Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why Cynicism is Necessary in Education Today

“You’re an idealist, and I pity you as I would the village idiot.” ~ Stanley Kubrick

People need the swift kick in the ass just as much as the pat on the back.

I realized this when I began meandering through the turbulent seas of Twitter.  To be honest, there were selfish motives behind my entry into the Twitter-verse: mostly, to get more people to the Neighborhood.  There must be more people like me that love history, teaching, and the occasional swear word.

Along the way, I stumbled upon internal chats among educators.  It was a potential minefield; a conversation amongst teachers can range from the banal to the caustic.  This one in particular, on the surface, wasn’t too bad: teachers, parents, administrators trading articles, ideas, resources, webpages, etc.   Great stuff, I thought, exactly the thing Twitter excels at: easy transfer of ideas and information.

However, along the way some “tweets” began to sound like the following (I left out the usernames to protect the hopelessly guilty):

“An inclusive classroom is one that includes everyone in learning.”

“Teacher must use creative means to motivate students.”

“We all here know what we need to do. We’ve got to model it and share it and make it ‘the norm.’”

Students need to know what is expected of them, their effort is worthwhile & feel they will benefit from performance.”

“CREATE TEACHABLE MOMENTS with ur kids and grandkids”

“Classroom should be about freedom to learn as needed when needed”

Teachers don’t create learning, but can create effective learning environments. That’s the challenge.”

“Any book/poem/doc. can be analyzed deeper w/carefully crafted, probing questions to ‘enrich.’”

“Best teachers have engaged students because they themselves are engaged in what and who they are teaching.”

“If educators don’t like being judged by test scores, we need to devise alternate data forms. The days of teaching by feel are over.”

(The last one is particularly galling…I’ll bet an unsatisfactory rating thanks to Johnny getting a low reading score will change his tune.)

These are the people I fear and hate in education.  Every one of these statements—every one—is one that is repeated over and over in textbooks, scholarly journals and articles.  I learn nothing, absolutely nothing, from them.    These statements are banal, insipid, and pedantic.  Their authors seem to treat teachers as if they were brain-damaged children.

Worst of all, the education establishment actually leans on these balloonheads for leadership—mostly due to their perfect parroting of the party line.  All the terminology, the buzzwords from “accountable” to “verbalize” (a word I personally detest), thrown up right back at the admins to their devilish glee.

The proof is also in the packaging.  The NCLB crowd loves these yahoos because they convey a “positive” attitude.  It shows in their saccharin-sweet pep tweets on Twitter: “Way to keep it positive!”  “Good positive discussion about our practice.” “Positive attitudes to help all learners.”  The Duncan/Rhee crowd loves these idiots because they package their nonsensical theories with smiles on their faces.

Well, I’ve said this a thousand times: people who smile too much are either insane or up to no good.

Children’s education, especially as children grow older, does not need the constant ray of sunshine.  Sometimes, the dark clouds of cynicism and sarcasm can teach a child far more than the ray of hope behind them.

I’m not saying that teachers need to be loathsome misanthropes, nor should cynicism be applied uniformly: being brutally honest with a kindergarten class will leave a lot of crying eyes and soiled bottoms.  Yet cynicism does have an important place in education, especially amongst students in “disadvantaged” or “economically-depressed” areas (more terminology I loathe).

While the positive idealist (for lack of a better term) makes sure everyone feels “safe” and “involved,” the cynic “keeps it real.” – This is the problem of “candy-coating”, the need to soften the blows of everyday life in order to keep students happy.  It may work with little kids, but the older ones know better: do not try to bullshit the bullshit artists.  If there is bad news, if something happened in the community, I confront it honestly and directly.  Don’t try to placate students with the platitudes of the TFA/NCLB crowd: be honest about the obstacles that students face in this world.  The students respect you more because of it.

While the positive idealist brings out the positive contributions in the past, the cynic displays the past—warts and all. – Nowhere does this crop up most than in social studies.  I see the young go-getter types use social studies and gloss over the dirtier details to get to the points needed to pass the test (since the scores are all they care about).  What a crock.  You want to make kids engaged in history?  Describe in gory detail the lower holds of a transatlantic slave ship, the filthy streets of colonial towns, a Civil War surgery table, or a public execution.  Blood, guts, sex and bodily functions are what make the past exciting and interesting.

