Suburban School Voters: Vote Smart Today!

IMG_2912 - Windows Photo Viewer 2015-05-19 11.08.04There’s a light at the end of the tunnel as nervous parents, kids, and teachers cross their fingers and hope that school budgets are passed and that good people are elected to school boards throughout western New York’s rural and suburban districts.

Today is Tuesday, and the polls are open.

In my own town of Clarence, a dedicated and selfless group of parents have banded together since the bleakness of 2012 and formed a reasonable well-oiled campaign machine that we hope delivers us victory tonight. I don’t know what it is about Clarence that makes it so susceptible to last-throe gurgles from the tea party, but alas, here we are again. In my town we have four candidates for two open school board seats, and I always harken back to the blissful time before I had to pay attention, and recall that I always voted in favor of the school budget, but seldom knew whom to select for the board. This year, it was even more important because the differences between the pro-school and anti-school candidates is so stark.

Our group endorses and supports Michael Fuchs and Dennis Priore. Michael Fuchs is an incumbent and has served the district and its students and faculty well. He is against unsustainable cuts to educational opportunity for our kids, and wants to restore the district to its former excellence. He has worked for Rich Products for well over a decade, handling the finances of a huge local corporation. He has the skills, education, experience, and integrity to continue serving us well for the next 3 years. Dennis Priore is a longtime resident of Clarence and a former principal and school administrator. As a recent retiree, he has time, knowledge, experience, education, and skills to marshal in order to serve our district. He knows how budgets and union negotiations are made, and he has pledged to balance the needs of the students with the expectations of taxpayers.  They’re also the only candidates running for school board who are homeowners and school taxpayers. With a stake in the district and an investment in the community, they won’t let the students be further harmed by financial shenanigans or disastrous tea party austerity.

We’re hopeful.

But if that wasn’t enough, take a look at one of their opponent’s closing argument. (The other opponent is fundamentally unelectable). It perfectly distills all of the reasons why he is an unacceptable and noxious candidate for a school board. Uneducated, inexperienced, with absolutely no credentials or resume, this person is all bluster and no substance.

Let’s examine. (All [sic]).

Here are your CTA Endorsed Candidates for this election. The teachers union likes to say that they are “supporting our students” or “fighting for the children”. It’s just as absurd to say the Iron Workers fight for steel, the UAW fights for cars and the Operating Engineers fight for heavy equipment. The unions exist solely for the benefit of their members and their own interest. The school board exists to represent the people of this town. The CTA does not need representation on the school board. They have things like the Triborough Amendment in place to stack the deck against students and taxpayers. If you think that the endorsement of these candidates by the CTA shows that these candidates put students and taxpayers first, you are sadly mistaken.

It takes a special brand of malevolent cynicism to conclude that the teachers are full of shit when they say they’re fighting for the children whom they teach. It takes an even more special type of ignorant, noxious attitude to assume that teachers are just in it for greed – the same attitude as the Buffalo News’ editorial page or its union-member, married-to-a-teacher resident hypocrite columnist Donn “throw you under the bus” Esmonde.

Here’s the thing that Joe Lombardo doesn’t understand – mostly because he evidently never so much as received an associate’s degree after high school (his resume is a closely guarded secret he won’t reveal) – teachers didn’t attend 4 years of college and then an additional few years of postgraduate study to obtain their M.S. and teaching certificate in order to get rich.

If they wanted to get rich, they could have gotten an MBA and traded commodities, or become entrepreneurs. Instead, they joined a noble profession for which Joe Lombardo has no respect.

None.

Some 20-something punk kid who lives with mommy and daddy decides he doesn’t like unions or teachers, (or teachers’ unions), so he just accuses them all of being greedy pigs at the public trough, driving around in their Bentleys on their $60,000 median salaries, right? They couldn’t possibly be in it for the love of teaching or the thrill of educating and molding young minds, because that sort of notion is not one that Lombardo has any concept of.

An ironworker may be proud of the work that he or she does – constructing the skeletons of large buildings, and their union helps to ensure that they’re paid a fair wage and receive decent benefits for their labor. A UAW member is proud of the product that he or she helps to manufacture, and wants to make sure that they’re paid a fair wage and receive fair benefits for their labor.

A teacher is proud of the work that he or she does – educating the next generation of Americans. Educating the kids who will heal Joe Lombardo when he’s sick; who will represent him in court; who will manage or create the company he patronizes; who will entertain him on stage or screen; who will score a touchdown or hit a home run. You denigrate teachers, you denigrate the very foundation of our society.

The veracity of unions in our schools is really taking its toll on student opportunities and taxpayer’s wallets.

That is not a sentence that has any reasonable meaning in the English language. Which taxpayer’s wallet? “Veracity” means truthfulness.

It’s such a blatant and rampant problem that even polar opposites such as Governor Cuomo and myself, recognize what’s going on. http://www.nydailynews.com/…/andrew-cuomo-rips-teacher-unio… Don’t be mislead by two candidates and a group of people who have established that they stand with an industry that collects $220 million annually to perpetuate and expand a gluttonous and overly generous contract in the name of education.

