domingo, noviembre 27, 2005


blissful break

i have never slept so much. i have never eaten so much. and when i say never, i mean not since this summer. i saw movies (two thumbs up to rent and walk the line), i had sushi repeatedly, and i drank a bit excessively. i saw family and friends and even made it out to the gym (albeit only once). and somehow, i'm ready to go back and greet my kiddos with hugs and a warm smile in the morning.

hope yours was pleasant and restful. now let's go back and kick some ass before the holidays begin!

viernes, noviembre 25, 2005


no school nurses left behind

(another article from Salon)

Once a comforting presence in most public schools, full-time nurses are increasingly scarce. Now teaching assistants, secretaries and other nonmedical personnel are trying to care for sick children -- with often tragic results.

By Laurie Udesky

Sept. 29, 2005 |
On June 2, 2005, 15-year-old Clare McKenna was gripped by an asthma attack in the middle of her class at City Honors High School in Buffalo, N.Y. Within seconds McKenna -- an avid volleyball and softball player -- was gasping for breath. The teen collapsed as two friends helped her to the nurse's office, where her asthma medication was stored. Terrified, the students struggled to carry her the rest of the way. When they finally reached the office, however, the door was locked and nobody was inside.

Unfortunately, this was business as usual. In its last round of budget cuts, the Buffalo Public School District had slashed nursing staff from 40 full-time employees down to 15, which meant some nurses could only spend as little as 45 minutes a day at one school. Slumped on the floor, McKenna began to hyperventilate. School staff, looking frantically for the key to the health office but unable to find it, called 911, then Clare's mother. Ann McKenna raced to meet her daughter at the hospital as ambulance workers used a nebulizer to blow life-saving medication through an oxygen mask into Clare's lungs.

It was her daughter's fifth asthma attack at school. "I was praying, 'Dear God, please help my daughter,'" McKenna says. "I found myself thinking, Is it going to take a death for this community to start taking children's health issues seriously?"

But even children's deaths may not be enough to expand nationwide funding for school nurses. A full nine years before McKenna's close call, fifth-grader Philip Hernandez, who had asthma, began having trouble breathing in class. He made his way to the nurse's office at Lee Richmond Elementary School in California's Central Valley: By the time he reached it, he was in the middle of a full-blown asthma attack, according to court documents. The nurse, however, was at another school. Paramedics arrived and found Phillip on the floor in her office, surrounded by school staffers, his face and lips a purplish hue and his pulse failing. The paramedics tried to revive him, to no avail. The youngster died on May 13, 1996, four months shy of his 12th birthday.

School nurses -- once available every day in most public schools -- have virtually disappeared as a full-time presence in many schools around the country. At the same time, chronic illnesses among schoolchildren have mushroomed. Although there are no precise figures, experts say anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of schoolchildren suffer a chronic health condition, many of which require treatment during the school day. In West Virginia schools, for example, more than 16,000 children required healthcare plans in 2002, more than double the number six years earlier. These illnesses include life-threatening asthma and food allergies, diabetes, seizure disorders and cancers as well as mental health problems like severe depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It's well-known that the academic testing demands of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program has forced many already financially strapped school districts to make deep cuts in music, art and physical education. There's been little outcry over the impact the legislation has had on school nursing -- perhaps because few parents realize that a school nurse may be at their child's school as little as once a week, if at all.

But in this era of high-stakes testing and local budget constraints, "unless there is big pressure from parents and other community members, student support services such as nursing become vulnerable, because any extra money goes to academic support," says Julia Graham Lear, the director of the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, based in Washington.

In place of nurses, teachers and other medically untrained staff are being put in the thankless position of overseeing the illnesses and emergencies of schoolchildren -- sometimes with severe or tragic consequences. Government reports say the nation has 60,000 full-time nurses to cover the approximately 90,000 elementary and secondary schools. Just how much time they spend at a school, however, is unclear. "Our best guess is that some schools have a full-time nurse, many have a part-time nurse, and many have no nurse at all," Lear says.