While the positive idealist constantly finds the bright side of the problem, the cynic points out what is clearly wrong with the situation – This ties with the need to candy-coat; the positive types who love to “look on the bright side” and see the good in the bad.  Sometimes there is no good.  Sometimes the problem is too obvious or direct that no justification will make it go away.  Cynics are painfully aware of the problems around them, and can conceive a clear diagnosis as to what is wrong.  Yet too many do-gooders see this as being insensitive and not-caring.  Would we care if we didn’t dwell on these problems?

While the positive idealist tries to find “out of the box” solutions, the cynic gets solutions that actually work – Stop reading the education journal, and put down the textbook.  Teachers have been around long before there were even schools of education to warp our minds.  If there is a problem that requires an “out of the box” solution, then it’s probably something that’s beyond your control—besides, it’s important that everyone is accountable for school problems, from Arne Duncan to the little shit in the fourth row who still doesn’t do his homework (and you won’t like my solution to that problem).

In terms of standardized testing, the positive idealist makes it something that it isn’t, while the cynic is brutally honest – Many teachers and principals would be shocked that I would share my honest opinion about standardized tests.  This is due to the unfounded notion that understanding the reality of testing will make students apathetic and not care.  I am very upfront: standardized tests measure only how well you do on a test.  They are not measures of your intelligence.  In my world, there would be no standardized tests.  But that is out of my hands, and out of yours.  The state has decided that these bubbled pieces of paper are what determine your advancement to the next grade, so it’s best for all of us to do our best and get it over with.

(Please let me know of any scoundrel who dares tell a child that a standardized test determines how smart they are.  They will be getting the thrashing of a lifetime from yours truly.  No jury would ever convict me.)

This doesn’t mean that a classroom can’t be a happy, positive place.  It also doesn’t mean that students cannot reach for their dreams and goals.  What the cynic does is place an action plan on the goals/ideas using the critical eye.  You may plan route A, but the curmudgeon in you understands the pitfalls and suggests route B is the better option.  Its realism for the classroom, and can easily coexist with the positive vibes most teachers want/need in their rooms.

In closing, I want to clear up a misconception about us, one that comes up a lot in the Twitter chats and the speeches of “reformers.”  Many people seem to think that because a teacher is cynical, they are automatically selfish and don’t care about their students.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I love my students, every one of them.  I care deeply about their education, about their future, about their growth into adulthood.  I may not use the ho-hum terminology reformers like to throw around, but I care.

I’m not in this profession to get high test scores, to create numbers on a chart or an upward-turning graph.  All that is bullshit.  I’m not in this so that my students can do just well enough to get a high school diploma.  I’m not in this to build “lifelong learners.”  A bum on the street can be a “lifelong learner.”  I’m not in this to “activate the intelligences of each child” or to “engage every learner.”

My motives are more lofty—and to Arne Duncan and company, much more sinister.

My goal is to walk into a lecture hall in any Ivy-League university or equivalent (that’s right, Ivy League, not community college) and see my students in the class taking notes.  The lily-white and Asian students may be clutching their purses and wallets at the sight of them.  As my students are called, they dazzle the class with deep, thoughtful and cogent arguments and knowledge—so dazzling that the other students shit in their pants at their aptitude.  They will go on to positions of power and influence in our society: positions once held by children of the highest classes.

It’ll make the upper-class elites in America’s universities tremble.  It’ll give pride to communities like the South Bronx that desperately need real-life heroes.

Most importantly, it’ll finally destroy the NCLB dream of burying working-class advancement under the tyranny of standardized testing.

That is why a cynic named Mr. D is an educator.

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Mr. D is guest columnist at Parentella today and tomorrow

In between all your back-to-school madness, take time to visit the blog at Parentella, where they will be publishing a two-part series on back-to-school from the teacher’s point of view, written by yours truly.

The folks at Parentella are really nice, and they’ve been very good at re-tweeting our posts at the Neighborhood for their thousands of Twitter followers.  Thanks for letting me use their space for our ridiculous rantings ;)

I must say, I’m a bit of a neophyte at Twitter, but it seems to me that lots of people on the education forums love to pontificate and rehash tired platitudes.  Parentella, for the most part, keeps it pretty real (granted, not nearly as “adult-centered” as we are, but that’s okay ;)). 

