Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis Builds His Educational Petrie Dish

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

I know it’s masochistic, but I couldn’t help it. I found myself thinking about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his all-out assault on education, specifically education about racism, Wokism (if that’s a word), the LGBTQ+ community, and anything else he doesn’t agree with.

I began my long and winding journey down the DeSantis rabbit hole when I learned that yesterday was the day in 1964 when South Dakota became the deciding and 38th state to ratify the 24th amendment to the US Constitution.

The 24th Amendment prohibits making the right to vote conditional on paying a poll tax, or any other kind of tax. It reads:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 24th Amendment applied to Presidential and Congressional elections. Two years later, in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that poll taxes for any level of elections were unconstitutional. It said these violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Seven states never held a vote to ratify the Amendment. They are Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia. One state voted to reject the Amendment’s approval altogether. That was Mississippi. Mississippi again. The state seems to rejoice in being the bottom of the country’s bird cage.

Four states, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Texas, waited years to ratify the Amendment, with Texas being the last, in 2009.

If you don’t count Virginia, which enacted a poll tax in 1876, but repealed it six years later in 1882, Florida was the first state to make a poll tax a condition of voting, enacting the legislation in 1885. It became effective in 1889. In 1941, 52 years later, Florida repealed its poll tax.

Florida did not repeal the poll tax because its legislators were conscience-stricken and knew they had to do the right thing. No. The state repealed the tax because too many white legislative candidates (they were all white) were buying votes by paying the tax for poor black and white constituents (disproportionately black, of course) who couldn’t afford it themselves. In essence, the tax was no longer doing what it was intended to do: suppress black votes.

Florida had two other legislatively approved ways to suppress black voting. The first was the Literacy test. According to the Tampa Bay Times:

In 1915, the Legislature enacted a literacy test along with a companion grandfather clause. The clause, common throughout the South, declared that any person who had a relative who voted prior to a certain date did not have to take the test.

According to the proposed Florida law, if you had a relative who was eligible to vote on Jan. 1, 1867, you were exempt from taking the test. Since no black Floridian was voting prior to that date, all of them had to pass the test.

Blacks were frequently asked more technical and legal questions than whites. When one black applicant was asked what “habeas corpus” meant, he responded: “Habeas corpus means this black man ain’t gonna register today.”

The final way the legislature held down, disenfranchised, the black vote in Florida was by means of the Criminal Disenfranchisement Law. This law, first enacted in 1868, reenacted in 1968, and in effect even today, bars anyone with a felony conviction from ever voting. Florida is one of seven states that still retain this disenfranchisement statute, which disproportionately affects blacks.*

Disproportionate imprisonment of blacks is not something peculiar to Florida. Nationwide, according to Bureau of Justice data, 18 and 19-year-old black men are 12.4 times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers. And it doesn’t get much better as blacks age, as the chart below shows.

With this as background (and here are 24 more charts showing pervasive racism directed at blacks), Governor DeSantis insists there is no such thing as institutional racism, especially in Florida. And he’s gone to great lengths to make sure anyone in Florida who suggests otherwise will require divine intervention to escape punishment.

Ask Andrew Warren. Last August, DeSantis suspended Warren, the twice-elected Hillsborough County State Attorney, saying he violated his oath of office and has been soft on crime (Remarkably, Florida’s Governor has the legislative authority to do this). What had Warren done? Nothing, except for signing a group statement with other prosecutors saying “we decline to use our offices’ resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions.” In other words, Warren was suspended, not for something he did, but for something he said he might do at some time in the future.

Warren sued to get his job back. Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that, although DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment, he lacked the power to reinstate Warren. In his 53-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, while grudgingly dismissing the case, excoriated DeSantis and his staff for attacking Warren for purely political reasons. Nonetheless, DeSantis won, which is usually the way things work in Florida.

And now, as we are smack dab in the second day of “Florida Literacy Week,” comes the Florida Department of Education’s new rules to enforce the Governor’s Parental Rights In Education Act, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay” or the Stop WOKE Act and Florida law 1467, the Curriculum Transparency Law, which requires school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials and library and reading materials.

Taken together, these two statutes limit what teachers can teach and what their students can read.

The two statutes are supposed to apply to what goes on in the classroom. Consequently, in federal court filings, lawyers representing DeSantis insist  the statutes do not apply to library books. In practice the opposite is true. A recent 23-slide librarian training program, approved by the Florida Department of Education, asserts: “There is some overlap between the selection criteria for instructional and library materials.” One slide says that library books and teacher instructional materials cannot include “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”

Good luck trying to understand what an “unsolicited theory” is, or what “student indoctrination” means. Indoctrination into what?

The rules are confusing for librarians, but they’re even murkier for classroom teachers, many of whom have created little classroom libraries over the years of their teaching. The Department of Education’s new rules require “media specialists” to vet every one of the non-curriculum  books teachers may have in their classrooms, as well as all the books in the school libraries. In Florida, some school librarians earn “media specialist certificates.” These are the “media specialists” tasked with vetting all the books in Florida’s 4,202 K-12 public schools. In Popular Information, Judd Legum reports that Kevin Chapman, the Chief of Staff for the Manatee County School District, told him that County principals told teachers last week they are subject to a third-class felony charge if unvetted books in their classrooms are deemed to violate the prohibitions contained in either of the two statutes.

Needless to say, those little classroom libraries are disappearing faster than the small piece of meat I dropped on the kitchen floor this morning right in front of my 80-pound dog, Lancelot (so named because he’s not Lance-a-little).