The likelihood that school nurses are often unavailable is particularly alarming because of the sheer number of children taking regular medication. Nine million students, about 13 percent of children between kindergarten and 12th grade, take medication regularly for at least three months during the year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The types of medication can run the gamut from several kinds of inhalers and inhalation therapy by machine for asthma, to insulin pumps, glucagon or insulin injections for children with diabetes, to suppositories for children with seizure disorders and epinephrine for children with food allergies. Some schools allow children to medicate themselves. Because of budget constraints, the immediate health needs of schoolchildren are often put in the hands of school secretaries, minimally trained health clerks, teacher's aides, teachers and other school staff who lack medical training. If caught in a bind, they try to page a school nurse, who may be miles away.

Cory Sanfilippo is often mistaken for the school nurse by parents at Sutter Elementary School in Santa Clara County, California, where she works as a school secretary. "I always correct them," Sanfilippo says. But it seems to be a constant misconception. Sanfilippo takes her job seriously: She answers the phone, writes school reports and letters for the principal, responds to parents' questions, deals with children who've been sent to the office because they're misbehaving or have wet their pants, signs off on package deliveries -- and gives medication to students.

Because the school nurse is on campus only once a week, it falls on Sanfilippo to hand out medication to students and deal with emergencies. She's skilled in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, injecting epinephrine to prevent shock in food-allergic children, and has used her own familiarity with the care of a diabetic grandmother to help her respond to the needs of children with diabetes at school. But Sanfilippo is uncomfortable with the role she's been forced to assume.

"I'm lucky that we haven't had a near-death experience. My greatest fear is: Is today going to be the day?" says Sanfilippo.

On any given day, Sanfilippo will have to deal with five to 15 children coming to the office because they need their medication or they don't feel well or because there's an emergency. "We have asthma big time," she says. "We have some visually impaired this year and 13 students that have autism. We have severe allergies to milk and peanuts and bee stings, five or six kids with EpiPens (injection pens to prevent anaphylactic shock), and a couple of children with cancer in remission."

Hard-working and conscientious, Sanfilippo distributes medication, making sure that the children swallow their pills or get the right number of puffs of an asthma inhaler. It's at this point that she enters an unknown -- and dangerous -- zone: "I can tell if a child with asthma is having trouble breathing, but I cannot tell what stage of distress a child is in," Sanfilippo says.

Sanfilippo's worries are well grounded. Mistakes are more than three times as likely to occur when an unlicensed person and not a nurse is responsible, according to a 2000 University of Iowa survey, whose results were reported in the Journal of School Health. Unfortunately, the vast majority of school employees handing out medications have no medical background, the report continued. The randomized national survey of 649 school nurses in 49 states showed that more than 75 percent of school nurses had to delegate medication administration to school staff lacking medical training, referred to as "an unlicensed assistive personnel."

The types of errors included "missed doses, overdoses, giving the child the wrong medication or not writing down that medication had been given."

Seeing those problems first-hand is Juanita Hogan, a school nurse in Pittsburgh, Pa., who circulates among four to six schools each week. She has seen the risks to schoolchildren when medically untrained staff that work in her absence are at the helm: "I had a student on Ritalin [for ADHD] at a school I visited once a week," says Hogan, a nurse practitioner. "The following week he had a protrusion on his tongue," indicating he was on too high a dose. The doctor, she explains, should have been notified immediately that the medication was at a toxic level and should be stopped. "That was very dangerous," Hogan recalls. "The child could have had trouble swallowing, choking and breathing."

In another survey compiled by the California School Nurses Association in 2003, a nurse who covers eight schools had trained a school aide to hand out medication. After a student with a seizure disorder died, she looked at his medication card, noting in horror that the student wasn't called in by school staff to take his medication, as he was supposed to, and had missed seven out of 15 doses. "I saw this omission three weeks late when I checked his card," writes the nurse. "The parent had not been notified of the omissions. He had a seizure when home alone ... He hit his head on a sharp table corner and was found dead by his parents."

