August 28, 2011

Where bad education really comes from

Sam Smith

Even liberals and Democratic presidents are placing an inordinate amount of blame on teachers for the state of public education, adopting the classic right wing practice of attributing the faults of a system to its weakest elements, in this case teachers and students This distracts from such issues as who is responsible for running schools, who designs the curriculum, who chooses and trains the teachers, the size of classes, budgeting, how much we pay teacher, the economy's need for graduates and so forth. Besides, those making such claims never offer proof that the percentage of bad teachers has really changed all that much over time.

What is causing this obsession parading as public education reform? Among the factors:

- A generally unstated awareness that American culture is in decline and the assumption that poor education may be responsible.

- The huge profits available through changes in educational policy such as more testing. Not only are testing companies helped, but also publishers of materials that help students pass tests. More than a few of these firms have strong political connections. Here's just one example:

NY Times - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington detailed at least $1 million in spending from the No Child Left Behind program by school districts in Texas, Florida and Nevada to buy products made by Mr. Bush's company, Ignite Learning of Austin, TX. . . Ignite, founded by Neil Bush in 1999, includes as investors his parents, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Company officials say that about 100 school districts use the Curriculum on Wheels, known as the Cow, which is a portable classroom with software to teach middle-school social studies, science and math. The units cost about $3,800 each and require about $1,000 a year in maintenance. . . The citizens' group obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request showing that the Katy Independent School District west of Houston used $250,000 in state and federal Hurricane Katrina relief money last year to buy the Curriculum on Wheels.

- The desire to sell public schools located on valuable urban land to developers. This has been a factor in DC, Chicago and elsewhere.

- The desire to create tax supported targeted education for those members of the future elite who can't afford to go to private schools. Charter schools and vouchers are designed to discover which members of the underclass are worth elevating to higher status, while leaving the rest in less favored public schools.

- Technocratic control obsession: Liberalism has grown less and less interested in direct action that helps large numbers of people - such as food stamps, social security and minimum wage - and more and more infatuated with control and direction based on an assumption of technocratic expertise. Thus, in the Obama administration, we have federal control of medical record keeping and a desire to assume far great control over schools. This is in opposition with a couple of centuries of American belief in local schools and with the fact that schooling is, at its core, a largely personal matter involving teacher and a student for which technocratic control or corporate reorganization offers little aid and easily interferes. It is also worth noting that typically those claiming expertise and control are far less skilled in education and teaching than many they wish to control.

- Political and media spawned myths about public education. For example, few Americans would be aware from the news that, between 1972 and 2005, average SAT verbal SAT scores have declined all of 4.2 percent. Math scores have increased 2.2 percent. This is not good, but neither does it point to a new crisis" In fact, these scores bottomed out in the early 1990s and have been rising since, albeit slowly.

Between 2003 and 2007 - when Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, was running the Chicago schools - fourth grade math scores in that city rose 6 points, or less than three tenths of a percent. The scores in Chicago rose only 2 more points than in the state of Illinois at large. Eighth grade math scores rose 5 points in Chicago and 7 points nationwide between 2003 and 2007.

The Chicago Tribune reported in October 2008, shortly before Duncan was appointed, that:

"The percentage of Chicago public high school students who met or exceeded state standards on a test tied to the ACT college-entrance exam dropped for the third consecutive year, according to scores released Friday."

And how did Duncan respond? In the best bureaucratic manner: "We believe the new PSAE scores are different from the old ones and that valid comparisons between 2008 data and previous years cannot be made."

Reported the Trib, "Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the State Board of Education, said federal officials reviewed the new scoring and found it to be comparable to that of previous years." But no matter, if the scores are good, take the credit. If they're not good challenge their basis.

Duncan - like DC's school chancellor Michelle Rhee - has fostered a dysfunctional rightwing, corporatized system of education that not only isn't working, it is damaging our children as it trains them to be obedient worker-drones incapable of analyzing or understanding what is really going on about them. The dangers of this system include:

- Teaching our children only to give the right answers and not to ask the right questions.

- Grossly limiting education to fact accumulation and basic manipulation of data, leaving little time for analysis, creativity, judgment, philosophy, gaining social intelligence, as well as learning about, and participating in, the non-mechanical aspects of life such as art, theater and music. This system deliberately teaches our children not to think.