Here’s the question they’ll never, ever answer: How much do you think is a fair salary for a teacher? What do you think are fair benefits for a teacher? How would you – as a school board member – make changes to the state laws governing teacher pensions? How would you work around the Triborough Amendment and beat the teachers into submitting to your austerity wage cuts and slashing of benefits?

85% of Clarence teachers are ranked as “highly effective” by the state.  On what insane lunatic planet does someone institute punitive wage and salary cuts against a workforce that regularly exceeds expectations? Shall we have an army of the worst teachers who can’t get a job anywhere else come and educate our kids for $10/hour and no benefits?

It’s been shown time in and time out, that they put themselves ahead of everyone else, while sacrificing opportunities for students.

I’ll say it this way: Joe Lombardo must not have ever talked to a teacher and actually asked them what their job entails. He assumes they show up at 8, leave at 3, take summers off on the Cote d’Azure, and spend the rest of their time making sure their BMWs gleam in the sunlight. I’ll say it this way, too: Joe Lombardo doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

School districts have lost all bargaining power because entrenched politicians are paid off to write laws where the union will always come out the winner.

And as a school board member in a small suburban district, you’ll do what about that, precisely? Start a coup?

As a taxpayer, a resident, a parent or a student, you only have two choices in this election tomorrow.

That’s right. Michael Fuchs and Dennis Priore, if you’re in Clarence. They’re the only two candidates who are campaigning on a platform of stronger schools, rather than demonizing the very teachers who help make our district what it is today; they’re the only candidates who don’t refer to teachers as “gluttonous,” or use the pronoun “they” to describe these educators who repeatedly and consistently go above and beyond for our kids; They’re the only candidates who aren’t pitting “us” against “them”.  Literally – read Joe’s thing again. It’s all resentment, class warfare, and visceral hatred of teachers, and the notion that they be remunerated fairly. They’re the only ones who aren’t afraid to put their resumes out there for the public to review and assess.

I don’t know how much more a ragtag grassroots team of fed-up parents can do to mobilize for a school vote, and we’ve done everything we can think of. We can only hope our district gets out of this unscathed, and that similarly situated districts have equally positive outcomes.

Fingers crossed. Knock on wood.

New York School Districts Left Guessing

School districts throughout New York State are now busily plotting out their budgets for the 2015 – 2016 school year. These budgets must be in final form by mid-April so that school boards can adopt their budgets in time for the public to vote on them by late May.

Every district relies on some amount of state aid for every year’s budget, and the state legislature’s unconscionable and cynical “Gap Elimination Adjustment” has short-changed New York’s public schools in the tens of millions of dollars.  Albany balances its own budget by robbing the state’s students of teachers and programs. Governor Cuomo then turns around and relies on standardized testing to determine which schools and teachers are “failing” or “non-performing” while refusing adequately to fund any of it.

In past years, districts had, by now, been given a close estimate of how much state aid they would receive, so that they could work on the local share of their revenue budgeting in an informed way. This year, however, is different. School districts are completely in the dark about how much state aid they might receive, and it’s making budget planning one big guessing game.

Governor Cuomo has introduced an education reform plan that would add just over $1 billion in public school funding; however, this increase in state aid comes with some big strings attached, and no one knows if it’ll pass – and in what form – by April 1st. We hear a lot about “on-time” budgets, as if it’s a laudable cause for celebration that the state legislature manages to accomplish its one real job in any given year. But what about the right on-time budget? Cuomo has said that no school district will see an increase in state aid over last year if his conditions are not met.

Cuomo wants five things:

1. A five-year probationary period before teachers receive tenure;

2. The ability to appoint receivers to manage the lowest 5% of non-performing schools;

3. A simplified teacher dismissal hearing procedure;

4. 100 more charter school slots statewide; and

5. Changes to the teacher evaluation system that Cuomo already implemented, relying more on testing and outside evaluators.

Republicans in the State Senate, meanwhile, have proposed a $1.1 billion increase in state school aid in an effort to roll back the Gap Elimination Adjustment. It’s estimated that it would take a $1.9 billion increase in state aid this year to restore state funding of schools to 2008 levels.

Cuomo is also proposing to do away with the STAR property tax exemption and replace it with a property tax relief credit that would phase in depending on the value of your home and your income – it disproportionately benefits downstate homeowners whose assessed property values are very high.

So, we have to rely on a dysfunctional Albany system and the three men in a room to negotiate an education reform and funding equation by April 1st, so that school boards across the state might be able adequately to plan their budgets for the next school year. The assault on public education – against students, teachers, and parents – has many fronts. The biggest threat, however, is treachery from within. It defies logic to simultaneously de-fund schools in order to balance the budget and demand that teachers, students, and schools are declared “failing” or “performing” based on a few standardized tests.

This simply isn’t how learning should look.

Go Racist Team Name!

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No, really. Go.