This crisis in school medication errors has received little publicity, although teachers have pleaded for help in state hearings. "I sat in a room and watched a teen pass away, " says Curtis Washington, a science teacher at Mills High School in Millbrae, Calif. Pausing to compose himself at the California State Board of Education hearing in February 2003, he recounts the death of a student who suddenly fell unconscious during badminton practice in 2001 -- there was no on-duty school nurse, and paramedics could not revive him. "Would that have been different if there was a school nurse?" Washington asks. "I don't know. But that's a question I have to live with.

"We talk about how we have to have qualified teachers," Washington continues, his voice rising. "If I mess up on a lesson, I could have a negative impact on a child's future, but if we mess up their medical care or their medication, that child may not even have a future."

It's hard to understand why healthcare services in schools would not be automatically guaranteed. In fact, laws and regulations on the issue are a tangled maze, differing from state to state and even district to district. Only Delaware and the District of Columbia, for example, require that there be at least one nurse for every 750 students. States also interpret federal mandates differently. In some states children with severe chronic health conditions and those with learning disabilities are covered by section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, so that schools are required to provide them with health services. Other states allow a child's chronic health condition to be covered by section 504 only if that child also has a learning disability.

Even if schools try to maintain health services for students, many have been forced to make cuts in those services in order to pay for programs to meet the test scores demanded by the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program. A recent report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, for example, said that "in the best-case scenario, federal funding marginally covers the cost of complying with the administrative processes." However, the February 2005 report continues, "states still face a separate set of costs to reach the law's standards of proficiency." If states choose not to comply with the law, they lose massive amounts of federal school funding.

Yet schools also lose funding -- because of decreased enrollment -- if children have absences or drop out due to illness. Dr. Pat Cooper, the superintendent of schools in McComb, Miss., thinks the tie between health and performance is obvious: "No Child Left Behind is going to leave a lot of children behind if we don't start looking at the health needs of our students," Cooper says.

When Cooper became superintendent nine years ago, he looked at the high dropout rates, absences from the district's seven schools, and poor test scores. He found a significant link between the health needs of the children and poor performance. "I decided that we had to stop investing in stuff and start investing in people," Cooper says. "We had good teachers, great training, good textbooks. But we realized part of the problem was we weren't reaching kids because the kids weren't in school." The district was plagued with asthma, type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity issues, which cut into students' attendance. Such illnesses are more common among low-income children, which Cooper says describes the majority of students in his district.

Cooper worked with community and health experts to come up with a five-year plan to meet students' health needs and get them back in school. "First we hired two nurses in each school -- not as window dressing, but to treat kids and to do prevention," Cooper says. Daily attendance rates began going up, he says and, consequently, so did the school district's money from the state.

Cooper didn't stop there. He eventually hired master's-level social workers to help manage the emotional and mental health needs of students. Since the majority of students in his district are poor, the schools qualified for a Medicaid-funded clinic on-site. In the McComb School District, dropout rates were 30 percent when Cooper came; now they're down to less than 2 percent, he says.

Dr. Cynthia Mears, who started a school-based health clinic in an immigrant neighborhood in Chicago and three in other states, says that in order to get a clinic or even school nurses in each school, you have to have a champion like Cooper. "The problem is that healthcare isn't always high on a school district's agenda, because they have to answer to test scores," says Mears, who is on the American Academy of Pediatrics School Health Committee. "But you have to have healthy children if they're going to learn."

Regrettably, students in many parts of the country are not as fortunate as the students in McComb, Miss. In Buffalo, this September, Clare McKenna began her sophomore year at City Honors School. Although her mother, Ann McKenna, has worked furiously on state legislation to fund school nurses, her daughter started school with no nurse on-site.

Although Buffalo has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation, New York Gov. George Pataki vetoed a bill in early August that would have funded a nurse in each school in Buffalo and surrounding areas lacking school nurses. It was a bill championed by parents like McKenna, who was outraged by its veto. "We have this beautiful, vital child who goes to a wonderful school that's provided her with perfect potential," McKenna says. "But if kids' primary health concerns are being ignored, how safe are our schools?"