Even that poster child of the left behind - the DC school system - provides a curious mixture of facts if you bother to look at them. For example, it's true that DC is at or near the bottom in SAT scores. But again, if you look at test scores over time, you find things like this: while Connecticut's 8th grade math scores went up one point between 2000 and 2007, DC's went up 13 points. In reading, between 1990 and 2007, Connecticut's declined 5 points while DC's went up five points. According to the logic of the faux school reformers, we probably should close Connecticut's schools and sell them all to developers.

One of the reasons technocrats like test scores so much is that it saves them the trouble of dealing with the complexities of real education. They parade seemingly objective numbers (and hide them when they're not favorable) and strut around with a overblown media status driven by public relations rather than experience and fact.

One of the reasons I don't like test score obsession is because I went through fourth grade at a DC public school that never would have passed the standards of today's self-proclaimed reformers. We had 160 kids with four teachers, two of them maiden sisters known by everyone as the thin Miss Waddy and the fat Miss Waddy. The school lacked special programs and we undoubtedly took up too many square feet to be truly educationally efficient. Nonetheless, out of this failure came a dean of Catholic University, a foreign correspondent for a major newspaper, an urban planning professor and an irrepressible independent journalist, just to name a few from my period - proving once again that in education, objective standards often don't cut it. What's happening in that square footage of whatever size, and who's doing it, is what really matters

For another example, one of the schools targeted for closing by DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee was in a heavily black neighborhood. The school, John Burroughs, put up a web site to help in its fight against closure. On it you could learn that this school the city wanted to shut down is:

- One of five Middle States accredited elementary schools in DC
- Meets federal requirements in reading and math
- Placed first in the city's black history contest
- Has a scout program, cheerleaders and a ski club
- Ranks 15th citywide in reading and 12th in math

There is no standardized test in the world that will tell you how good the two Miss Waddys were or that John Burroughs school has a ski team and that both these facts really matter.

There are a million things standardized tests won't tell you. Like the time I was speaking to more than a hundred public school students visiting DC from Oklahoma City and ten minutes into the talk a heavy set black girl stood up and raised her hand. Her question: "Excuse me, Mr. Smith, but I didn't get your last point. Could you explain it again?" I wanted to say to her, "Who taught you to have the courage to do that because I want to go hug them."

Another time, I knew whom to hug: a friend of mine who taught conflict resolution in the DC schools. One of her students was on a bus when a woman stepped aboard and got into an argument with the driver. The 14 year old student walked to the front of the bus and said, "Excuse me, but I've been trained in mediation. Can I help?"

Again, there is no test for that.

To improve our schools we must first change the way we think about them. We have been trapped into a technocratic mythology that is hard to escape since it has also enthralled the media. But here is a list of things that are important to consider and act upon before we spend another dime on more tests or close another school:

The need to need the young

It is commonly said that one needs a good education in order to get a good job. But it is also true that in order to have good schools, one needs good jobs. Educational systems rise and fall in response to the economy they serve.

A dramatic example occurred at the beginning of World War II. During the Depression years there was an assumption that many of the jobless were either too dumb or too lazy to find employment. After Pearl Harbor, however, such assumptions collapsed. America needed everyone and in schools, factories, and the military the allegedly uneducable suddenly were able to learn.

Today there is an assumption that many of the urban jobless are either too dumb or too lazy to find employment. But unlike during World War II, this assumption is not being tested because we simply don't need everyone any more. Instead we have let the social triage of race and class takes its course.

When fifty percent of a city's welfare recipients have a high school diploma, there is a strong hint that something is very wrong other than the educational system. Further, the word gets around. Politicians and the media may have abstract fantasies about the value of education; kids tend to be a bit more realistic.

So the most important first step towards a better urban school system is a better urban economy. The second step is to stop treating our young as an accident or crime waiting to happen and to begin respecting, helping and needing them. We could, for example, use older students more as tutors and teachers of younger kids. We could use high schoolers as community organizers.

We could even teach students to become emergency medical technicians and community social service aides. Imagine if every urban high school had an emergency squad that was not only medically trained but was able to provide assistance to the elderly and infirm of the community and help staff clinics, schools, and recreation centers. With a classy uniform, good training and equipment (along with a few perks like being on call on a rotating basis during the class day), schools and communities might find themselves with some impressive new role models. Can't be done? Well, it has been. On one Indian reservation, a high school developed its own search & rescue squad, which has become a well-regarded part of the area's emergency services.