Florida law 1467 on Curriculum Transparency is particularly pernicious, because it prohibits teachers from exercising their own educated judgement regarding what is appropriate for their particular students. For Florida’s teachers, this is scary stuff. They are going to have to be very careful with what they say, or even suggest, in their classrooms.

Some teachers, perhaps many, will refuse to give up their intellectual freedom. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. As George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

Nevertheless, it seems Governor Ron DeSantis has achieved in Florida what all autocrats crave. He has brazenly fastened iron bonds on what the next and future generations of Floridians are allowed to know. To my mind, he has also underestimated the youth of his state whose intelligence, curiosity, global involvement, and just plain desire to know and learn cannot and will not be inhibited by anything an autocratic governor, whose overarching goal in life is to rule the world, will ever do.

My money’s on the kids.

_________________

*Angela Behrens, Christopher Uggen, and Jeff Manza, Ballot Manipulation and the “Menace of Negro Domination”: Racial Threat and Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850-2002, 109 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY 559 (2003).

 

 

College Test Scores Have Declined For Five Straight Years. America’s Educational System Needs Fixing.

Thursday, October 20th, 2022

Over the last couple of years there have been significant incidents in the country and the world, all vying for space in one’s brain. We’ve seen the horror of the COVID 19 pandemic, the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia under the direction of Mr. Evil Incarnate Vladimir Putin, All Things Crazy with Donald Trump and his cultish followers, the ongoing implosion of Great (maybe not so much anymore) Britain where Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned this morning (at 45 days in office, she was more like a tourist than a resident at 10 Downing Street), the upcoming Midterm elections with their sucking up enormous amounts of money for political spending (you could probably run a moderately-sized country with what the Democrats and Republicans are spending to buy, excuse me, win, this election), and a host of other important events, including what the World Health Organization and the UN label as a “catastrophic hunger crisis” in Haiti. Only an Ed Sullivan Plate Spinner could keep it all straight.

Consequently, one could be forgiven for not noticing a burgeoning crisis in American education, and I’m not talking about the culture things, like whether it’s alright to discuss Critical Race Theory in class, or ways to achieve diverse and inclusive practices. No, what I’m referencing is ACT college admission test scores dropping to their lowest level in more than 30 years.

As the AP reports:

The class of 2022′s average ACT composite score was 19.8 out of 36, marking the first time since 1991 that the average score was below 20. What’s more, an increasing number of high school students failed to meet any of the subject-area benchmarks set by the ACT — showing a decline in preparedness for college-level coursework.

The test scores, made public in a report Wednesday (12 October), show 42% of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2022 met none of the subject benchmarks in English, reading, science and math.

The decline in test scores did not begin with the pandemic; they have been dropping for five consecutive years. COVID merely exacerbated the trend.

According to ACT (American College Testing), administrator of the tests for 60 years, in its report of this year’s results:

  • Approximately 1.3 million students in the U.S. high school graduating class of 2022 took the ACT test, an estimated 36 percent of graduates nationwide.
  • The national average Composite score for the graduating class of 2022 is 19.8, down from 20.3 for the graduating class of 2021, the lowest average score since 1991.
  • Thirty-five percent of the ACT-tested graduating class took the ACT more than once, as compared to 32% for the 2021 cohort.
  • Thirty-two percent of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2022 met at least three out of four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (English, reading, math, and science), while 42% of students met none, and 22% met all four.

Rose Babington, senior director for state partnerships for the ACT, said, “Academic preparedness is where we are seeing the decline. Every time we see ACT test scores, we are talking about skills and standards, and the prediction of students to be successful and to know the really important information to succeed and persist through their first year of college courses.”

ACT CEO Janet Godwin put it more bluntly. “The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming. We see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting college-readiness benchmarks in any of the subjects we measure.”

According to Prep Scholar, which follows and charts average SAT scores over time, scores there have also declined, although their decline has been less acute than that of the ACTs. From 2006 through 2015, SAT scores dropped 34 points, falling in all demographic groups except Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander, where they rose, and Whites, where they remained steady. In 2017, the SATs were massively redesigned in an effort to make them more equitable. This led to significantly higher scores in all demographics except American Indian or Alaskan Native, where, by 2021, they had declined 36 points. During the same period, Black, or African American, scores jumped 75 points, and scores of White students were up 49 points to 934 and 1112, respectively.

But there has been no large redesign of the ACT test, so the picture there is less cloudy. We can draw conclusions with more certainty.

The latest results offer a lens into systemic inequities in education, in place well before the pandemic shuttered schools. COVID just made things worse. ACT’s Babington said, “The decline hit rural, low income and minority students of color the hardest.” You know, the ones whose parents can’t afford expensive college admission test tutoring. The ones who go to schools that don’t have anywhere near as much money to invest as schools in upper income neighborhoods and communities.

Can these inequities be fixed?

Sure, but it all comes down to money. Who has it and who doesn’t.

Schools nationwide require resources to operate and the cash to fund them. The way in which schools get their funding varies from state to state and district to district. But there are some funding principles that are relatively uniform throughout the country.

According to Education Week, public school funding comes from a variety of sources at the local, state and federal level. Approximately 48 percent of a school’s budget comes from state resources, including income taxes, sales tax, and fees. Another 44 percent is contributed locally, primarily through the property taxes of homeowners in the area. The last eight percent of the public education budget comes from federal sources, with an emphasis on grants for specific programs and services for students that need them. Traditionally, Americans desire to keep control of  schools at the local level, rather than a national one. Consequently, poorer states have less money to invest in education.

