Police and Students of Color: A Letter to the New York Times Columnist Whose Son Was Held at Gunpoint by the Campus Police

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Dear Charles Blow,

I was quite moved by your account ( 1/26) in the New York Times of the treatment of your son by the Yale campus police.

I should like to share a story with you. It also occurred on the campus of Yale University. The year was 1968. I was Director of the Yale Summer High School. Created as a spin-off of the War on Poverty, it brought together 150 underprivileged students, the majority of whom were students of color, from all over the country for a summer of study and “uplift” on the campus of the Yale Divinity School. These were exceptionally bright kids, many of whom were not succeeding in traditional schools, not because they couldn’t but because they chose not to.

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One such student was a young black woman from Chicago named Tonda. Her counselor considered her ” a child of the ghetto, an absolutely unique experience; old far beyond her years in the experience of living ; insightful about herself and others, sensitive to a fault, loyal, challenging, and complicated, with an insatiable curiosity about life.”

Of herself, she wrote: “I am a young woman of seventeen who is greatly concerned with the “going-on-ness” of history– about what it means to be a black student in America, the world, and the universe. Adults find me interesting, a bit cynical and rash, but willing to cooperate. I am, however, threatened by authority when it’s not used properly. As an independent person, I decide which rules to break in order to get the job done without causing damage to myself or my future.”

Tonda was a talented but difficult person with whom to deal. I had removed her from certain classes because of an incident of self-violence, and was counseling her privately. She was a handful…but well worth the effort.

I go to lengths in describing her that you might better understand what follows.

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It was 1:30 a.m. on a hot and humid Saturday night in late July. The girls from a visiting Upward Bound program were boarding their bus for the trip home following a dance we had sponsored. It was one of those delayed exits — with much kissing, hugging and good natured horseplay, when two campus policemen on their evening cruise suddenly arrived on the scene. They immediately sensed “trouble.” They stopped right in front of where the kids were gathered, shone their headlights on the kids. Disturbed by what he saw, the officer at the wheel took to his speaker, blaring a warning to disperse Things tensed perceptibly, as the good cheer among the students vanished, turning instead into confusion, indignation, and anger.

Suddenly, out of the shadows emerged Tonda. She grabbed me by the arm and said “Larry come with me.” She then stood me directly in front of the headlights, took me in her arms and planted a kiss right on my lips. That did it. The scene exploded with laughter. The tension lifted perceptibly, and all so magically, the crowd dispersed.

Still shaken by the police response, I went over to the patrol car, telling our protectors they had acted precipitously and that their actions could easily have provoked a serious incident. Unfazed by my criticism, the officer pointed to the departing students, noting “We sent them on their way. Now you see what they understand.” They then revved up their car and pulled away into the darkness.

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There are many aspects of the recent incident that are troubling–not just the reaction of the police. There are, for example, the letters of response to the Times, neatly orchestrated by the Editor that they might reflect an awkward but proper balance– reminding us how police have also been guilty of misconduct in their treatment of white people….Really now!

What has gone most unnoticed, however, is the role of the University itself. The campus police are employees of the University. Like all good employees, they reflect in their actions the values and wishes of those who employ them. Governor Christie may not have been directly responsible for the lane closings on the bridge, but the actions of his subordinates were consistent with the tone he set for his administration, his interests, and his values–so too with the campus police.

Yale will make its proper apologies, and a few wrists will get slapped. This is, after all, the son of a distinguished columnist for the New York Times. This does not speak well of the University’s image. But university life for the most part will go on as before. There was never any self reflection about issues of race and income disparity before, and there will be little afterwards.

You can study most everything at a University but the University itself. Today we are confronted with a society in which the plight of the disenfranchised and the alienated, particularly young people of color, has accelerated geometrically. Yale, as with most institutions of higher learning, however, pays very little attention to issues of race or to social and economic inequity or to the implicit assumptions of an elite education. It fails to provide its students an opportunity to challenge the assumptions by which they are being educated and those of the society of which they are supposed to become its leaders. About such matters, it is totally non self reflective.

There is no place for the Tondas of the world at Yale. There was no place there for the Yale Summer High School which the University long ago dismantled together with other real links to real world issues. But does not one have the right to expect more of a university? What is after all is its proper mission?

I can only propose my most idealistic version: A university is that one institution best prepared to engage in utopian formulation–to move beyond the technological and political values that inform the rest of society. That’s strictly “academic,” you say. That is perhaps the problem. The subject cannot be treated academically. The total university must put itself on the self-reflective line: administration, student body, faculty, curriculum, residential arrangements, and the full range of interpersonal relationships.