Tara Parker-Pope, NY Times - A study published in the journal Pediatrics studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8 and 9. Those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size. . . In the Pediatrics study, 30 percent were found to have little or no daily recess. Another report, from a children's advocacy group, found that 40 percent of schools surveyed had cut back at least one daily recess period. . . Last month, Harvard researchers reported in The Journal of School Health that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests. The study, of 1,800 middle school students, suggests that children can benefit academically from physical activity during gym class and recess. A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better. In another study of children who live in public housing, girls who had access to green courtyards scored better on concentration tests than those who did not. . .

The corporatization of public schools

Bill Kauffman, writing in Chronicles, argued that one of the most deleterious changes in public education has been the increase in school -- rather than class -- size. Kauffman notes that this was intentional, led by people such as Harvard President James Conant who produced a serious of postwar reports calling for the "elimination of the small high school" in order to compete with the Soviets and deal with the nuclear era. Says Kauffman, "Conant the barbarian triumphed: the number of school districts plummeted from 83,718 in 1950 to 17,995 in 1970."

One of the results of this is a redefinition of the many principals' jobs from being a school's leading educator to being part CEO and part warden.

Schools as part of a community

Part of the corporate education mentality of people like Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee is that they have no appreciation for the role of community in education. As Duncan put it: "I am not a manager of 600 schools. I'm a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I'm trying to improve the portfolio."

They close schools based on a MBA's sense of efficiency, without considering the immeasurable importance of having a community involved in a school and the children learning the importance of community.

The new approach is damaging communities by closing schools that not only served students but their parents and provided commonality in ever more atomized urban areas.

The importance of language

One of the most important things students should be doing is using language more. Writing something every day, not to pass tests, but to learn how to express themselves and use words in dealing with others. It doesn't matter all that much what you write - it can be poetry, ads, diaries or screeds - but the use of language as a central part of education is essential,.

Back in 1989, Shirley Brice Heath wrote in the American Psychologist of her work looking at the shifts in the in the oral and literate traditions among black Americans living in poverty and how this affected their education:

"In a comparative study of black dropouts and high school graduates in Chicago, those who graduated had found support in school and community associations, as well as church attendance; 72% of the graduates reported regular church attendance whereas only 14% of the dropouts did. Alienation from family and community, and subsequently school, seems to play a more critical role in determining whether a student finishes high school than the socioeconomic markers of family income or education level. . .

"For the majority of students that score poorly on standardized tests, the school offers little practice and reward in open-ended, wide-ranging uses of oral and written language. . . Yet such occasions lie at the very heart of being literate: sharing knowledge and skills from multiple sources, building collaborative activities from and with written materials, and switching roles and trading expertise and skill in reading, writing and speaking."

Charter schools

Either charter schools work or they don't. If they don't, you don't want them. If they do, then their use inherently creates a two track school system with the public schools reduced to what known to be called in DC as pauper schools.

Charter school advocates claim that their schools are open to all, but while this may be true, it's not as important as one might think. A door that is open is not automatically entered. And the child of a poor but ambitious or caring parent is far more likely to apply to a charter school than one whose parent is a drunk or depressed. A segregated system is thus created even if not by intent.

There is also the anomaly that if the core principle of charter schools - their independence - is so wonderful, why are so few public schools transformed into charter-like schools? There is an enormous argument to be made for decentralizing power within the public school system but the opposition comes not from teachers or from their unions but from school administrators. So you end up with hypocritical arguments from the likes of Duncan or Rhee about the virtues of charter schools while they refuse to lift a finger to give their own schools the benefits they claim the charters possess.

Finally, there are the hidden problems. Such as public systems that have to carry all the burden of special education while the charters have little or none. Or - as statistics in DC strongly suggest - what might be characterized as an attendance scam - in which charters accept large numbers of students and the tax funds that go with them and then many of the students drop out without the tax dollars being refunded. Thus the public schools get hit twice.

Bad principals

If you believe the media, there are only bad teachers and no bad principals. The New York Teacher, a publication for the United Federation of Teachers, has added a feature called "Principals In Need of Improvement." An excerpt:

"When a principal gravely mismanages a school and makes life impossible for the staff, it tends to happen in the shadows. Many staff members are intimidated and afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals. But for the sake of the staff and of the students, this situation needs to be brought into public view."