Although “political correctness” and “PC” is now hurled as an epithet, within its definition is the radical notion that people should not deliberately be horrible to one another. Sure, Dinesh D’Souza has a right to call the African-American President of the United States a “boy” from the “ghetto“, but you don’t need a sociology degree to realize how that’s offensive on two levels. The President is a “man”, not a “boy”, and “boy” has historically been used to pejoratively refer to African-American adult males. President Obama also isn’t from the ghetto. Not all black people come from the ghetto. Not all behavior you deem beneath you is “ghetto”. People like Dinesh D’Souza make a good living by being horrible to others. He is not politically correct, and that’s a shame because civil society should live up to that adjective.

The Lancaster High School sports program calls itself the “Redskins”. There is a push on now to have the district re-name the team because some American Indians are offended by it. More to the point, however, the team name is objectively racist. After all, we don’t call teams “Whiteskins” or “Blackskins” or “Yellowskins”. The reason why has to do with the blatant and palpable racial overtones. Redskins is no different, no matter what the tradition or intent. Identifying an ethnic group or race based on their physical characteristics – here, a pejorative term for their skin color – is a slur. You’re highlighting how they’re different from you.

Search any dictionary – Merriam Webster, American Heritage, Dictionary.com, Kernerman Webster’s, Collins – they all define “redskin” as offensive, racist, anachronistic slang.

Some Lancaster residents inexplicably reject that.

“It’s a word. It’s a matter of context,” said Everett, president of Performance Advantage. “No one in this community would support the negative element associated with that name. We don’t subscribe to this negative connotation. It means a lot to people – dedication, achievement, commitment to excellence.”

The Lancaster School District has a choice to make here. Unlike the Washington Redskins, an NFL franchise, we’re talking about a school. If you were to go around spewing racial epithets at kids in the hall, you’d be subject to discipline. So, how does that jibe with having a racist team name? If a student referred to an American Indian kid as a “Redskin” or similar, he’d be punished, but we’re meant to believe that it’s ok to use that term if people are doing the important work of throwing balls hither and thither?

I’m not personally offended by the team name “Redskins”, but I see that many American Indians are. That’s enough to me to – again, reverting back to the core definition of “politically correct” – support changing the name so as to not offend our indigenous Americans with a racial epithet.

Proponents of the “Redskins” name say it evokes pride, bravery, tradition, and all of the good stuff with which we associate indigenous Americans. Here’s the logo:

The Lancaster School District’s mission is:

…to provide our students with a comprehensive educational program that will allow them to develop fully the necessary academic and social skills to become responsible and productive members of a democratic society.

Responsible and productive members of a democratic society. Part of being responsible within a democratic society is changing a team name that has a mere 67 year history, and is blatatly racist by every dictionary definition.

It’s so simple for the district’s school board to simply vote away a racist team name. There are literally thousands of alternative team names available to use, none of which are by definition disparaging to any historically oppressed ethnic or racial minority. What’s so hard to comprehend here? By the Lancaster School District’s own code of conduct (doc, emphases added),

Students are expected to behave, and to treat all students, teachers, school staff and others, with honesty, tolerance, respect, courtesy and dignity as per the LCSD Policy #7552 — Bullying in the Schools. Students should respect their peers, teachers, and school staff. Individual behavior should not interfere with the rights of others. Students are expected to use language that is appropriate in demonstrating respect for self and others. Profanity, vulgar language including, but not limited to, racial comments, and/or obscene gestures toward others will not be tolerated. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

How are students expected to abide these basic disciplinary expectations if the district itself failes to do so? The example the district is setting is a poor one. Racist comments are not tolerated between students, but it’s ok for the school’s team and mascot to be a “redskin” American Indian?

The upshot of all of this is, in the big picture, how inconsequential a name change would be. Would Lancaster students, teams, and alumni have less pride in their school or alma mater if the team’s name was changed? Does changing the name of the team and school mascot lessen past glory or affect one’s affinity for the school? Of course not. A racist name chosen almost 70 years ago, before the Civil Rights Act and before Congress and the Courts came around to agreeing that our contemporary American society guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of race or color, the same basic civil rights, is due for a change. Especially when you’re talking about an oppressed people expelled from their homes by colonial invaders.

This isn’t the kind of thing you poll for; you don’t leave it up to majority vote. Just because the name is popular doesn’t make it less racial. Just because 50%-plus-one residents might support it doesn’t make it less violative of the district’s own code of conduct. Just because you’re purporting to use a racist term to highlight what you say are that group’s positive traits doesn’t make it less racist. We would never dream of using “Yellowskins” or some other racist term for a team to describe positive Asian attributes, nor would it be appropriate to use Nazi-era caricatures  to establish that Jewish people are good with money. These are examples of “political correctness”, too.

Appropriately enough for a school district, this is a teaching moment. Will Lancaster show its student body that it’s willing to follow the same code of conduct it expects kids to follow? Will Lancaster’s school district opt to be respectful of all races and ethnicities by changing the school’s mascot and team name to any one of a thousand inoffensive alternatives?

It seems to me that this hardly merits a controversy. High Schools should lead by example and name their teams using terms that aren’t overtly racist.

Paladino Bullies the Wrong Guy

People of New York, be happy today. Be proud and pleased that you so effectively and decidedly dodged the “Carl Paladino for Governor” bullet that was aimed right at your heart back in 2010.