The failure of our universities to assume proper responsibility, to fully comprehend the larger picture, and explore fully new ways in which men and women might learn, live and work together can only lead to an extension of the present state of thoughtlessness and polarization that continues to divide the nation. That is the real tragedy in all of this.

Warmest regards,

Larry

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Larry Paros is a former high-school math and social-studies teacher. He was at the forefront of educational reform in the 1960s and ’70s, during which time he directed a unique project for talented underprivileged students at Yale and created and directed two urban experimental schools, cited by the U.S. Office of Education as “exemplary” and later replicated at more than 125 sites nationwide.

HOT FLASH: ISIS Takes Responsibility for Deflation-Gate

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We’ve seen this movie before. Or have we? A barren desert background, a masked Islamic terrorist or two, the ISIS flag, a forlorn prisoner in an orange jumpsuit, kneeling on the ground.

This time, however, something’s different.

Rather than their usual garb, the Islamists are bedecked in ash colored hunting shirts and leggings; tri-corned hats sit firmly atop their heads. Their hands hold not beheading swords, but 18th century muskets. The prisoner bears a marked resemblance to Terry Bradshaw, former star quarterback and now erstwhile Football analyst.

Peering into the camera, the two terrorists begin with a haunting chant: “Je suis Belichick.” It is repeated thrice in sober tones; concluding with a prayerful coda, “The Patriots are all-knowing. The Patriots are great.”

The taller of the two speaks: “Let the truth be known. We are the ones behind Deflate-Gate. We alone are responsible for letting the air out of the balls.

This is no isolated incident, but part of a larger plan to subvert America’s most treasured institution. Who do you think is responsible for the epidemic of brain dysfunction among NFL athletes? Amazing what a few well placed terrorists can accomplish by simply spiking a team’s Gatorade.

As to the violence against women by NFL athletes, these are not random events but the result of organized brainwashing by our operatives of athletes who have received training in the proper role of women and their subservience to their husbands.

You cannot outrun our reach. ISIS is everywhere.” The other terrorist interjects, “I hate to be a nudge, but I believe that’s ISIL.” “Whatever, the first replies, “You say ‘ISIS,’ I say ‘ISIL;’ let’s just cut the infidel’s head off.”

He continues. “Let the entire sports world know that we and we alone have the balls to play the Superbowl. They are nestled comfortably but firmly in our hands.

Our demands are simple and straightforward. If you want to save the life of this worthless broadcaster, and proceed with this inane contest, send us two (holding up two fingers) tickets for the game, on the fifty yard line, priority mail to Joe Terrorist, PO Box 6666, San’a, Yemen, 9-11-2001.”

The other terrorist holds up five fingers.

“See you in Glendale,” they call out in unison, as a third terrorist comes into the picture, wearing a Seahawk 12th man jersey and clutching a picture of Russell Wilson.

The screen goes dark.

Posted on Huffingtonpost by Larry Paros on HP

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Reflections of an Octogenarian II: Educational Reform, or Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before

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Gore Vidal once referred to the U.S.A. as “The United States of Amnesia.” In no area of human endeavor is forgetfulness more the norm than it is in education.

It’s a notion I have not taken to gracefully. My current mantra is, “Been there, seen it, done it;” followed by the old saw that insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. A function of old age, congenital contrariness, and just plain weariness, it’s what comes of former educational reformers. They don’t go quietly into the dark night but go down yelling loudly right to the very end.

Bitterly complaining about the quality of American education is part of our history. When I first became a teacher in the 1950s, it was James Conant, former President of Harvard, and Admiral Rickover, father of the atomic submarine. In 1957, came the political outcry in reaction to fears of Russian global ascendancy with the launching of Sputnik — attributing America’s failure to be number one in space to lack of rigor in our schools.

Over a half century later, President Obama revived that specter, recalling how Sputnik provoked the United States to increase investment in math and science education and helped America win the space race. He warned that with billions of people in India and China having been “suddenly plugged into the world economy,” only those nations with the most educated workers would prevail,” and how, “America is in danger of falling behind.” Here we go again — more fire-bells ringing in the mid of night.

Back to the 1960s and the Great Society — a time when federal efforts in education ramped up significantly in the form of assistance to schools and colleges seeking to eliminate racial segregation, developing new strategies for educating disadvantaged children and in broadening access to higher education for previously neglected youths. Many programs failed; a few succeeded. Lessons from these efforts provide instructive experiences that can guide future efforts in educational reform. But for the most part they have been ignored.