The quality of teacher training

Why is so much written about the teachers unions and the evils they have caused and hardly anything about the quality of teacher training at colleges and universities? Could this training by a key part of our problem?

The lack of arts, history, civic and sports

The technocratic approach to education destroys time and dollars for the very programs that teach students to be fair, wise, creative and useful members of society. Programs that teach you not just how to answer questions correctly, but how to apply knowledge to real situations and how to deal with other humans. Arts and sports, for example, are a rare example of public education involving other than one student and one teacher. Absolutely necessary yet being eviscerated by the technocrats. And what good is crude knowledge to our culture if the graduated neither understand our culture, our past or their role in a community?


Each of these factors are of great importance but given short shrift in our discussions about public education. We have let the discussion be run by technocrats who are deforming, and not reforming, our public schools, and - by doing so - we have created a far great problem for these schools then any bad teachers in their midst.

August 19, 2011

Washington's black timeline


There are a number of things that make the story of black Washington different. Among them:

- Washington has always been a colony. Thus even if the city's blacks would become equal to other DC residents, they would still not be equal to other Americans. Further, at a number of critical moments in DC history - such as during the Shepherd period in the 19th century and the Marion Barry era - purse and prejudice became inseparable components of opposition to self-government. Ethnic issues were frequently disguised as economic ones.

- Another characteristics of colonies is that their stories, their history, their spirits, and their places tend to be ignored or discounted. Thus, even among African Americans, the importance of the city is not as widely known as one might expect.

- Washington has always been a weak place and weak places are particularly susceptible to the waves of history. Places like Boston, Chicago, or New York have strong enough local cultures, traditions, and self-sufficiency to affect or slow down national change. A place like Washington is an easy mark for both good and bad trends. Thus during the rise of black power, DC became proudly known as Chocolate City but following September 11, it became the country's most locked down urban area.

- Although often forgotten today, Washington was very much a southern city until the 1980s. The northern and the southern civil rights stories are quite different and DC belongs among the latter. Nonetheless, the city's segregation was almost entirely by custom rather than by law and it had a number of curious anomalies.

- Washington always had a large number of free blacks and was considered, even during slavery, as a relatively good place to be compared to other parts of the south.

One of the early free blacks, Yarrow Mamout, a devout Muslim, earned enough from his hauling business to buy a house in Georgetown in 1800.

Aletha Tanner purchased her own freedom in 1810, then went on to free her older sister and five of her children, eventually helping 18 people become emancipated.

In 1813, Tobias Henson, a slave in the Anacostia area, purchased his freedom. He would later buy twenty-four acres and the freedom of his wife, two daughters, and five grandchildren.

In 1800 more than a quarter of DC was black and nearly 20% of the blacks were free. By 1820 the number of slaves had doubled but thereafter declined. The number of free blacks continued to grow.

There was also an active abolitionist movement even though in 1835 Congress banned anti-slavery literature in the city.

Being free, however, meant living under conditions that in our day we associate with apartheid. For example, in 1808 the city passed a series of Black Codes that included fines for blacks out after ten pm, requirement that freedmen carry documents, fines for playing cards or dice, and forty lashes for slaves caught at disorderly meetings. There were also cash bonds that were required.

DC was also a major slave trading center and the restrictive laws increased include on that required every black family to post a peace bond. By 1835 business licenses were denied African-Americans for everything except driving carts and carriages.

Nonetheless, Washington was considered much better than further south and the black population continued to increase. In fact, one of the threats the city's slaveholders used was that they would send unruly servants to "hell," i.e. further south.

In 1835, Beverly Snow, a free black restaurant owner, allegedly insulted the wives and daughters of white Navy Yard mechanics. In the riot that followed white mobs destroy the homes, churches, and schools of free blacks. In the wake of the riot, Congress increased the bonds required of free blacks.


77 slaves surreptitiously boarded the sailing vessel "Pearl" for a planned escape that was aborted when the ship was captured 140 miles from Washington. In an interesting example of the conflicts involved in class and race, a free black hack driver reputedly blew the whistle on the Pearl - angry that one of the slave women aboard had refused his hand in marriage. He was allegedly also angry at others who had tipped him insufficiently when he drove them to the pier.