For example, the World Population Review reports Mississippi has the lowest median household income in the nation at $43,781, and annually ranks at or near the bottom in high school educational attainment. Compare that to Massachusetts, which has the third highest median family income (after the District of Columbia and Maryland) at $85,843, nearly double that of Mississippi.

You’d expect Massachusetts, with all that money, to rank high in public school education. And, you’d be right. As reported by WalletHub, which compared all 50 states across 18 metrics that examined the key factors of a well-educated population: educational attainment, school quality and achievement gaps between genders and races, Massachusetts ranks first for Educational Attainment and third for Quality of Education. Money talks.

There is a trend among colleges to no longer require testing for admission as they attempt to more equitably examine students applying for admittance, and the number of students taking the ACT has declined 30% since 2018, as graduates increasingly forgo college altogether. Some colleges, such as the University of California system, even opt for a test-blind policy, where scores are not considered even if submitted. Consequently, it’s possible the days of the ACT and SAT may be coming to an end. Nonetheless, the continuing decline in test scores is alarming to educators around the country. More worrisome is participation in the ACT among Black students plunged 37% this year, with only 154,000 taking the test.

Over the last few years, we have seen another problem emerge for public education. Grandstanding politicians have parachuted themselves into the nation’s classrooms in attempts to legislate what can be taught and how to do it. This has further muddied the country’s educational system, and it should stop right now.

It is the tallest of orders, but to remain globally competitive, we need to let educators educate and reexamine how we distribute the money necessary to let them do it. Anything less is a continuing disservice to our nation’s students, bound for college or not, who deserve the best we can give them as they enter adulthood.

 

Racism In America: The Road To The New Jim Crow Runs Along The School To Prison Pipeline

Thursday, September 29th, 2022

The story of mass incarceration in America is bigger than American jails and prisons, even with their two million captives. And it’s bigger than probation and parole, even with the five million people held in the prison of their homes through ankle bracelets, weekly drug tests and GPS technology.

Thus, Reuben Jonathan Miller writes in the Introduction to his book Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, published by Little, Brown and Company in 2021.

Today, 19.6 million people live with a felony record, four times the size of the population on probation and parole and ten times the size of the American prison census. One-third of those people are Black. More impressive is that one-third of currently living Black American men have felony records.  Think about that for a moment. And then ponder that the number of Black women behind bars is eight times greater today than in 1980.

Since the early 1970s, we have been incrementally putting Black Americans in a crime box. Today, as Miller writes, “An entire class of people are presumed guilty of some unspecified crime long before they break a law.” Does the phrase, “Driving while Black” ring a bell?

This week, in a new study from the National Registry of Exonerations, we learn Black Americans are seven times more likely than white people to be falsely convicted of serious crimes, and spend longer in prison before exoneration.

The study examined defendants who were exonerated after serving at least part of a sentence — sometimes spending decades in prison. From the study’s findings:

  • Black people represent 13.6% of the American population, but account for 53% of 3,200 exonerations in the registry as of Aug. 8, 2022;
  • Innocent Black Americans were 7½ times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people; and,
  • The convictions that led to murder exonerations of Black defendants were almost 50% more likely to include misconduct by police officers.

Most of those long-serving Black defendants were exonerated by a handful of big city prosecutorial conviction integrity units (CIUs). It appears they have only scratched the surface.

How did this happen? One reason is because of the well-maintained “school to prison pipeline.”

Beginning in the 1970s, educators figured out that kids acting out in school could seriously disrupt learning for their classmates. What to do? The answer? Suspend them. And that’s what happened. It started with a trickle that slowly turned into Niagara Falls. And the kids most often suspended were Black, followed by Latino.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which last year ordered school districts to respond to student misbehavior in “fair, non-discriminatory, and effective” ways, Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students, while Black and Latino students account for 70 percent of police referrals.

The bias—racism—starts young. Black children represent 18 percent of pre-school students, but account for 48 percent of pre-school suspensions. Yes, we’re talking about 4-year-olds. Also, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended than their non-disabled peers, and LGBT students are 1.4 times more likely to face suspension than their straight peers.

According to the National Education Association,

According to research, Black students do not “act out” in class more frequently than their White peers. But Black students are more likely to be sent to the principal’s office for subjective offenses, like “disrupting class,” and they’re more likely to be sent there by White teachers, according to Kirwan Institute research on implicit bias. (White students, on the other hand, are more likely to be suspended for objective offenses, like drug possession.)

The Kirwan Institute blames “cultural deficit thinking,” which leads educators to “harbor negative assumptions about the ability, aspirations, and work ethic of these students—especially poor students of color—based on the assumption that they and their families do not value education.” These racist perceptions create a stereotype that students of color are disrespectful and disruptive, which zero tolerance policies exploit.

You can follow all this like a bright red rope in the snow. For some kids, Black especially, going to school leads to suspensions, which leads to staying out of school, which leads to questionable behavior, which leads to incarceration, which leads to a wasted life.

The Kirwan Institute calls this “implicit bias.” I call it implicit racism.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many educators now realize they have been feeding the lion, rather than helping the student. In Colorado, for example a new law restricting the use of suspensions and expulsions has resulted in suspensions falling by 25 percent, while school attendance and punctuality have improved by 30 percent.

In Maryland’s Montgomery County Education Association, the superintendent and teachers put together a new student code of conduct that minimizes suspensions and allows students to learn from their mistakes. Meanwhile, other districts have signed “memorandums of understanding” with local law enforcement agencies that keep minor offenders out of criminal courts.

