Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Unemployment Identity Crisis in America

by Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M. © 2009-2016




After being rejected from a job that pays $18,000 / year at the women's prison, a job that pays $21,000 teaching Head Start, getting fired from Red Lobster (because apparently, I am just not Red Lobster "material" I decided to go to the Tennessee Career Center to take advantage of their high speed internet, free printer paper, and ink...

now would not be the best time to mention my senior thesis-- or my grad school major, or the fact that i spent the better part life as a volunteer and advocate for children at-risk.. working to give them hope and a second chance at life.

systematically invalidating such bogus, barnum-type feedback that one typically gets from a MBTI type of personality test that is given during high school or in college. i won't bother to mention the standardization of SAT scores to help our country feel better-- or the fact that the stanford-binet was created for military issue only.


who gives a shit anymore??? if you told a me a fat bearded lady at the circus could decide my fate and tell me what direction i should choose next-- i'd take it! and throw in a fat tip for being smart enough to know that any answer-- no matter how grim, is far better than just wandering aimlessly through life looking back on what might have been-- at THIRTY? at THIRTY-SIX???  How about 40? Or 45? Will I be 50 years old asking the same damn questions? 

after receiving five letters of rejection from jobs that require nothing more than a GED or a high school diploma, i decided to go to the tennessee career center hoping to find a job that will allow me to afford the most basic necessities of life. toothpaste, toilet paper, cat food... 

i got hooked up with a counselor that afternoon. he has two masters degrees-- one in educational career counseling, and a second in counseling psychology. could this be the guidance counselor i have been asking for since.. well... since... i was old enough to know was in need of guidance?


surely someone else must have recognized i was in need of guidance, but god knows my parents weren't paying attention, and having good genes just doesn't cut it these days. but now more than ever, i realize that having all the smarts in the world won't get you anywhere if you never learned how to apply them.

i am the exact same five year old who needed to win the spelling bee. in college, i was the one to set the curve, not just make it. the one to break the rules, and, break them i did, but there is no glory in being second best, second smartest, second brightest, or second anything.


i wish i could say that after all this time i developed other ego strengths and finally felt okay with who i am, you know.... "just being me," but i am sad to report that my "condition" (diagnosis) was amazingly accurate and predictable. just like all the doctors said! i wonder if they derive joy out of being right-- if they crack open a bottle of aged liquor in my fathers office and say, "see, we told you so. we told you their was nothing you could do." and so nothing they did.


and by doing nothing, and i do mean nothing-- the illness will just take will its course. and i am now, in fact, nothing. nothing costs nothing (at least to them) and daddy made another fine investment. on the other hand, nothing has drained every hope, fear, security-- every chance-- and every last breath from my body. i might have believed in me. but i know i'm alive because a tear just rolled down the side of my cheek. i am home.


but i still haven't learned. for some reason with all of my failures i am reminded of in so many ways... me, myself, as i watch them play out every time i shut my eyes or open them. yes- blink.

sometimes i ask myself, how did i get here? how did this happen? what happened to all of the plans i made for myself? where did they go? where did I go? constantly replayed over and over and over again in my mind. i must be F---ING CRAZY!


but at this moment, here, even as i say the words, i am not truly insane, i am merely in pain. what a tragedy that those two words rhyme-- they ruin what could have been a very profound misnomer of the human condition and the labels we hold so dear.


i am the exact same 5 year old who needed to ACE the spelling bee, set the curve, not just make it; break the rules, and, break them i did. there is no glory in being second best. second smartest, second brightest, or second anything. being second sucks. it sucks every god-damned second of the day.


so my search for mediocrity continues and i wait for it each and every day hoping it will find me beaten and worn from the storm. all of the storms, but dammit, its still there. i still have questions those damn elyssa questions that made all my professors so proud, damn ideas, damn thoughts, damn hope.


my mother still calls me everyday to see if i went to get food stamps to feed myself, #EFF her, and her #EFF'n things. #EFF diamonds, couture, and #EFF that life. i was here mom, the whole #EFF'n time. just not pretty enough with out any surgery. not pretty at all, with all those damn scars.


i hope someone out there still loves me. i do actually believe that i deserve love and kindness despite the obvious fact that i am a royal pain in the ass. i refuse to work in burger king. for right now, at least.

so goodnight my dear friends. let's all try to have sweet dreams. pepe awaits, as does alanis, and a pack of smokes that i can already taste.


yes, what could have been, what should have been-- what MIGHT have been if you let me be
m.e.