Becomes illegal to bring slaves into the city for sale but slaves owned by District families can still be sold.

Washington was a hotbed of southern sympathies during the Civil War. The businessman WW Corcoran fled the city during the war, leaving his house in the hands of the French so it wouldn't be seized. And in 1862, the remaining 3,000 slaves in the city were emancipated.

In 1869 the city passed a law against racial discrimination in places of entertainment expanding it the following year to include restaurants, bars, and hotels.


Georgetown and the city of Washington hold referendum on "negro suffrage." In Georgetown. Only one out 700 some voters approves in Georgetown and only 35 voters approve in the city.

Also, 90 years before the Montgomery bus boycott Sojourner Truth integrated the city's horse cars by simply ignoring a conductor's order to move from the white section.


Congress votes black male emancipation except for those who served the Confederacy, paupers, and those convicted of an "infamous crime or offense."


Blacks vote for the first time in the District. The Evening Star writes that the election put "to flight the fears of those who apprehended serious disturbances on the occasion of the first exercise of the right of franchise by the colored people."

John F. Cook, a black Washingtonian, is named chair of the Republican Party.


Two blacks are elected to the Common Council. Sayles J. Bowen, a Radical Republican, is elected mayor. He advocates the integration of white and colored school system.


Alexander Shepherd and friends convince Congress to pass a territorial bill, merging all jurisdictions under a presidentially appointed governor and upper house, and a weak elected lower house. The new entity is called the District of Colombia. Among the members of the upper house was Frederick Douglass. The Georgetown Courier complains about Grant's appointments: "Not one old resident, nor a Democrat, nor a Catholic nor an Irishman, yet we have three darkies, Douglass, Gray and Hall, a German, two natives of Maine and one of Massachusetts."

This was the Reconstruction period, a short lived moment of progress following the Civil War that has certain parallels - in both brevity and importance - with the short-lived period in more recent times known as the civil rights movement. Similarly the loss of local self-government that shortly followed during the post-reconstruction Jim Crow era was spurred by a combination of complaints of too much black power and not enough fiscal restraint - again echoed much later in the time of Marion Barry.

In 1871, a free black, James Wormley, opened the Wormley Hotel at the corner of 15th & H NW, which quickly became popular among the city's movers and shakers, especially for its turtle soup and Chesapeake Bay seafood. It had the first hotel elevator and the first hotel telephone in the city. In 1876 it was where the disputed election of 1876 was resolved in what became known as the Wormley Agreement. Ironically, it was this agreement, which led to the removal of federal troops from the south and the election of Rutherford Hayes marked the end of Reconstruction, but Wormley, in his defense, only provided the hall.

The expansion of black opportunity during reconstruction dried up and by 1891 the many jobs for blacks in city government had disappeared and there were only 25 African-Americans on the city payroll.

There were still some stereotype-busters such as the six African Americans who showed up in the Social Register in 1888 or the fact that President McKinley had two local blacks on his Inauguration Committee.

But Jim Crow was settling in and among of its worst proponents were Woodrow Wilson and his wife. Mrs. Wilson complained to her husband that she had found black men working in government offices with white women and the president in 1913 signed a law that segregated all federal workplaces. Elsewhere the city was segregated largely by custom - and illegally at that since it turned out years later than the 19th century civil rights laws had never been repealed. There were a few exceptions to the custom such as the Library of Congress, public libraries, streetcars, and Griffith Stadium.

Yet in a truly amazing response to the new oppression, Washington's black community - with a leadership centered around U Street - built a self-sufficient and resilient alternative to the world from which they were barred. Black Washingtonians now owned two steamboat companies, grocery stores, heat fuel companies, and the Adams Oil and Gas Development Company, which was looking for oil in Oklahoma.

Within ten years there was a black-owned bank, Capital Savings; two black-owned insurance companies and at least 11 black employment agencies.

In 1909 the local chapter of the NAACP had over 1,000 members, the largest in the country, with its headquarters on U Street.

