sent to them.

While African-Americans make up only 15 percent of the state’s public school students, they made up 35 percent of the pupils in the special programs in 2010-11.

Here we go again.  More irresponsible race-baiting from progressive education advocacy groups.

The Education Law Center’s belief that discrimination is causing minorities to be sent to alternative education programs is a classic example of a logical fallacy, also known as the belief that correlation proves causation.  It is also an example of a lurking variable.  Simply stated, you cannot conclude that discrimination/racism is taking place at Pennsylvania’s Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth simply because minority students are disproportionally sent there.

The truth is that correlation does not imply causation.  For example, it would be wrong to assume that sleeping with your shoes on causes a headache, even if statistics showed that 100,000 people went to bed with their shoes on and woke up with a headache.  There is most likely another factor that led to the cause, a lurking variable; in this case, that variable would be that the people went to bed drunk.

Likewise, it would be wrong to assume that eating ice cream causes drowning, even though statistics show that as ice cream sales go up, so do the number of drowning deaths.  The lurking variable in this case is hot weather.

Which is why the Education Law Center should not assume discrimination is the primary reason minorities are nearly three times as likely as their White peers to be sent to Pennsylvania’s Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth.  There is a lurking variable, and it is the fact that Black students are three times as poor as their White counterparts.

According to statistics from the National Poverty Center, 38 percent of Black children in the United States live in poverty, whereas only 12 percent of White children are impoverished.  This is extremely significant because research continues to show that poverty leads to poor conduct, low academic achievement, and the chronic breaking of school rules.

The Educational Testing Service’s 2007 policy report “The Family—America’s Smallest School,” highlights how one in three Black children in the U.S. are “food insecure” and how 70 percent of Black babies are born out of wedlock to a single mom.  This is very troubling in light of the fact that children in single-parent families score lower on academic tests, have higher incidences of psychological problems that reflect aggression and poor conduct, have a greater tendency to abuse illegal substances, and are more likely to have sexual relationships at an earlier age.

In a 2009 report titled “Parsing the Achievement Gap II,” the Educational Testing Service tracked national trends between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.  The report listed 16 factors that have been linked to behavior and student achievement.

Some significant findings were that White students’ parents were more likely to attend a school event or to volunteer at school; minority students were more likely to change schools frequently; the percentage of Black infants born with low birth weight was higher than that for White infants; minority children were more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards, such as lead and mercury; minority children were less likely to be read to daily by parents; minority children watched more television; and minority students grew less academically over the summer.

This research—which lays bare some of the root causes of violent and dysfunctional conduct—is not new.  Yet the Education Law Center attributes the high number of minority students being sent to alternative programs to something as banal and cliché as “discrimination”.

This is, quite frankly, pathetic.  It is also counterproductive from a learning standpoint.  Although some racial discrimination may still exist in public schools (there is no significant data to show that it does), reinforcing the idea that students are targets—that they are not the captain of their own ship but simply a victim—contradicts the fundamental message hardworking teachers across America are trying to instill in their students: Personal responsibility!

The Education Law Center’s simplistic conclusion of discrimination is also lazy.  Instead of rolling up their sleeves and attempting to fight the good fight, instead of addressing the multitude of social, emotional, and behavioral challenges facing our minority children so they can receive the supports they and their teachers need, the Education Law Center chooses to go the Al Sharpton grievance route, and race-bait.

Tragic.  And we wonder why nothing changes in our public schools.

This article is an adaption from a March 2012 post titled “Why Minority Students Face ‘Harsher Punishments’.

Trayvon Martin Supporters Call Me ‘Racist Creep,’ Make Threats

by Christopher Paslay

After opening a discussion about communication and holding teens accountable for their behavior, Trayvon Martin supporters flood my blog with threats and verbal attacks.  

I woke up this morning to the following comment by a person named “Kenny” in response to my 7/17/13 blog post titled, “Trayvon Martin and Violence in Urban Schools”:

You are a freaking racist pig. The photo you posted of Trayvon martin is repulsive. It is also a fake, you right wing freak! I’m sending this to his atty. What kind of “teacher” attacks the memory of a dead child?

You are a total, utter creep and I will contact the Inquirer to let them know you are a fraud.

Good luck with the book, dickhead.

Sounds like “Kenny” is a real peaceful guy, interested in communication and solving problems in public education and minority communities.