"When written in chinese, the word Crisis is composed of tvo characters: One represents danger and the other represents opportunity."  -JFK

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Unemployment Crisis in America

Unemployment Crisis in America

May 4th 2009
After being rejected from a job that pays $18,000 / year at the women's prison, a job that pays $21,000 teaching Head Start, getting fired from Red Lobster (because apparently, I am just not Red Lobster "material" I decided to go to the Tennessee Career Center to take advantage of their high speed internet, free printer paper, and ink...

now would not be the best time to mention my senior thesis-- or my grad school major, or the fact that i spent the better part life as a volunteer and advocate for children at-risk.. working to give them hope and a second chance at life.

systematically invalidating such bogus, barnum-type feedback that one typically gets from a MBTI type of personality test that is given during high school or in college. i won't bother to mention the standardization of SAT scores to help our country feel better-- or the fact that the stanford-binet was created for military issue only.

who gives a shit anymore??? if you told a me a fat bearded lady at the circus could decide my fate and tell me what direction i should choose next-- i'd take it! and throw in a fat tip for being smart enough to know that any answer-- no matter how grim, is far better than just wandering aimlessly through life looking back on what might have been-- at THIRTY? at THIRTY-SIX???

after receiving five letters of rejection from jobs that require nothing more than a GED or a high school diploma, i decided to go to the tennessee career center hoping to find a job that will allow me to afford the most basic necessities of life. toothpaste, toilet paper, cat food... i got hooked up with a counselor that afternoon. he has two masters degrees-- one in educational career counseling, and a second in counseling psychology. could this be the guidance counselor i have been asking for since.. well... since... i was old enough to know was in need of guidance?

surely someone else must have recognized i was in need of guidance, but god knows my parents weren't paying attention, and having good genes just doesn't cut it these days. but now more than ever, i realize that having all the smarts in the world won't get you anywhere if you never learned how to apply them.

i am the exact same five year old who needed to win the spelling bee. in college, i was the one to set the curve, not just make it. the one to break the rules, and, break them i did, but there is no glory in being second best, second smartest, second brightest, or second anything.

i wish i could say that after all this time i developed other ego strengths and finally felt okay with who i am, you know.... "just being me," but i am sad to report that my "condition" (diagnosis) was amazingly accurate and predictable. just like all the doctors said! i wonder if they derive joy out of being right-- if they crack open a bottle of aged liquor in my fathers office and say, "see, we told you so. we told you their was nothing you could do." and so nothing they did.

and by doing nothing, and i do mean nothing-- the illness will just take will its course. and i am now, in fact, nothing. nothing costs nothing (at least to them) and daddy made another fine investment. on the other hand, nothing has drained every hope, fear, security-- every chance-- and every last breath from my body. i might have believed in me. but i know i'm alive because a tear just rolled down the side of my cheek. i am home.

but i still haven't learned. for some reason with all of my failures i am reminded of in so many ways... me, myself, as i watch them play out every time i shut my eyes or open them. yes- blink.

sometimes i ask myself, how did i get here? how did this happen? what happened to all of the plans i made for myself? where did they go? where did I go? constantly replayed over and over and over again in my mind. i must be F---ING CRAZY!

but at this moment, here, even as i say the words, i am not truly insane, i am merely in pain. what a tragedy that those two words rhyme-- they ruin what could have been a very profound misnomer of the human condition and the labels we hold so dear.

i am the exact same 5 year old who needed to ACE the spelling bee, set the curve, not just make it; break the rules, and, break them i did. there is no glory in being second best. second smartest, second brightest, or second anything. being second sucks. it sucks every god-damned second of the day.

