An Education Catastrophe has descended upon the Nation’s public schools, while most of the public has been asleep. It is making our children hate school, our best teachers leave the profession, and is maximizing inequality in our schools and the larger society.
It is totally bi-partisan, and is as visible in Democratic states like New York and Connecticut as in Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina. It bears the imprint of President Obama as well as former President Bush, and it is supported by the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country.
What I am going to say here is very personal. I am going to tell the story of my own evolution as an education activist — about how a college professor whose field is African American history discovered that public schools and public school teachers were under attack and decided to step forward in defense of both.
Bronx African American History Project
My journey into education activism began in the spring of 2003 when I was asked to start an oral history project documenting the African American presence in Bronx neighborhoods, which had been neglected by scholars of Bronx history as well as African American history in New York City. The project was embraced by scores of community residents, who wanted to tell stories that defied common stereotypes about Black neighborhoods in the Bronx being places of menace and danger.
I found myself conducting as many as three interviews a week during the first two years of the project and before I knew it a portrait was emerging of the Bronx as a place of hope and opportunity for African Americans, West Indians, and Puerto Ricans living in crowded Harlem neighborhoods in the 1930’s and 1940’s — a place where they could find safer streets, better housing, and better educational opportunities for their children.
This was a story that had never been told in print or broadcast media and was completely absent from the few existing books on Bronx history. It was an inspiring and important story of community building, but there was one feature of it that seemed to capture everyone’s imagination: the creation of an incredible live music culture in two multi-ethnic Bronx neighborhoods, Morrisania and Hunts Point, which included jazz, Afro Cuban music, doo wop and rhythm and blues.
Badass Teachers AssociationThe mixture of three cultural traditions — the African American, the West Indian, and the Latin Carribbean — inspired extraordinary musical creativity, present in live form in clubs and theaters, schools and churches, and occasionally in apartments and on street corners.
What we came across was truly incredible. Here were two neighborhoods in the Bronx, largely Black and Latino, with a few remaining Jewish and Italian residents, who contributed as much or more to American popular music as any place in the country. More…