After this warm and heartfelt comment I was greeted by the following post on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s comment board by a person hiding behind the pseudonym “Wellwhatdouknow” responding to a commentary I published on 7/18/13, headlined, “Teach teens to communicate”:

I hope people visit the website of this “teacher” and see the racism that is all over it. He has posted a fake picture of Trayvon Martin (which was outed as fake last year) and his blog is basically a place to rant about how ugly and evil this dead kid was. It is preposterous that would give this man a platform. I shudder to think this man is a teacher in philly. I’m going to look into which school, because his administrators might want to know what he is doing online and that he just MIGHT be a racist creep!

The threats and attacks didn’t stop there.  A person named “Manse” called for my termination from the Philadelphia School District, claiming that I run a website “that is inciting racial division and publicly attacking a dead child.”  He states:

I find it amazing that one of your teachers is openly attacking the memory of Trayvon Martin and has published previously discredited and very inflammatory pictures of him that first appeared (in 2012) on right-wing websites. In addition, people are finding this through an essay he penned for the Inquirer today that links to his website and the thinly veiled attacks on a dead, black teenager.  Christopher Paslay apparently has taken it upon himself to publicly and brazenly attack Trayvon Martin and his family. I cannot imagine that you would want to be associated with such an awful, racially charged publication.

Now, let’s calmly and peacefully analyze these aforementioned comments, one at a time.

First, the idea that the pictures I initially posted on my blog post titled “Trayvon Martin and Violence in Urban Schools” (two of which I removed because I wanted to double check my sources) are  “fake” and have been “discredited.”  In fact, each one of them has been released by George Zimmerman’s defense team and subsequently published by CNN, and WESH 2 News in Orlando, among many others news and internet outlets.

I will repost them here in this context for the purposes of this article, now that I’ve once again verified their authenticity:

FingerCell Phone Pics

Next, the idea that I’m a “racist creep.”  I invite “Kenny” and “Wellwhatdouknow” and “Manse” (people who, unlike me, do not write under their real full names but hide behind usernames) to take a good long look at the 296 articles I’ve published on this blog since 2008, and to take a trip to the library and look-up the 40 or so educational commentaries I’ve published in the Inquirer, Daily News, and City Paper, among others.  See what I stand for, what I fight for: I’m a teacher, tutor, mentor, and coach—all in an effort to better the lives of students in the City of Philadelphia.

Next, the idea that I’m “openly attacking the memory of Trayvon Martin” and “inciting racial division and publicly attacking a dead child.”

Nothing I wrote in my 7/17/13 blog about Trayvon Martin was false or inaccurate. It’s been documented in the New York Times and other publications that Trayvon was suspended from school not once but three times; was caught with a marijuana pipe and a baggie with drug residue; was kicked out of school for graffiti after he was caught with a “burglary tool” and a bag full of women’s jewelry; had texts on his Twitter account describing an attack on a bus driver; had a video on his cellphone of two homeless men fighting over a bicycle; had pictures of underage nude females on his cellphone, as well as pictures of marijuana plants and a hand holding a semi-automatic pistol; was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house because he’d been kicked out of his mother’s house for getting into trouble; and, according to the verdict of the jury, chose to attack and beat a Hispanic man mixed-martial-arts-style instead of simply walking away and going into his house which was not even 70 yards away.

If anyone is making “false claims” and inciting racial division, it is the American media who, ironically, doctored fake evidence against George Zimmerman, including the fact that the 28-year-old Hispanic neighborhood watch captain was first described as “white” and then, bizarrely, a “white-Hispanic.”

Consider the following:

  • NBC fired a producer because they edited Zimmerman’s 911 call to make him sound racist (click here to read the article).
  • CNN backtracked after reporting that Zimmerman used a racial slur on his 911 call, which was later proved to be a mistake: Zimmerman said “cold” and not “coon” (click here to read).
  • ABC News revised their story that initially reported that Zimmerman had no visible injuries on his head, which he did (click here to read).

Amazingly, it seems to be okay to completely fabricate evidence to make George Zimmerman appear racist, but when people seeking to make a comment on the life and background of Trayvon Martin, publishing accurate, documented information on the teen in an effort to bring awareness to urban life (in an attempt to admit and recognize problems so we can eventually solve them), this is vilified as “racist.”