People of Buffalo, be concerned. Concerned not only because Paladino comports himself like a toddler in the throes of a perpetual temper tantrum, but because you have elected him to public office and he speaks for some of you – represents some of you. This isn’t about his general abhorrent demeanor and hateful joie d’ennui, but about bad governance, racial animus, intimidation, and interference.

Forget for a moment the hypocrisy of Paladino’s complaints about another board member forwarding around an email he didn’t like.

Carl Paladino believes that, by dint of his control of a Buffalo School Board majority, he is its dictator and can act in complete disregard of the rules or law. For a guy who enjoys referring to Governor Cuomo as “il Duce”, the hypocrisy is palpable. For someone who purports to be a defender of the Constitution, the hypocrisy is disappointing. For someone who pretends to be acting in the students’ best interests, the whole sordid thing is embarrassing. From the Buffalo News’ reporting, there was a letter that the Buffalo School Board had received from Gary Orfield,

“…a director at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, an independent civil rights research group. In September, the district hired the Civil Rights Project to review the admissions policies of the Buffalo Public Schools’ criteria-based schools, following complaints that the policies were racially biased.”

The letter is reproduced here, along with three emails between Mr. Orfield and Carl Paladino. Cue the “that escalated quickly” meme.

Orfield wrote to the director of the New York Regional Office of the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. In it, he references an exchange of emails he had in late January with Board Member Carl Paladino. He expresses concerns that  Paladino made “a clear effort to control my work and intimidate me.”

The local victims of Paladino’s intimidation and bullying are all to used to and familiar with his hate-filled vitriol, and more importantly the ease with which he gets away with it. But Dr. Orfield is from California and isn’t used to being pushed around.

The Buffalo school district and Office of Civil Rights agreed to carry out a study into the fairness of admission to Buffalo’s so-called “Criterion” schools. Orfield’s Civil Rights Project out of UCLA was hired to undertake an investigation and survey, and to make recommendations to the District and OCR regarding its findings. Its investigation is not yet complete.

When one group came to Orfield for his opinion on a turnaround proposal for a high school facing closure, Orfield said he could not offer any such opinion, and added that no major decisions regarding school space should be undertaken until his group had completed its investigation and made its recommendations, pursuant to their contract. Any decision to rededicate school space to some other use before Orfield’s investigation is complete, “could make solutions less workable or more expensive, possibly undermining the agreement”.

Paladino wrote to Orfield in response to that, and the emails are here and speak for themselves.

Orfield’s takeaway from Paladino’s reaction was this:

Orfield says that in 35 years of doing this,

He goes on to say what few have the courage to say,

Orfield responded to Paladino’s whining by maintaining his professionalism, starting with, “I was very sorry you could not make it to the session where I met with interested board members”. He continues,

It seems to me that hurrying major changes in the midst of a serious civil rights investigation needlessly risks more civil rights complaints because it limits future options and limits the work…it is much better to work things out professionally than to get involved in escalating investigations or possible enforcement or litigation that could risk federal funds and put great stress on the district and its leaders.

To this, Paladino lost what was left of “it”.

“Nonsense” with respect to the Justice Department? The federal government became involved in response to complaints of racial discrimination in the admissions process for Buffalo’s eight criteria-based schools. The team of researchers from UCLA just began its work in December.

Another pressing matter relates to four “failing” or otherwise underperforming schools, and proposals to turn them around. Paladino’s majority submitted a plan recently, which can be found here. It blames the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation for refusing to agree to adjust its work rules, and proposes phase-outs of three schools, setting up four new charter schools, and using “surplus” space in the schools being phased out for new and existing charters. It proposes to use the threat of closure as a negotiating tactic to force the BTF to surrender. Members of the community from each affected school also presented turnaround proposals.

The fact that these schools are labeled as “failing” aside, little if any of what is happening in the Buffalo district smacks of good governance.  Even more tragically, at a time when that district needs strong but responsive – if not compassionate – leadership, it has nothing of the sort.  Devolving instead into political grandstanding and backbiting, the reputation of the district suffers, and the students are used as pawns in a colossal game of chicken.

This is why Dr. Orfield’s accusation against Paladino’s apparent bad faith is so critical here. Without responsible people coming together in good faith to resolve differences, negotiate in the kids’ best interests, and to reach consensus, nothing gets accomplished. Threats and ultimatums don’t generally lead to good results – only resentment and power struggles.

If these people all truly have the kids’ best interests at heart, then it’s imperative that someone lead. Not just by barking orders, but by example.

Pity the poor parents and kids who suffer under this bombastic collection of self-interested amateurs calling themselves a board of education. For all the good progress that Buffalo has enjoyed over the past several years in other venues, the epic dysfunction of the city’s educational system casts a depressing pall over that progress.

The BPS and its Shiny New Police State

The underlying goal isn’t unique to the Buffalo School District. Throughout New York State, tea party reactionaries have aligned themselves with the state government to bring about a simple equation.