and so my search for mediocrity continues and i wait for it each and every day hoping it will find me beaten and worn from the storm. all of the storms, but dammit, its still there. i still have questions those damn elyssa questions that made all my professors so proud, damn ideas, damn thoughts, damn hope.

my mother still calls me everyday to see if i went to get food stamps to feed myself, #EFF her, and her #EFF'n things. #EFF diamonds, couture, and #EFF that life. i was here mom, the whole #EFF'n time. just not pretty enough with out any surgery. not pretty at all, with all those damn scars.

i hope someone out there still loves me. i do actually believe that i deserve love and kindness despite the obvious fact that i am a royal pain in the ass. i refuse to work in burger king. for right now, at least.

so goodnight my dear friends. let's all try to have sweet dreams. pepe awaits, as does alanis, and a pack of smokes that i can already taste.

yes, what could have been, what should have been-- what MIGHT have been if you let me be

m.e.

"When written in chinese, the word Crisis is composed of tvo characters: One represents danger and the other represents opportunity." -JFK

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In God We Trust? School Vouchers for Parochial School?


Elyssa D. Durant
Social Stratification 
Columbia University 









Guiding Questions


How can school vouchers reach a balance between serving the public interest and preserving. individual freedoms and rights?

What additional arguments can be presented for against the use of school vouchers for parochial schools?

How is the issue of school vouchers for sectarian institutions different or similar from issues surrounding prayer in school?

What are the common issues relevant to both Charter schools and voucher programs?

Since I have serious concerns regarding the long term outcomes of school choice and voucher programs, exacerbate the inequality between the rich and the poor. Since I believe that healthcare and education are both social goods, I have serious concerns about letting the free-market run amok during such a critical point in history.  I do not feel it is wise to allow for-profit market forces to dictate the any public good when natural rights are at stake.  The shortcomings of the Medicaid managed care programs, Medicare supplemental insurance policies, and demonstration projects such as the privatization of prisons provide sufficient evidence of the dangers of profit driven corporations in American culture. Corporate scandals with food and other suppliers contracted by the Board of Education in New York City provides an excellent example of how easy it is to manipulate funds away from the target recipients.

For example, private managed care companies offered gifts to boost enrollment by enticing desperate Medicaid recipients to join their plans.  I find this marketing strategy offensive when we are dealing with a social good albeit healthcare or education.  Vulnerable populations are frequently exploited through corporate contracts, and there is little reason to believe that for-profit conglomerates would treat public schools or economically disadvantaged students and families otherwise.

        Arguments on both sides of the school voucher issue are very similar to those presented for and against Charter Schools and free-market school choice.  Smrekar (1998) presents four key issues that have been at the center of the school choice debate:  (1) economic, (2) political; (3) social justice; and (4) pedagogical.

The economic argument in favor of school choice points out that our current public education system resembles a monopoly.  Proponents argue that the introduction of choice into the educational marketplace will promote competition and force schools with poor performance records to improve or close (Friedman, 1968).  

The political argument is centered on the democratic ideal that the freedom to choose where your child attends school is a fundamental right.  The political argument also triggers strong feelings about the role of education in a democratic society. 


 There are those who feel that the public school is intended, at least in part, to create a common set of core values that is best served by the public sector. At the core of the political school choice argument is a debate regarding the benefits of providing a common set of experiences in a democracy versus promoting individual choice and liberty (Smrekar, 1998).  This issue, while not dead, was challenged in 1925 when the Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510 (1925)) in favor of parents who sent their children to private school.  This argument continues today and is at the center of both school choice and curriculum debates.  

 The social justice argument is a bit more complicated and there is little agreement on any front. Proponents argue that school choice empowers the poor to participate in the education of their children by giving them the same options available to wealthier families in the United States.  According to a 1997 poll in USA Today, 47% of parents would send their children to private schools if they had the financial resources (Doyle, 1997).