McKenna's advocacy has finally paid off. City Honors High School gained a full-time nurse on Sept. 19, after the local school board agreed to increase the number of nursing positions to 20. Most schools in the district, though, have not fared as well. "Right now I have some schools that don't even see a nurse," says Sue Ventresca, director of health-related services for the Buffalo Public Schools, who says she's hopeful that more money will be found. Presumably, the schools left without nurses feel the same.

miércoles, noviembre 23, 2005


guajolote, guajolote

happy turkey day to you and yours. thanksgiving vacation is the BEST! extended weekend plus the knowledge that an even longer vacation is quickly approaching... AND killer food? it's almost too much to take... but i think i'll manage =)

domingo, noviembre 20, 2005


saludos desde dallas

scene from a bar:
random guy: hey, so what do you do for a living?
maestra: i'm a teacher.
random guy: (very enthusiastically) cool! what grade???
maestra: first.
random guy: (smiling) do you like it?
maestra: i'm on vacation right now so i stay sane. but yeah.
random guy: (done with teacher talk) cool.

scene from a bar, version 2:
random guy: hey, so what do you do for a living?
maestra: i'm a teacher.
random guy: (very enthusiastically) hey, my mom is a teacher! what grade?
maestra: first.
random guy: (smiling) how long have you been teaching?
maestra: two years.
random guy: (done with teacher talk) cool.

sin duda, tengo una de esas conversaciones cada vez que conozco a alguien nuevo en un bar. sometimes they even say something inane like, "man, my first grade teacher was HOT! Ms. Huntley, DAMN!" the best occupation-related conversations i've had have been with other teachers and with firefighters. why it's so hard for everyone else to ask me anything more substantial about my job is beyond me.

viernes, noviembre 18, 2005



i thought i was cool because my kids are starting to learn café tacuba and groove to my nortec tunes. then a co-worker buddy had one of my former students start singing a smiths song that he's learned in class.

DAMMIT. i need something good. any suggestions?


neither here nor there

do not ask me why i am awake at this hour. i desperately want to sleep but it's not gonna happen, so might as well blog.

i am saving teacher reflections and resolutions for the new year, but here's a short list of the things that make me me (most of these apply in my personal life as well, but we're focusing on my maestra identity):
1. i have a terrible memory. this is established and admitted very early on. my kids no longer get mad if i promise them pumpkins one afternoon and they don't actually get them until a week later. it's amazing how forgiving they can be. and how freakishly good they are at reminding me to do things. "you forgot about..." is one of the most common phrases spoken in my room.
2. i am obsessed with books. my favorite feeling is when i sit at the carpet with my kids doing a re-read and i don't even have to read the text because my kids know it so well. i feel particularly proud when this happens with english books and my chamacos with the least english fluency are chanting along.
3. i am all about the dumb catch phrases. when my english kids came, i started saying things like "are we ready to rock?" and "could you knock my socks off today, please?" before that, i taught my spanish-speakers useless phrases like "it's easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy" (said by my 7th grade english teacher from britain) and my all-time favorite question... after i give instructions and right before i send students to work, i give them this barrage until they start giggling and wiggling: "questions? comments? concerns? problems? chisme? money? flowers? coffee? mosquitos? smelly socks?" ad nauseum.
4. i am a spaz. at least five times a day, you'll hear me shriek "what are you doing?/¿qué andas haciendo?" or "is that respect?" i find it particularly ironic when i say "please don't yell at me, i don't yell at you!" because i am a very loud person and tend to speak in a loud voice at all times. however, my spazocity is generally not as negative as it sounds. when my kids give me gifts, i get very flowery and lovey... my 2nd graders are notorious for dropping by with letters and stuffed animals because they know i'll give them elaborate thank you letters. i also get very excited when my kids work productively or just generally kick ass. which is more often than not. consequently, my kids are very familiar with the words "amazing", "incredible", "outstanding" and "phenomenal."
5. i can't stop singing. we have at least one song a week. and i sometimes sing instructions. whenever it's work time, music is on. my latest obsession is playing them music in languages other than english and spanish. when they're hard at work, i sometimes test them by dancing and serenading. you'd be surprised how good they are at ignoring me. best practices? probably not. but it's awesome to hear a 6-yr-old say "be quiet, you're distracting me, teacher!"

