Monthly Archives: January 2010

How’s it Hangin’, Fidel! The Neighborhood visits Cuba this Spring!

The deposit is in. My paperwork is in order. Shots are scheduled. My cynicism is getting honed to a fine edge.

It must mean a trip to a Communist country—with decent beaches, no less.

You read it correctly. Mr. D will be spending his spring recess as part of a delegation of teachers visiting Cuba. And I’m giddy with excitement. Yes, school-girl giddy…I’m man enough to admit it.

Cuba has fascinated me ever since Desi Arnaz’ last “babalu” on “I Love Lucy.”  It’s a place I’ve seen countless times in film, from The Godfather, Part II to Robert Redford’s Havana.  How bad could the place be if they managed to throw out lowlife Tony Montana? 

 Maybe the cinematic images are getting ahead of me.  Birthplace of mambo, mother country of the mojito and the daiquiri, and pariah of the capitalist world, Cuba is only open to certain Americans on research or business purposes—and teachers fall into this category. Pretty sweet.

Obviously, this being a dictatorship, Cuba will not be all fun and games. We’ll be paraded around to the standard “revolutionary” sites and probably getting the standard rhetoric. As regular readers can deduce, I will pretend I am somewhere else during that time—in the Goldman Sachs boardroom, perhaps.

Yet I’ll keep an open mind, for the most part. Since we’re doing research on education, I’ll be meeting teachers and students, which is always interesting. Obnoxious brats and pain-in-the-ass administrators are the educator’s universal language, after all. It’s important that I get to know the place better, understand the people better, and enjoy the “Pearl of the Antilles” for all its beauty.

At the very least, I look forward to hearing a decent rendition of “Guantanamera” that wasn’t raped by Julio Iglesias.

Anyone in the Neighborhood who has experience in Cuba, please write in with any tips/places to see/recommendations, etc. I’ve got until the end of March, so all your input is welcome.


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Great, Now there’s no L’Ouverture Movie! Thanks a bunch, YouTube!

Hey Neighborhood!  Let’s give the litigation-happy folks at YouTube a big old Bronx cheer!

Thanks for nothing.

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Update on Status of L’Ouverture Movie

Looks like the earlier posts were removed due to copyright problems, so here’s the same documentary from another user.  Hope this keeps up.

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Movies for the classroom: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution

It’s a minor miracle that this documentary wasn’t yanked by YouTube for copyright reasons.

In keeping with our Haiti focus, I found this excellent documentary–in suprisingly good picture quality–about the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution.  Students who only know about Haiti from the earthquake would do well to watch this important early chapter in the country’s history.

NOTE: The original copy of this film had its last part missing (yanked by YouTube), so I found a substitute with lesser picture quality.  Once the original last part resurfaces, I will replace it on this post.


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It takes an Earthquake…or, why we can’t abandon Haiti again

Acts of God, more often than not, expose the fallibilities of man.

In 2006, Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf states, particularly Louisiana and Mississippi.  Yet Katrina herself played second fiddle to official malfeasance, incompetence and corruption.  It took a hurricane to expose the rotten mess of both Louisiana government and federal disaster response programs.

In 2010, a 7.0 earthquake showed to the world what many historians knew for centuries.  In a region already known for political instability, official corruption, widespread poverty and economic disaster, Haiti has consistently ranked dead last in the hemisphere in every category. 

Haiti didn’t become a catastrophe…it was one already. 

I have a message for all the Hollywood morons with their massive relief efforts, concerts, their colorful designer pins and their canned expressions of hope on the red carpet:

Where were you for the last 200 years?

Where were you when the first successful slave rebellion in the western hemisphere occurred?

Where were you fighting for democracy and the rule of law?  Was it during number 4 or 6 of Haiti’s 32 military coups?  Was it during the infighting between the mulatto elites and the rural Africans? 

Where were you when a US military occupation from 1915 to 1934 brought limited stability to an unstable country, only to be saddled with a crushing debt that forever hampered economic progress?

Where were you when a country doctor, Francois Duvalier, became president in a sham election in 1957 and subsequently ruled through superstition, corruption and terror, at an estimated 30,000 lives lost?