This represents progress, but progress only in a few places. The national school to prison pipeline still runs strong. And there is resistance to shutting it down.

Consider the tremendous efforts underway in red states to tamp down, even eliminate, discussion of race in schools. A bizarre and almost unbelievable one comes from Florida where, in April, Governor Ron DeSantis’s Education Department banned (they say “rejected”) 54 math textbooks, out of 132 submitted by publishers for the next school year. According to the  Department of Education, 26 of those math textbooks were rejected because they contained “prohibited topics,” including Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). 2+2 = Racism?

CRT is a graduate-level academic framework which explores “laws, policies, and procedures that function to produce racial inequality.” This is sometimes referred to as “structural racism.” It is not something you typically find discussed in a K-12 math textbook. In fact, it’s not typically addressed in K-12 at all.

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said the math textbooks were rejected because children deserve “a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.” The Department’s announcement, showed how much DeSantis controls things when it included this quote from him: “It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students.” Wow! I had no idea math could be so divisive. Stupid me.

The Department’s announcement also carried this jewel:

“We’re going to ensure that Florida has the highest-quality instructional materials aligned to our nationally-recognized standards,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “Florida has become a national leader in education under the vision and leadership of Governor DeSantis. When it comes to education, other states continue to follow Florida’s lead as we continue to reinforce parents’ rights by focusing on providing their children with a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.”

“Nationally recognized standards?” “National leader in education?” “World-class education?” This proved too big to resist.

Intelligent.com publishes annual state rankings of K-12 education drawing upon key metrics related to performance, safety, community, investment, class size, and attendance for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Where does “national leader” Florida rank in the latest analysis? Smack dab in the middle of the pack. Number 27 in academic performance and number 25 in overall performance. In no area does Florida rank in either the top five or the bottom five. That is the definition of mediocre.

I’m happy to say that my Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which DeSantis considers a socialistic state, ranked Number 1 in the latest rankings.

One last point about those math textbooks banned in Florida. Judd Legum and his team at Popular Information, a site with which I am becoming fonder by the day, bought the banned books and read them all. Try as he and his team might, they could find nothing objectionable in any of them. I mean, it’s math!

Once again, Governor DeSantis flexes his imagined Popeye muscles to push his personal, ambitiously political agenda rather than  objective truth. Meanwhile, the school to prison pipeline remains alive and well and continues to throw Black kids off the educational cliff into the oblivion below.

While we feel great empathy and sympathy for our fellow citizens weathering Hurricane Ian in FLorida, the DeSantis paranoia about any of Florida’s children learning about and actually studying the history of racism right up to the present jacks us back into a more sophisticated, but still real, still deadly, Jim Crow South.

 

 

 

 

A Potpourri To Begin Your Week

Monday, September 12th, 2022

Ukraine changing history on the move.

It is 15 December 1937. Today’s international news section of the New York Times is dripping with stories that, nineteen years after World War I, are lighting the way to the next global conflagration. In two years it will begin and happen all over again. On this day we see reports of marches, riots, assassinations, street brawls, and arson. Political warfare. An overture to the real war coming.

In Spain, political warfare has flared into civil war, and, the Times reported, the Army of the Republic has attacked General Franco’s fascist forces at the Aragonese town of Teruel. In three months, Franco will counterattack, rout the Republican forces and capture most of Catalonia and the Levante. He will succeed with troops and warplanes provided by Germany and Italy.

Turn the page and find Hitler’s Nazi Germany issuing new  restrictions on the Jews, slowly squeezing the life out of them. On the facing page, a photograph of Benito Mussolini in his personal railcar giving  the stiff-armed fascist salute. Beneath, a photo of Stalin reviewing a parade of tank columns.

Is there anything that could be done, could have been done, to avert the coming catastrophe? Of course there was, but nobody did it. Mussolini? The Italians loved him; he resurrected the former glory of Rome, and Franco showed Spaniards what nationalistic power looked like. Hitler’s hate fueled the country’s hate. The Jews? Germany, with Hitler’s face, wanted them gone—forever. And Stalin, the man who killed millions of Ukrainians by intentionally starving them with a smile on his face? The Russians never blinked. Neither did the Americans. The Times’s Walter Durante defended him and won a Pulitzer for his efforts.

And so it went. The world stumbled into six years of hell, with millions dead.

Today, in 2022, although it has taken much time, we have made progress. Inhumanity, still glowing bright in many places, is, nonetheless, dimmer than 80 years ago. Today, the Ukraine that Stalin starved is squeezing the Stalin wannabe Vladimir Putin into a box of his own making. The Ukrainian Army is moving ahead and, with tremendous help from a unified NATO, is forcing the Russian Army to retreat, although the Russians call it “regrouping.”

No one knows where this ends, or how, but it seems to me that at some point the people of Russian are going to wake up and see all the body bags coming home. What then?

The race to curb racism in the American Century: The mission of W. E. B. Du Bois.

This month’s edition of the journal Foreign Affairs contains a fascinating and illuminating essay on the charismatic and complicated life of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Written by Zachariah Mampilly, the Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, this long-form piece details Du Bois’s lifelong, uncompromising mission to eradicate racism.

A sociologist by training, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. During the Jim Crow era, he became known for an uncompromising stance, demanding equal rights for Black Americans through his journalism and advocacy work while also making seminal contributions to various academic debates.

Du Bois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, about 20 miles from where I sit, and his lifespan overlaps almost exactly with the Jim Crow era, a period of persecution during which Black Americans faced severe restrictions on their ability to participate in political, economic, and social life.