I’ll be putting out one more post before I leave for Rehoboth Beach on Saturday.  Most likely, it’ll be on my brief experience using Twitter so far.  Stay tuned.

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This Day in History 8/23: The Execution of William Wallace and the fight for Scottish Independence

Today, on August 23, 1305, William Wallace, leader of the fight for Scottish independence, was executed in Smithfield, England on the orders of the English king Edward I.  He became a martyr for the Scottish cause, and led to the subsequent victory of the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314 and the re-assertion of Scotland’s autonomy.

The story of Wallace has been told and retold over centuries, most famously in Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart.  His exploits have been themselves exploited, aggrandized and mythologized to the point that it is difficult to find the real person.  Attached is Episode 2 of the BBC documentary, A History of Scotland, that gives an incredibly nuanced version of the Wallace story, as well as that of the events leading to Wallace’s rise to prominence.

In the film, the narrator correctly states that over the past 700 years, Wallace became a brand, an image for both independence and Unionist movements.  Hopefully, as we discover more, the real Wallace can finally show himself.

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Videos for the Classroom: Last US Combat Brigade leaves Iraq

In all the hoopla over oil spills, a mosque in downtown Manhattan, and the upcoming midterm elections, a moment in in history quietly occurred yesterday with little fanfare.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the last combat brigade left in Iraq, crossed the border into Kuwait yesterday, marking the official end of “combat” in the Iraqi theater.  This does not mean we won’t have troops there, but the mission is changed to a development/stabilization stage.  The actual “fighting”, at least in the eyes of the Pentagon, appears to be over.

All troops are, according to President Obama, supposed to out of Iraq by 2011.  We’ll see if that happens.  In the meantime, here’s the Associated Press video of last nights’ events.  You may want to use it in your classroom to compare it to the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.  What were the circumstances behind each withdrawal?  What was the end result?   What do you think the end result will be in Iraq?

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The US Education Department’s “Response” to my Race to the Top Inquiry

It seems that not only are Joel Klein and company turning their tail and running from their problems.  It seems the US Department of Education and Arne Duncan are doing the same thing.

Back in late July, around the time I posted this fiery piece on the cancellation of New York State tests in Social Studies for 5th and 8th grade, I had sent letters to the Board of Regents and the US Department of Education’s pointperson for Race to the Top, James Butler.  This is the letter I sent to the Board of Regents on July 20th:

Honorable Members of the Board of Regents,

I write to you to express my disgust and dismay at your recent decision to cut social studies testing in grades 5 and 8.  In so doing, I have written a post on my blog that has been sent to thousands of my readers explaining the plight of this situation, the text of which can be found here:

http://mrdsneighborhood.com/2010/07/20/jim-crow-ism-at-the-board-of-regents-new-york-state-votes-to-end-social-studies-tests-in-5th-and-8th-grade/

I do not want to belittle the fact that in a recession, cuts need to be made.  Of course, costs must be diminished in severe economic times.  Yet I ask you honorable members one question: How is cutting testing in grades 5 and 8 “appropriate and responsible”, in Commissioner Steiner’s words?  If you do care about our high school graduates, who need this knowledge to succeed in the wider world, why take away an effective early indicator of their social studies readiness?  Why take away an impetus for instruction from teachers that understand the importance of history, economics, geography and government.?
Let us be completely honest with each other.  In this world of assessment, if a subject is not assessed in a standardized way, it is not important.  Your action has deemed social studies not only unimportant, but unnecessary.  Social studies cannot be taught out of the goodness of teacher’s hearts: assessment is necessary to make sure children are ready for higher education. Your action will create children so underprepared that it will make New York the laughingstock of the United States in terms of education.

I leave you with a request: please find an alternative solution to this financial problem that does not affect our students.  DO NOT blame President Obama or NCLB, for that is an excuse that is too tired to even contemplate.  What can YOU, as one of the oldest institutions in the state, predating the US constitution, do to solve this problem?

Thank you very much for your time.