The late ’60s and ’70s featured a blossoming of educational reform and a progressive vision. Programs of compensatory education were joined with the free school and alternative education movements. Most of these efforts, however, were not taken seriously and were prematurely aborted — succeeded by a wave of counter-reaction. They have also been banished from recent memory.

The 1980s were driven by A Nation at Risk, a report chronicling the latest “crisis,” citing abysmally low basic skill scores, low basic comprehension rates, and high drop-out rates, recommending more rigorous standards, the standardization of curricula, and a program of National testing… Sound familiar?

In keeping with its recommendations, by the mid-1980s, 45 states had gotten with the program, expanding their testing programs, instituting more strenuous graduation requirements, cutting frills, and returning to basics (as if they had ever left them in the first place). In the end, however, it all proved so much sound and fury… signifying nothing. Research revealed that this highly orchestrated and costly effort had not the slightest effect on student learning and comprehension. Even when legislated merit pay systems were added to the mix, little of this trickled down to the classroom. None of it ever enhanced the students’ ability to learn.

Shouldn’t this historical backdrop have been at least noted amid the current hue and cry for more rigorous standards and high-stake testing procedures? If not, the current effort must be judged to be more about public relations and politics than serious educational thought, in which case, damn the torpedoes (and the history) and full speed ahead!

Many eons ago, I taught plane geometry. I took special pleasure in its leitmotif which was both simple and elegant. The subject matter started with a few simple axioms which students could then use to prove a series of theorems. The neat thing about the process was that after you had proven a particular theorem, there was no need to reprove it. You could simply cite it in proving subsequent theorems with which you were confronted. And so the subject matter built, brick by brick, theorem by theorem — a glorious superstructure of thought unfolding before your very eyes.

There is no such historical consciousness in American education. We go through a variety of experiences, bad and good, yet learn nothing from them. We invent terrific programs but go on to forget we had ever done so. Can you detect a trace of not only bitterness but also sadness in my voice, as one who led such efforts?

There is no reason that any profession should ignore its past and spend its current energy reinventing everything it knows. Imagine if medical research, seeking to create new and effective vaccines, ignored past failures and successes to do so. That would be totally unacceptable. Yet in education such insanity is an ingrained and acceptable pattern.

Meanwhile, articles appear regularly in our press, celebrating new approaches, often billed as “revolutionary.” In reality, however, they are only shadow replicas of what has been done before. They are characterized by a remarkable failure of attribution; and by promoting their novelty and exaggerating their potential impact, lull readers into a false sense of complacency and a congratulatory attitude that we are at last on the right track, perpetuating the myth that society really cares about such matters while fostering the illusion that the culture is truly thinking outside the box.

Does anyone out there remember Title III? Title I, yes: additional funding for schools serving poor kids; Title IX, yes: gender equity in schools, and its impact on women’s athletics. But Title III? “Doh!” Decades before charter schools became our anointed savior, groups of eager parents and inspired teachers nationwide, started their own schools, serving public school students using public funds, both federal and local. How soon they forget.

There has never been a dearth of good ideas, good people, and good programs. There has only been a failure of will — to act on what is already known. “Been there, seen it, done it.”

What were those lessons? Stay tuned. Is anyone there?

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Reflections of an Octogenarian I: Kids, What do They Know Anyway? Raising the Political and Social Literacy of the Young

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The year was 1965. It was a warm fall day, and I was driving Paul Goodman, the noted thinker and prominent social theorist to his hotel. He was to be a guest speaker at a program I had created for area high school students to dialogue with prominent writers, artists, and politicians.

This was the Paul Goodman: Playwright, Poet, Philosopher, Psychotherapist, and Anarchist, the writer once called “A Thoreau for the 20th century.” I was in awe of the man. He was my idol. I had devoured his works and taken many of his ideas to heart. They had been the primary inspiration for my present and future calling–transforming a moribund and non-responsive educational system into something more humane. On the wall of my study, I had posted his words as a personal challenge: “The notion that nothing can be done is completely unsatisfactory to me. Something must be done.”

And here I was, alone in the car with the man himself. I was thrilled to have his full attention. After a few minutes of awkward chit-chat, I cut to the chase with a question I had been dying to ask, “Mr. Goodman, you are one of the best known thinkers in the country. Your criticism cuts to the very heart of the hypocrisies of our culture, but why don’t you lay out some practical alternatives and work to make them happen? We need to build new models so that people can see those ideas in action to realize their possibilities.” At which point he tamped down his pipe, turned to me and said, “That’s not what I do.”

It was a pivotal moment in my life, and a challenge I felt compelled to take up.