As an article in City Journal noted, "The Union League printed a directory of black-owned businesses that those looking for work or a place to shop might consult. 'There is no better index to the character and development of a people than the number and nature of organizations they sustain,' declared the directory's editor. The booklet soon ran to more than 100 pages. Other leaders encouraged blacks to patronize black businesses. 'If the colored people are to have their quota in the skilled trades, in business and in professions,' editorialized one black newspaper in 1894, 'colored people must have more confidence in the ability of men and women of their own race to fill these positions than they have yet shown.'

"By 1894 more than 3,000 black families owned their own homes in the District. The total value of assets owned by black Washingtonians that year was estimated to be about $17 million. Some members of the city's black upper classes maintained country houses in Virginia, employed servants, and held debutante balls for their daughters. Others sent their children to predominantly white boarding schools and colleges in New England. . . . In 1899, students at Washington's one black high school scored higher than their white counterparts on citywide academic achievement tests.

"Dunbar sent its graduates to the best colleges in America. From 1918 to 1923, for example, 15 students went on to graduate from Ivy League schools. In 1949 Dunbar sent one graduate each to Colby, Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Harvard, MIT, Smith, and Yale. A total of five went to Bates and NYU. One hundred fifteen went to Howard University. Of the 310 students who graduated from Dunbar that year, 267 went to college, five joined the military, and only 37 went immediately to work.

"By the end of the Second World War, the District contained a higher proportion of black college graduates than any other place in America, more than twice that of most cities. A survey conducted in 1950 found 92 black dentists, 181 black lawyers, and 211 black physicians practicing in Washington."

In 1886 there were only about 15 black businesses in the area. By 1920, with segregation in full fury, there were more than 300. The DC black schools are the only ones in the country under the control of black administrators. The schools are considered the best available for blacks in the country. At one point a black DC school had four female Ph.ds teaching in it.

Every aspect of the community followed suit. Among the institutions created within these few square miles was a building and loan association, a savings bank, the only good hotel in the Washington where blacks could stay, the first full-service black YMCA in the country, the Howard Theatre (opened with black capital twenty years before Harlem's Apollo converted to black performances) and two first rate movie palaces.

There were the Odd Fellows, the True Reformers, and the Prince Hall Lodge. There were churches and religious organizations, a summer camp, a photography club that produced a number of professional photographers, settlement houses, and the Washington Urban League.

In 1919 ethnic riots broke out in Washington and 24 other cities. "The white mob - whose actions were triggered in large part by weeks of sensational newspaper accounts of alleged sex crimes by a 'negro fiend' - unleashed a wave of violence that swept over the city for four days. Nine people were killed in brutal street fighting, and an estimated 30 more would die eventually from their wounds. More than 150 men, women and children were clubbed, beaten and shot." - Washington Post

Denied access to white schools, the community created a self-sufficient educational system good enough to attract suburban African-Americans students as well as teachers from all over the country. And just to the north, Howard University became the intellectual center of black America. You might have run into Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, or Duke Ellington, all of whom made the U Street area their home before moving to New York.

This was a proud community. "We had everything we needed," recalls one older resident. "And we felt good about it. Our churches, our schools, banks, department stores, food stores. And we did very well."

The community shared responsibility for its children. A typical story went like this: "There was no family my family didn't know or that didn't know me. I couldn't go three blocks without people knowing exactly where I had been and everything I did on the way. It wasn't just the schools. We learned from everyone. We learned as much from Aunt So-and-So down the street, who was not even related to us."

The late Thurlow Tibbs recalled, "We are forced to deal with one another on every economic level. In my block we had school teachers, a mail man, a retired garbage man, and a registrar of Howard University."

Said John Beckley, "If you went to the Lincoln Theatre, you would know if you were sitting next to the bootblack or the president of Howard University. . . You would think, this is a human being, so I'm going to treat me as if he was the president of the university, because he might be.

Yet not only did these African-Americans develop self-sufficiency, they did so without taking their eyes off the prize. Among the other people you might have found on U Street were Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston, laying the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement.

With the end of segregation, as free choice replaced a community of necessity, the area around U Street began to change. The black residents dispersed. Eventually the street would become better known for its crime, drugs, and as the birthplace of the 1968 riots. The older residents would remember the former neighborhood with a mixture of pain and pride -- not unlike the ambivalence found in veterans recalling a war. None would voluntarily return to either segregation or the battlefield but many would know that some of their own best moments of courage, skill, and heart had come when the times were at their worst. Some of the people in this community were only a couple of generations away from slavery, some had come from Washington's early free black community. But whatever their provenance, they had learned to become self-sufficient in fact and spirit even as they battled to end the injustices that required them to be so.