I then sent a letter to James Butler at the Department of Education on July 21:
Mr. Butler,

My name is [Mr. D's real name] and I am a teacher in New York City public schools.  I wanted to bring to your attention an inaccuracy in New York State’s application for Phase II RTTT funds.

In page 106 of New York’s June 1, 2010 application, it states that:

“New York collects yearly test records of individual students under section 1111(b) of the ESEA [20 U.S.C. 6311(b)] program in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as scores obtained on NewYork’s secondary-level Regents examinations (see Appendix C_1_2).”

Yet on June 22, the NY Board of Regents voted to approve the suspension of social studies testing in grades 5 and 8, a serious blow to the achievement of our students.  In a more specific way, however, NY is now no longer compliant with the criteria for funding.  The NY Board of Regents, just like administrators across the country, must be held accountable to their actions.

Please make sure NY does NOT get any RTTT funds unless it returns to compliance and restores full testing on all levels.

Thank you for your time.

To which I received this response yesterday, almost a month after my initial inquiry:

Mr. D’Orazio,

Thank you for your email.  We appreciate your attention to the New York Race to the Top application.  We deeply appreciate the contributions of teachers like you, who are involved in shaping the education system for our nation’s children.  You play the most vital role in ensuring that the next generation is fully prepared for the challenges it will face.  Thank you again for sharing your concerns.

Jessica McKinney

Race to the Top Team

Now, I don’t blame Jessica McKinney.  My guess is that she’s an eager, go get-em intern type that did what she was told and sent me a form letter acknowledging that they did receive my concerns, albeit almost a month late.  She probably’s going off to TFA after her internship is up, so watch out Compton or southside Chicago!

What I am pissed about is that this problem with cutting testing–while at the same time stating the exact opposite on a federal application for funding–isn’t taken more seriously.  Isn’t that perjury?  I mean, New York State outright lied to the federal government.  Yet it seems that the folks running Race to the Top couldn’t care less.

I don’t hate New York: I want it to get the money it should get as one of the larger states.  But damnit, it should be doing it in the best interests of children getting a COMPLETE education.  I urge everyone in the Neighborhood to spread the word about this tepid response to a travesty occurring among social studies instruction in this state and possibly this country.

Race to the Top can be reached at racetothetop@ed.gov.  E-mail Jessica directly and see if it helps.

Still haven’t heard from the Board of Regents, so here’s there contact info one more time:

To contact the Regents as a whole, use the following:

New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234
E-mail: RegentsOffice@mail.nysed.gov

The following are the individual Regents and the areas they represent:

2011* Tisch, Merryl H.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Chancellor; At Large
9 East 79th Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10075
Phone: (212) 879-9414    Email: RegentTisch@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Cofield, Milton L.; B.S., M.B.A., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor; Judicial District VII – Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates
98 Hickory Ridge Road, Rochester, N.Y. 14625
Phone (585) 200-6284    Email: RegentCofield@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Bennett, Robert M.; B.A., M.S.
Chancellor Emeritus; Judicial District VIII — Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming
201 Millwood Lane, Tonawanda, NY 14150
Phone: (716) 645-1344    Email: RegentBennett@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Cohen, Saul B.; B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
At Large
14 North Chatsworth Avenue, Apt. 3E, Larchmont, NY 10538
Phone: (914) 834-0615     Email: RegentCohen@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Dawson, James C.; A.A, B.A., M.S., Ph.D.
Judicial District IV — Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington
166 U.S. Oval, Plattsburgh, NY 12903
Phone: (518) 324-2401    Email: RegentDawson@mail.nysed.gov

2011* Bottar, Anthony S.; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District V — Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, and Oswego
120 Madison Street, Suite 1600, AXA Tower II, Syracuse, NY 13202
Phone: (315) 422-3466    Email: RegentBottar@mail.nysed.gov