1. De-fund the schools;

2. Cut electives and programs; fire teachers;

3. Break the teachers’ union;

4. Label schools as “low performing”;

5. Create “charter” schools;

6. Segregate better students into charters; exclude troubled, poor, and special education students;

7. Ensure that charters rent space from private landlords;

8. Profit.

That’s more or less what’s being attempted in Buffalo. It’s a district that has more than its share of socioeconomic crises, but instead of helping the most troubled and disadvantaged kids, powerful, monied interests now controlling the district seems to be writing them off. Instead, it’s moving forward with publicly funded private, exclusive charter schools, not all of which are all that high performing, either, thank you very much.

It’s not just Buffalo, by the way. In tony, conservative Clarence, a small but well-funded band of tea party activists have succeeded in de-funding the schools, which in turn led to cutting teachers, programs, electives, and every social worker in the district. Kids suffer so that some of western New York’s wealthiest residents can save pennies on their tax bill. No district, teacher, board, or student is safe from this new American movement to destroy public education.

But what apparently happened Thursday at a hastily organized public Buffalo Board of Education meeting is something new and chilling. Kevin Gibson is the Secretary of the Buffalo Teacher’s Federation, and has every right to be present at a Buffalo school board meeting, and to speak. He began his remarks with, “My name is Kevin Gibson, and I’m a teacher in Buffalo”. Just a few weeks ago, he gave this powerful presentation, blasting one local charter as being just as “low performing” as any other school.

But this Thursday, Gibson never got a chance to speak. It was a public meeting, and a public comment period. But when Gibson got up, this happened. Keep an eye on Larry Quinn, who seemingly has no patience for this job that he ran for and to which he was elected.

That is simply incredible. He wanted to make “one quick point” and ask “one question”, but was able to do neither. Watch Larry Quinn wave his arm majestically, motioning to the police to silence and remove Gibson from this public meeting in front of an elected board of public servants on public property. Watch tea party “liberty” activist Carl Paladino sit there like a lox, and do and say nothing. Carl Paladino, of all people, talks a big game about liberty and freedom and constitutional values, but when confronted with a genuine opportunity – as a publicly elected official – to carry out those values, he balks. Coward.

Carl Paladino, Larry Quinn, and the rest of the school board majority have created a fascist little banana republic for themselves. Rather than righting a dysfunctional ship, they have raised the dysfunction to hitherto-unheard of, comical and undemocratic levels.

Quinn interrupts Gibson and has him confirm that he’s a member of the BTF, and says that “this isn’t a BTF issue” before the police officer removes Gibson from the public meeting. What difference does that make? Gibson is a member of the public who has a stake in the Buffalo School District, and he had every right to speak at a public meeting within the rules. He wasn’t speaking out of turn, and never got a chance to begin his point. His membership in the BTF is irrelevant to his right to address the board during the public comment session of a public meeting.

When given any political power, Carl Paladino and Larry Quinn and their allies on the school board behave like every fascist in history. Shut down debate, use the police to stifle dissent.

This is an utter outrage.

Assemblyman DiPietro: Shoot First, Ask Questions Never

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Last week, we examined Assemblyman David DiPietro’s hatred of Muslims and Islam, his deliberate and admitted ignorance to anything resembling facts, and just how allergic he is to knowledge and learning.

DiPietro took to Facebook and WBEN’s airwaves to expound on how an elementary school in East Aurora was busy indoctrinating 3rd graders in jihad, or something. The books in question – Nasreen’s Secret School, and the Librarian of Basra – are set in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. They teach young kids about different cultures and about how knowledge and education are things that need to be protected and fought for in places less enlightened than the US. By any measure, they are excellent books that teach a valuable lesson.

According to DiPietro, he:

Just talked to an irate parent. Parkdale school in East Aurora is teaching third graders(8-9 year olds) about the Koran, Mohammed and the Muslim faith. It is MANDATORY reading for Common Core! The teacher would not let the parents see the book until after they asked 3 times and threatened to go to the principal!!! The reading is all done in school and the books can not be taken out of the classroom! MORE TO COME!

More to come? Here’s more. While my pieces took down the underlying ignorance and bigotry, the East Aurora community weekly harvested some facts.

The Advertiser’s Kristy Kibler interviewed Parkdale Elementary School Principal Colleen Klimchuk, who said,

I wish Mr. DiPietro would have called me or popped his head in [my office] … He was misinformed and posted inaccurate information,

You don’t say. An elected official would go to Facebook and 90 minutes’ worth of talk radio and present inaccurate information based on misinformation? Who would be so irresponsible?

“To what extent are they Islamic books in terms of expressing or explaining the ideas or ideals or tenets and beliefs of Islam?” Bauerle asked DiPietro toward the beginning of his appearance on the radio show. DiPietro answered that he had not read the books, and one caller asked if he thought it was irresponsible to “incite a hailstorm before getting all the facts.”

DiPietro said no, because it was an important issue that should be discussed, that he trusted the parent he had spoken to and said he intended to talk to school officials and “get a lot more information shortly.”

David DiPietro and WBEN’s Tom Bauerle and Tim Wenger would be this irresponsible. But that’s not all. As DiPietro and Bauerle weaved the story through manufactured memes like “Islamic indoctrination”, they really caught their stride as they assailed Common Core as the catch-all bogeyman for everything sinister. So, DiPietro pivoted:

… mentions that the parent had said the two books “have been basis of the curriculum for weeks,” which prompted Bauerle to liken the school to a cult.