Of all the civil rights leaders in modern American history, perhaps the most underrated one was DC's Julius Hobson. Between 1960 and 1964, Julius Hobson ran more than 80 picket lines on approximately 120 retail stores in downtown DC, resulting in employment for some 5,000 blacks. He initiated a campaign that resulted in the first hiring of black bus drivers by DC Transit. Hobson and CORE forced the hiring of the first black auto salesmen and dairy employees and started a campaign to combat job discrimination by the public utilities that led to a permanent court injunction to prevent Hobson from encouraging people to paste stickers over the holes in punch-card utility bills.

Hobson directed campaigns against private apartment buildings that discriminated against blacks and led a demonstration by 4,500 people to the District Building that encouraged the District to end housing segregation. He conducted a lie-in at the Washington Hospital Center that produced a jail term for himself and helped to end segregation in the hospitals. His arrest in a sit-in at the Benjamin Franklin School in 1964 helped lead to the desegregation of private business schools. In 1967, Julius Hobson won, after a long and very lonely court battle that left him deeply in debt, a suit that outlawed the existing rigid track system, teacher segregation, and differential distribution of books and supplies. It also led, indirectly, to the resignation of the school 'superintendent and first elections of a city school board. Beyond all this, Hobson was repeatedly involved in peace, police, and transportation issues; he filed a major suit in 1969 accusing the federal government of bias against blacks, women, and Mexican~Americans.

Perhaps the large demonstration in local DC history occurred in January 1965, when DC Transit wanted to raise its fares and the local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized to stop it. They urged citizens with cars to drive bus passengers during a one-day boycott. SNCC estimated that DC Transit lost 130,000 to 150,000 fares during the boycott. Two days later, the transit commission, in a unanimous but only temporary decision, denied DC Transit the fare hike. The organizer of the boycott was Marion Barry.

One evening in 1972 Judge William Bryant was trying to resolve a hostage crisis in which Kenneth Hardy, the head of the Department of Corrections was being held by prisoners. One year earlier 39 had died in the Attica uprising. This night, however, Bryant handled it differently. Prisoners, hostages, US Marshalls and every leading black leader in the city sat quietly as Bryant listened to the complaints promised to consider them. Del Lewis - later head of NPR was there - Petey Greene was there crying. One of the prisoners tells Judge Bryant, "We love Mr. Hardy. We don't want to kill nobody. We don't want to hurt nobody. We are tired of people putting us in positions where we act like animals" The participants go back to the prison and gather in a cavernous hall as prisoners, reporters, activists engaged in earie discussions and confrontation. Judge Charlie Halleck tells a prisoner, " "The first man who gets a hose on them, you get a habeas corpus and come into my court and I'll stop it." And by midnight the hostages are released.

August 16, 2011

There is a religious test for high office and here it is

Sam Smith

From an earlier campaign

We are once again being treated to that remarkably self-serving and hypocritical myth that there should be no religious test for high office. For one thing, it's a lie: if you aren't religious, you don't get high office. For another thing, if you are religious, you spend a good deal of your campaign convincing some voters just how faithful you are while trying to fool the rest into thinking that it doesn't make any difference. In both cases, the unusual aspect of the test is that no one is meant to think it exists.

As yet another public service, the Review proposes to bring the religious test out of the closet and into the debate in a reasonable fashion, helping the voter judge the relative worth of various candidates' Leave No Apostle Behind programs.


Does the candidate belong to one of the kookier sects such as Scientology or Mormonism? What does this suggest about the candidate's ability to deal rationally with real situations and the quality of that candidate's judgment?

Is the candidate a saint in the church but a devil under cover? As Mahalia Jackson put it, "I can't go to church and shout all day Sunday, come home and get drunk and raise hell on a Monday."

Does the candidate try to appear highly religious to one set of voters and highly broad minded to another?

If the candidate is Episcopalian, to which branch does he or she belong: the high and crazy, broad and hazy or low and lazy?

Which aspects of the candidate's own religion or its history will that candidate openly condemn?

Is faith used by the candidate as a space filler for the absence of facts or is it used as a false replacement for facts?

