Is this the end of teachers unions?

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Recently, California Superior Court issued a ruling that gutted teacher tenure laws in the state. I was surprised /disturbed at the ruling for a number of reasons. First, I found the reading of the social science evidence on “effective teaching” very lop-sided and not inline with what most experts in education are saying. Second, and more importantly, the ruling used Brown v. Board of Education as part of the rationale for striking down five elements of teacher tenure. The plaintiffs claimed and many cheering now believe that teacher tenure is limiting the opportunities that Black, Brown and poor students have. In the Op-Ed below, I break down why this wrong and why there were no winners in the Vergara case.

Marcellus McRae, Theodore Boutrous,

On June 10th, a Superior Court judge in California struck down California’s teacher tenure laws. While you may not be a California resident, I can tell you this is going to matter for your state, your children and your schools. In the national debate on educational reform, one of the most vilified terms is “tenure.” The Vergara case on its face appears to be about increasing student opportunities, but in reality it is all about weakening both the diversity of the teaching force and teachers’ labor protections. This is not a case of students’ interests winning out over teachers’: there are no victors in this decision.

What is tenure? First, tenure is different at the K-12 level and the higher education level. As a college professor, tenure is a property interest in one’s job, roughly the equivalent of becoming a partner at a law firm or medical practice. It makes the person with tenure a long-term part of the management of the business or institution.

But this is not the meaning of tenure in K-12 education—tenured teachers are not like law firm partners (if you don’t believe me ask a teacher to see their paycheck stub!) For educators of the nation’s youth, tenure means the right to due process.

Read more at EBONY

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Neighborhoods and Nations: Revealing Inequality in the Promised Land

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I had the honor of being featured on the Neighborhoods and Nations blog this week. The post is an interview with me about my book “Inequality in the Promised Land” and my other research threads. I think it does a good job of providing some insight into how I’m thinking, what the book brings, and some of the terrain we have to consider in the post Civil-Rights era. Please give it a read and share. The book is officially available for purchase on Stanford University Press (Use discount code: S1420C) and Amazon. Also, don’t forget to like the book’s Facebook page and join the discussion.

Photo courtesy of Brett Levin

Photo courtesy of Brett Levin

R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy is a professor of sociology at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. This month, his book Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Suburban Schooling is being released through Stanford University Press. In this interview with Neighborhoods and Nations, he gives an overview of the research underlying the book’s insights on the everyday, and often insidious, forms of discrimination black students and their families face in schools across America. In doing so, Professor Lewis-McCoy paints a portrait of a new suburban landscape, one that fails to be “the promised land” of broader opportunities and resources that struggling families, particularly people of color, can rely on in equal shares.

How would you contextualize this work in relation to your past and ongoing research? Would you say that ‘race and education’ is a primary focus for you as a sociologist? 

My research for Inequality in the Promised Land continues my ongoing interest in how race and class shape educational opportunity. This year marks 60 years since the US Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate facilities are inherently unequal facilities.” When most people think of schools they think of them as the engine of social change or potentially the “great equalizer.” Unfortunately, when we look deeper, we see that schools are a mixed bag—some schools are flying high, while others are failing.

Read More at Neighborhoods and Nations

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Hood disease isn’t real, but it’s dangerous

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tokudahooddiseaseBy now, we’re all quite clear that “Hood Disease” is not only not an actual disease, but that it was born of some terribly lazy journalism that relied on a salacious soundbite.

If you missed it, here’s a quick summary: with the words  “Hood Disease” emblazoned next to her head, Wendy Tokuda of the San Francisco Bay area’s CBS affiliate KPIX delivered the following, “Even the Centers for Disease control says that these kids often live in virtual war zones and doctors at Harvard say they actually suffer from a more complex form of PTSD, some call it ‘hood disease.’” The story then began to discuss the set of complex issues that many youth of color in high poverty areas experience daily and some of their consequences on academic engagement.Tokuda’s reporting made it appear as if Harvard scholars coined and were studying “hood disease” which set off a firestorm and multiple questions about research, Harvard, and the sources of the story. A trip to Tokuda’s personal Facebook page reveals that she derived the term “hood disease” from Mark Beasley. Who is Mark Beasley you ask? Beasley is one of Tokuda’s Facebook friends.