“Now if this was just one book out of 20—every week they’re doing a different book—fantastic,” DiPietro said. “But it’s not, and that’s where we draw the line.”

A 3rd grade class was dictated by Obama and Common Core – which sounds a lot like “communism” – to read Nasreen and Basra for “weeks?” Like a “cult”? Could that possibly be true? Of course not – consider the depraved sources.

However, Klimchuck said the two books that have caused such a controversy are just that—single pieces of a nine-book Common Core module for third grade. The class focuses on each book in the unit for one week, besides a main book—“My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World”—that gets about two weeks of attention. The two Winter books were both discussed in October.

“[The unit is about] the power of reading, and the courageous efforts people go through to access education … this whole unit is all about becoming a better reader and how that will help you succeed in any walk of life,” Klimchuck said.

Other books in the module include “Rain School,” a book that talks about education in Chad, Africa; “Thank You, Mr. Falkner,” which touches on a student with dyslexia in modern-day California; “That Book Woman,” about a traveling teacher in a rural Appalachian area of the United States; and “Waiting for the Biblioburro,” about

Here is the module itself. Had DiPietro bothered to – ahem – educate himself by contacting the principal or the teacher and getting both sides of the story, as well as a copy of the module, before taking to WBEN’s airwaves to spread hysteria and lies, then he’d at least have been acting as a responsible adult. What he did instead is present lies and misinformation based on ignorance and prejudice.

I challenge any fair-minded person to review this Common Core 3rd grade ELA curriculum and tell me it’s wrong or improper or unreasonable, much less some sort of socialist indoctrination.

Taking another tack, DiPietro thought that he found a constitutional argument, throwing “separation of church and state” back in the liberals’ dumb, evil faces. Wrong.

…public school students would never be allowed to read a book that references Christianity.

“If that had been God talking to Jesus Christ [in the introductory quote], we would have the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] up our butts so fast, Tom—we would have people screaming to keep religion out of our public school,” he said.

Klimchuck said a school’s role is not to teach religion, but to discuss issues of similarities and differences between cultures if they come up in discussion.

“Our role is to expose kids to everything—our role is not to teach religion,” Klimchuck said. “There are books that reference religion. A child in second grade made a comparison of [the myth] Pandora’s Box to Adam and Eve—we said, ‘yes, it’s a very similar story.’ We talk about differences—the theme is respect for everyone.”

Respect for everyone: a concept that’s anathema to knee-jerk reactionaries like David DiPietro. “Shoot first and ask questions later” is why the NY SAFE Act exists.

Now, what about DiPietro’s claim that parents were forbidden access to these books?

“I have a really hard time believing that,” Klimchuck said, adding that both books were on display during Open House in September and brought to a PTO meeting, and that one class had been given a homework assignment to take the book home and read it to their parents.

She said the only reason she could think of that a book wouldn’t be allowed home is that if there weren’t extra copies and the book was currently in use in the classroom. She also mentioned that the books in the unit were discussed each day during the week, and since some children were forgetting their copies at home, the teacher said to leave them in school during the week.

The books, in other words, were everywhere and available. But even if the books were not available to take home, there’s got to be some alternative, right?

Klimchuck said she invites any parent that has concerns about the curriculum to come into school so they can sit down in the library and go over the book together.

According to Klimchuck, East Aurora began using the Common Core Module that includes the two Winter books in 2012. That year, an introductory letter went out at the beginning of the year to all third grade parents, explaining the two books and why they were chosen, how teachers talk to the students concerning reading about difficult issues like violence and war, and how the books are meant to tie into the social studies curriculum.

Teachers also integrated articles from “Time for Kids” and Scholastic, Inc.’s “News for Kids” connecting the stories to Malala Yousafzai, a real-life Pakistani teenager who was targeted for speaking out for girls’ rights and whose life has connections with the situations portrayed in the two books. Klimchuck said that year, she had one parent raise additional questions, but no other feedback.

You’d figure that there was a huge outcry over these books to get a sitting Assemblyman not only involved, but to expound on the radio against reading, right?

This year, one parent, Lisa Hilliard, spoke at the November School Board meeting about her concerns that “Nasreen’s Secret School” was too violent for the age group to which it was being taught, and that it contained inappropriate materials. She also said she was having a hard time getting responses from her daughter’s teachers…

…Klimchuck said she replied to the parent who spoke at the meeting with a letter that included the unit’s book list, copies of the aforementioned articles the children read with the unit, and copies of district policy explaining how to request that the superintendent review objections of instructional materials. She also apologized for the delay and said the November snow storm that canceled school for a week and parent-teacher conferences might have caused the teachers to take longer than usual in responding.

One parent raised a concern, and it was promptly addressed. Any outcry since DiPietro’s nonsense started?

Since DiPietro’s post, Klimchuck said she’s only received two or three calls from parents requesting clarification of the books, but nothing else.

“What this is telling me, is that next year we’ll be even more proactive,” she said. “We’ll make sure we send out the [introductory] letter,” and have all the classes bring the book home for homework, she added.