Where were you when his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, lived the life of a playboy as his country sank deeper into the economic and social abyss?

Where were you when the fickle preferences of world powers caused a violent merry-go-round of political leaders between 1990 and 2009, destroying any semblance of respect for political institutions?

Where were you when 80% of Haiti’s population lived in poverty, with a per capita GDP of US$790—about $2 a day?

Where were you when Haiti suffered 50% illiteracy—the highest in the region—and over 8 in 10 college graduates emigrate to more prosperous countries?

Where were you when only 40% of Haitians have access to basic health care, at least 50% of children have no vaccinations and were nearly half the deaths reported are due to HIV/AIDS, meningitis, respiratory infections, cholera, and typhoid?

Where were you when the economy desperately needed a solid foundation—mostly to pay off its massive $1.3 billion dollar debt?  Is it a “stable” economy where 40% of the national budget is foreign aid?

Where were you when a lush, fertile country was systematically deforested for the sake of subsistence farming—a system that barely feeds its own people?

Where were you when, for the sake of expediency, buildings were built without regard for structural integrity, even with the knowledge of an impending tremor?

Where were you when Haiti really needed you—and not as a convenient photo opportunity?

With this recent earthquake, Haiti has experienced the worst disaster in its recent history.  Yet it is just the last dump of a monumental pile of manure that has been the Haitian political and economic system.

My sincere hope is that unlike so many times in the past, the developed world does not abandon Haiti.  Rather, Haitians should be working with foreign aid to create a more stable, more viable country that finally destroys the vestiges of its turbulent past whilst maintaining its own vibrant culture.

Political institutions must be reorganized and strengthened so that the rule of law is not only maintained, but respected.  Democratic success needs institutional respect.

Instead of nameless packages of aid and relief, real investment must become a priority.  Haiti cannot be a charity case forever—no one understands this better than the Haitians themselves.  The country must start creating its own revenue.

Finally, with renewed institutions of government and finance, programs must be implemented and supported for the long-term needs of Haiti’s citizens.  Health care, education, utilities, etc. not only makes Haitians’ lives better, but also entice investors and companies to put their dollars into Haitian enterprises.

This is a laundry list that has been repeated again and again.  Yet it remains relevant.  Once the humanitarian crisis is dealt with in the wake of the earthquake, Haiti has a chance—a real chance—to redefine itself.  It can finally become serene republic envisioned by those early rebels some two centuries ago.

There is a real opportunity here.  We cannot wait for another natural disaster to present itself.

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The Complexities of the “Dream” — Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When a person becomes famous, or important, he/she often ceases to have any humanity.

 That person becomes marble, a statue, a painting, an inanimate idol to be worshipped and adored like a vacant pagan god.

Yet it is in their complexity that people truly arise as great.  Such is the case with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Much too often, classrooms distill Dr. King’s legacy into a neat little narrative: The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the Nobel Peace Prize (and the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, if that teacher’s adventurous) and his assassination.  For must students, King is frozen in time at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, giving his now-ubiquitous “I Have a Dream” Speech.

Yet the King from 1964 to 1968 is even more fascinating.  The civil rights movement shifted towards more militancy, with Black Power and the Black Panthers.  The Vietnam War moved the focus of many young people towards more radical peace initiatives.  Even Dr. King’s rhetoric had shifted, from one primarily of fighting for civil rights for Blacks to one of social justice and anti-war advocacy.

What follows are a collection of quotes by Dr. King from 1964 to about 1968.  Many of the 1967 quotes come from his “Where Do We Go From Here?” address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wherein the group is re-assessing their mission in the wake of the tumultuous decade.  Notice how Dr. King addresses subjects such as poverty, war, science, black nationalism, and global affairs. 

