A+ R A-

George Curry

Take a Recess from Closing Public Schools

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has announced plans to close at least 50 schools as a cost-cutting measure. But before any other urban school system follows suit, it should take an extended recess and reflect on what has happened in the past that makes this such a foolish idea.

We can start by looking at what has happened in Chicago. A volunteer group called CREATE –Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education – has produced a briefing paper on past school closings that provides some interesting insight.

First, there is the issue of trust. Based on its past performance, there is no reason to trust the Chicago Board of Education’s financial projections. The board approved a budget with a $245 million deficit for the 2010-2011 school year. But instead of a deficit, the board ended up with a $328 million surplus.

There was a similar pattern for the 2011-2012 school year. The board budgeted for a $214 million deficit. Instead, it had a surplus of $328 million. In each year, the board missed its target by $500 million.

And what about the students who had to enroll in new schools and students who had to receive them? Bad news on both counts.

“A 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) found that 82% of the students from 18 elementary schools closed in Chicago moved from one underperforming school to another underperforming school, including schools already on probation,” said CREATE. “In a follow up 2012 report, the CCSR determined that 94% of students from closed Chicago schools did not go to ‘academically strong’ new schools.”

It cited another study that found “students who transitioned into new schools following closure scored lower on tests one year after closure; they were at an increased risk of dropping out, as well as an increased risk of not graduating.”

The researcher stated, “School closings will also negatively affect the achievements for students in the receiving schools… For one thing, closings often lead to increased class sizes and overcrowding in receiving schools. As a result, the pace of instruction is slower and the test scores for both mobile students and non-mobile students tend to be lower in schools with high student mobility rates.”

When the Chicago School Board announced its previous closings, it figured it would sell, lease or repurpose half of the schools. However, a Pew study found that of the buildings closed between 2005 and 2012, only 17 schools were either sold, leased or repurposed. Another 24 closed properties remain on the market.

Surprisingly, of the 77 public schools closed in the past decade, 80 percent now house other schools.

Everyone realizes that with a dwindling school-aged population, not as many schools will be needed in the future. And across the country, we have seen how former schools have been converted to community health centers, churches, community centers and other useful facilities.

But if they are simply becoming schools again, what’s the point in closing them in the first place?

Chicago is not the only major city that has overpromised and under delivered in public education.

Administrators in Washington, D.C. boasted about how much money they would save by closing a group of schools.

Pointing to a report by the Office of the D.C. Auditor, CREATE noted, “The audit determined that instead of saving the district $30 million, as claimed by former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, the closures actually cost the city $40 million after factoring in the expense of demolishing buildings, removing furnishings, and transporting students.

“Further, the district lost another $5 million in federal and state grants as students left the system, many to charter schools being built in tandem with the closings.”

With all the lip service paid to public education by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, he has not been willing to put his money where his mouth is. Instead of investing in a school system still reeling from a teachers’ strike last fall, he has announced plans for the city to fund a new 12,000-seat basketball arena for DePaul University – a private school.

Under the plan, the facility will be built with $125 million in public funds, including about $55 million in tax-increment financing and $70 million in hotel and transportation taxes. The facility will be built near McCormick Place.

“Our biggest concern is killing the neighborhood with a venue that sits vacant for most of its useful life and, the only time it is used, it’ll be largely for an alcohol-focused sporting venue that will bring unwanted rowdiness, security and parking issues,” Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “There are 18 DePaul home games. Let’s add in other convention events. Add Rush Arena football. You could add and add and add and you’re still going to end up with a massive facility that will sit vacant for most of its useful life and not add any value economically.” Or, educationally.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Obama's Troubles Aren't Comparable to 'Watergate'

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) The Obama administration deserves to be richly criticized for surreptitiously obtaining the telephone records of reporters for the Associated Press, especially for bypassing court proceedings that would have allowed executives of the news organizations an opportunity to at least argue against releasing the documents.

It was also wrong to single out conservative organizations for special IRS scrutiny. In case you haven’t noticed, the names of practically all Black professional organizations begin with the word “National.” That’s because most organizations bearing the name “American” – such as the American Bar Association and the American Dental Association – are professional groups that once barred Blacks from membership. That’s why we had to start our “National” organizations. If it’s okay to target conservative groups today, there is nothing to prevent a future president or IRS commissioner from targeting organizations with the word “National” in their name.

Still, the actions of some Obama administration officials should not be compared to Watergate, as was the case on last Sunday’s talk shows.

To refresh your recollection, as many of the Watergate witnesses would say, Watergate is a reference to a series of scandals that began with the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. and ended with President Richard M. Nixon resigning on August 9, 1974 rather than face certain impeachment.