Accordingly, the focus of my life’s work has been on blending theory and practice. That’s just what I do, and who I am. And this is a clarion call to unearth and encourage similar kindred spirits today.

Towards that end, I offer the first of several past efforts, in the hope that they will prove of interest to others. They are set not in concrete but in silly putty– not to be replicated but challenged and reshaped from the perspective of the present, employing the technology of 2015, and the talents and skill-sets of those who take them on. So let’s dig in, beginning with the program which Paul Goodman attended.

Between 1964 and 1968, Yale Law School was the scene of a truly extraordinary happening. Each spring and fall, large assemblies of high school students from the Greater New Haven area filled all 600 seats of the Law School auditorium to hear major thinkers discuss and debate contemporary controversial issues, after which they repaired to classrooms to discuss those issues among themselves in workshops led by Yale undergraduates, supplemented with reading material provided in advance plus a suggested reading list for those who wished to delve further. Over five years, we held 54 such Saturday programs, numerous specials, and also one summer program. Attendance totaled between 15-20,000. There was no charge for the program. It was called Perspectives.

The purpose of the program was to encourage and sustain an interest among young people in the issues confronting a free society by exposing them to a variety of perspectives through lectures, reading, debate and discussion. Our goal was the development of an analytic and questioning spirit– elevation of their social, political, and artistic literacy.

Topics included: Dialogues on Race from a legal and historical perspective; its psychological and moral dimensions, and on Being Black (then called “Negro”) in America; Censorship; Sexual Morality; The Cold War: Anti-Communism as Policy; the Limits of Protest and Dissent; Morality, Ethics, and Foreign Policy; and the Arms Race. We held one of the earliest, if not the first, teach-ins on Vietnam. There was also a program on The Arts, including The New American Cinema, Jazz as an Art Form, and special theatrical programs in conjunction with Long Wharf Theater.

Speakers were drawn from the faculty of Yale and its Law School as well as from across the nation. It include such luminaries, as Reverend William Sloan Coffin, Jr.; C. Vann Woodward, Eleanor Holmes, later Eleanor Holmes Norton ( “On Being a Negro in America”) , then a law school student; Law School Dean Louis Pollak; Professor Alexander Bickel; N.Y. Times Education Editor, Fred Hechinger; A.J. Muste, head of The Committee for Non-Violent Action; Armando Chardiet, Castro’s former UN Ambassador; Dave Dellinger, Editor of Liberation; Floyd McKissick, the National Chairman of CORE; Julian Bond ( then of the Georgia State Legislature); Percy Sutton, Manhattan Borough President; Linguist and Social Critic, Noam Chomsky; diplomat, writer, and educator, Conor Cruise O’Brien; Vietnam war critic, Senator Wayne Morse; and from the National Review, its publisher, William Rusher, and contributors, including L. Brent Bozell, Ernest Van Den Haag, and Jeffery St. John. A Major Festival of the Black Arts included the poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, then known as Le Roy Jones; poet, Larry Neil, and actor, Ossie Davis.

Perspectives was my brainchild. I was a high school teacher and chairman of the history department of a local high school at the time. I had no staff except in the last year when I was assisted by two Yale students who assumed primary role after I had left the school system. I hustled and pasted together the program with scotch tape and baling wire on an annual budget of $1,000-$1,500. Honoraria for guest speakers averaged $75.

The program was billed as a collaborative effort between Yale and the New Haven School System. In truth, no one from either the School System nor from the Yale administration had anything to do with it. A friend, who had been a graduate school buddy and was then a Master of one of the colleges, surreptitiously helped me negotiate the booking of classrooms and the auditorium. The Program ended in 1968, not before it became immersed in controversy and charges swirling about me as a purveyor of communist ideology and corrupter of youth, though I was ultimately vindicated of same. I am proud of Perspectives, but the reason I go into such detail is not for ego-enhancement, but to show what a passionate single person on a non-budget can accomplish.

One year, I received A Christmas card. It began with “Dear Mr. Paros, You don’t know me. I’m just one of the kids who attends Perspectives…” A brief excerpt from it follows:

“I wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the hard work you put into the program…It really makes a kid feel really great to know that there are adults who respect his opinion and care enough about his education to offer a program like this.. So few adults take a sincere interest in high school students or care what they think. It’s a darn shame. Maybe if high school students had more people like you who would expose them to enriching opportunities, we’d have a less cynical society. Thank you for caring.
Love,
X”

Do we need something like Perspectives today? Stay tuned. Next–suggestions on a national program for 2015 and beyond.

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