To Kenny, Manse, and Wellwhatdouknow: you are the bullies and cowards.  It is because of your refusal to acknowledge the facts that kids like Trayvon Martin are not adequately reached and properly educated in public schools in the first place.

Trayvon Martin and Violence in Urban Schools

Martin Photo 1

by Christopher Paslay

Ignoring the dysfunctional behavior of troubled youth perpetuates chaos in American public schools and robs children of their right to learn.     

As “Justice for Trayvon” rallies pop-up in cities across America over the acquittal of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, a relevant fact central to the outcome of the trial has been universally ignored: that Trayvon Martin assaulted Zimmerman, striking, straddling, and then beating the Hispanic man to the point where Zimmerman feared for his life.  One juror has stated publicly that she had “no doubt that George feared for his life,” and that “his heart was in the right place.”

These statements—and the jury’s verdict (a verdict that former President Jimmy Carter agrees with)—were made after six women jurors considered all the evidence in the three-week long trial, including testimonies from over 50 witnesses, analysis of the bullet wound in Martin’s chest that showed that he was on top of Zimmerman, pictures of Zimmerman’s broken nose and lacerations to his scalp, 911 calls from panicked neighbors, and Zimmerman’s own video account of the incident, among many other things.  Yet somehow these facts and all the trial evidence gets pushed aside by the “Justice for Trayvon” folk.  The propagandistic narrative of an innocent young African American boy coming home from a 7-Eleven with Skittles and an iced tea who was stalked and murdered in cold blood through no fault of his own continues to be put forward.

The gaping difference between the trial evidence and the narrative of Martin supporters—which now officially includes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice—is quite alarming.  When young people commit criminal acts—such as assault, robbery, drug possession, and weapons infractions—it is difficult for some people to hold them accountable.  This is especially the case when these teens are African Americans, because doing so is politically incorrect and somehow unjustly blaming “the victims” for their problems.

Take the Philadelphia student activist group Youth United for Change, for example.  In January of 2011, YUC published the report “Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Educational Opportunities and Creating a Pathway to Prison,” which argued that the Philadelphia School District’s harsh discipline policies were turning innocent youth into criminals, especially minorities.  In a nutshell, the study absolved chronic rule-breakers of basic responsibility for their own behavior and portrayed violent and unruly students as powerless victims caught in an oppressive disciplinary system; one of the more controversial claims was that the presence of police officers and metal detectors in schools was causing minority students to act out.

The euphemism “kids will be kids” was used in defense of the report’s findings by a number of members of the Philadelphia public school community.

But the violence facing Philadelphia public schools at the time was a little bit more than simply “kids being kids.”  Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Inquirer won a Pulitzer Prize for bringing this information to light in a series called “Assault on Learning.”  Amazingly, several months after the series won the Pulitzer, Philadelphia School District officials, bowing to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, actually decided to ease the Philadelphia School District’s student code of conduct.  The reason?  The DOE published a report claiming that minority students were being disproportionally suspended and expelled from school because of racism of both the conscious and unconscious variety (although the report didn’t include a single documented case of discrimination against a student by a teacher).

Fast forward to Trayvon Martin.  Just as groups like YUC try to portray violent and unruly youth as victims of an unjust system, so do the “Justice for Trayvon” folk portray Martin as an innocent young boy who was murdered through no fault of his own.  Many people believe that the tragedy—or the crime—was that Zimmerman profiled Martin as a criminal, which is what Martin supporters insist eventually led to the boy’s death.  But legally speaking, this was not the case, which is why Zimmerman was acquitted.  According to the law, it is not illegal to watch someone from your car, or to get out and follow them; if it were, news reporters, paparazzi, private investigators, and single men interested in courting attractive women would all be behind bars.

According to the law (and the jury’s verdict), Zimmerman following Martin was not reckless or irresponsible enough to set in motion the events that eventually led to Martin’s death, which is why Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter.  The act that led to Martin’s eventual death was when Martin decided to strike and attack Zimmerman, pound his head on the cement, and to put the Hispanic neighborhood watch captain in a position where he feared for his life.  Remember, when Zimmerman approached Martin, Martin could have done any one of the following: walked or ran away; went into his house; or kept a safe distance and tried to communicate.  According to the evidence and the verdict of the jury, he did none of them.  He chose to attack Zimmerman, an act that directly led to his own death.