miércoles, noviembre 16, 2005


no me digas

this year has flown by. thanksgiving is almost upon us and i haven't gone crazy yet. cheers to that.

october was a pain in my ass. my perfect spanish-speakers-only bilingual class underwent complete upheaval and turned into a psuedo dual-language program. some parents were pissed that their kids were leaving me while other parents were pissed that their kids were getting me. simultaneously, i was also teaching four after-school classes three days a week. and my biggest co-worker confidante and collaborator turned into a serious bizsnatch.

november has given me time to establish routines and comfort (all over again). my new kids are adjusting and my old kids are, for the most part, comfortable with their english-only-speaking peers. we have a whole new set of behavior problems, but that's to be expected. families who have recently immigrated put the fear of god into their little ones very quickly. they respect their children's teachers. the more generations you've been here, the more you take public education for granted. but that's just my humble opinion based my humble experience.

i taught my last set of after-school classes for the rest of the semester. i've started working in conjunction with another co-worker. i have great elaborate plans for a room reorganization. i have a university mentor in my classroom who rocks the house. so things are looking up.

today i tripped over a cord in my rush to answer the phone and made a serious ass of myself. visualize papers and books flying, students wide-eyed and stunned. it was quite comedic. then i answered the phone and laughed hysterically when it turned out to be a friend. my kids' shitty morning behavior turned into blissful productivity in the afternoon. my after-school class ran itself and made for several great photo opportunities... check the flickr site once i track down my usb cord.

less than four weeks of school left in 2005. whew!

martes, noviembre 15, 2005


gulf coast esclavos

Halliburton and its subcontractors hired hundreds of undocumented Latino workers to clean up after Katrina -- only to mistreat them and throw them out without pay.

By Roberto Lovato

NEW ORLEANS and GULFPORT, Miss. -- Arnulfo Martinez recalls seeing lots of hombres del ejercito standing at attention. Though he was living on the Belle Chasse Naval Base near New Orleans when President Bush spoke there on Oct. 11, he didn't understand anything the ruddy man in the rolled-up sleeves was saying to the troops.

Martinez, 16, speaks no English; his mother tongue is Zapotec. He had left the cornfields of Oaxaca, Mexico, four weeks earlier for the promise that he would make $8 an hour, plus room and board, while working for a subcontractor of KBR, a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton that was awarded a major contract by the Bush administration for disaster relief work. The job was helping to clean up a Gulf Coast naval base in the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. "I was cleaning up the base, picking up branches and doing other work," Martinez said, speaking to me in broken Spanish.

Even if the Oaxacan teenager had understood Bush when he urged Americans that day to "help somebody find shelter or help somebody find food," he couldn't have known that he'd soon need similar help himself. But three weeks after arriving at the naval base from Texas, Martinez's boss, Karen Tovar, a job broker from North Carolina who hired workers for a KBR subcontractor called United Disaster Relief, booted him from the base and left him homeless, hungry and without money.

"They gave us two meals a day and sometimes only one," Martinez said.

He says that Tovar "kicked us off the base," forcing him and other cleanup workers -- many of them Mexican and undocumented -- to sleep on the streets of New Orleans. According to Martinez, they were not paid for three weeks of work. An immigrant rights group recently filed complaints with the Department of Labor on behalf of Martinez and 73 other workers allegedly owed more than $56,000 by Tovar. Tovar claims that she let the workers go because she was not paid by her own bosses at United Disaster Relief. In turn, UDR manager Zachary Johnson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, told the Washington Post on Nov. 4 that his company had not been paid by KBR for two months.

Wherever the buck may stop along the chain of subcontractors, Martinez is stuck at the short end of it -- and his situation is typical among many workers hired by subcontractors of KBR (formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root) to clean and rebuild Belle Chasse and other Gulf Coast military bases. Immigrants rights groups and activists like Bill Chandler, president of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, estimate that hundreds of undocumented workers are on the Gulf Coast military bases, a claim that the military and Halliburton/KBR deny -- even after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency turned up undocumented workers in a raid of the Belle Chasse facility last month. Visits to the naval bases and dozens of interviews by Salon confirm that undocumented workers are in the facilities. Still, tracing the line from unpaid undocumented workers to their multibillion-dollar employers is a daunting task. A shadowy labyrinth of contractors, subcontractors and job brokers, overseen by no single agency, have created a no man's land where nobody seems to be accountable for the hiring -- and abuse -- of these workers.