Information is an essential component to any school choice program.  In order to ensure social equity in school choice programs we need to be sure that the poor are fully informed of their choices and are not taken advantage of in the open market.  It is believed that the act of choosing has positive effects on the school environment and promotes parental involvement in their children’s education (Doyle, 1997).  Additional components of the social justice argument have focused on the nuts and bolts of choice programs, and point out how there are several different ways that choice programs may (wittingly or unwittingly) promote social inequity (Cookson, 1995).  Such arguments focus on transportation problems, admissions policies, the availability of information, and how we define “choice” and implement policies regulating recruitment, enrollment and performance of participating schools, (Cookson, 1995; 1997).  

        The pedagogical argument points out that school choice programs are better suited for the individual needs inherent to a pluralistic society.  Although some feel there is value in providing core curriculum and a common set of basic skills, there is a current trend towards specialty schools that focus on the arts and sciences, technology, vocational training, etc.  Educators look towards successful magnet schools as examples of the pedagogical success that demonstrated the importance of school choice and parental involvement as indicators of educational outcomes.  Some educators fear that the introduction of school choice and voucher plans would prompt the best students to leave public schools and that this would have a negative effect on the overall climate of public classrooms.
        
        There are several different types of voucher programs, but the one which raises the most questions are voucher programs that give qualified individuals the choice to attend parochial schools.  Traditional arguments against this type of school voucher program have focused on the Constitutionality of using state funds for sectarian institutions.

Historically, the church had a key role in the education of children in America.  During the National Period (1780-1830), churches were used to educate children, and the King James Bible was used as a reader in these classrooms (Smrekar, 1998).  Derek Neal (1997) points out that much of the current sentiment against Catholic schools is not a reflection of their excellent performance record, but rather an indication of the anti-Catholic sentiment which swept the country during the late part of the 19th Century (Neal, 1997).  Neal argues that until that point, there was no contest to religious education as long as it was Protestant.  

Catholic schools have traditionally served the children of the working class.  They were a major socializing force earlier in the century and continue to succeed with children who might otherwise fall through the cracks in public schools.  Despite tapering enrollment, Catholic schools remain a viable force in the private sector providing a reasonably priced private education to American children.  Neal conducted a study that looked at the graduation rates of minority children attending Catholic schools compared with children attending public schools in the inner cities.  Controlling for demographic variables, (parent’s education, parent’s occupation, family structure, and reading materials at home) closer analysis revealed graduation rates for urban minorities are 26% higher in Catholic schools compared with public schools in the same communities.  Although Neal found similar benefits for whites and in suburban communities, this effect was most profound for urban minorities.

Other studies have focused on identifying the qualities that make Catholic schools successful.  A number of factors have been identified by Bryk and Lee, including active parental participation and the benefits of school choice in creating an inclusive community which fosters a common set of values and ideals (Bryk & Lee, 1995).  Interestingly, the very same variables found to enhance the performance of Catholic school students are remarkably similar to the reported benefits of magnet schools and choice programs.  Despite the excellent performance records of Catholic schools, there are currently no voucher programs that allow parochial schools to participate in state funded voucher programs.  

The reason for this is quite simple, but not necessarily correct or in the best interest of our children.  The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the use of public funds in religious institutions.  However, it can also be argued that it is unconstitutional to exclude parochial schools from voucher systems because it violates the student’s free expression of religion.  In addition, voucher programs require a conscious decision on the part of the student and the parent.  The state does not enforce a blanket endorsement of any one religion.  I use Catholic schools as an example because they represent the majority of parochial schools in urban America.
 
Voucher programs typically undergo strict scrutiny for all four reasons mentioned above, but this issue is especially true of any choice or voucher program that channels funds into Parochial schools.  For this reason, Catholic schools and other schools with religious affiliations have been excluded from voucher plans up until this point.  It is not politically viable to institute a choice or voucher program at any level (at the district, state or national level) since similar plans have historically presented long-standing, hard-fought, legal challenges to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  

Since the Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue, most challenges up until this point have taken place in state courts[1].  These state decisions have been split, and while there are a few voucher programs operating in Wisconsin and Ohio, neither permits sectarian schools to participate in their programs.  Milwaukee designed a voucher system that included parochial schools in 1995 but later revised their proposal after the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction against expansion into religious schools (Kremerer & King, 1995).