But it is easier for Martin supporters to absolve Martin of all responsibility for his death.  Like YUC’s report “Zero Tolerance,” which absolves violent Philadelphia school students of responsibility for their behavior in classrooms, Martin was simply a “kid being a kid.”  A kid, mind you, who allegedly called Zimmerman a racist name (creepy-ass-cracker); a kid who was suspended from school not once but three times; a kid who was caught with a marijuana pipe and a baggie with drug residue; a kid who was kicked out of school for graffiti after he was caught with a “burglary tool” and a bag full of women’s jewelry; a kid who had texts on his Twitter account describing an attack on a bus driver; a kid who had a video on his cellphone of two homeless men fighting over a bicycle; a kid who had pictures of underage nude females on his cellphone, as well as pictures of marijuana plants and a hand holding a semi-automatic pistol; a kid who was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house because he’d been kicked out of his mother’s house for getting into trouble; and a kid who, according to the verdict of the jury, chose to attack and beat a Hispanic man mixed-martial-arts-style instead of simply walking away and going into his house which was not even 70 yards away.

This is the kid whom President Obama has made his surrogate son, and the kid whose memory Obama has stated we need to “honor.”

Is Trayvon Martin’s death a tragedy?  Absolutely.  Did George Zimmerman make mistakes and bad decisions?  No doubt.  But so did Trayvon Martin.

Which leads back to the question of violence in society and our education system:  Why are America’s public schools so dysfunctional and violent?  Why, according to the FBI, are 91 percent of black victim homicides committed by black offenders, and 14 percent of white victim homicides committed by black offenders (twice as many as the other way around)?

Maybe because society continues to absolve people like Trayvon Martin of all responsibility for their actions, and categorizes dysfunctional youth behavior as simply “kids being kids.”

Should Philly Schools Ban the Burqa?

by Christopher Paslay

After kindergartener Na’illa Robinson was abducted Monday from Bryant Elementary School, some have questioned the safety of adults picking children up from school wearing Muslim garb.     

According to a Daily News column by Helen Ubinas, the recent kidnapping of five-year-old Na’illa Robinson has caused some citizens to question whether an adult woman showing up at school with her face covered to pick up a child is a legitimate safety concern.

Ubinas wrote:

You want to talk about the burqa and whether it should be banned—as France and Belgium have done—in the name of public safety or gender equality or integration? Bring it on.

Ubinas feels religious freedom supersedes safety.  What do you think?  Take the poll below:

Dr. Hite’s Plan is Light on School Safety

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. Hite cannot “reset” the School District until the problem of school violence is realistically addressed.   

Action Plan v1.0, the Philadelphia School District’s latest reform blueprint for “resetting” our city’s troubled school system, is exactly 33 pages in length.  There are two main “anchor” goals contained within the plan: to improve academic outcomes for students, and return financial stability to the School District.  Most of the fuss up to this point has been about the ways the District plans on balancing its finances.  Here’s a closer look the academic side of things.

Listed in the plan are five strategies to improve student learning.  Contained within these strategies are 45 “actions.”  Of these 45 actions, one targets safety and climate.  On the bottom half of page 15 the plan states:

A. Improve school safety and climate. Reduce violent incidents, enhance climates for learning, and establish a culture of acceptance and respect in all schools by strategically implementing and sustaining evidence-based school-wide climate and culture programs, and training school administrators on creating safe and constructive climates.

The way to achieve this is through “restorative practices.” The plan states:

Fortunately, we know that when holistic climate and culture programs are embraced by an entire school community and sustained year after year, these challenges can be overcome. The significant drop in violence and suspensions at West Philadelphia High School following implementation of restorative practices in 2008 is one compelling example of the impact of this type of approach.

The plan cites a 2009 study from the International Institute of Restorative Practices Graduate School to show that restorative practices are a cutting edge, data-driven way to deal with safety and climate issues.  At West Philadelphia High School, serious incidents were down 52% in 2007–2008 compared to 2006–2007, and there were only two fire-alarm pulls; according to the report, “two very small pieces of paper were set on fire.”