To our ears, these words may seem disconcerting, even radical.  Yet they are important in understanding the path King was to take if he had not met his end by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”   – 1967

“Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.” – 1967

“I endorse it (banning prayer in public schools). I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.” – 1965

“If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.” – 1968

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.” – 1963

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” – 1967

“As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation or Johnsonian civil rights bill can totally bring this kind of freedom. The negro will only be free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation. And, with a spirit straining toward true self-esteem, the Negro must boldly throw off the manacles of self-abegnation and say to himself and to the world, ‘I am somebody. I am a person. I am a man with dignity and honor. I have a rich and noble history.’” – 1967

“Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.” – 1967

“The problem (of poverty) indicates that our emphasis must be twofold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.” – 1967

“Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both.” – 1967

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.” – 1968

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The Battle for the Textbook: Texas rewrites its social studies

I get a lot of use from my textbook. 

Whenever my LCD projector’s a bit too low, two or three Grade 4 texts oughta do the trick.

That is the extent to which I use these relics. 

The Information Age of the 21st Century has effectively rendered a textbook obsolete.  As soon as established theories and truths are set in paper before yawning students (who sign the inside cover along with drawings of the male member) alternate discoveries and revisions make them outdated even before they come to press. 

In spite of this, many districts across America continue with the hard-bound behemoths of our youth, and with good reason.  At least in math and science, they provide solid resources that can be preserved year after year.  On paper, this means saving on mountains of copying worksheets and more time copying useless memos.

Yet the composition of textbooks is a thorny issue, especially when it comes to social studies.  Deven Black recently sent me an article from the Texas Tribune entitled “Hijacking History.”  It details the sausage-like process of establishing standards, solidifying content and even copyediting of a state textbook for social studies. 

Texas’ education system is fairly unified in that the entire state uses the same set of textbooks.  It’s a huge state, so the publishers kill their own young to get the contract.  What goes into the textbooks, however, can often become a political tug-of-war between conservatives and liberals, as evidenced in the article.  This has tremendous implications for the classroom, as the struggle at the board level affects what is read in on the page.

Essentially, “Hijacking History” is about this left-right struggle, and how it affect s the whole process.  Take Joe McCarthy, for example.  Bill Ames, a conservative activist and member of one of the State Board of Education’s curriculum-writing committees, fights to “rectify” McCarthy’s legacy by including information about actual Communist infiltration in the US government. 

When it comes to including minority acheivements, the infighting can get downright petty.  Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez, for example, were supposed to allow space equally to Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham.  So Justice Marshall, who argued before the Supreme Court in 1954 to end segregation in public schools, has to share his shelf with a southern preacher who claims “voices” speak to him.

Look, even as a conservative, I don’t buy these arguments.  Yes, I know about the Communist infiltration.  McCarthy’s paranoia was somewhat justified–somewhat.  However, if in laying down wood a few planks must fall, then McCarthy let some real two-by-fours fly.  In the grand scheme of things, he did a lot of harm along with his good intentions. 

Don’t get me started on Billy Graham, it’s a no-brainer: Thurgood Marshall wins by a mile.

What amazes me, however, is the push for “American Exceptionalism.”  We’re going to tell students not only that the United States is the greatest, but also that it is immune to the heaves and throes of world history.  According to some really out-there right wing wierdos, the US, by divine design, cannot topple like the  empires of old.  A thousand year “reich”, perhaps? 

America will endure forever–Jesus said so.  And I know because he spoke to me in Dixie-accented English, just like he did in the Bible. 

What a crime.  What’s a bigger crime is that these inane arguments will somehow end up in a textbook that will be taken as gospel by thousands of educators too lazy to offer a dissenting viewpoint.

The lesson is clear: building a textbook, or a curriculum, is never easy.  You always end up pissing off somebody–believe me, I know.  The balance of ideas and viewpoints is important.  It is also important to include the voices of those Americans who have long been silent, either by force or by neglect.

  Be careful, though…there is such a thing as TOO fair.  Don’t let the facts get buried in the need for political compromise. 

 If you insist on using a textbook, please PLEASE understand that it isn’t Biblical truth.  Even the Bible isn’t biblical truth, for that matter, but I’ve pissed off the evangelicals enough for one night.  Always try to stress alternative viewpoints, especially if they do not necessarily mesh with your own.

If all else fails, use a textbook for what they’re best at–as a  paperweight.

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