The five men arrested in connection with the Watergate burglary were linked to Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President. It was later revealed that Nixon had recorded many conversations in the Oval Office that showed that he had knowledge about what his Press Secretary Ron Ziegler labeled “a third-rate burglary” and had attempted to cover-up his involvement. Nixon’s fought to keep the tapes private, but the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that he had to turn them over to government investigators.

Nixon resigned in disgrace and 43 people, including his top White House aides, were sent to prison. Nixon’s successor, Gerald R. Ford, pardoned Nixon, the only U.S. president to resign from office.

Unlike Nixon, President Obama said – and there’s been no evidence presented to contradict him – that he didn’t know about the IRS impropriety until after it had been disclosed in a report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general.

Obama said, “I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog’s report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that’s worthy of the public’s trust, and that’s especially true for the IRS.”

Instead of noting the distinction between Nixon’s role in Watergate and Obama’s non-role in the latest scandals, CBS’ Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer told Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffe on Sunday, “You know, I don’t want to compare this in any way to Watergate. I do not think this is Watergate by any stretch…but I have to tell you that is exactly the approach that the Nixon administration took. They said, ‘These are all second-rate things, we don’t have time for this, we have to devote our time to the people’s business.’ You’re taking exactly the same line that they did.”

Schieffer, who covered Watergate for CBS, should know better. And so should Peggy Noonan, a former White House speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

On NBC’s Meet The Press, Peggy Noonan defended her May 17 Wall Street Journal column in which she claimed that we “are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate.” When host David Gregory pressed her, Noonan said, “This IRS thing is something I’ve never seen in my lifetime.”

But the Boston Globe noted last Friday, “As startling as the reports have been in recent days – from the IRS targeting of conservative groups to the Justice Department seizing phone records of the Associated Press – one Nixonian element so far is missing: There has been no evidence that Obama himself ordered or knew about the actions.”

John Dean, White House counsel during the Nixon administration, told the newspaper, “I find the comparison – that whoever is making the analysis is challenged in their understanding of history.” He said, “There are no comparisons. They’re not comparable with any of the burgeoning scandals.”

The Globe observed, “And Dean is in a position to know. Nearly 41 years ago, Dean was with Nixon in the Oval Office on a Friday afternoon when the president wondered aloud about utilizing the powers of the IRS to target his political opponents.”

Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, told Politico: “In the Nixon White House, we heard the president of the United States on tape saying ‘Use the IRS to get back on our enemies.’ We know a lot about President Obama, and I think the idea that he would want the IRS used for retribution – we have no evidence of any such thing.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Cleveland's Charles Ramsey: Hood or Hero?

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) When some of us saw the first video of Charles Ramsey, the colorful Black dishwasher in Cleveland who is being celebrated as a hero for rescuing three White women captives from horrid conditions in a Cleveland house, we had a flashback to Antoine Dodson, who became a flamboyant Internet sensation after saving his sister from a would-be rapist in their Huntsville, Ala. housing apartment, and Sweet Brown, who barely escaped a fire in her Oklahoma City complex.

But more than any other famous “hilarious Black neighbor” Internet sensation, the coverage of Ramsey – and his criminal past – raises serious questions about how we treat a hero with a troubled past and, yes, how Blacks and Whites look at the same event through different prisms of race.

First, as they say in TV news, let’s go to the videotape.

“I’ve been here a year,” Ramsey said in an interview with WEWS, a local television station. Referring to Ariel Castro, the suspect arrested for holding the women against their will, Ramsey said, “You see where I’m coming from? I barbeque with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listen to salsa music…

“He just comes out in his backyard, plays with the dogs, tinkers with his cars and motorcycles, goes back in the house. So he’s somebody you look, then look away. He’s not doing anything but the average stuff. You see what I’m saying? There’s nothing exciting about him. Well, until today.”

Ramsey explained that Castro “got some big testicles to pull this off, bro.”

He added, “I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty White girl ran into a Black man’s arms. Something wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

There was plenty wrong, as Ramsey learned when he put down his McDonald’s Big Mac and answered a call for help from Amanda Berry, who had been last seen in 2002 on the eve of her 17th birthday. The two other women were Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, who had been missing since 2004 at the age of 14, and Michelle Knight, who disappeared in 2002 at the age of 21.

While being hailed as a hero, Ramsey was the object of both racism and ridicule.

Though we’re reluctant to publicly admit it, some African-Americans cringed at the sight of Ramsey. His hair, curled in the back like Al Sharpton’s do and as slick as Chuck Berry’s, is interspersed with what we once called post office hair – each nap has its own route. This is one of the few cases where a person’s mug shot looks better than his real life photo.

To put this in context, think back to when Black civil rights protesters dressed up in their Sunday’s best, knowing they were going to get physically assaulted by police and White supremacists. Then, as now, image matters. Especially when one of us appears on TV. Still, there are plenty of people in our community who look like Ramsey and their speech and appearance make them no less valuable than the best dressed and most articulate among us.