School choice programs that involve vouchers have not been tested in the Supreme Court, but there is a long history of court cases that challenge the flow of money from the public sector into private, sectarian institutions.  The recent pattern of Supreme Court rulings has lead some legal scholars (Kemerer & King, 1995) to conclude that school vouchers would pass constitutional muster under the following circumstances:

Provides payments in the form of scholarships to parents of school age children
Allows parents to choose among a variety of public and private sectarian and nonsectarian schools for their children
Gives no preference to sectarian private institutions


Voucher programs up until this point have encountered substantial resistance from the legal community and a number of civil rights and political organizations.  This becomes more pronounced when the voucher model includes sectarian institutions in the model plan and state court rulings have been inconsistent in decisions surrounding the constitutionality of voucher programs.

        The definitive case regarding school voucher programs is Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602 (1971)).  The Court’s ruling in Lemon was based on three components that came to be known as the “Lemon Test”.   The Lemon Test applies the following to any Constitutional challenge of the Establishment Clause:

The government action must have a secular purpose
The primary effect must neither advance, nor inhibit religion
It must not result in excessive governmental entanglement with religion


Since voucher programs do not generally provide support directly to the institution, individual freedom and choice remain intact.  Individual families are empowered by educational vouchers since they choose the school and religion appropriate for them.  Qualified schools are not determined by religious affiliation and all schools are required to adhere to state and federal regulations which increases accountability.  Similar issues came before the courts in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510 (1925)) as well, however Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602 (1971)) is considered to be both the landmark and test case currently before the courts.

The reason for this is quite simple, but not necessarily correct or in the best interest of our children.  The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the use of public funds in religious institutions.  However, it could also be argued that it is unconstitutional to exclude parochial schools from voucher systems because it violates the free expression of religion.  In addition, voucher programs require a conscious decision on the part of the student and the parent.  The state does not enforce a blanket endorsement of any one religion.  I use Catholic schools as an example because they represent the majority of parochial schools in urban America.
 
Teacher’s unions are resistant to bring in a new system that has the potential to upset their job status and security. It will likely be a number of years before we truly understand the effects of magnet schools and can evaluate the implementation of school choice programs that are already in place.  Because we are dealing with such an essential human, social good, it is my recommendation that we do not implement a large scale voucher program until issues of access and equity are resolved on other public fronts.  We must ensure real choices for the students and families who are not information savvy and may be limited in their ability to recognize the real value of their options. We must find a way to ensure the equitable distribution of resources so that education truly does will empower the poor.


        Is the time right to apply the Lemon Test to school vouchers?   You decide.







References


Cookson, P.W., Jr. (1994).  School choice: The struggle for the soul of American education.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

Cookson, P.W., Jr. (1995).   ERIC Digests: School Choice.

Doyle, D.P.  (1997). Vouchers for religious schools.  Public Interest, 127, 88-95.

Haynes, C.C. (1993).  Beyond the culture wars.  Educational Leadership, 51(4), 30-34.

Houston, P.D. (1993).  School vouchers: The latest California joke.  Phi Delta Kappan, 75(4), 61-64.
 
Kremerer, F.R. & King, K.L.  (1995).  Are school vouchers Constitutional?   Phi Delta Kappan, 77(1), 307-311.

Kremerer, F.R. (1995).  The Constitutionality of school vouchers.  West’s Education Law Reporter, 101 Ed. Law Rep. 17.

Kremerer, F.R. (1997).  State Constitutions and school vouchers.  West’s Education Law Reporter, 120 Ed. Law Rep. 1.

Neal, D.  (1997).  Measuring Catholic school performance. Public Interest, 127, 81-87.




Page 8 of 8

[1] Including a decision that was handed down this week regarding a choice plan in Ohio. (12/18/2000)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Obama-Biden Transition Project Healthcare Proposal

The Obama-Biden Transition Project 
by Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M. 