When Bauerle’s show called her office and invited her on to speak on behalf of the district during the Assemblyman’s interview, she declined, saying she’d rather speak to DiPietro directly. She said she and his secretary have been in touch to set up a meeting, which will hopefully occur by the end of the month.

Unlike the career politician, the professional school principal declined to turn her school and its ELA curriculum into a spectacle.

“I’m disappointed that misinformation was posted,” Klimchuck said. “It incited anger and misinformation, and it turned into this disrespectful … and disturbing thing.”

Next time you wonder why teachers and school administrators earn a living wage with nice benefits, consider the children they have to deal with. Children like David DiPietro, who combines ignorance with a lack of impulse control, to embarassing effect. DiPietro out-earns most teachers, and enjoys the same state health and retirement benefits, but I must have missed his call to reduce and eliminate these perks. Being a tea party guy is all well and good in theory, but in practice DiPietro is a statist taker/moocher.

At a bare minimum, we should expect our elected officials to be informed and responsible. David DiPietro appears incapable of those basic character traits.

By the way, what did DiPietro tell the reporter from the Advertiser about all of this? How did he explain himself?

The newspaper left several messages for DiPietro on his cell phone and at his district office in Albany, but he did not return them by this publication’s deadline.

He’s a coward, to boot.

The Books that Assemblyman David DiPietro Wants to Ban

With respect to Librarian of Basra and Nasreen’s Secret School, the craven, ignorant opportunist David DiPietro alleged that:

The teacher would not let the parents see the book until after they asked 3 times and threatened to go to the principal!!! The reading is all done in school and the books can not be taken out of the classroom!

Luckily, we have the internet. And Google. And YouTube.

 

Someone needs to run against – and defeat – this imbecile.

David DiPietro’s Jihad on Learning

Assemblyman David DiPietro of East Aurora has declared a holy war on book lernin‘. ‘Specially that Moozlim kind. (It’s not the first time, either. DiPietro was convinced Obama was a seekrit Moozlim back in 2010).

Just talked to an irate parent. Parkdale school in East Aurora is teaching third graders(8-9 year olds) about the Koran, Mohammed and the Muslim faith. It is MANDATORY reading for Common Core! The teacher would not let the parents see the book until after they asked 3 times and threatened to go to the principal!!! The reading is all done in school and the books can not be taken out of the classroom! MORE TO COME!

This has quickly become a cause celebre (that’s French) among the tea party anti-learning set.

I have a third grader in a public school, and neither the Koran, Mohammed, nor the Muslim faith is MANDATORY ALL CAPS reading under Common Core or any other standard, so I immediately know DiPietro is lying. What are the books, you ask?

Nasreen’s Secret School is a children’s picture book, described thusly:

Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared.

In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?

Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love.

A review from the “School Library Journal” describes the premise thusly:

Grade 2–4—This story begins with an author’s note that succinctly explains the drastic changes that occurred when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996. The focus is primarily on the regime’s impact on women, who were no longer allowed to attend school or leave home without a male chaperone, and had to cover their heads and bodies with a burqa. After Nasreen’s parents disappeared, the child neither spoke nor smiled. Her grandmother, the story’s narrator, took her to a secret school, where she slowly discovered a world of art, literature, and history obscured by the harsh prohibitions of the Taliban. As she did in The Librarian of Basra (Harcourt, 2005), Winter manages to achieve that delicate balance that is respectful of the seriousness of the experience, yet presents it in a way that is appropriate for young children. Winter’s acrylic paintings make effective use of color, with dramatic purples and grays, with clouds and shadows dominating the scenes in which the Taliban are featured, and light, hopeful pinks both framing and featured in the scenes at school. This is an important book that makes events in a faraway place immediate and real. It is a true testament to the remarkable, inspiring courage of individuals when placed in such dire circumstances.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ END

Interestingly enough, “Librarian of Basra” is the other book in question.

“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.'”*

–Alia Muhammad Baker

 

Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library–along with the thirty thousand books within it–will be destroyed forever.

 

In a war-stricken country where civilians–especially women–have little power, this true story about a librarian’s struggle to save her community’s priceless collection of books reminds us all how, throughout the world, the love of literature and the respect for knowledge know no boundaries. Illustrated by Jeanette Winter in bright acrylic and ink.

 

And

Starred Review. Grade 2-4 – When war seemed imminent, Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra’s Central Library, was determined to protect the library’s holdings. In spite of the government’s refusal to help, she moved the books into a nearby restaurant only nine days before the library burned to the ground. When the fighting moved on, this courageous woman transferred the 30,000 volumes to her and her friends’ homes to await peace and the rebuilding of a new library. In telling this story, first reported in the New York Timeson July 27, 2003, by Shaila K. Dewan, Winter artfully achieves a fine balance between honestly describing the casualties of war and not making the story too frightening for young children. The text is spare and matter-of-fact. It is in the illustrations, executed in acrylic and ink in her signature style, that Winter suggests the impending horror. The artist uses color to evoke mood, moving from a yellow sky to orange, to deep maroon during the bombing, and then blues and pinks with doves flying aloft as the librarian hopes for a brighter future. Palm trees, architecture, dress, and Arabic writing on the flag convey a sense of place and culture. Although the invading country is never mentioned, this is an important story that puts a human face on the victims of war and demonstrates that a love of books and learning is a value that unites people everywhere. – Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT

 

The theme in both books is the universal importance of education and knowledge, even in the face of adversity or outright hostility. I can’t think of a better lesson to teach young readers than that. To use real stories about real kids to convey that is moving and powerful. These are books that I will go out of my way to acquire and have my child read, because of the irony at work.