Some have suggested than many Whites take delight in seeing Blacks caricatured in the image of Charles Ramsey and Antoine Dodson.

“Perhaps it’s time for the world’s meme artists to stop assuming that any black dude getting interviewed on local news about a crime he helped to foil can be reduced to some catch-phrase or in-joke,” Miles Klee wrote on Blackbookmag.com. “It’s just baffling that we’re trying to find a way to laugh about what is, in itself, a harrowing turn of events.”

Most of us knew, or at least suspected deep down, that something about Ramsey’s past would surface, causing further embarrassment.

The Smoking Gun website disclosed on May 8 that Ramsey “is a convicted felon whose rap sheet includes three separate domestic violence convictions that resulted in prison terms.”

Blacks instantly asked: Why is something that happened a decade ago – and had nothing to do with Ramsey’s heroism – relevant today? Cleveland’s WEWS-TV, facing a backlash from viewers, apologized for reporting on Ramsey’s criminal past.

“While the story was factually sound, the timing of it and publication of such information was not in good taste, and we regret it,” the station said on its Facebook page.

Normally, I would agree that Ramsey’s criminal past, certainly in this situation, should be irrelevant. But there’s nothing normal about this case. Unfortunately, Ramsey invited the scrutiny when he said he suspected domestic violence because he “was raised to help women in distress.”

In view of that assertion, Ramsey’s domestic violence convictions – hardly a record of helping women in distress – became fair game and should have been reported by the news media. But the reporting should not end there. Ramsey’s ex-wife, since remarried, said Ramsey eventually apologized for battering her and they now interact on “an okay basis.”

In addition, she posted two earlier photos of Ramsey on her Facebook page. She told the Smoking Gun, “For my daughter’s sake I show he didn’t always look hood.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

South Africa's Best Kept Secret

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – When Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress comrades were plotting to overthrow the White minority-rule apartheid regime in South Africa, Lilies Farm in Rivonia, just north of Johannesburg, served as their secret hideout.

Today, 19 years after South Africa made a bloodless transition to a democracy with the election of Mandela as its first Black president, the picturesque land, now called Liliesleaf, is South Africa’s best kept secret.

Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe bought the farm in 1961 to serve as headquarters for the underground Communist Party and as a safe house for political refugees, including Mandela and Govan Mbeki, the father of Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president.

Goldreich and his wife, Hazel, served as the public face of the sprawling residence. To the outside world, they were living a life of affluence with plenty of Black handy men around to make their life easier. But the carefully crafted public perception masked plans to end minority rule by violence. The farm gave birth to MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe – the Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the African National Congress.

“From its headquarters the National High Command had planned its campaign of guerrilla warfare, sabotage and violence, Joel Joffe wrote in The State vs. Nelson Mandela: The Trial that Changed South Africa. “It has installed a radio transmitter, known as Radio Liberation, and had made a study of armaments and explosives and produced plans for large-scale production of grenades, time-bombs and other explosives”

On the carefully manicured land was a large manor house for the owners, with several outbuildings that housed revolutionaries posing as workers.

“I moved in under the pretext that I was the houseboy or caretaker who would look after the place until my master took possession,” Mandela, an attorney, wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. “I had taken the alias David Motsamayi, the name of one of my former clients. At the farm, I wore the simple blue overalls that were the uniform of the black male servant.”

The groundwork for converting the farm into a museum began in 2002. The restoration project preserved the farm’s original character; approximately 60 percent of the infrastructure uses the original bricks.

A tour of the museum includes a stop in a room with a 3-D presentation that incorporates video, and photographic images of the ANC leaders and their surroundings. Using two aluminum “navigators,” visitors can look back at various aspects of apartheid. In an adjoining room, an old radio plays the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by ANC President Albert Luthuli, who was honored for leading a non-violent struggle against apartheid.

Across the lawn, in a row of living units, is Mandela’s old apartment. Inscribed on a rectangular window outside are the words: “Room 12 Nelson Mandela’s Room.”

Before stepping inside, I took a deep breath, realizing I was about to walk into history – literally. After pausing, I slowly followed the tour guide inside, where I was suddenly face-to-face with a large photo of a young, dapper, smiling Nelson Mandela. His hair is neatly parted in the middle. The impeccably dressed Mandela is outfitted in a double-breast suit stylishly finished off with a pocket square.

The only furniture in the room is a desk used by Mandela. The writing on the desk stated, “On 20 April 1964, Nelson Mandela delivered his Statement from the Dock at the opening of the Defence case at the Ravonia Trial. He chose to not make a statement to avoid being cross examined. He spoke for five hours, clearly presenting his role in the underground movement and his conviction that the Liberation Movement had no choice but to resort to armed struggle against a white government that refused to listen to the grievances of its non-white people…”

The trial was preceded by a July 11, 1963 police raid on the farm that captured 19 revolutionaries. They were charged with sabotage, conspiring to launch a violent revolution against the state, and advancing the cause of Communism. Eight ANC members, including Nelson Mandela who was already in custody at the time of the raid, were sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years; Walter Sisulu, 26 years and Govan Mbeki, 24 years.