2013* Chapey, Geraldine, D.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Judicial District XI — Queens
107-10 Shore Front Parkway, Apt. 9C, Belle Harbor, NY 11694
Phone: (718) 634-8471    Email: RegentChapey@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Phillips 3rd, Harry; B.A., M.S.F.S.
Judicial District IX — Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester
71 Hawthorne Way, Hartsdale, NY 10530
Phone: (914) 948-2228   Email: RegentPhillips@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Tallon, Jr., James R. ; B.A., M.A.
Judicial District VI – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins
United Hospital Fund, Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10118-0110
Phone (212) 494-0777    Email: RegentTallon@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Tilles, Roger; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District X – Nassau, Suffolk
100 Crossways Park West, Suite 107, Woodbury, N.Y. 11797
Phone (516) 364-2533    Email: RegentTilles@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Brooks Hopkins, Karen; B.A., M.F.A.
Judicial District II – Kings
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 636-4135    Email: RegentHopkins@mail.nysed.gov

2012* Bendit, Charles R.; B.A.
Judicial District I – New York
111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1500, New York, N.Y. 10011
Phone (212) 220-9945   Email: RegentBendit@mail.nysed.gov

2013* Rosa, Betty A., B.A., M.S. in Ed., M.S. in Ed., M.Ed., Ed.D.
Judicial District XII – Bronx
Chambreleng Hall, Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Road, Bronx, N.Y. 10458
Phone (718) 817-5053  Email: RegentRosa@mail.nysed.gov

2015* Young, Jr., Lester W., B.S., M.S., Ed.D.
At Large
55 Hanson Place, Suite 400, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 722-2796  Email: RegentYoung@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Cea, Christine D., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Judicial District XIII – Richmond
NYS Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities
1050 Forest Hill Road, Staten Island, NY 10314
Phone (718) 494-5306  Email: RegentCea@mail.nysed.gov

2014* Norwood, Wade S., B.A.
At Large
74 Appleton Street, Rochester, NY 14611
Phone (585) 461-3520  Email: RegentNorwood@mail.nysed.gov

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Mosques, Churches, Temples: History’s Most Used (and Abused) Religious Real Estate

Cathedral of Seville, early 16th Century. The Giralda, or bell tower was once a minaret for the mosque that was there previously.

Whenever the neighbors have their friends move nearby, you know the neighborhood is changing.

In most urban (and suburban) areas, this has been a pattern for the last half century: people move in, other people move out, for various reasons.  Then another group displaces the last group.

Religion has also played such a real estate game over the past few millennia.

The recent controversy over the proposed mosque near the Ground Zero site had us at the Neighborhood thinking about how religion played a role in the use of real estate.  I, for one, am not convinced that the proposed mosque in that location is a good idea.  There are better, less confrontational areas to erect a mosque and promote understanding (isn’t the whole project about avoiding confrontation, anyway?). 

Yet this is not the first time buildings and religion has collided in controversy. 

Here is a sampling of other sites around the world that have changed religious hands, sometimes multiple times.  Some resorted to violence, while others simply entered a space vacated by someone else.  There were many others to choose from, but these are my favorites:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece (447-431 BCE)

Like a Times Square callgirl, this old broad has had a rough life.  The Parthenon was designed as a temple to the goddess Athena, the protector of the city of Athens.  It replaced an earlier Parthenon that was destroyed by the Persians, and also served as the city treasury.  Later, under the Byzantines, the Parthenon became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, while the Ottoman Turks converted it into a mosque in the early 1460s.  After a Venetian bomb exploded the powder stores inside it in 1687, and Lord Elgin made off with the choice goods in 1806, the Parthenon was better used as a backdrop for every Greek diner from Astoria to Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Temple Mount [Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall], Jerusalem, Israel (957 BCE-692 CE)

Sure, people fought over the Parthenon, but never was the fight as fierce as for the Temple Mount.  According to Biblical scholarship (since archaeological digs are forbidden on the mount), the first Temple of Solomon rose at that sight around the mid 900s BCE.  It was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians, and then rebuilt by the Persians in the early 500s BCE.  Herod the Great expanded the Temple Mount in 19 BCE, only to have it destroyed by the Romans after the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE.  A temple to Jupiter arose from the site in the 130s BCE, starting another Jewish revolt and banning Jews from the city (are you getting all this?).  In 325 CE a Catholic church arose on the mount, followed by more churches, and culminating in the building of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Umayyad caliphs in the late 600s-early 700s.  Three religions considered the place sacred, and the true ownership and usage rights are still in dispute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (532-537 CE)