The jokes should write themselves here, but this is the sort of propaganda that reinforces dangerous stereotypes about people of color, especially those with economic challenges. Even if you dismiss the ill-fated term,  the report is still framed in a way that makes it seem that the issues that youth in urban high poverty neighborhoods face are actually a disorder that they co-create.

Within the social sciences there is a long history of suggesting that problems among Black and impoverished communities are a function of their own practices and beliefs and divorced from larger social problems. In 1965, the Moynihan Report famously popularized the concept of “tangle of pathology” that argued Black female headed households perpetuated poverty, not lack of access to jobs and economic resources. Later arguments about the “culture of poverty” came to dominate academic and social policy circles resulting in divestments from communities of color and the belief that Black culture was the issue and the role of social structure was minimal, if meaningful at all.

Essentially, Blackness is the disease—or so the narrative goes.

Read more at EBONY

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Is ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ a Marshall Plan for Males of Color?

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obamabrothersIn President Obama’s last State of the Union address he said, “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.” These words built excitement across the country and many of us found ourselves asking – could a Marshall Plan for young men of color be on the horizon?

The answer is no, but that does not mean the effort is without merit. To create serious traction any effort to help young males of color must battle on two fronts: the empowerment of young males and changing the institutions and systems through which these young males travel. Choosing one front and not the other is a dangerous move.

Read more at Ebony.com.

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American Promise and the Hazard of Stewarding Black Boys

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Last week, I finally watched American Promise on PBS POV. American Promise follows two Black boys – Idris and Seun – and their families as they pass through the Dalton School for primary school and split paths in high school. In so many ways, the film opens an understudied and seldom discussed experience of Black families in elite schools. While we often discuss the fates of Black boys in urban schools, particularly high poverty settings, we talk less often about Black families in well-to-do school settings. What can and should Black parents expect in these settings?American-Promise-poster (1)

While cameras follow Idris and Seun, the film is more about their parents’ educational and social negotiations than the boys’. Idris’s parents (Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson) double as central subjects and filmmakers. A moment that stood out to me was Michele Stephenson’s commentary on their choice to send Idris to a historically and predominantly White private school. “Initially I didn’t want to even go to the interview at Dalton. I didn’t want Idris to be part of this elite school that didn’t give him any sense of grounding or sense of self. You know? A bunch of rich white kids disconnected from the larger world that [are] self-involved etc., etc. But going to the school, experiencing commitment to diversity and comparing it to the other schools that I went to, I finally gave in. I can’t say that I regret it. It’s going to hopefully allow him to compete at the top level with his peers.”  Stephenson’s analysis is like many Black parents who seek high quality education for their children but simultaneously recognize that schools are often alienating to students of color, at best, and devaluing of them, at worst. Seun’s parents share similar concerns about the issues that they face as they steward young Black males through school.

CONTINUE READING

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The Importance of Hashtag Activism

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At the close of January I was honored to write an Op-Ed piece for the Detroit News. During my time in Michigan I’d often look to the news for diverse coverage on local and national issues. When I asked to write about the #BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan) campaign I jumped at it because it lies at the nexus of social media activism and on-the-ground activism. With Black enrollment dropping 30 percent in recent years at University of Michigan there is a lot to be said and active about. Link after the jump.

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On Nov. 19, 2013, the University of Michigan’s Black Student Union tweeted, “We want to hear your unique experiences of being Black at University of Michigan! #BBUM.” That Tweet has sparked international conversations and is angling to change the way University of Michigan operates.