In the epilogue to Joel Joffe’s book, Edelgard Nkobi-Goldberg noted that documents recovered after the trial showed “…The American CIA and the British M15 kept Liliesleaf under observation. Both secret services had long been actively engaged in these activities at least from the time of Nelson Mandela’s international travels in 1962. They had informed the South African security service about everything that happened during his journey and followed his movements after his return to South Africa. And that might have led to his arrest.”

Regardless of what prompted the arrests, there is no doubt that the Ravonia Trial put South African apartheid on the world’s agenda. Although the museum is advertised as a tourist spot, it remains one of South Africa’s best kept secrets.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Remembering How Black South Africans Won their Freedom

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – A trip to South Africa provides painful reminders of the protracted struggle to establish democracy, how the United States propped up the White minority-rule government and the courage Black South Africans demonstrated to win their freedom.

A key aspect of the struggle is vividly captured in the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum in the heart of Soweto, not far from the homes of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. The name of the museum itself is steeped in unforgettable history. The most compelling image of the Soweto student protest of 1976 is a photo taken by Sam Nzima.

In the foreground of a crowd of Black student protesters is a tearful Mbuyisa Makhuba, a high school student, running with the small, limp body of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson and his screaming sister, Antoinette, running beside them.

The teenager’s story is told inside the museum under the heading, “An individual life can change society.” It begins: “Hector Pieterson lost his life under police fire on June 16, 1976 during a student march protesting Afrikaans as the language of instruction in African schools. He was thirteen years old. News of his death and the violence that subsequently erupted in most African townships in South Africa spread rapidly across the world. In his death Hector Pieterson became a symbol of the plight of the black South African youth under the yoke of Apartheid.”

It continued, “His public funeral commemorated, as does this museum, all those who died as a result of the tragic events of June 16, 1976 – a turning point in the struggle towards a true South African democracy.”

Hector Pieterson became one of many martyrs of the fight against apartheid, a rigid system of racial segregation designed to keep the White minority in control of the country’s political, economic and social system.

In fact, Pieterson’s last protest march was prompted by the ruling National Party’s decision to force Black schools to use Afrikaans – which Bishop Desmond Tutu called “the language of oppression” – and English in equal measure.

On April 20, 1976, students at Orlando West Junior High School went on strike, refusing to go to school. The protest quickly spread to other schools in Soweto. On the morning of June 16, an estimated 20,000 students started walking from the junior high school to Orlando Stadium, where they had planned to hold a mass rally before continuing to the regional office of the Department of Bantu Education.

Instead of allowing the students to walk peacefully, police barricaded the march route and unleashed dogs on the crowd. According to some news accounts, students stoned the dogs and police soon began opening fire on the students, killing 13-year-old Pieterson and 22 others that day, all but two of whom were Black. At the end of a series of protests, called the Soweto uprising, estimates of those killed ranged from 176 to more than 600.

The violent attack on the children thrust the African National Congress (ANC) to the forefront of Black political protest and ignited international protests. But that did not curb the all-White police force’s appetite for violence.

A quote from Steve Lebelo, a student at Madibane High School, describes the violence that was inflicted on the community in the immediate aftermath of Pieterson’s death. The quote, which also hangs in the museum, recalls:

“It was on the 17th and 18th, when police went out and systematically were killing people. I do know that suddenly there was the infamous green car. It was a 3800 Chev, it was a green car, and at the time they were used mostly by the police. We suspected that they had a sniper in there who picked up people at random and shot and killed them. I do know a friend of mine who was killed on the 19th of June, under the same circumstances. He had gone to the shop, and as he came back from the shop carrying a litre of milk, he was shot by a sniper and killed.”

Above the quote is a photo of a green Chevrolet, loaded with White men, with rifles sticking out of the windows.

There are other reminders throughout the museum. There is a picture of a small, naked child being drenched in a bottle of water to soothe her pain in tears. Another photograph contains student protesters, with one holding up a sign reading, “To hell with Afrikaans.”

Erected in 2002, the museum honors the memory of the students who died in the uprising. A brick bearing each name is built into the ground just steps from the entrance of the museum, which is only two blocks away from where Pieterson was killed.

The inscription about Hector Pieterson in the museum ends by noting, “When National Youth Day is celebrated each year on June 16 at the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, it becomes a national site of commemoration, also reflecting current changes in the articulation of the South African democracy.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Page 17 of 40

BVN National News Wire