Books. Education. Knowledge. Having and accomplishing these things in the face of war or religious fanaticism. Nasreen isn’t a book about religion, it’s about fighting religious extremism. Basra isn’t a book about religion, it’s a book about the importance of reading; protecting your culture and heritage. It’s heartbreakingly anti-American to condemn and ban these books, with these themes.

Both Basra and Nasreen are on the recommended book list for grades 3 – 5 under the National Catholic Educational Association. Nasreen teaches “justice”, and Basra teaches “courage”.

DiPietro is on local AM radio this afternoon concern-trolling about how these books mention Islam, and that’s wrong because Christian and Jewish mentions are forbidden. Like “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

David DiPietro and other book-killers like he are tantamount to the religious fanatics in Basra and Nasreen who would deny books, knowledge, and an education to the protagonists. Unable to see beyond his own limited and prejudiced worldview, DiPietro is seemingly seeking to withhold these important and age-appropriate stories from local children because the protaganists are of the Muslim faith.

As we learned in Clarence in March 2014, the books aren’t the problem, it’s the book banners. Tyrannies ban books.

(Join Banned Books Week on Facebook if you believe in freedom of education and expression; freedom to learn).

Elections, Tolbert and Brown, Vouchers, Pope Francis, and Stone/Spitzer

1949_poll_tax_receipt1. Who would have thought that striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act would result in certain conservative, mostly Southern, states moving immediately to placing restrictions on people’s right and ability to vote?

2. Has the Bernie Tolbert campaign explained why he’s running to anyone’s satisfaction? Compare Brown’s ad, which is positive and sets a tone and theme right away, to Tolbert’s. Brown’s ad has people setting forth a specific alleged Brown accomplishment. Tolbert’s just has random people saying that they “believe in Bernie”. Believe in what, precisely?

3. Republicans and the tea party don’t believe in public education – most of them just don’t have the balls to come right out and say it in so many words. They want to incrementally abolish what they will inevitably call socialized education, using Frank Luntz-style weasel words. You don’t say you want to abolish public education and throw every kid into a private or parochial setting; you don’t say you’re going to allow big business to set up mediocre for-profit schools that will accept whatever cheap, underfunded voucher program the conservative dystopia will offer to worker-drones with few rights or privileges of citizenship (remember – the system has made it costly and difficult for them to vote – see supra). But when they set up a system to judge the quality of these private education “choices”, the right people will be able to change their scores because they’re big political donors. This is the future that Americans for Progress and Donn Esmonde foresee for America, and it can best be described as a rapid descent into Central American plutocratic despotism. The third world is the conservative model.

4. It’s news that the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world decided not to heap fire and brimstone hatred and eternal damnation on gay people. Well, gay priests, to be specific, but there’s hope that the new Pope may hold a more conciliatory view towards gay people in general. The last Pope thought that being gay was an inherent evil and a mental disorder. So, progress, I guess.

5. If you thought Anthony Weiner sending post-resignation dick pics wasn’t odd enough, Republican political dirty trickster Roger Stone Tweeted this yesterday:

Clarence Revote Budget : Tip of the Iceberg

Clarence overwhelmingly passed its revote budget last night. So did most other revote budget districts – Bemus Point passed its original, above-cap budget, but Wilson will be finding out about austerity next year.

In Clarence, 5,358 voted – less than May 21st’s record, but about double what the town usually sees for school vote turnout. On May 21st, 8,232 people voted, and the results were No: 4,801 Yes: 3,431

Last night, we had 3,541 yes votes and 1,817 voted no. That means we gained about 100 yes votes, and the no votes stayed home in droves. To the extent that the formerly warring factions came together last week to urge, in unison, a “yes” vote on this revote budget, we didn’t get a lot more “yes”, but at least the “no” weren’t energized enough to make the trip anymore.

A quality education is something to which every child is entitled (yes, entitled). There is a concerted effort underway in this country to dismantle the very things that helped lurch us from a frontier backwater into the superpower we are today. There is an organized and well-funded movement to fight a war on the middle class, protecting and comforting the very rich while punishing the poor and destroying the middle class that built this country.

On June 6th, serial entrepreneur Nick Hanauer testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs. (Website here) I think that what he said is a fundamental truth that helps inform why providing equal opportunity for America’s middle class families to thrive, excel, and do better each day as compared to the last.

For 30 years, Americans on the right and left have accepted a particular explanation for the origins of Prosperity in capitalist economies. It is that rich business people like me are “Job Creators.” That if taxes go up on us or our companies, we will create fewer jobs. And that the lower our taxes are, the more jobs we will create and the more general prosperity we’ ll have. Read more

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