Between the two World Wars, he focused more and more on international affairs, arguing that the colonial projects  European countries were pursuing in Asia and Africa had galvanized an envious United States to carve out its own colonies. In 1898, a year before Du Bois published his first major sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro, the United States’ imperial ambitions produced the annexation of Hawaii and the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as spoils of the Spanish-American War. Du Bois thought America’s imperialistic ambitions and actions fed into and enhanced the country’s racism at home. Consequently, his writings and lectures veered increasingly to the left.

In observing anticolonial struggles in India and elsewhere, Du Bois saw clearly how occupation of foreign lands would breed resistance in the colonized people. From this he concluded that colonial domination abroad often required the sacrifice of democracy at home. In his eyes, Zampilly writes:

Imperialism inevitably led to increased racial and economic inequality at home: military adventures and opportunities for extracting natural resources empowered the capitalist class (and its favored segments of the underclass) and stoked racial prejudice that justified further interventions in foreign lands.

Thus, Du Bois saw domestic racism as the tail of the internationally racist dog.

It was natural that as time went on Du Bois’s views evolved. He became more radical in his writings. He saw international capitalism as the cause of black exploitation. In his middle years he went from believing in “democratic socialism” to embracing communism.  As a result, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI began investigating him in 1942 and, despite concluding  there was “no evidence of subversive activity,” continued to investigate him for the rest of his life. In 1952, the State Department revoked his passport. The next year, the Supreme Court declared the policy of denying passports to suspected communists unconstitutional.

His wholehearted support of Joseph Stalin, while inconsistent with his lifelong support for democracy, demonstrated his belief that democracy and Western liberalism were incompatible with racial and economic equality.

Zampilly concludes his essay about Du Bois with this insightful observation:

His work upends the liberal fantasy of the United States’ inevitable progress toward a “more perfect union” that would inspire a just global order and gives the lie to the realist fantasy that how the country behaves internationally can be separated from domestic politics.

My own conclusion is this: During his life, Du Bois made seminal contributions to academia, which, over time, cost him dearly. He was arguably black America’s leading intellectual of the 20th century. If that is at least close to being true, then here is a question for today: Why are so many people, for example governors of red states, fearful of allowing his story and teachings, as well as those of other Black intellectuals, to be taught in America’s classrooms?

The US Open Tennis Championship: In a word, Glorious.

Speaking of Race, I cannot end this Letter without a shout out to this year’s championship.

The three-week US Open is played at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. The main events happen at the Arthur Ashe Center Court Stadium. Ashe, an inspirational Black American, and King, an inspirational Lesbian American, embody inclusive diversity and are the best kind of examples we have for sincere and devoted yearnings for equality. It is more than fitting that Friday night Frances Tiafoe, a young 24 year old Black American, played 19-year-old Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz in a thrilling five-set, five-hour semi-final match on the Arthur Ashe Center Court. Tiafoe is the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone and spent much of his childhood at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., where his father worked as a custodian. Sometimes he spent the night there, because his mother worked nights in a hospital. The stadium was full and loud, and, although he lost, Tiafoe had the crowd, had all of us, in the palm of his hand. He’ll be back.

Yes, we have a long way to go. But the US Open shows us how far we’ve come. Tennis now looks like America looks.

 

A Few Weekend Thoughts On Biden’s College Loan Forgiveness Program

Saturday, August 27th, 2022

On Wednesday of this week, President Biden issued an Executive Order to forgive some of the debt owed by those who had received college loans. In doing so, Biden was attempting to fulfill a campaign promise to forgive undergraduate student debt for people earning up to $125,000 ($250,000 for a family). “I made a commitment that we would provide student debt relief, and I’m honoring that commitment today,” he said in remarks at the White House.

According to the Office of Federal Student Aid (OFSA), an office within the US Department of Education, Biden’s plan comes in three parts. The first part extends the repayment loan pause a final time (again) to the end of 2022. Part 2 is what’s getting all the attention at the moment. It says:

To smooth the transition back to repayment and help borrowers at highest risk of delinquencies or default once payments resume, the U.S. Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 or $250,000 for households.

Part 3 of the President’s plan is different in that it is in the form a  proposed rule “to create a new income-driven repayment plan that will substantially reduce future monthly payments for lower-and middle-income borrowers,” according to the OFSA. The proposal would:

  • Require borrowers to pay no more than 5% of their discretionary income monthly on undergraduate loans. This is down from the 10% available under the most recent income-driven repayment plan.
  • Raise the amount of income that is considered non-discretionary income and therefore is protected from repayment, guaranteeing that no borrower earning under 225% of the federal poverty level—about the annual equivalent of a $15 an hour wage for a single borrower—will have to make a monthly payment.
  • Forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years, for borrowers with loan balances of $12,000 or less.
  • Cover the borrower’s unpaid monthly interest, so that unlike other existing income-driven repayment plans, no borrower’s loan balance will grow as long as they make their monthly payments—even when that monthly payment is $0 because their income is low.

Part 3 is consequential, and the fourth bullet point of Part 3 even more so. Interest payments can easily double the size of a student loan, and anything that reduces the interest burden will reduce the size of the loan and, consequently, the time required to pay it off. But a proposed rule is not an Order and will take time before being finalized, perhaps a lot of time.

Right now we are in the knee jerk phase of this issue. Republicans categorize Biden’s move as political and unfair to those who worked hard to pay off their loans. Why should their tax dollars now subsidize the millions who haven’t? The far right, more rabid of the bunch, have been raining tweet storms condemning the very idea of forgiving the loans, all the while forgetting to mention their own Paycheck Protection Act loans, most well over $100,000, have all been forgiven.