Serious incidents at West Philadelphia may have been cut in half because of restorative practices; or they may have been down simply because only half as many were actually reported.  Regardless, Dr. Hite’s reform plan and the success of restorative practices must be examined in a much broader context.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs understands that until safety and security needs are met, a “system of excellent schools” is but a pipedream.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hite and the School District recently revised its student code of conduct and have eased-up on discipline; under the guise of racial inequality, suspensions and expulsions of persistently unruly students are now frowned upon.

Loose translation: the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.

Until the fundamental issue of school safety and climate is legitimately addressed—not with feel good “restorative practices” and politically correct positive behavior supports, but with real alternative school placements—the goals outlined in Dr. Hite’s Action Plan v1.0 will never come to fruition.

Duncan and Obama Remain, but America is Different

by Christopher Paslay

America, and its public schools, have changed.

Despite my bold November 1st proclamation, Arne Duncan remains the U.S. Secretary of Education, and Barack Obama remains president.  Last Tuesday, nearly half of all voters—some 58 million of them—called for change . . . or put another way, called for a return to the values and traditions America was founded upon.

Curiously, “values and traditions” in the 21st century are now a matter of cultural perspective.  No longer are there universal human truths that transcend time and gender and race, but a kind of orthodoxy revolving around a concept of “fairness” that has become known as social justice.  Some 61 million Americans—made-up to a large extent of minorities, agnostics, the young, the single, and those on various government assistant programs—voted for the status quo . . . or put another way, called for a bigger intrusion of government into all of our lives.

Here’s a closer look at the changing trends of America and as a result, public education.

The Institution of Marriage and Family

For the first time in the history of the United States, there are now more single women than married.  Likewise, there are now more single households than married.  One of the great pillars of America—the institution of marriage and family—is now in the minority; in President Obama’s “The Life of Julia,” the interactive website feature that showcases the benefits of various Obama-backed welfare-state programs, the 31-year-old single Julia “decides” to have a baby all by her lonesome–no husband in the equation.  Does this impact education?  You bet.  It impacts everything.  But when it comes to schools, research shows children from single parent families do far worse academically as well as behaviorally than do children from two parent families.

Curiously, the racial achievement gap is proportional to out-of-wedlock births.  On nearly every standardized test, from the NAEP to the GRE—from 3rd grade to graduate school—Asians score the highest, followed by whites, followed by Hispanics, followed by blacks.  Here is the percentage of out-of-wedlock births to women under the age of 30 by racial/ethnic group from 2003 to 2004: Asian 16%; white 34%; Hispanics 46%; blacks 77%.

Institution of Religion

Today, one-fifth (20%) of Americans consider themselves atheists, agnostic, or unaffiliated with a religion.  In fact, in August of 2012, the Democrats removed the word “God” from their party platform.  In a May 2012 speech at the prestigious Roman Catholic Georgetown University, President Obama not only failed to mention Jesus once in his remarks, but also persuaded the school to cover the name of Jesus–IHS–at Gaston Hall where he made the speech; Obama did the same thing in April of 2009 when he delivered remarks on the economy at Georgetown.

What does religion have to do with the quality of public education?  Morals.  Or, the lack thereof.  Crime and violence in schools is on the rise.  In Philadelphia alone, there were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year.  According to the Inquirer, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.”

Embracing religion doesn’t necessarily mean following a particular deity per se.  It means letting go of ego–the self centered perspective that teaches that man is the end-all-be-all of the universe, that there is no broader consequence for immoral behavior.

 Competition and Individualism

In 2010, for the first time in America, minority births (50.4%) outnumbered whites.  This is significant because the values of the dominant white culture are now viewed as oppressive by progressive education scholars.  According to Vernon G. Zunker, a noted expert on career counseling, “Career choice, for example, may be driven by goals of family as opposed to individual aspirations.  In the individualistic cultures of Europe and North America, great value is placed on individual accomplishment.  In the collectivist cultures of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the individual focuses on the welfare of the group and its collective survival.”

In other words, “individualism” and “competition” are a white thang, and should be discounted in the career and academic world.  Hence, the advent of “group work” as opposed to direct instruction, the notion of “student-centered” lessons as opposed to “teacher-centered” ones, and the great push for schools to lower admission standards to elite schools and AP courses; from this also stems the recent opposition to suspensions and expulsions of public school students–a movement which values the rights of the violent and unruly few over the rights of the hardworking many.

The results of this brand of educational socialism?  Academic mediocrity, and a horrible decline in SAT as well as AP scores.

