“Too Many Funerals,” Two Worlds Apart, from Manhattan to East New York Is Crossing into a New Galaxy.

America’s dirty little secret is that a large majority of poor kids attending schools that serve the poor are not going to have successful lives. Reality is not nearly as comforting as myth. Reality does not make us feel good. But the facts are clear. Most children born into the lower social classes will not make it out of that class, even when exposed to heroic educators. David C. Berliner in TC Record

As I bike along the East River bright and early most mornings I revel in wonders of the city.  Manhattan is ringed by bike and jogging paths with benches and mini parks, avenues have bike lanes and major intersections pedestrian malls. Some grumble, I enjoy the “Europeanization” of the city.

A short ride away in East New York or Brownsville or South Jamaica or Morrisiana the story is different. Grimy streets, boarded up stores, sad-looking housing projects in disrepair, and, eerily, empty streets. Fast food places, Chinese takeouts and almost the total absence of super markets. Nary a farmers market for many miles.

This morning I biked to the Union Square Farmers Market and filled my knapsack with farm fresh vittles.

We may be a few miles apart – in reality we are living in different worlds – one more like the tribalization of Afghanistan than the bright lights of Broadway.

In the last three presidential/vice-presidential debates we heard the term “middle class” used endlessly. “We are fighting for the middle class,” spouted from candidates regardless of the party.

How about those kids and families in the Afghanistans of America? Are we fighting for them?

Whatever do we call them: impoverished, poor, lower class, the needy, the politics of the 21st century has not only ignored them it has pushed them even more firmly into the ghettos in which they dwell.

Housing and schools are more segregated, by race, class and ethnicity than ever before. What the Department of Education calls “choice” are simply zoning rules that encourages and enables parents to select schools that include “children like their children.” Over 100 schools in New York City are “screened” schools – principals can select their students – in the age of cruel, unforgiving accountability principals select kids who will do well on tests and parents flee “the others.”

Suburban school districts flaunt high achievement – in a state with the largest funding disparities in the nation.

A pre-kindergarten (four year olds) teacher in the ‘hood.

“Most of my kids are being raised by a grandparent, a relative or a single parent. They know colors, a few shapes, very few numbers or letters. Only two were in any type of nursery school, a few live in shelters, pretty much the same kids that I get each year. This year I have two kids from Guatemala – they speak some Indian-Spanish patois – they don’t understand Spanish. My kids enter with a very limited vocabulary. My biggest challenge is getting the parents/caregivers to understand they must bring kids to school every day. Too many view school as a babysitting service. I do as much as I can to communicate with parents. I really want the parents to learn along with the kids – I have some success. I have the best and most frustrating job in the world.

A pre-kindergarten teacher in an elite Manhattan public school,

Kids have been in pre-school for two years – they all know colors and numbers and letters – they can identify some words – know the sounds of letters – by the end of the year they’ll be beginning to read. We have I-Pads and the kids all have access to I-Pads at home – we work with technology almost every day – interactive programs geared to the child’s learning  allows the child to progress at their own pace. The vocabulary of my four year olds is amazing. My biggest challenge is parents who constantly want me to introduce more “academic” work. I have to constantly impress upon them that their kid is four years old. I have to keep up with technology – and the current entertainment scene – the Fresh Beat Band is to a four years old as the Beatles were to our generation.

They may be teaching a few miles apart – it can be oceans apart.

The mayor, at the end of his eleventh year in office announced 4400 new pre-K seats for the next budget cycle. Community schools, schools with wraparound services, medical and dental and optical and counseling are few and far between and run by outside agencies.

GED program slots have shrunk dramatically.

City housing projects are falling apart and need hundreds of millions to repair. The mayor may crow about dropping crime rates, not in the hood. Stop and frisk and arresting trespassers in projects only exacerbates a growing anger.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Cuomo Commission allowed the chancellor and the chief academic officer to pat themselves on the back. A couple of kids were applauded for wonderful achievements.

I asked a teacher who had taught in East New York for many years what they remember most, “Too many funerals.”

As teachers we are accountable, we do the best we can with the resources with which are provided. Everyone’s work should be scrutinized – from baseball players by the fans, to opera singers by the critics and teachers for the progress we make with kids.

Teachers in high wealth elite neighborhoods bask in the achievements of the kids they teach – how much of the “value-added” comes from the staff and how much from the environment?

Would teachers in Great Neck thrive in Brownsville? I doubt it.

In his incisive, biting, must-read article David Berliner concludes.

It is concluded that the best way to improve America’s schools is through jobs that provide families living wages. Other programs are noted that offer some help for students from poor families. But in the end, it is inequality in income and the poverty that accompanies such inequality, that matters most for education.

If the policy drivers: from whomever ends up as president, to the governor and on down to the mayor refuse to acknowledge that a growing generation of youth is once again slipping into the cycle of poverty we have no one to blame but ourselves.

The magic bullet is a job.

Schools are part of the solution – we have to break down walls not wall off the people we don’t want to hear or see.

Listen to the hip-hop balladeer Lupe Fiasco – “Freedom Aint’ Free” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S77zUWqawag&feature=youtube_gdata_player)


4 responses to ““Too Many Funerals,” Two Worlds Apart, from Manhattan to East New York Is Crossing into a New Galaxy.

  1. An excellent and concise report on what is truly happening with education in this city and other urban areas–and frightfully, the outcomes.


  2. As usual, right on target! Do politicians care? Does Romney have a picture book comparing the faces,neighborhoods or typical classros? I doubt it! Aren’t we still in a time lag where even King Hammurabi allowed the rich to pay for a “Get of of Jail” card ?


  3. Neither does Obama with his “Race To The Bottom” policy.


  4. And this is just about regular Ed schools! come and look at the D75 schools in these neighborhoods!! While we do have more funding for the school and have more technology the condition that many of the children come to school in is atrocious. Most are hungry, many are not adequately dressed for the weather in the winter as with the children in the regular ed schools, but the children with the most severe disabilities are often inadequately taken care of in so many other ways. Many children that need wheelchairs, walkers, helmets, and other types of mobility devices, leg and arm splints, and so much more are getting by with what they need using old worn too small, outdated devices. Many are also coming from public housing that is not well taken care of and we often see (and this is absolutely horrible) children coming to school in wheelchairs that are infested with roaches. I am constantly amazed that my grandchildren get long lists of supplies that they have to bring to school each year and the children that I worked with not only did not even have a communication notebook or book bag, but often did not come to school without the adult diapers that they need each day because the parent had not received their monthly supply on time! And I agree with the teacher in the article Too many funerals! I do not think that ANY of our local politicians have any idea what type of lives these children have, or any of the people that run our DOE (unless they came up through the ranks which happens less and less these days).


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