"We're often asked how we plan to take this unique moment in history - when a grassroots movement for change elected a president - and turn it into a force that can build stronger communities, block by block." -The Obama-Biden Transition Project http://change.gov

As I was thinking about how to respond to the numerous requests the Obama Transition Team that has been sending out to community organizers, political activists, advocates and non-profits across the country, I am reminded of the days I spent living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

At the time, in the mid to late 1990's, the American Sociological Association (ASA) held its annual conference in New York City. Prior to that meeting, they sent out a fact sheet that may be of interest to ASA members. In this sheet, they too described the same social conditions and asked their members to take note of the changes that occur at 96th Street.

Oddly enough, the very same area was undergoing rapid transformation and gentrification at the time Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took office. As described by the ASA and other political sociologists, the South Bronx is one of the most severely segregated and poorest Congressional Districts in the United States. The members of this community have been segregated into a hell plagued with sickness, violence and despair. Kozol argues that this strategic placement serves to isolate the rich from the realities they have thrust upon their fellow man. 

New Yorkers do not stroll through the streets of Mott Haven, and taxicabs take no short cuts through Beekman Avenue. Many taxicabs will not even venture past East 96th Street. Out of sight is out of mind.

There is no excuse for the living conditions of these children and their families. No person should be forced into an apartment that has a higher ratio of cockroaches and rats than to human beings.

These children are desperately in need of the best schools, yet we give them the worst. They have few libraries, few safe havens, few doctors, and few role models. 

They have every reason to believe that they are throwaway children and we have certainly not shown them anything else. The social services we have provided are a bureaucratic nightmare. People in need are treated as sub-human, and made to feel ashamed of being poor.

These are among the sickest children in the world. Americans claim to be dedicated to the children and fool ourselves into believing that we are doing them a favor by providing them with medical care, public education, and public housing. Yet, the quality of their neighborhoods speaks volumes of our sentiment and intentions.

Shortly after the publication of Amazing Grace, managed care rapidly moved onto the New York scene. 

Around the same time, the Mayor announced he would be closing some of the hospitals that served the poorest of the poor because of financial problems associated with payment and large trauma departments.

Kozol makes the point that people could attempt to gain admissions at a better hospital than Bronx-Lebanon; yet, the privatization of Medicaid made this completely impossible. 

Further restrictions on medical care are inevitable as a direct result of Medicaid managed care plans. The law is not designed to protect the poor, the fragile, and the disenfranchised.

This was made obvious in a recent conversation I had with a friend who practices emergency medicine on the elite Upper East Side of Manhattan. My friend works as a board certified trauma physician at a private hospital on the Upper East Side. The last black patient he treated at Beth Israel was famed rock singer Michael Jackson.

This is the reality. The best doctors treat the healthy and wealthy instead of the people who have the greatest need. They give no thought to the equitable distribution of services; they just file insurance claims and billing statements. Doctors should consider who stands to could benefit the most from their skill and experience. Perhaps we should invert the payment schedule so physicians and other health care providers should receive a higher rate of reimbursement for treating the most vulnerable populations.

Patients with the greatest need get the worst care.

Great teachers teach great students in great neighborhoods.

This makes no sense!

And we wonder why the division between the have and the have-nots continues to grow?

People often ask me why I am so angry about the living conditions of poor urban minorities. My response-Why aren't you? I cannot be the only one who places human kindness, dignity, and integrity above the lure of the almighty dollar!

We should feel enraged by the way we treat our own citizens. Children who did not ask to be born into poverty and substandard living conditions.

I have thought for many years that the system is upside down, and I become more and more convinced of that as I grow older.

To paraphrase the message of the new Windows Vista commercial, The Mayor's of Nashville's winning campaign.... it is all connected....

Clearly there is a level of inter-connectedness that exists between the various sectors of the American marketplace and economy otherwise Washington would not be at a complete standstill trying to figure out what to tweak, where, and just how much...

Did it really take a $700 Billion wake up call for our citizens to realize that that all is not well in America. It is time to get real about healthcare. It is time to get real about education. 

It is time to get real about the cost of education. It is time to get real about this god-forsaken war that we are still in! This country is in desperate need of a wake-up call, and we must develop a course of action that embraces a multi-dimensional approach and vast restructuring of the laissez faire way of regulating healthcare in the past.