Thanks to the systematic deconstruction of marriage, religion, and American individualism, Duncan remains, and so does Obama.  It appears Big Government–and a Marxist brand of educational socialism–is on the rise.  But hey, America asked for it.

To quote the classic line from H. L. Mencken: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

To those who asked for it–I’m sure you’ll get it good and hard.

The Disintegration of School Discipline and the Lonely Life of Julia

by Christopher Paslay

Just as men are replaced by bureaucrats in “The Life of Julia,” so are parents being replaced by schools in today’s public education system.

The Philadelphia School District isn’t the only school system who is revising their discipline code and easing up on school suspensions.  The state of New York recently announced it is doing much of the same.  The reasoning behind reshaping discipline in public schools, which is a movement that is gaining national momentum, is the belief that suspending students is ineffective and causing children to miss too much school.

The major purpose behind suspensions, however, isn’t to keep a child from learning or getting an education.  As any seasoned teacher or school administrator will tell you, school suspensions are primarily issued as a means of home remediation–they are given when the school’s limited resources can no longer adequately remedy a problem behavior and the full might of parental power and influence is needed to rectify a problem.  In other words, suspensions are a red flag to a child’s parents that they had better start circling the wagons at home in order to instill in the child–as only parents can–that school, and respecting the student code of conduct, is super, duper, important.

In all my years in school I never once was suspended.  Ever.  Not for chronic truancy, or tardiness, or uniform violations, or for talking back to (or cursing at) a teacher.  This is saying something, being that I went to 12 years of Catholic school.  If I would have ever gotten suspended, it would have been curtains for me.  Lights out.  My parents would have dropped the hammer, and I didn’t take this reality lightly.  But I mostly respected the rules because I loved my parents and they loved me, and because doing well in school and following the rules was the right thing to do; back in the day, when traditional families with common core values were still the norm, there was something known as morality.

Today things are very different.  In many cases, especially in urban districts, suspensions no longer result in effective parental remediation.  A child is sent home for a week to think about changing his behavior, and to force his or her parents to use family resources to address the situation head-on, but not much happens.  Single parents (over 70 percent of African American children are born out-of-wedlock) are too overwhelmed to become reliable agents of change.  Many parents, who became pregnant in their teens, are too inexperienced to even know what to do.

So often times, school suspensions don’t result in much of anything at all.  Kids who misbehave continue to miss school and fall further behind.  The government’s answer to this problem, as noted above, is to cut-down on suspensions.  The only problem is, schools don’t have one-tenth the amount of resources to properly rectify the kind of behavior problems exhibited by students in the 21st century.  In the end, cutting-down on school suspensions ends-up compromising the educations of the hardworking majority of kids whose rights are violated daily by a minority of violent and unruly students forced to coexist with them in the classroom.

But out-of-touch civil rights groups and government bureaucrats don’t seem to care.  In fact, the current White House believes so firmly in the nanny state that Education Secretary Arne Duncan truly accepts the notion that schools can take the place of parents.  What used to be achieved at the hands of an out-of-school suspension must now be somehow achieved in-school by teachers and other school administrators.

Such thinking is not only absurd and unrealistic, but is truly un-American.  Our country’s Founding Fathers envisioned a place where people were free to pursue their own destiny through individual achievement and personal responsibility.  When Thomas Jefferson invented the idea of a public school system, the purpose was “to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.”  Jefferson started public schools so all children, not just those who could afford to pay, could have the opportunity to receive an education.  He offered the opportunity.  Those who do not wish to take advantage of this opportunity, however, shouldn’t be free to rob others of their right to learn.

Again, today’s Big Government policy makers see things a bit differently.  An example of this is President Barack Obama’s “The Life of Julia,”  his administration’s plan to allow Americans to live off the government from the cradle to the grave.

According to The Wall Street Journal:

Barack Obama has a new composite girlfriend, and her name is Julia. Her story is told in an interactive feature titled “The Life of Julia” on the Obama campaign website. Julia, who has no face, is depicted at various ages from 3 through 67, enjoying the benefits of various Obama-backed welfare-state programs. . . .

In a column amusingly titled “Who the Hell Is ‘Julia’ and Why Am I Paying for Her Whole Life?” David Harsanyi raises an obvious objection to the story: “What we are left with is a celebration of . . . how a woman can live her entire life by leaning on government intervention, dependency and other people’s money rather than her own initiative or hard work. . . .”

