Chartered Territories

Local, public schools have closed, but that doesn’t mean the business of education isn’t booming.   The focus of reformer’s latest efforts has been on charter schools.  Sometimes, these experiments are successful or offer a specialization a typical system cannot.  One type of school that comes to mind are creative and performing arts schools. The equipment and personnel is typically so specialized, it is better to concentrate the resources in one school. There are charters popping up left and right, offering nothing out of the ordinary, other than being funded by a corporation, celebrity, or very wealthy individual.  Often, these corporations and individuals are not versed or experienced in education, yet somehow, dictate an education philosophy and create a school.  They certainly are not John Deweys or Paulo Freires and likely have not spent more than a first year education undergraduate student in the classroom. Charter schools are a perverse alternate universe of education.

Charter schools have flown under the radar of scrutiny nationally, but that seems to be changing. Here are some of the recent headlines:

Charter schools directly affect the community and children they teach.  As if closing down a neighborhood school is not devastating enough, children are forced to go into a new school, with teachers and staff who may or may not be experienced or certified.  There are unequal standards, often lower standards for these institutions. Then if they fail or close, they leave children behind with no repercussion.  Charter schools should be a very limited alternative, not a solution to systemic inequality and poverty.



How I Fell in Love with “Shaniqua”: Why African-Americans DON’T Need New Names

I substitute teach in the Pgh Public Schools and I could not agree more that the name shame has to stop. Beautifully written article, well worth the read.


I spent my formative years in the small predominately black city of East Saint Louis, Illinois.  I grew up with friends whose names were Shaunta, Kwintessa, LaCreshia, Tameka, Ariana, Tanisha, and Miesha.  The boys who chased us had names like Lamont, Tyrone, Demetrius, Terrell, Malik, Darnell and Jamal. Everything about what we called each other felt right.  These were our names and we carried them with pride, correcting pronunciation when warranted, enunciating each consonant and vowel, spelling it when the listener didn’t return the right phonetic sounds associated with our identity.     

It wasn’t until I moved to the suburbs that I realized the shame that had been misappropriated upon such names.  How both black and white folks with plainer names snickered at those of us who had more intricately “ethnic” names. It was when I shared classrooms with the Sarahs, Emilys, Kates, Connors, Dustins and Lukes that I embraced nicknames—dropping…

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Homework Check: Upcoming Stories

Upcoming stories for the week, across the nation:


Across the World, Teachers Under Fire: Israel Edition

This past week, an Israeli teacher was dismissed for expressing views. The actual words are unknown, but the media is saying they were leftist and critical of Israel policies and the military.

In the past few years a number of teachers, particularly of subjects such as history and civics, have complained that it is increasingly difficult to discuss controversial issues in class, such as human rights in general and the rights of Israeli Arabs in particular, as well as the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces. Teachers say students often express themselves in a manner that borders on violent when it comes to such subjects. Saying the Education Ministry does not support them, many teachers prefer to avoid addressing “sensitive issues.”

It is no surprise that Israel’s policies would make it increasingly difficult to speak out against Israel.  Even   outside of Israel, it is difficult to speak out critically of the regime.  If a teacher of critical thinking, history, social sciences and so forth is unable to express multiple sides of issues and arguments, then what is left of those subjects in Israel?

It would also be one thing if these were young children, but these were high school students who are more than capable to handle (and should be handling) conflict and debate. What kinds of adults does Israel want to create? How will they navigate and understand not just their own government, but others government and peoples of the world?

As a soon to be civics instructor, it bothers me deeply to see these types of incidents occurring in a supposed democracy and our ally. Firings and resignations of educators are only increasing in Israel. What does this say about education in their country? And what does this say about the future population as well?

(Cross posted on tumblr)

BREAKING NEWS – Pittsburgh rescinds TFA Contract!

Breaking news: the Pittsburgh school board has rescinded its contract with Teach for America!

This is a HUGE victory for all of us involved in education and education justice, especially here in the city of Pittsburgh. ALL students should have fully trained professionals. ALL students should have a strong nation and alleviation from poverty in order to make success a persistent reality.

I have not been writing on Modern Pencil recently, due to my efforts in writing to leaders and putting pressure on the system. As someone who has worked/been involved with the District since 2007, I am elated to see our district turn this down. I only now we can address school closings, teacher layoffs, “restructuring”, poverty/inequality/social justice in our city, and of course, education profiteering. Obviously we share many of the problems that other urban communities do and I hope we are an inspiration for other communities contemplating this decision.

Keep fighting the good fight. Don’t ever let anyone tell you we can’t win.

Shooting – Vicinity of Brashear High School Pittsburgh, PA

A terrible day today in Pittsburgh, especially for the communities surrounding Brashear High School.

I am listening to the press conference now. I waited some time due to the initial information being somewhat misleading as it was unfolding.

Brashear will be on a modified lockdown tomorrow and Friday.  According to my AESOP and sub requests, they will need many in the upcoming days.

According to the conference, it seems an incident in October occurred, but the police could not prosecute because the victim did not want to. Rather, he “wanted to take matter his own hands”. He had not been in school since the incident. This involved drugs, revenge, robbery, and in between the lines- poverty.

And a final note. Pittsburgh, like many cities, has a penchant for loving its neighborhoods. This is okay, but sometimes it comes at a fault. We ignore or feel as though other neighborhoods are full of  others, outside of us, hell, even against us, despite sharing a common city with perhaps a slightly different zipcode. For all of the university students, outsiders, wealthy, poor residents alike in our city—no one outside of Pittsburgh gives a shit about what neighborhood you are from or live in.  So, yes, we should be concerned about minors carrying guns and “taking matters into their own hands” in our backyard. Because no matter what side of the river you live on, we share a common human identity and this, this is tragic and unacceptable.