Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Public Education and Politics

Michelle Rhee, D.C. School Chancellor, will resign from her post tomorrow. Breaking news, yes, but expected: her tenure as the no-nonsense head in the struggling school system has been the subject of endless controversy, praise, and, in part, a new documentary on the failings of U.S. education. I first learned of Rhee’s uncompromising expectations from a long profile in Time; in her public appearances, she comes off as both fearless and resigned. Seems like the D.C. public schools are losing one of their great leaders.

How do we–all of us, not just those with kids in schools or kids in “good” schools–care for our ailing public school system? How do we remove politics–tying property values to school funding, resources to test scores, school leadership to local elections–and put the students first?

I was a kid who went to public schools. In Iowa, there never struck me as much of a disparity between the public and the parochial or prep schools. Some part of me knew that the private school kids had more homework and better college-prep, but even at that young age, when my mother asked me if I wanted to attend the local Catholic secondary school, I mulled it over and said no. The immature kid in me just didn’t want to leave my friends; looking back now, I wonder if I made that decision partly out of fear of higher expectations in a school that seemed, from the outside, more rigorous, more academically-intimidating, and less the slacker atmosphere I knew at my public high school.

 

Kandice Washington, a University of Chicago Charter School teacher, works with her students. The UEI will refine and expand its successful teacher preparation program with an $11.6 million ARRA grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

 

I’m no education scholar but I often wonder about our public system in the U.S. It’s a trickle-up theory, no? If we begin educating our children with low expectations in high school, fast-tracking one student to college-prep while sending another on an alternate, more labor-oriented program of study, how do we divide instead of pool our human resources? Doesn’t our nation suffer from this two-track system as a whole?

All to say that my suburban education system was flawed and yet, pretty good. I’m ambivalent in retrospect. But ultimately I have this luxury of retrospect. I received a strong K-12 education, an even stronger undergraduate experience, and the necessary training and flourishing of the mind as a post-graduate. In my urban neighborhood in Boston, I sometimes ask myself if the kids on my street have the same kind of excellence in teachers, funding, and leadership.

I don’t know the answer.

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Filed under: education, intelligence, iowa, politics, united states of america, , , , , , , , ,

Jon Stewart & A Ridiculous Glenn Beck

Nice to know that you can be off the grid for a month, and things remain relatively the same.

Take the ridiculousness of Glenn Beck, for example.

In the clip below, Jon Stewart skewers the bombastic, offensive, and completely inappropriate plans of conservative nitwit Glenn Beck to deliver a “Restoring Honor” speech on the same date and the same place as Dr. Martin Luther King. Beck, of course, claims that any echoes of King’s historic speech were pure coincidence.

Stewart ain’t buying it, and neither should anyone with common sense. The entire idea of Beck delivering a speech about equality, civil rights, or social justice is laughable. And the audacity to appropriate King’s moment? Can you say “bad idea”?

“Glenn Beck does have a dream,” Stewart says. “Unfortunately, it’s the kind of dream you have when you eat four pepperoni Hot Pockets right before bed.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Filed under: black history, comedy, race, republican, social justice, united states of america, , , ,

Remembering the Sad Story of Emmett Till

A middle-aged African American woman steps up to a microphone in Mississippi in 1955. She says, “The whole trial was a farce.” The reporters gather around her, outside the Mississippi courthouse, crowding her, seeking more of her opinion. Was the brave woman and mother of Emmett Till surprised?

“I heard the sentence that I expected.”

The woman was Mamie Till Mobley. Her sad, utterly resigned comments came moments after the trial of two men found innocent in the murder of her 14 year-old son, Emmett Till. Why did Emmett matter?

An African American teen from Chicago is visiting relatives in Mississippi when he makes a fatal mistake. By whistling at a white woman in a grocery store, Emmett Till breaks the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South. Three days later, two white men drag him from his bed and brutally murder him.

I’m watching PBS tonight; the documentary is “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement.” (The excerpt above is from the documentary’s website.) Eyes on the Prize‘ historical footage, often black-and-white, often grainy, with antiquated recordings, remains as relevant and timely in 2010 as it was only decades ago. I’m riveted by these long-forgotten interviews and b-roll of legendary civil rights leaders like Mose Wright and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 50’s and 60’s, there were more than 500 lynchings in Missisippi alone. Emmett Till was only one of the innocent men lynched. It’s important to remember Till–not only because of his horrific death and the ugly racism it symbolized, but because his death was the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

Like me, you may recognize the name of Emmett Till. But how many of us remember the unjust circumstances of his death?

Filed under: black history, racism, united states of america, , , , , , , , ,

Herbert’s Reverent NYT Tribute to Howard Zinn

Matt Damon and Howard Zinn at the NYU premiere of "The People Speak."

…is here. Entitled “A Radical Treasure,” Herbert writes of Zinn’s legacy and impact on American history and culture. Read it, if only for zingers like this one, acknowledging the paltry attention from mainstream media about Zinn:

Our tendency is to give these true American heroes short shrift, just as we gave Howard Zinn short shrift. In the nitwit era that we’re living through now, it’s fashionable, for example, to bad-mouth labor unions and feminists even as workers throughout the land are treated like so much trash and the culture is so riddled with sexism that most people don’t even notice it. (There’s a restaurant chain called “Hooters,” for crying out loud.)

Howard Zinn was fearless in disavowing American heroes such as Andrew Jackson, a “slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians.” He was unafraid to challenge what Giroux has aptly theorized about our nation’s master narratives. Zinn was a champion of the oppressed; a war-machine agitator and peace activist; a resolute, unabashed radical–in the best sense of the word.

I’m excited to view the documentary that Zinn recently collaborated on, The People Speak, with narration by Hollywood heavy-hitters like Matt Damon and Benjamin Bratt. Below, a clip from BUTV (full disclosure: I’m a BU grad, and former president of BUTV) about Zinn’s premiere of The People Speak at Boston University.

I believe Zinn would have appreciated this student journalist’s interview/article about Zinn and the latest incarnation of his life work:

Filed under: social justice, united states of america, ,

“When No One’s Looking”: NYT on Teen Runaways, Sex, and Survival

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Ian Urbina writes for The New York Times an interesting series on teenage runaways, sex, and survival entitled “Running in the Shadows”. It’s a fascinating look at the issue from a variety of angles: the runaways and prostitutes themselves, their pimps, and law enforcement officials.

Strong reporting, with research on the motivations behind teenage prostitution and those who prey on this susceptible population. “Some look 12, some look 30. They all look scared,” the author reports in the video reportage (one of the Times‘ strengths). The pimps see themselves as “talent managers, not exploiters.” There’s a taped phone call from one of the pimps to a teenage prostitute that is harrowing.

Filed under: media, united states of america, women, , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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