At 31, the story tells us, “Julia decides to have a child. Throughout her pregnancy, she benefits from maternal checkups, prenatal care, and free screenings under health care reform.” In due course she bears a son named Zachary, the only other character in the tale.

Harsanyi is right. Obama is setting forward a vision contrary to the American tradition of self-sufficiency–a welfare state that runs from cradle to grave. And it’s a dishonest vision, because it presents all of these benefits as “free,” never acknowledging that they are paid for through coercive taxation.

The most shocking bit of the Obama story is that Julia apparently never marries. She simply “decides” to have a baby, and Obama uses other people’s money to help her take care of it. Julia doesn’t appear to be poor; at various points the story refers to her glamorous career as a Web designer, and it makes no mention of her benefiting from poverty programs like Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

In 1999 Lionel Tiger coined the word “bureaugamy” to refer to the relationship between officially impoverished mothers of illegitimate children and the government. “The Life of Julia” is an insidious attack on the institution of the family, an endorsement of bureaugamy even for middle-class women.

Just as men are replaced by bureaucrats in “The Life of Julia,” so are parents being replaced by schools in today’s public education system.

Children of the Night

by Rainiel Guzmán

These ‘advocates’ propose that teachers should curb both detentions and suspensions and rather inquire as to the whys ‘some’ students have boundary issues, poor study habits and exhibit ‘oppositional behavior’. They should share one of my commutes, which would answer many of their whys.”

As the school year approaches in the twilight of another violent summer in Philadelphia, we are greeted by recommendations which seek to address climate at our schools. Key among these recommendations is the cessation of detentions and suspensions for previous infractions such as tardiness, or the use of profanity and cell phones. Teachers know what will follow, chaos. Precious time will now be “mandated” to address non-instructional matters. It is clear that the proponents of these recommendations do not work or often visit many of our schools. In fact, I am certain that many “advocates” of children in our city must have very different commutes than mine. Their commutes must be through pastoral promenades or perhaps through singing hills. These “advocates” propose that teachers should curb both detentions and suspensions and rather inquire as to the whys “some” students have boundary issues, poor study habits and exhibit “oppositional behavior”. They should share one of my commutes, which would answer many of their whys. Allow me to share with you one of my commutes in particular.

I have been an adjunct at a local college for the past two years. The experience has been one of amazement and genuine satisfaction. The campus is located in a northern Philadelphia barrio. The student population is mostly comprised of working, single, Hispanic mothers. I declare my admiration for their tenacity and efforts. As you may expect a class comprised by mothers is regularly peppered with text-messages, emails and/or phone calls from children of all ages as well as by significant others. During our ten minute break, these mothers are on their cell phones restating orders, assessing chores and, yes, if need be refreshing threats. Once class resumes, the strains from a long day are visible, with the added responsibility of two additional hours of content remaining. At the end of our four hour class, generally concluding shy of ten o’clock p.m., everyone heads home. Likewise, I gather my materials and walk to the parking lot.

As you leave the building the grittiness of this barrio quickly takes over your senses. One detail stands out immediately–there isn’t a tree in sight. Meanwhile, competing songs from speeding cars race by and die out up and down the street. The sidewalks are poorly lit by the streetlights and a heightened self-awareness kicks in as a compensatory instinct. Yet, for the residents of el barrio, all is well. Old and young are out in the street holding congenial conversations and conducting all manner of affairs. As I pull out of the parking lot, I have developed the art of evading children. These children usually ride their bicycles in groups of three or four, down the middle of the street. By children, I mean on average boys ages eight to twelve. In case you are entertaining the idea that this must be a summer affair, unfortunately the answer is no. These children ride their bicycles in the middle of the streets year round, weather permitting.

I have raised the issue with my students and have asked for their opinions regarding these night boys. They generally are very candid. Perhaps, the most succinct opinion gravitates around a well worn phrase, those kids are raising themselves. Once that phrase is uttered out loud a shared silence follows. The silence is then broken by open affirmations  of violence directed to their own children, especially directed to the boys: ¡Yo lo mato! (I’ll kill him.) ¡Ay, si yo lo agarro montando bicicleta a estas horas! (Oh, if I find him riding a bike at this late hour!)Their “professed” anger quickly gives way to mother’s worry. As we proceed with the content, quick, under the table texts are sent. Corresponding mothers’ smiles confirm that all is well.