In thinking about this, the first question one might want to ask is: Does the President have the authority to do it? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t think so. “The president can’t do it,” she said in July. “That’s not even a discussion.”

We can expect this decision to be challenged in the courts. But, at the very least, it offers President Biden a chance to say he is honoring a commitment, a promise, even if the Judiciary ultimately won’t let him do it.

How and why has going to college come to this? I think the answer can be found in the long, winding, potholed road to higher education of the last 55 years. It’s complicated, and people have devoted entire careers to studying it.

I’m concerned, in a practical sense, with what changed from the time I and my peers affordably attended college in the late 1960s. For instance, how and in what manner have costs increased? To what degree and why is there now a far greater percentage of high school graduates attending four year, or even two-year colleges? Have wages commensurately grown with college costs to allow parents and their children to be able to afford it all? How has the for-profit boom in colleges contributed to the college loan crisis, if it has?

To begin to answer those questions, let’s first take a look at where we are now.

Adam Looney, the Nonresident Senior Fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution and the Executive Director of the Marriner S. Eccles Institute at the University of Utah, is one of our foremost experts on college loans and costs. He has argued for quite some time against across-the-board loan forgiveness, because a disproportionate amount goes to people who don’t need it, Ivy League educated doctors, lawyers, etc. He has produced the following table to demonstrate his argument. The table categorizes all colleges and graduate programs represented in the College Scorecard by their selectivity using Barron’s college rankings. The left panel of the table describes the debts owed by students at these colleges. The right panel describes their family economic background and their post-college outcomes. From top to bottom, the schools are categorized by their selectivity—how hard it is to get accepted. Note that the more selective the school, the greater the average debt (with the exception of the for-profits). The same holds true for the two far right columns. The more selective the school, the greater the after college earnings. Note also that, with the exception of the Ivy Plus graduates, the average after college earnings for every other category are less than the President’s cap of $125,000 for loan forgiveness qualification.

I’m going to ignore the harm done by for-profit colleges, except to say the largest single source of student debt in America is one of them—the University of Phoenix, the gigantic online for-profit chain. Students who graduated or dropped out in 2017-2018 owed about $2.6 billion in student loans; two years after graduation, 93 percent of borrowers had fallen behind on their loans, which caused interest owed to grow like festering weeds. These are people Looney agrees need to be helped—a lot.

I thought it might be instructive to look at this through the lens of one, typical, highly reputable, selective public university. As Looney’s table shows, graduates of selective public colleges and universities make up 33.7% of the total share of college debt. I’ve picked the University of Massachusetts. UMass is representative of all state universities, and, because I’m from Massachusetts and long ago was a Trustee at one of its foundations, I know the school better than, say, Penn State or Connecticut.

The UMass flagship campus in Amherst sits on more than 1,400 acres and has about 24,000 students. Out of more than 850 US public colleges, it is #68 in US News & World Report’s current rankings. Tuition, fees, room and board total $32,168 for in-state residents, about $50,000 for out-of-staters. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts currently contributes (subsidizes) 31% of the university’s total costs, or $14,287 per student, which means students’ tuition would be considerably more without that help, somewhere in the range of the cost of a selective private college, or an out-of-state UMass student. Every state subsidizes its selective public colleges to some degree.

Nationally, in 1967, 47% of high school graduates moved on to college. Seventeen percent would drop out, 15.4% white, 28.6% black. Today, less than 10% drop out; 10.7%% of drop outs are Black. We are approaching equality in that regard.

That’s where UMass is now. Fifty-five-years-ago, when I was young, things were different. Facts And Figures 1967, from the then UMass Office of Institutional Studies, is a 163-page, deeply detailed report of the university as it was then, all of it in one spot. I do not think you’d find a similar study today.

In 1967, annual tuition and fees were $336; room and board, $939, for a total cost of $1,275. The university employed 729 full-time faculty for 9,439 students. Today, there are about 1,400 full-time faculty. In 1967, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts picked up 67% of the university’s operating costs (as opposed to the aforementioned 31% today).

What you bought in 1967 for $1.00 would now cost $8.87, with a cumulative rate of inflation of 787%. Over that time, tuition, fees, room and board at the University of Massachusetts have increased by a factor of more than 24. If the tuition at UMass had just grown by the rate of inflation, it would now be $11,310, not $32,168.

So, extrapolating from current demographic and UMass data to the national picture, four things have been at work over the last 55 years. First, student costs have grown at nearly three-times the rate of inflation. Second, the state has reduced its share of student costs by more than 50%, which is representative of the nation. Third, the percent of high school graduates who go on to college has grown from 47% to nearly 62%. And fourth. wages have not even remotely kept up with the cost of college. According to the Congressional Research Service, real wages (wages adjusted for inflation), grew only 8.8%, at the 50th percentile level of all earners, since 1979.

President Biden’s initiative will likely remain a political football at least until the mid-terms, probably beyond. My own conclusion is that it will help a lot of people who need it and will be unnecessary largesse, at taxpayers expense, for those many who don’t. And it does nothing to solve the real problem.

Unless and until we can control the cost of college, this crisis will continue for future generations.  College cost growth at three times the rate of inflation is unsustainable.

We need to do much more than forgive a slice of college loans. That’s like trying to save a sinking ship by tossing the first mate a rope of sand.