Right after Katrina barreled through the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration relaxed labor standards, creating conditions for rampant abuse, according to union leaders and civil rights advocates. Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires employers to pay "prevailing wages" for labor used to fulfill government contracts. The administration also waived the requirement for contractors rebuilding the Gulf Coast to provide valid I-9 employment eligibility forms completed by their workers. These moves allowed Halliburton/KBR and its subcontractors to hire undocumented workers and pay them meager wages (regardless of what wages the workers may have otherwise been promised). The two policies have recently been reversed in the face of sharp political pressure: Bush reinstated the Davis-Bacon Act on Nov. 3, while the Department of Homeland Security reinstated the I-9 requirements in late October, noting that it would once again "exercise prosecutorial discretion" of employers in violation "on a case-by-case basis." But critics say Bush's policies have already allowed extensive profiteering beneath layers of legal and political cover.

Halliburton/KBR, which enjoys an array of federal contracts in the United States, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has long drawn criticism for its proximity to Vice President Dick Cheney, formerly Halliburton's CEO. Halliburton/KBR spokesperson Melissa Norcross declined to respond directly to allegations about undocumented workers in the Gulf. "In performing work for the U.S. government, KBR uses its government-approved procurement system to source and retain qualified subcontractors," she said in an e-mail. "KBR's subcontractors are required to comply with all applicable labor laws and provisions when performing this work."

Victoria Cintra is the Gulf Coast outreach organizer for Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, which recently partnered with relief agency Oxfam America to help immigrant workers displaced by Katrina. She says KBR is exposing undocumented workers like Martinez to unethical and illegal treatment, even though they are supposed to be paid with federal Katrina-recovery dollars to clean and rebuild high-security facilities like the one President Bush recently visited. Cintra is one of several people fighting to recover the wages owed the workers: She drives her beat-up, chocolate-colored car across the swamps, damaged roads and broken bridges of the Gulf Coast to track down contractors and subcontractors. With yellow legal pad in hand, she and other advocates document abuses taking place at Belle Chasse, the Naval Construction Battalion Center at the Seabee naval base in Gulfport, Miss., and other military installations.

I was with Cintra when she received phone calls from several Latino workers who complained they were denied, under threat of deportation, the right to leave the base at Belle Chasse. Cintra also took me along on visits to squalid trailer parks -- like the one at Arlington Heights in Gulfport -- where up to 19 unpaid, unfed and undocumented KBR site workers inhabited a single trailer for $70 per person, per week. Workers there and on the bases complained of suffering from diarrhea, sprained ankles, cuts and bruises, and other injuries sustained on the KBR sites -- where they received no medical assistance, despite being close to medical facilities on the same bases they were cleaning and helping rebuild.

More at Salon.

sábado, noviembre 12, 2005



querido mos def,

i'm sorry that my current illness is preventing us from seeing each other once again. do not mistake this as a decrease in my faith and devotion to you. i still want to make lots of babies together.

la maestra


apartheid america

Jonathan Kozol, author of the necessary educational read Savage Inequalities, released a new book this fall called The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Salon has a great interview by Sarah Karnasiewicz that I just discovered. Here's a taste:

"Segregation is not something that happens by chance, like weather conditions," says Jonathan Kozol. "It is the work of men." So it is not without irony that it has taken a hurricane -- and the excruciating images of stranded black faces, beamed across cable airwaves -- for Americans to confront the reality that vast numbers of their fellow citizens live in segregated ghettos and suffer from abject poverty. But for Kozol, who has built his career on exposing the race- and class-based injustices endemic to the United States' educational system, the knowledge that we live in a deeply divided society has long been a foregone -- if heartbreaking -- conclusion.