Once on the road I have become equally adept at turning corners. Night jaywalkers of all ages compete with the cycling muchachos de la noche in open disregard even contempt for cars and buses. This commute home is unlike any I have ever had. Still, other night children await my passage home.

My commute leads me through several northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods. As I follow my personal North Star, both girls and boys of all ages are out and about in small groups. By now it is well past ten o’clock. It is often impossible to discern any adults supervising them. Again, in case you are entertaining the idea that this must be a summer affair, unfortunately the answer is no. These children are on the corners and in the middle of the streets year round, weather permitting. As I near the last minutes of my commute into my well lit, verdant and night-childless streets, a string of Chinese corner restaurants attracts my attention. Indifferently of the day of the week or season, these restaurants are full with children and teenagers buying and eating late dinners. They often eat on the stairs, given that these restaurants do not offer seating. There are a few adults present, but my passing glances cannot confirm their relationship to the children. As I approach the unmarked “borders” of the barrios, hoods and neighborhoods, which weave our city, the smiles of these children challenge my thoughts.  I’m consumed by questions, and perplexed by their laughter.

I begin to indulge in self-righteous commentary to myself; Where are the parents of these kids? Why do we have a city wide curfew in the first place? Doesn’t anybody care? My morning commute to school is free of questions, jay-walkers, and young boys on bicycles. The Chinese restaurants are closed and the hectic morning rush of pedestrians do not allow for congenial conversations.

I truly wish that more “advocates” would commute at night. In doing so, they would have to answer not only the “whys” but to their current austerity machinations. Machinations, which seek to cynically redirect assured, non-instructional conflicts onto the charge of teachers. Please note that austerity in certain business circles is a code word for the stripping of assets, i.e. not having to pay for school nurses.

The hypocrisy spewed by these change agents is toxic. They are well aware of the conflicts which have and will continue to follow the gutting of nurses, counselors and behavioral scientists from many district schools. To their Machiavellian credit, they astutely enable some well intentioned but politically uninitiated “advocates” who instead of demanding the immediate reinstatement of non-teaching professionals, essential to any well run school, add their efforts to these cynical pursuits. I and many more resent the continued characterization of teachers as the enemies of our students and by association of responsible parents. Teachers are often, too often, the only constant adult presence in many of our students’ lives. I am not a psychologist, nor am charged to perform as one, thank God. Still, I will offer my very pedestrian diagnosis regarding the referred “whys”: children cannot parent themselves and teachers cannot be mandated to be surrogate parents or psychologists. God help us all, especially the children of the night.

Rainiel Guzman is a 2011 Lindback Distinguished Teacher Award winner.  He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University, and teaches art at Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Northeast Philadelphia.


Obama Demands Race-Based School Discipline

In plain English, if different races have different incidences of disciplinary action, those of a favored race who act worse will be punished less, or those of a disfavored race who act better will be punished more, or both.

President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order hiring race-sensitive bureaucrats to hold meetings and mandate racial discipline quotas.

The order charges his new racial justice team, in part, with “promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.”  In plain English, that means that if different races have different incidences of disciplinary action, those of a favored race who act worse will be punished less, or those of a disfavored race who act better will be punished more, or both.

It’s true that a higher percentage of black students than white students receive school discipline such as suspensions or expulsion.  A recent, representative study of nearly half the country’s school districts found that 17.3 percent of black students were suspended in 2009-10, whereas 4.7 percent of whites and 7.3 percent of Latinos were.  Only 2.1 percent of Asians were suspended that year.  The black graduation rate is 64 percent.  For whites, it’s 82 percent, and for Asians, it’s 92 percent.

Given these and similar statistics on practically every measure of academic success and self-discipline, the president wants to require schools to punish equal proportions of white and black students, regardless of how individual students behave.  That will mean overlooking infractions by black students or punishing more white students for pettier infractions.

Punishing students differently based on skin color — that’s not racist? . . .

This is an excerpt from an article published today on American Thinker called “Obama Demands Race-Based School Discipline” by Joy Pullmann.  Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News and a research fellow in education at The Heartland Institute.  To read the entire article, please click here.