 

As Thin As The Skin On A Grape – End Of Week Thoughts On The Teaching Of Slavery In America

Friday, April 29th, 2022

A few years ago, before the horror of the pandemic sent us all scurrying to our respective bolt holes, I toured Boston’s historic Trinity Church that sits smack in the middle of high-brow Copley Square. Massachusetts born and bred, and I’d never visited this historic church that in 1885 the American Architectural Association judged the most important building in America. It still ranks among the AIA’s current top ten list.

In late 18th and 19th century Boston, Trinity was the church of the Brahmin elite. Its pews are all labeled with the names and descriptions of the historic families who occupied them. Some very famous names.

About halfway down the center aisle is the pew that once belonged to the family of Isaac Royall, Jr. (1719–1781). Royall was one of the founders of Harvard Law School, and Harvard adopted his family’s a slave owner and slave trader, and in 2016, 200 years after the founding of the law school, Harvard disassociated the crest from the school, because of the family’s business in the slave trade. Better late than never.


The Isaac Royall House and slave quarters in Medford, Massachusetts.

In 2014, Trinity’s History Committee (Yes, there is one) published the remarkable Trinity Church Boston: Facing the Reality of our Past, which lays out in excruciating detail the sordid history of its membership’s past connection with slavery.

Most of the wealthy people who built Boston owned slaves. Slavery entered the Massachusetts Bay Colony as early as 1638 when a ship the Puritan Governor John Winthrop had sent to the West Indies with Indian captives returned with Africans. In 1645, Winthrop’s brother-in-law, Emanuel Downing, told him “I don’t see how we can thrive until we get a stock of slaves sufficient to do all our business.” Thinking about that, Winthrop realized an opportunity—in Barbados, which had become so focused on producing sugar that it needed to import all other products. At the same time, New England farms were producing a surplus of food. Winthrop saw a fortuitous “fit” for his colony. Massachusetts trade with the British West Indies grew quickly.

Massachusetts got into the slave business in two ways: First, as Winthrop continued to do, by trading captured Native Americans for kidnapped Africans who were considered more desirable; and, second, by participating in the broader Atlantic slave trade.

And thus it began. Molasses to rum to slaves. Boston in the Triangle Trade.

On Tuesday, Harvard University announced it would commit $100 million to study and redress its ties to slavery, which, in addition to Isaac Royall, Jr., are considerable. The money will create an endowed “Legacy of Slavery Fund,” which will continue researching and memorializing its slavery history, working with descendants of Black and Native American people enslaved at Harvard, as well as their broader communities.

In announcing the initiative, Harvard published an unflinching report detailing what Harvard president Lawrence Bacow described as its “profoundly immoral” behavior. In a letter to the university community about the report, Bacow wrote, “I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society.”

Harvard now joins other universities—notably, Brown, Georgetown* and Princeton Theological Seminary—not only wrestling with their participation in the “peculiar institution” of slavery, but also trying to work out how to commit to making amends, both socially and financially.

Why bring up all this disgusting history?

Two reasons. First, people generally associate slavery in America with the South; many are not aware of the North’s disgraceful history of slave trading and ownership.** Most everyone knows George Washington and other southern Founding Fathers were slave owners. But Boston? That’s been swept under history’s rug. Time for that to stop.

This is not to say there were not Bostonians who were aggressively anti-slavery. There were, John Adams and John Hancock for example, but they were outgunned, and greed won out, as it so often does. Massachusetts did not outlaw slavery until 1781, and at its height, there were nearly 5,000 slaves in the Commonwealth.

Second, studying slavery, even just reading about it, is uncomfortable. It is a repugnant and distressful topic. The question is: Does that mean young people should not study it in school?

As far back as 1998, elementary, high school and college educators were having serious discussions online about how to teach this necessary history with sensitivity. In that year, Professor Patrick Manning of Northeastern University wrote, “I expect everyone to be uncomfortable when we talk about slavery and slave trade, but it is essential to experience the various sorts of discomfort brought by slavery and to learn from them.”

High school teacher Karen Needles wrote, “In my classroom, I actually made students lie on the floor in close proximity to the space allotted slaves on the slave ships.” Many teachers on this 1998 List Serve did that.

Educators from this period worked hard to instill in their students an understanding of and respect for the tragedy of slavery and the Middle Passage. Chris Lowe, a professor at Boston University wrote to his colleagues, “From our outreach director here at the African Studies Center at Boston University, Barbara Brown, who works primarily with K-12 teachers, I know that teaching the slave trade appears as a big problem to the teachers she works with. My strong impression is that the main issue may not be Eurocentrism so much as the emotional minefield involved, as the history in question has the potential to provoke feelings of anxiety and shame for students (and teachers) of all racial backgrounds that are hard to cope with, and consequent defensive reactions.”

These profound conversations happened 24 years ago and are not unique. Educators at all levels cared, and cared deeply. Today’s teachers care just as much.

Yet now, 24 years later, Republican Governors in red states have loudly proclaimed their sanctimonious intentions to protect young minds from being infected by such things as the 1619 Project, or Critical Race Theory. These Governors have been signing laws that make it difficult, even illegal, for teachers to probe deeply into matters of race and sex. Their laws specifically prohibit teachers from introducing any concept by which:

(vii)  an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex;***

Versions of these restrictive laws have been passed in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Mississippi.

On page one of South Dakota’s summary of its new law it says the law aims to “protect students and employees at institutions of higher education from divisive concepts.” Keeping in mind that our nation’s history is rife with “divisive concepts,” there might not be much history taught in  South Dakota.

Slavery, the Triangle Trade and the Middle Passage might be the ultimate in “divisive concepts.” Nonetheless, once the kidnapped Africans arrived here, what happened to them? Assuming you agree that how they got here and what happened to them is historically important, how should this uncomfortable, but historically important, history be taught?

