by LETIZIA ROSSI
I am a product of the Oakland Unified School District (Glenview Griffins!), home of the Ebonics controversy. In 1986 our teachers went on strike for what seemed like forever (got to hang at a friend's grandma's house, it was awesome). In 1989 MC Hammer filmed his video for "Help The Children" at my elementary school, also we had an earthquake and the A's swept the World Series (big year). I would not be lying if I said that we studied Too $hort lyrics in class: "600 million on a football team, And her baby dies just like a dope fiend." The Raiders returned in 1994.
Personally I care about the children, not because they are 'the future' but because they make the present worthwhile. It is an anthropological truth that children are cute so that we will love them, with the idea that our love will nurture them into thoughtful adults. That working with children is rewarding emotionally, if not monetarily, derives from the fact that children are generally just better than adults. If you don't appreciate that it takes a village, you must at least acknowledge that we should hope some of these children grow up to be smart enough to cure our cancers.
Did you read There Are No Children Here in the 90's? Did it break your heart? Did you go out make your own "I <3 Birdleg" T-shirt with those iron-on fuzzy letters?
to get every child in Central Harlem to college. "Called "one of the most ambitious social-service experiments of our time," by The New York Times, the Harlem Children's Zone Project is a unique, holistic approach to rebuilding a community so that its children can stay on track through college and go on to the job market. The goal is to create a "tipping point" in the neighborhood so that children are surrounded by an enriching environment of college-oriented peers and supportive adults, a counterweight to "the street" and a toxic popular culture that glorifies misogyny and anti-social behavior.
Paul Tough's book about Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone displays blurbs from a cast of characters that reads like a roaster of well respected Americans: Bill Clinton, David Brooks, as well as blurbs from the authors of every book you have seen every single person on the subway reading: Elizabeth Gilbert, David Eggers, Stephen Dubner, Michael Pollan.
During his campaign Barack Obama promised that if was elected he would replicate the Harlem Children Zone in Promise Neighborhoods in 20 cities around the country. This was without Canada's endorsement (Canada was after all a friend of the Clintons). Part of Obama's Change is more Geoffrey Canada. As Tough writes, "Kids from poor families might be nicer, they might be happier they might be more polite — but in countless ways, the manner in which they are raised puts them at a disadvantage in the measures that count in contemporary American society."
The HCZ pipeline begins with The Baby College, a series of workshops for parents of children ages 0-3. The pipeline goes on to include best-practice programs for children of every age through college. The network includes in-school, after-school, social-service, health and community-building programs. The pipeline has, in fact, dual pathways: on one track, the children go through our Promise Academy charter schools; while on the other track, we work to support the public schools in the Zone, both during the school day with in-class assistants and with afterschool programs.
In a speech at Amherst College, Canada explained that many of his rich donors visit his schools and say "This school is better then MY OWN kids school," to which he responds, "Of course it is, these kids need this. Your kid doesn't need this. Your kids have all this other stuff."
The Baby College offers a nine-week parenting workshop to expectant parents and those raising a child up to three years old. Among other lessons, the workshops promote reading to children and verbal discipline over corporal punishment. — This American Life: Going Big
Victor Boria Jr. and his young father represented two separate generations of Harlem youth. Geoffrey Canada’s staff had one program that would help Victor Jr. complete all his immunizations and another to help Victor Sr. complete high school. But while the Harlem Children's Zone was prepared to work with both Borias, the prospects of the infant and those of the young man seemed very different. (Victor Boria Jr. became eligible for the Promise Academy lottery in August 2010.)
Visitors to my public charter school often ask how the students feel about the signs on the walls that say: 'Failure is not an option.' They are surprised to hear that the signs are really for the staff.
Efiom Ukoidemabia, or Mr. U, was the math coach at the Promise Academy Middle School. Back in September, Chastity was obsessed with math, always going to Mr.U for extra problems and special math games. For the past few weeks though, she and Mr.U has been feuding — she acted up in class one day, he called her mother to report her misbehavior and Chastity decided she couldn't stand him. ("We're both Geminis," Mr. U said by way of explanation.)
If Canada's model was one of contamination, in which positive ideas and practices spread within a family and throughout a neighborhood, the KIPP model sometimes seemed by contrast to be one of quarantine, walling off the most promising kids from a sick neighborhood's contagion.
As Canada often said, he was tired of programs that helped a few kids "beat the odds" and make it out of the ghetto; his goal was to change the odds, and to do it for all of Harlem's kids. The idea that Promise Academy might stand as an island of success in the middle of Harlem's ocean of failure - that felt entirely wrong to him.
Charter Schools are a controversial issue. Teachers are notoriously underpaid and in exchange belong to a powerful union and a contract that regulates the both the minutiae of school system and larger issues such as the length of the school day and year. Charter schools who chose to institute 'whatever it takes' methods, including longer school days and classes on on Saturdays, have been picketed by Acorn. (While wearing Abercrombie & Fitch no less, if one were to point out ironies.)
Families in Harlem want desperately to get their children into charter schools, which are only available through a lottery. If the final scene of The Lottery doesn't bring you to tears you are officially dead inside. "This is a call to all those in charge at the Department of Education,” shouted Esperanza Vazquez of Morrisania. "Do your work for our children."
BO in 2007: "The moral question about poverty in America — How can a country like this allow it? — has an easy answer: we can't. The political question that follows — What do we do about it? — has always been more difficult. But now that we're finally seeing the beginnings of an answer, this country has an obligation to keep trying."
The radical idea behind the Harlem Children's Zone is that poor children deserve the best, of everything. The best education, the best health care and the best resources. Canada decided to do everything for the children of Harlem that he would do for his own child. The fact that we continue to accept that children growing up in the most powerful nation in the world, are something that require "saving" shows the true perversity of our system. We should feel an outrage akin to Katrina victims referred to as "refugees." To quote Ras Baraka, principal of Central High School in Newark, "This is not normal."
Letizia Rossi is a contributor to This Recording. She is a master's candidate at the Hunter College School of Social Work. She last wrote in these pages about nail polish blogs. She tumbls here and blogs here.
self portrait with teeth brushers Mission Head Start 2003
Those Awkward Years Have Hurried By
A story as fresh as the girls in their minis. . .and as cool as their teacher had to be!
He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary.
They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? — Carpe — hear it? — Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.
In 1982, a new troublemaker hit Garfield High. He was tough. He was wild. He was willing to fight. He was the new math teacher.
The day someone quits school he is condemning himself to a future of poverty. — Jaime Escalante
Miss Hoover: He didn't touch my lesson plan. What did he teach you?
Lisa: That life is worth living.
Mr. Bergstrom: "That's the problem with being middle-class. Anybody who really cares will abandon you for those who need it more."
Q: Is the movie true?
A: Sort of. The movie is based on my book, My Posse Don’t Do Homework, but the Hollywood guys made up a lot of stuff because they thought it would be more exciting. You'll have to decide what you think.
"Gangsta's Paradise" - Coolio (mp3)
"To Sir With Love" - Lulu (mp3)
"Gin and Juice (acapella Snoop Dogg cover)" - StuRap (mp3)