Category: education

“Only a movement built on love”: Michelle Alexander at Riverside Church

“Now I want to be clear that when I’m talking about love, I’m not just talking about love for people who have committed crimes like we may have committed, crimes that we think are not so bad; I’m talking about the kind of care and love that keeps on loving no matter who you are or what you have done. It’s that kind of love that is needed to build this movement.”  (Michelle Alexander)

In the 1920s, with the fundamentalist-modernist controversy raging within his own Northern Baptist Convention, John D. Rockefeller built an architecturally imposing church in the heart of one of New York’s most prestigious neighborhoods, opened it to people of all Christian denominations and called an American Baptist preacher named Harry Emerson Fosdick to be his pastor.  Through the years, Riverside Church has become associated with prophetic preaching, dramatic worship and ecumenical mission.

In 1992, Riverside Church adopted a statement of faith proclaiming:  “the worship of God, known in Jesus, the Christ, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit … to serve God through word and witness, to treat all human beings as sisters and brothers; and to foster responsible stewardship of God’s creation … The church pledges itself to education, reflection, and action for peace and justice and the realization of the vision of the heavenly banquet where all are loved and blessed.”

This statement of faith nicely captures the conclusion of Michelle Alexander’s address at Riverside this past weekend.  Calling for “A great awakening” Alexander re-stated her firm belief that only a new social movement can end mass incarceration in America.  As her closing remarks make clear, this movement must be built on a solid moral foundation and, for those of us who follow Jesus, that means taking our Savior at his word.  (more…)

Kellogg challenges the colorblind consensus

By Alan Bean

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently launched a $75 million grant-making program dedicated to racial healing.  “We believe that all children should have equal access to opportunity,” the foundation’s website reads.  “To make this vision a reality, we direct our grants and resources to support racial healing and to remove systemic barriers that hold some children back. We invest in community and national organizations whose innovative and effective programs foster racial healing. And through action-oriented research and public policy work, we are helping translate insights into new strategies and sustainable solutions.”

In an article written for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Dr. Gail Christopher, Kellogg’s vice president for program strategy, addressed the issue squarely:

The vision that guides the work of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is clear: we envision a nation that marshals its resources to assure that all children thrive.  What may be less self-evident to some is the pernicious and self-perpetuating way in which racism impedes many children’s opportunities to do so. (more…)

Right-winger + hard time = compassion

prisonBy Alan Bean

Why are so many right-wingers suddenly arguing the case for criminal justice reform?  In this fascinating piece in Salon, Justin Elliot of Salon directs this question to Doug Berman, author of the influential Sentencing Law and Policy blog

Here are the highlights:

1. Prison is far more brutal than most people believe it to be

2. Most of the conservatives currently leading the smart on crime crusade have been locked up: Duke Cunningham, Charles Colson, Pat Nolan, Conrad Black

3. The religious concept of redemption generally plays a large role in these conversions.

4. Historically, mass incarceration required the enthusiastic cooperation of the political left

5. When you do hard time you realize that harsh penalties are typically applied to crimes disproportionately committed by minorities

6. Busting budgets and historically low crime rates make this a good time for reform, but . . .

7. The political forces that drove mass incarceration are always lurking. (more…)

Perry fiddles while Texas burns

By Alan Bean

“This is an engineered crisis—a thing that was done on purpose by people who do not mean well for our community, our city, our state or nation.” Jim Schutze

Texas is facing an estimated $27 billion deficit.  Governor Rick Perry and his fellow ideologues gutted the state’s property taxes two years ago, then sat back and waited for the inevitable.  At the time, according to this terrific article by Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer, Texas Comptroller, Diane Keaton Strayhorn, predicted that this radical decrease in tax money would create a deficit of $23 billion by 2011 unless new sources of revenue could be found. 

Ms. Strayhorn didn’t factor in the worst financial crisis since the great depression, but the accuracy of her numbers suggest that any thinking Texan could have seen the current imbroglio coming.  (Thanks to Gerald Britt at Change the Wind for bringing Mr. Schutze’s article to my attention). (more…)

Teachers are not the problem; poverty is

By Alan Bean

The current assault on America’s teachers has been brutal and bipartisan.  The correlation between family income and student test scores has been clear  for decades, but no one, even our progressive President, wants to acknowledge the obvious. 

In the decades following the civil rights movement, everyone knew that if we sat back and did nothing for poor and struggling families and communities we would eventually be dealing with a great, sprawling undercaste.  The crisis in education is a function of poverty.  We had a choice: schools or prisons.  We chose badly.

There are bad teachers just as there are bad mechanics and bad dentists–that has always been a given.  But bad teachers are not the problem; poor and broken families are the problem.  America chose to leave her most at-risk citizens to their own devices and our teachers live with the consequences every day of the school year, Monday through Friday.  They take these consequences home with them.  The consequences come unbidden in troubling dreams. 

I am not dispassionate and neutral on this issue; my wife and all three of my children are teachers.  I live with these brave people and my perspective has been shaped by their passion and their pain.

You may have seen Diane Ravitch on the Daily Show last week.  This short essay, written for the New York Times, summarizes the thesis of Ravitch’s new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” (more…)