Does faith primarily influence the candidate by providing positive values or by supplying wildly unsupportable information posing as truth?

Would the candidate support the end of discrimination against secularists? For example, would the candidate support an atheist opening sessions of the Senate and would the candidate host idea breakfasts as well as prayer breakfasts at the White House?

Does the candidate think God talks to him? How does one distinguish this from the heard voices that lead others to be committed to mental institutions?

Does the candidate believe God is responsible for improvements in poll numbers? Does the candidate agree with Mike Huckabee's assessment: "There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people?"

If, as Mitt Romney claims, "We are a nation under God, and we do place our trust in him," and if as Barack Obama says, "What role does [religion] play? I say it plays every role." then shouldn't there be a religious test of candidates so we can tell who God trusts the most?

Since there supposedly isn't a religious test for high office, why does Mike Huckabee run TV ads proclaiming himself a "Christian leader?”
Why does the media use the term "pro-family" to describe Republican policies when the divorce rate in heavily GOP states in the Mid West is higher than in God-forsaken Massachusetts?

If there is no religious test than why are issues like abortion and gay marriage so important, since the about the only people worried about them are religious fundamentalists?

Mitt Romney says, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." What section of the Constitution is that in? What if one seeks freedom from religion?

If there is no religious test for high office, why does a new president have to take an oath using a Bible?

August 03, 2011

The Second Redeemer Movement: A 150 year southern rebellion continues

We recently noted that the current debt ceiling fight is part of the greatest political rebellion in this country since the Civil War, an attempt by a small minority to undermine 75 years of majority-approved progress in the United States. Sirius Radio's Mark Thompson compares it to the Redeemer Movement of the Reconstruction Era, a backlash against the reforms of that period. It also represents another factor in the great unanswered question of American history: who really won the Civil War? While slavery was abolished, in many other ways the former pro-slavery constituency has been a major force - often the major force - in American politics. With the success of the civil rights movement the nature of southern political power shifted from southern Democrats to a new southern Republicanism, but the underlying principles were typically the same.

Above is a chart posted by Andrew Sullivan that provides further evidence: nearly two thirds of the Tea Party caucus in Congress consists of southern Republicans.

The Redeemer Movement

 Wikipedia - In the 1870s, southern Democrats began to muster more political power as former Confederates began to vote again. It was a movement that gathered energy up until the Compromise of 1877, in the process known as the Redemption. White Democratic Southerners saw themselves as redeeming the South by regaining power.

The Redeemers' program emphasized opposition to the Republican governments, which they considered to be corrupt and a violation of true republican principles. They also worked to reestablish white supremacy. The crippling national economic problems and reliance on cotton meant that the South was struggling financially. Redeemers denounced taxes higher than what they had known before the war. Redeemers wanted to reduce state debts. Once in power, they typically cut government spending; shortened legislative sessions; lowered politicians' salaries; scaled back public aid to railroads and corporations; and reduced support for the new systems of public education and some welfare institutions.

As Democrats took over state legislatures, they worked to change voter registration rules to strip most blacks and many poor whites of their ability to vote. Blacks continued to vote in significant numbers well into the 1880s, with many winning local offices. Black Congressmen continued to be elected, albeit in ever smaller numbers, until the 1890s. George Henry White, the last Southern black of the post-Reconstruction period to serve in Congress, retired in 1901, leaving Congress completely white.

In the 1890s, the Democrats faced challenges with the Agrarian Revolt, when their control of the South was threatened by the Farmers Alliance, the effects of Bimetallism and the newly created People's Party. On the national level, William Jennings Bryan defeated the Bourbons and took control of the Democratic Party nationwide.

Democrats worked hard to prevent such populist coalitions. In the former Confederate South, from 1890 to 1908, starting with Mississippi, legislatures of ten of the eleven states passed disfranchising constitutions, which had new provisions for poll taxes, literacy tests, and residency requirements that effectively disfranchised nearly all blacks and tens of thousands of poor whites. Hundreds of thousands of people were removed from voter registration rolls soon after these provisions were implemented.

People in the movement chose the term "Redemption" from Christian theology. Historian Daniel W. Stowell concludes that white Southerners appropriated the term to describe the political transformation they desired, that is, the end of Reconstruction. This term helped unify numerous white voters, and encompassed efforts to purge southern society of its sins and to remove Republican political leaders.