For 40 years, in bestselling books such as "Savage Inequalities" and "Amazing Grace," Kozol has reported from urban schools across the nation, befriending teachers and students who, despite the promises of Brown v. Board of Education, still live and learn in crumbling buildings and in overcrowded classrooms with scarce supplies. "I cannot discern even the slightest hint that any vestige of [the Brown decision] has survived within these schools and neighborhoods," he writes in his new book, "The Shame of the Nation." "I simply never see white children."

The America Kozol describes in "Shame" is in essence an apartheid state. White suburban districts receive disproportionate funding and praise, while inner-city schools that serve minorities are denied equitable federal aid, threatened by repressive testing mandates, and drained of creativity and joy. The book is also something of a polemic. Kozol accuses the Bush administration of implementing sinister educational policies in which rote memorization is valued more than imagination and children are treated as capitalist commodities to be molded into an army of obedient entry-level workers. Using the voices of dissatisfied students and teachers as a rallying cry, Kozol calls upon "decent citizens" of all political stripes to rise up against social and educational segregation -- and reclaim the ideals of the civil rights movement.

Kozol, 69, lives outside Boston but was in New York last week on his book tour. I sat down with him and -- in between sips of coffee and puffs on his cigarette -- he explained why he believes that newspapers are partly to blame for America's reluctance to discuss race, "Winnie the Pooh" is more essential than standardized tests, and lazy liberals need to "get off their asses" and fight for educational equity.

In some of your earlier books you raised fears that the aims of Brown v. Board of Education were quietly being undermined. But "Shame of the Nation" goes so far as to call the contemporary American educational system an apartheid regime.

In earlier books, like "Amazing Grace," I certainly made it evident that the schools of the South Bronx were stunningly segregated. But it wasn't until the last five years that I realized how sweeping this change has been throughout the nation, and how reluctant the media is to speak of it. Newspapers in general, including those that are seen as vaguely liberal, by a convenient defect of vision refuse to see what is in their own front yard -- or if they do see it, they refuse to state it. So, in a description of a 98 percent black and Latino school, the newspaper won't say what would seem to be the most obvious starting point: This is a deeply segregated school. They won't use the word "segregated." They do the most amazing semantic somersaults to avoid calling reality by its real name. "Gritty" is the New York Times' euphemism for segregated; "serving a diverse population with many minorities" -- as though they might be Albanians! Then I go to this "diverse" school and there are 1,000 black and Latino kids, 10 whites and 12 Asians. So "diverse" has actually come to be a synonym for "not diverse."

Do you think the media is afraid of race?

Most newspapers, with a few notable exceptions, have a far greater interest in defending civic image and civic stability than in removing the cancer of segregation from the body of American democracy. It would cause them a lot of problems if they attacked school segregation in their own communities head-on, because then they'd also have to attack residential segregation. That would mean shining the spotlight directly at the prime architects of residential apartheid -- major banks, lending institutions and realty firms. A large amount of the advertising revenues for newspapers comes from real estate.

Newspapers tend to boost almost any educational policy that seems to offer redemption, so every few years there's a new one, and basically every expert has a seven-point plan to prove that segregated schools can be successful. I call it the myth of perfectible apartheid. Most of these plans are organized bamboozlements, full of unassailable banalities. For example, No. 1: "Principal should have clear goals," as though most American principals have a secret predilection for obscurity. Or, No. 2: "Teachers should strive for excellence," as though most teachers had a genetic attraction to mediocrity. I've seen dozens of these plans come and go; they're boosted, schools claim immediate success and scores go up 3 percentage points -- and five years later it's declared a failure and abandoned. I refuse to play this game.

Clearly, you're angry.

"Shame of the Nation" is a dead serious book, the angriest book I've written in my life. It is not a recipe book for polishing the apple of apartheid. It's a call for an all-out struggle for decent citizens to wage an onslaught on apartheid schooling itself. The percentage of black children who now go to integrated public schools is at its lowest level since 1968. If you took a photograph of the classes I visit in New York, Chicago or St. Louis, it would look exactly like a class from Alabama in the 1940s.

Your view of the government and prevailing American culture is quite scathing. But do you really think policymakers and suburban families are actively racist? Or is this simply a case of cruel indifference?