Similarly, many different things influence the human condition by upsetting the delicate balance between those who can and those who do. We need to focus on improving the lives of those who might... People who can and do amazing things when given the chance. 

People who can excel under the right set of circumstances given the right support, the right guidance, the right tools, and the right opportunities. People who may not have the monetary (financial) resources to invest in themselves, their families, or their communities.

If we are to find some resolution to the unprecedented, simultaneous collapse of the economy, the market place and/or government and the collapsing housing market in United States, it seems obvious that people, the economy, healthcare, education confidence and faith in the American people it is time to take drastic efforts to strengthen our greatest asset and hope for the future: Our children! 

We must take action on a number of fronts to create some type of stability in our country, our economy, and the international marketplace. We need to start here, now, in our own communities, schools, and invest in ourselves.

Look at the facts; if we get healthy, they go broke! So let's shake it up a bit, and turn this sad state of affairs upside down!

I am not for sale, yet my healthcare company pimps me out based upon their ability to negotiate with fat cat for profit healthcare giants like HCA and First Health who are by no means the business to make people well! 

It does not take a rocket scientist to see the perverse incentive to keep people sick and dependent upon costly medications and treatment protocols.

Education:

Next year, I want Harvard to take in the worst students. Take the worst students who would not have made it past the front door of the admissions office. Take the worst students. Students who did not break a thousand on their SATs and barely made it through watered-down high school curriculum. Let them benefit from a first class education.

Guess what Harvard? The smart kids don't need you! They are already ahead of the game. 

We can sit them in a corner for a year or two because they do not need the Ivy League to succeed. By definition, they are already streamlined for success and they will no doubt be great with or without you!

There is no doubt that the prevalence of violence in urban neighborhoods affects the ability of children to perform well in school. There is a large body of empirical evidence that demonstrates the effects of chronic stress on memory and the learning process. 

Rather than taking the children out of these communities, we have constructed prison like buildings for them to attend school. They routinely have gunfire drills reminding them that danger is never far behind.

Children cannot learn in this environment. This constant stress triggers "hot-memory." Hot memory can be thought of as learning with your heart and not your mind. It is no wonder children perform inadequately in this environment. It is bad enough that children live in such conditions, must we educate in them too. If we want underprivileged children to learn and grow spiritually, we must create an environment that allows their cool memory systems to take over. 

It is only under these conditions that children will permit themselves to learn and develop their intellectual strengths.

We have failed to create a safe home environment for urban children, but we can give serious thought to creating a school environment outside of the community so they have fewer fear-driven hours each day.

It is any wonder that these children perform poorly in school. By every measure, these children are destined for failure. Their home life is less than enchanting, and they do not benefit from enriched environments and educated parents. Certainly, there are many dedicated parents who care about their children, but is that enough? 

When I was in school, children frequently asked the teacher, how this would help later in life. As a young girl in a suburban classroom, there was an unequivocal reply, but it could be argued that what children in the South Bronx need to learn cannot be taught in the classroom.

Studies consistently report lower academic achievement in urban neighborhoods like Mott Haven in the South Bronx. Children growing up in urban neighborhoods have a much higher incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Most researchers believe this to be the direct result of living in stressed communities plagued with street crime and violence. 

The potential impact of chronic stress on academic performance and achievement is not known, but reading scores in neighborhoods like Mott Haven certainly seem to indicate some type of causal relationship. 

There is virtually no research on looking at the long-term effects of this inflated incidence of PTSD among urban populations. 

It is important to develop an understanding of the effects of fear on the academic performance of urban adolescents so we can begin to dismantle the myths regarding school performance and minority children.

Under these conditions, it is not surprising to learn that students also report pervasive feelings of fear and do not feel secure despite the added presence of security personnel on school grounds. 

For these students, school is a mere extension of the violent communities in which they live.

Since urban communities have many different sources of stress, it is important to examine how school policies contribute to the learning environment in public schools. 