While some dismiss “hashtag activism” — the use of social media to raise awareness and sometimes launch campaigns about social issues — the BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan) campaign may help prove that activism that emerges via the Internet can shift policy and realities on the ground, particularly when it comes to colleges and universities.

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R.I.P to Our Griot Amiri Baraka

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I was honored to be invited to share a reflection on the passing of Amiri Baraka. His work and the legacy he left behind have meant so much personally and politically.

amiribarakaAmiri Baraka—author, cultural critic, revolutionary, professor and intellectual—passed away today in New York City after a long illness. There is no doubt that he will be remembered fondly in circles of poets, politicians, and the proletariat, all of which audiences Baraka moved between in his 79 years on earth. Amiri Baraka was, as Maya Angelou called him “a griot”— a griot that dynamically approached the stories and lives of Black and oppressed people. From decade to decade, Baraka dynamically changed his approach to the problems facing oppressed people but always remained committed to producing revolutionary art.

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MLK Day Benefit Keynote – Morehouse Manhattan Alumni Association

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On Monday January 20th, I have the honor of keynoting the 24th Annual Morehouse Manhattan Alumni Association’s MLK Day Awards and Benefit Breakfast in Harlem. This occasion is particularly special for me given that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is an alumnus of Morehouse College. I’ll be delivering a message that speaks to King’s legacy and our contemporary necessities for social change. The proceeds of the breakfast go to scholarships and multiple Morehouse Alumni will be awarded and honored. For tickets click here (early bird special ends 1/7/2014).

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The Meaning of Mandela

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The passing of Nelson Mandela has stirred emotion around the globe. Recently, Ebony.com invited me to share my thoughts on Mandela’s legacy as an African-American with Pan-Africanist sensibilities. Check them out below.

mandelaapolloOn December 5th, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known as Tata Madiba to some, transitioned to the ancestral realm. His name rings in many corners of the globe and on Tuesday he was memorialized in South Africa, but his relevance and importance to global and local freedom struggles cannot be underestimated. In the past few days, many accounts have sought to paint him as both revolutionary and peaceful, anti-establishment, as well as establishmentarian—the truth is that in 95 his years Mandela was all of these things. Through my own lens as an African-American with Pan-Africanist sensibilities, his diverse personas lent me insight into what “a long walk to freedom” looked like and why we all must engage in the process of creating, not only more just communities, but a more just world.

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Molly Madness (Remix)

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What you’re about to read is an extended version of “Molly Madness” which I wrote for Ebony.com. They edited and produced a piece which is very much to my liking but after subsequent discussions with some folks I decided it’d be good to post the unabridged version. This version contains more information on molly/MDMA as well as resources on research about drugs, harm reduction, and importantly how to talk to your kids about drugs in a way that will keep them safe, not make them think you’re a NARC, out of touch, or scared they’re going to end up like Pookie (your kids won’t get this reference but you likely will). This is a subject I wrote on because I was/am concerned about the harm misinformation can do and even went as far as to consult a good colleague and friend who does work on drugs, addiction, and harm reduction (you’ll see him shouted out below). Enjoy!

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“Popped a Molly I’m sweating, Whoooo!” – Trinidad James

If this refrain is not familiar to you, you should get familiar. In the past year, the Hip-Hop industry has been discussing the street drug “Molly” and the controversy, confusion, and hysteria over it should have us all sweating.

What is Molly?

Widespread mentions in hip-hop and electronic music have left many asking, “what is Molly?” At base, Molly is a street slang for a powder or crystal form of MDMA—methylenedioxymethamphetamine—more commonly known as ecstasy. Now here is where it gets a little bit tricky, with an unregulated drug market what comes in a pill that is sold on the street may differ from what it is called. While every pill called Molly may not be “pure MDMA” there have been long standing non-profit efforts to research “what’s in it?” like Ectasydata.org and DanceSafe.org which test street drugs for the contents in order to inform users so they can reduce harm.