You got to give Kemal Ataturk credit here.  The first president of the secular Republic of Turkey needed to do something with a building that charged emotions among Christians and Muslims.  The building was created by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I and served as the eastern headquarters of Christendom, later the headquarters of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Following the Ottoman conquest of 1453, Mehmed II had Hagia Sophia converted to a mosque, adding minarets, a mihrab, a minbar and also covering up or removing the more Christian aspects of the place.  In 1935, Ataturk decided everybody can use it—and nobody can use it, either.  He had the place restored and converted to a museum, and no religious group can use it as a place of worship.  Since Ataturk controlled the voting bloc that had machine guns, his edict settled the matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Mosque of Cordoba [Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption] Cordoba, Spain (784-987)

I had the pleasure of visiting the Great Mosque, or Mezquita as its known in Spanish, and it is truly a wonder—even if the Spanish managed to shoe-horn a Renaissance chapel smack-dab in the middle of the thing.  Originally a Visigothic church stood on the site where Emir Abd al-Rahman I decided to build a grand mosque.  Using the original church as a template, the mosque was enlarged and decorated over the centuries.  It became the cultural, political, social and economic center of Muslim Spain, known as Al-Andalus (today’s Andalusia).  When the Christian kings of Castile took it back in the mid 1200’s, the Mosque became a church again.  It’s amazing how much of the original Islamic structure was relatively untouched; that is, until you find the gleaming golden Catholic interior chapel.  Even I find it a little garish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synagogues of Spain: El Transito, Toledo and Old Main Synagogue, Segovia (1300s-1492)

The Catholic Reconquest of Spain (1200s-1492) ended the thriving Muslim culture in Al-Andalus.  It also shattered the other thriving minority culture in Spain: Jews.  There had been Jews in Spain since the Roman period, and they had risen to high places in politics and business.  Yet with the Reconquista, and the subsequent Spanish Inquisition meant to homogenize Spanish society under one church, the Jews were now a pariah and a threat.  Both the Synagogue of El Transito and the Old Maine Synagogue in Segovia defied Christian laws meant to keep Jewish houses of worship small and unadorned.  In fact, both were grand and highly ornate: in the style of the people that tolerated them the most, the Muslim Moors.  After the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, both became churches or parts of Catholic institutions, although now El Transito is a museum documenting the history of Toledo’s Jewish community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babri Mosque, Ayodhya, India  (1527-1992)

In 1992, a mob of 150,000 rioters, mostly Hindus, settled a centuries-old debate by destroying a mosque that was built over 400 years earlier.  In 1527, Babur I, first Mughal emperor of India, built this mosque on the site of an earlier Hindu temple.  According to Hindu mythology, the area around the Babri Mosque was the birthplace of the god Rama—even Babur acknowledged this in naming the mosque Masjid-i Janmasthan, or Mosque of the Birthplace.  By the 1980s, a new militant Hindu nationalist movement had agitated to purge the area of Muslim influences, culminating in the 1992 riot.  A commission released a report in 2009 that blames Hindu nationalists and members of the Indian government for the demolition of the mosque.  It didn’t settle matters:  the debate over the mosque’s history and significance, known as the Ayodhya debate, rages today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick Lane Mosque, London, England, UK (1743)

All those other stories were so morbid, so let’s end on a good note.  In London, particularly in the working-class East End, communities have come and gone over centuries, and 59 Brick Lane in the Spitalfields neighborhood of east London has seen them all.  It began as a Protestant chapel for French Huguenots, and it serviced this French exile community for over 60 years.  In 1809, it became a Wesleyan chapel for a group ministering to London’s Jewish community.  This didn’t last long, as it became a regular Methodist church in 1819.  Russian and Eastern European Jews, funny enough, did take over the building in the late 19th century, becoming the “”Machzike Adass” or “Spitalfields Great Synagogue.”  As these Jews migrated to north London, the building was eventually abandoned in the mid 20th century.  In the 1970s, an influx of immigrants from Bangladesh settled in Spitalfields to find work in factories or textile mills.  The now-empty 59 Brick Lane then became the Brick Lane Mosque in 1976, which stills serves the Bangladeshi community of east London today.

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