The quick response has been to install weapons detectors and hire school security for urban schools. The presence of school security certainly affects the climate of American public schools and sends a symbolic message to members of the community, the world, and especially the students themselves regarding the role they are expected to play as they mature into adolescents and young adulthood.

The school rules mimic are not unlike those one might expect to find in a state prison. Students are rewarded for obedience and they are taught to follow the rules rather than to think critically. 

On the back of the No Child Left Behind legislation, we indoctrinate our youngest members of society with "core curriculum" and "Back to Basics." Students across the country are judged on their ability to regurgitate facts on high-stakes standardized tests.

Lesson plans are filled with repetition exercises and workbook pages rather than student projects or classroom discussion. We teach conformity, rules, and limits. 

We teach kids to be blind followers. The skills we are teaching are better suited for prison rather than the real world. Teachers are teaching the kids to follow rules, to conform, and to reward obedience rather than creativity.

The secured environment is an indication of the roles students are expected to play later in life. This is a lesson they will not soon forget. 

School rules and core curriculum makes classroom silencing an everyday event in the urban classroom. And as my list of "off-limit" subject matter grows longer each term, the need to bring such things into the dialogue becomes more and more apparent. 

I actually have a printed list of topics that I am forbidden to discuss in the classroom: The election, politics, race, religion, suicide, pregnancy. 

The more topics they add, the more relevant they become. The unspoken truth has becomes louder and louder the more we are silenced. There is a big pink elephant standing in the middle of my classroom! There is a big pink elephant in the middle of our community!

By focusing on student behavior rather than student skills, knowledge, and achievement, we are showing all members of the school, the community, and the children themselves that we have already given up. 

Together, the urban public school and the community it serves are a constant reminder of the perpetual cycle of poverty and the poor living conditions and social reality that continue to plague urban America.

Kozol makes it quite clear that there are several exceptional children in this community. There are probably as many exceptional children here as every other community around the country, yet, so few of them will make it out of the South Bronx. Kozol is careful not to dwell on the exceptional cases of children who successfully navigate their way into the main stream of society. Kozol does this so we do not develop a false sense of hope. If we cling to a few exceptional cases, we may come to believe that what we are giving enough to children like Anthony or Anabelle.

Clearly, we can do more. Failure should be the exception-not the rule. Success should be the norm, and until it is, we should not give up hope for these children.

This is our time to let our voices be heard. Any number of social justice agencies from moveon.org, to Cover the Uninsured, to Families USA, Center for Community Change, Health Care for America Now; have opened the blogosphere so that everyday common folk like you and I can submit our opinions to the Transition Team in Washington.

They are begging us to participate, to give our opinions, to let our voices be heard. They need our help. Let us make this the country we are proud to call home. Let this be a new beginning for us all, and let us make this a land of real opportunity.

America claims to be dedicated to equal opportunity, yet equality is not sufficient in a urban communities. These kids need more. We need to think about equity, not equality. It is not enough to hide them away. Be silenced no more!

SUBMIT YOUR VIEWS ONLINE: The Obama-Biden Transition Project http://change.gov



Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Celebrating a Day in the Life

Let's face it... my job pretty much sucks: 

The very nature of being a crisis counselor, therapist, casemanager or any other kind of mental health professional requires that I respond with professionalism to kids who have 
been abused and basically fucked over for years; first by their families, and then by a system that fails to protect them. 

I get calls in the middle of the night from children, adolescents, and even my friends who are in vaiying stages of crises— some are suicidal psychotic, angry, and pretty much just all kinds of fucked up. 

But today, TODAY!!!! 

Today, a child rolled up her sleeves to show me that her set finflicted wounds (cutting) were beginning to heal. She threw out her last razor blade from her hidden collection the night 
before. 

Today, I won a small battle. 

Today, I saw a life change and the healing begin, Not just for her, but for aii of us. Today, I won a small battle. 

As one of my former clients told me, what I do is important— 
because even though I may not change hundreds or thousands of lives every day of my fife, I make a difference one life at a time. 

At the time, I couldn't: stop the tears from my eyes now I can't stop the warm feeling that has taken hold of my body and me same instead of the tears.
 
I am so very proud of you. 


Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.