Consider Louisiana for a moment.

In 1712, there were only 10 Africans in all of Louisiana (there were a lot more in Boston). In this early period, European indentured servants, submitting to 36-month contracts, did most of the work clearing land and laboring on small-scale plantations. This would change dramatically after the first two ships carrying kidnapped Africans arrived in Louisiana in 1719 and in 1794 with Eli Whitney’s invention of the Cotton Gin.

By 1795, there were 19,926 enslaved Africans and 16,304 free people of color in Louisiana. The German Coast, where Whitney Plantation is located, was home to 2,797 enslaved workers. The United States outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, but that did not stop the domestic slave trade. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the population of enslaved Africans skyrocketed. Someone had to pick all the cotton, which made the south rich. Just before the Civil War in 1860, there were 331,726 enslaved people and 18,647 free people of color in Louisiana.

Should the children of Louisiana not be taught this? Should they not be taught the political and economic underpinnings by which slavery grew in their state? Should they not discuss and argue it in class, led by teachers, like the ones quoted above, who have the objectivity, training, honesty and dedication to open their minds to what lies beyond?

Studying this stuff is going to make them, and their parents, uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, we have a bigger problem than ignorance. But teachers, staring at the penalties written into these vague, new laws, are now thinking twice about what and how they teach. This is a tragic development in education, and undervalues the curiosity and capacity for learning in today’s youth.

I wonder what those educators writing each other back in 1998 would think of all this? In a moment of prescience, Professor Lowe wrote, “There are probably political dimensions to this a la “culture wars” stupidities as well.”

If we Americans are too fearful to let our children learn our history, both the good and the horrific, then the moral and intellectual foundation of our future leaders will be as thin as the skin on a grape.

 

*In 2021, the Jesuit conference of priests announced their own $100 million commitment to be used for racial reconciliation and to benefit the descendants of 272 enslaved people sold in 1838 to pay off the debts of Georgetown University. And Brown University is examining its role, because Rhode Island’s involvement in slavery was ever greater than that of Massachusetts.

**In 2005, the New York Historical Society opened its fascinating “Slavery In New York” exhibit detailing New York’s deep involvement with slavery, just like Boston’s. I toured the exhibit and was positively stunned.

***All the new laws have a version of this sub-paragraph. It’s almost as if they were all written by the same person.

A National Disaster. A National Disgrace.

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

One of the maxims of our nation, embraced by everyone, has always been, “Our children are our future.” Not much to argue with there.

Another universally accepted truth is that a child’s formative years are the most important in learning and character development. According to UNICEF:

Children’s brains are built, moment by moment, as they interact with their environments. In the first few years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed each second – a pace never repeated again. The quality of a child’s early experiences makes a critical difference as their brains develop, providing either strong or weak foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life.

If the forgoing is true, if we really believed it, you would think we would plow every possible resource into early childhood development and learning. You would think responsible societal child care would be one of our top national policies and priorities.

But such is not the case in America. No town, city, county, or national government, none of them, support child care in any meaningful way. It’s sort of every parent for themself. Good luck finding decent child care, and you’ll need even better luck paying for it.

We have a situation in which child care enterprises cannot afford to pay many of their educators much more than minimum wage, and, even at that, parents, especially poorer parents, cannot afford to enroll their kids, presuming they can find an available slot. Every single thing in the child care “business” seems set up for failure.

For example, in my home state of Massachusetts, generally regarded as having the best educational system in the nation, 15.3 percent of early childhood educators still live below the poverty line and families in the Commonwealth pay 20% to 40% of their income for early education and care.

This is insane.

Sonya Michel, a professor at the University of Maryland has written a fascinating and infuriating essay on the history of child care since earliest times. The History of Child Care in the U.S., published by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Social Welfare History Project, should be required reading—for everyone.

Michel explains how early child care advocates, always women, fought hard to get government financial support for child care during the New Deal and after World War II. However:

From 1969 to 1971, a coalition of feminists, labor leaders, civil rights leaders and early childhood advocates worked with Congress to legislate universal child care policy, but their efforts failed when President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971. As a result, for the next three decades, direct federal support for child care was limited to policies “targeted” on low-income families. At the same time, however, the federal government offered several types of indirect support to middle- and upper-class families in the form of tax incentives for employer-sponsored child care and several ways of using child care costs to reduce personal income taxes.

Ronald Reagan, who did not invent the term “Welfare Queen,” but adopted it as part of his campaign strategy beginning in 1976, saw to it that, after winning the presidency in 1980, child care expenditures for low-income families were dramatically reduced while those benefiting middle and high-income families nearly doubled, mostly through tax credits.

In the years since Reagan, we have continually found new and inventive ways of sweeping this national disaster under a threadbare carpet for posterity to trip over time and again. Despite all the face plants, we never learn.

There are places where child care and early learning are done well. Unfortunately, unless you’re really well off, you won’t find those places in America, which is one of the reasons many ex-pats living in France choose to remain there until their children are ready for public elementary school. The French, like them or not, have figured out how to provide high-quality, affordable child care. Why can’t we?

Other European countries have distinguished themselves by enacting policies aimed at elevating work-life balance to a high level. In addition to France, Germany and Sweden have embraced the notion that governmental assistance in early childhood is a serious societal responsibility.

Without credible, high-quality early childhood education for everyone, how can we expect to prepare today’s children to carry America’s torch into the future?

It’s time to end this national disgrace.