Even still, there is a fear-based campaign emerging that Molly is the “new crack.” Recently on social media I’ve seen a number of images floating around that argue that are designed to “inform” readers about Molly and its harms. One reads, “It’s a drug that has cocaine, crack, excasty [sic] & bathe salt all in one. It stops your heart rate, pop one or 2 it damages your brain without you realizing it.” The image goes on to talk about the damage it does to your immune system and claims the drug is “more powerful then CRACK itself” and that rappers are responsible for the impending death of a nation. There is only one problem with this, nearly every claim is false, fear-inducing, and likely does less to help us deal with drugs than to stigmatize drug users and the culture of Hip-Hop.

As a Hip-Hop head of the 90s I can remember conversations with peers and friends about “blunts”, “chronic” and “illy.” I remember being told, “the chronic is weed with crack mixed in it”, “blunts are pure weed in phillies” and “illy is sess mixed with embalming fluid.” This was a conversation among teenagers and as well intended as it was, it was grossly misinformed. And more importantly, didn’t really stop anyone in my generation from seeing if Bill Clinton’s claims were possible. The conversation I’m hearing about Molly today reminds me of those conversations!

Hip-Hop just “discovered” Molly; Molly is not a new drug! Across race, class, and nation, discussions of Molly have been ongoing and serious discussions about its use and consequences are becoming more common. The reality is thatmany youth and adults will experiment with drugs; ecstasy being among them (ecstasy users tend to be younger). Contrary to hysteria about Molly, there is little evidence that it is more harmful than many legalized drugs like alcohol. Yes, read that again, recent scientific research has not found ecstasy is often more stigmatized (by governments and everyday people) than it is actually harmful to users or communities. That doesn’t mean I want your children to do it, but it does mean that we have to be realistic about consequences and have informed conversations.

This is Your Hip-Hop on Drugs

Drugs are not new, hip-hop is not new, but maybe our approach to talking about them should be. Hip-Hop and the Black community have had a precarious relationship with drug use to say the least. In 1983, the now classic song “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel was released which warned against the use and selling of cocaine. The song featured a funk-laden baseline, which framed cocaine use as more of a social problem than a social stimulant. For some, this was the start of Hip-Hop’s support of the anti-drug movement, but this was not the only view on cocaine at the time.

In 1984, Funk Master Wizard Wiz released an ode to the newly arrived drug crack cocaine called, “Crack it up.” As the individual and communal impacts of crack cocaine became more clear there was a public rebuke of the record causing Tuff City Records and Funk Master Wizard Wiz to add “you better not” before the song’s original refrain of “crack it up.” The public pressure to make the song explicitly “anti-crack” was fueled by a fear that the song glorified the use of the drugs and rap would spread the influence of crack. The spread of the crack ultimately had little to do with music and much more to do with poverty and the media’s fascination with a new “demon drug.”

Most drug education in the United States comes from casual conversation, campaigns to abstain, and drug enforcement policy from the government. This often means that drug use is misunderstood and punitively dealt with, rather than a rehabilitative approach that considers individual and community well-being. Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow” has masterfully demonstrated the impacts of such policies on the Black community.  Furthermore, it is socially dangerous to rely on rumor and abstinence only approach. Ironically, the message of abstinence advanced in “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel did not deter them from using and eventually abusing cocaine. We need to have a different conversation about drugs that are based in reality and responsibility.

Like the Reefer Madness propaganda of the twentieth century the emergent concern and fascination with Molly is likely misdirected. Ecstasy is far closer to marijuana than crack in individual and collective consequences. Weaving narratives of community destruction, instant addiction, and moral decay will not deter people from trying drugs and will only further stigmatize and likely criminalize drug users. The only way to break Molly Madness is to have responsible and accurate conversations about drug use, drug abuse, individual and community impacts. While a song may start a dialogue, it is our responsibility to continue the discussion with sound information and realistic approaches to drugs in our communities, not fear and fantasy.

Special thanks to Jack Levinson, PhD for resources on this article.

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