Look, whether it's cruel indifference or the natural predilection of a parent to do the best she can for her own child, or originates in some very profound racist suppositions about minority children -- it doesn't make a damn bit of difference to the kids that I write about. There are unquestionably overtly racist white folks in the country, but I don't think that is an accurate portrayal of most white people in America. I think there is something peculiar about the culture wars that thrive in New York City; there's a venomous atmosphere around racial issues here that I don't find in most of the United States. Most white Americans with whom I talk -- and I don't mean people who read the Nation and the New York Times, just regular Americans -- are fair-minded and generous.

For instance, some of the children I write about endear themselves to readers. One little girl in the Bronx named Pineapple, whom I first met in kindergarten, and still remain close friends with, was just an irresistibly charming little kid; she used to boss me around, like a pint-sized Oprah Winfrey. And people read about her in Ohio or wherever, and they fall in love with her. And if they met her, they would do anything they could to give her the same opportunities they gave their own children. The genius of segregation in America is that it never gives most decent white Americans the opportunity to meet a child like Pineapple. And because they don't know these children in their years of innocence, they are protected from their own best instincts. If they knew them, most good people in this country could not tolerate the destruction of these children's destinies. People are more decent than the politicians they elect. At the highest levels of government -- and especially George W. Bush -- our politicians appeal to the worst instincts of Americans rather than their most generous.

Read the rest of the interview here.

martes, noviembre 08, 2005


yay, i guess

georgia finally has its first dual language school. i guess as a bilingual teacher i should be glad this is happening, but mostly i'm irked that it's taken this friggin' long. how people continually fail to recognize the benefits of bilingualism --especially at a young age-- will probably annoy me for the rest of my life.

lunes, noviembre 07, 2005



they like me, they really like me!

presents waiting for me today since i was out on friday:
1. a velvet rose with an "I Love You" sticker
2. two delicious oatmeal cranberry cookies
3. a huge chunk of cake
4. 2 pages of lovely writing and pictures
5. four Irish Cream creamers for my coffee

kids kick ass =)

domingo, noviembre 06, 2005


no burn out for me... yet

supposedly this is the time of year when teachers start to burn out. now that my after-school classes are winding down, i don't feel quite as stressed. sure, i need to revamp my ESL program and make some accomodations for guided reading, but for the most part things are just fine.

days off are so rejuvenating. i should take 'em more often.

jueves, noviembre 03, 2005


the other side of the river

i don't teach at the poorest school in town (anymore). i don't teach at the richest school in town. but i do teach at a title I school, which means most of our students receive free or reduced lunch. and the friends i hung out with tonight teach at one of the richer schools in town. to compare: our PTA scrounged together $50 gifts for each teacher at the end of last year, and now they're barely able to pay for this year's expenses. my friends who teach at Richypants Elementary got $1,000 each from their PTA. just an example.

we went to a local artsy fartsy gathering that took place maybe 2 miles north of my school. i went with my friend J, who teaches at Richypants, and met up with three of his co-workers. collectively, they had run into at least half a dozen parents/mothers of students from their school. i thought about my bilingual kids' parents, who work in kitchens and factories and babysit. first of all, they wouldn't have a night off or away from the kids to spend at such an artsy fartsy gathering, and secondly, they certainly wouldn't be able to spend a thursday night shopping for overpriced artsy fartsy things.

of course, then i saw the parent of one of my english-speaking students. the one and only parent that i find slightly attractive. err.

so much for class divisions. maybe we can just call it racial.

miércoles, noviembre 02, 2005


my head is going to explode

four students got in a fistfight on the playground.
we made pan de muertos.
four students walked out of my classroom to attend to a butterfly. no permission was asked.
i had no coffee this morning.
one student is having serious family problems.
another student was spelling bad words (but not SAYING them).
my retainee is driving me crazy by acting like a baby.
a new student is driving me crazy with his annoying let's-see-how-long-i-can-be-out-of-my-seat-and-off-task attitude.
and then i had to teach my after-school class, which i normally love but had no time to prep for because of the day's craziness and therefore did not enjoy at all.

i'm glad some kids can be self-sufficient. cause otherwise i would have gone absolutely insane.


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