The Anti-Trump

Billionaire Charles Feeney has finally completed what he set out to do: He has given away his fortune.  In all, he’s donated $8 billion, keeping only about $2 million for himself and his wife, Helga, who now live in San Francisco.  Jim Dwyer of the New York Times wrote a glorious profile of Mr. Feeney early this month, and I urge everyone to read it.  You will discover how he made his money and why he decided to give it away.  Unlike Donald Trump, he did not insist upon having his name on buildings (and his money has helped build more than 1,000 of them!).  He hasn’t wanted his name in lights, unlike a certain New Yorker.  Moreover, Mr. Feeney gave away money that he himself had earned, in sharp contrast to Mr. Trump, who solicited donations from others and then donated the money in his own name.

Most of Mr. Feeney’s gifts have gone to to higher education (especially Cornell, his alma mater), public health, human rights, and scientific research).

For most of his time as a philanthropist, Mr. Feeney insisted on anonymity (unlike another New Yorker we know). Recipients either did not know where the money was coming from, or, if they did, they were sworn to secrecy.

I’m one of the beneficiaries. His gift saved my career.

It was 1994, and I was basically broke, with two films nearing completion but no money to finish them.  I was employed by a small non-profit in South Carolina but working in New York City. That organization managed our grants, took care of payroll for the three of us, and filed final reports to foundations (although I wrote them).  For these small tasks, the organization took 20% of every grant, off the top.  I thought that was way too much, and I was able to persuade one foundation to write a 15% cap into its grant.  I used that as leverage to get the rate down for other grants, but only after a protracted and nasty battle.

Winning that battle was a mistake, because I soon lost the war, one that I hadn’t even known he had declared.  Early in 1994 the boss called me to announce (with glee) that he was shutting down my operation in New York City because we were out of money.  I explained that I had two sizable grants in the pipeline and that all we needed was an advance to cover a few months.  Sorry, he said, no advances.

I was panicked.  I lay awake most nights, in a cold sweat. We had spent three years filming in a Cincinnatti high school, watching a small band of reformers put Ted Sizer’s “Less is More” Essential Schools philosophy into operation. We had wonderful characters and a great story of the resistance to change from within a school. But we didn’t have the dollars necessary to finish editing, mixing, color-correcting, et cetera.   And we were well into filming another story.

In all, I calculated that we needed about $90,000 to finish both films and deliver them to PBS.  That number didn’t include salaries, which all three of us had decided to forgo just to get the work done.

I spent days on the phone, calling in whatever chits I imagined I might have.  Not many, as it turned out, but I did get promises of $10,000 from one foundation, $5,000 from another, and (perhaps) $7,500 from a third.  Then I called Sophie Sa of the Panasonic Foundation. She said her foundation couldn’t make grants, unfortunately. I was crestfallen and was about to sign off when she said, “Do you know about the anonymous foundation?”

No, I said, tell me.

“I can’t. It’s a secret.  No publicity.”

Gee thanks, I thought to myself.

“But if you will send me a letter explaining what you’re looking for, I will see they get it.”

The fax went out within the hour, and the next morning my phone rang.

“John, this is Angela. I work for an anonymous donor, and we’d like to meet with you.  Can you come by this afternoon?”

When I got there, I discovered that Angela’s last name was Covert, perfect for a top-secret organization. She and her colleague, Joel Fleishmann, spoke highly of our work and said they’d like to help, under the condition of absolute secrecy.  After I agreed, they asked me how much I needed.

I think we can finish both films for about $75,000, I said, hoping that I wasn’t aiming too high.  “That’s a ridiculous amount,” Joel said, and I’m sure my face fell.  Then he added, “You will need at least twice that amount.”

He went on to talk about unexpected expenses, our salaries, some money for publicity, and a financial cushion to give me time to raise more money to keep the organization afloat.

And then one of them added, “And you ought to think about setting up your own non-profit so you don’t find yourself in this situation again. That means hiring a lawyer, which means more money.”

In the end, the anonymous foundation wrote a check for $200,000 or maybe $225,000, to be paid to a new non-profit organization.  That’s how Learning Matters came into being.

We finished the film, which earned high praise.  Judy Woodruff, then at CNN, called it “Riveting reporting….that powerfully demonstrates at once how hard reform will be and how absolutely necessary it is, if we are to save this and future generations of American youngsters.”

When the cover of anonymity was stripped away some years later, we learned that man who saved us from going broke was Charles Feeney, a public-spirited New Jersey native who served as a radio operator in the Air Force, attended Cornell on the GI Bill, and in 1960 co-founded Duty Free, the shops that cater to international air travelers.

Thanks to Charles Feeney’s generosity and the hands-on work of Angela Covert and Joel Fleishmann, Learning Matters had a good run of 20 years. We earned two Peabody Awards, produced hundreds of reports for the PBS NewsHour and three programs for Frontline, and served as a training ground for dozens of skilled producers who continue to focus on education and children’s issues.

(We did one other thing when Mr. Feeney went public: From that point on as far as we were concerned, Angela Covert was now Angela Overt!)

May Charles Feeney, now 85, and his wife enjoy many years of health and joy.  What a marvelous role model he has been, and is.

Thank you, sir….

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Educators Have to Step Up

As schools reopen in the New Year and Donald Trump’s inauguration draws near, the reality of dramatic increases in hate speech and hate behavior cannot be ignored. Educators need to know that merely reacting to offenses will not be adequate. The adults in charge need to step up and be proactive. They must draw some very clear lines about what behavior will not be tolerated.  It’s not enough to offer counseling and sympathetic hugs after the fact!

Why? Not just for the right reason–to support vulnerable students–but also to cover their own butts, because ‘after the fact’ actions, no matter how warm and supportive, are insufficient, inappropriate and almost certainly illegal.

The law is very much on the side of the victims, and school authorities ought to know that they are obligated under federal law to protect young people. I am not referring to anti-bullying legislation, which differs to state to state, but to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, sometimes known as ‘That damned sports law.’  Title IX clearly prohibits sexual harassment, and, even when bullying is ostensibly directed against an individual’s race, ethnicity or religion, it almost invariably includes sexual references.  Girls are called “sluts” and “hos,” boys are called “fags’ and other names.  Sexual rumors and comments are frequent.  And the above behavior violates the granddaddy of all laws in this area, Title IX.

Title IX also prohibits these behaviors outside the school, such as when personal computers are used, when the behavior is disruptive to learning or affects a student’s ability to partake of the opportunities for learning and in other opportunities provided by the school.  In short, schools and school administrator, under Title IX, are obligated to stop sexual cyber-bullying. Moreover, they stand to lose federal funding if they do not.  Some school districts have paid 6-figure settlements for their demonstrated failure to protect students from harassment and cyber-bullying.

Money talks. Understanding the legal and financial ramifications of all forms of bullying is one of the best incentives to get schools involved in developing specific programs for students, families, administrators, teachers, staff, including the janitors. Self-interest is a powerful incentive, as are the threats of federal involvement and individual lawsuits. Together, these should motivate schools to proactively develop strong prevention programs—to let everyone know, “We don’t tolerate bullying here, because we’re better than that.”

But defensive behavior is not sufficient. Schools today must provide opportunities for all young people, haters included, to create knowledge out of the swirling clouds of information that surround them 24/7. You and I were sent to schools because that’s where the knowledge was stored–but that was yesterday. Today’s young people need guidance in learning how to sift through the flood of information (much of it ‘fake news’) and turn it into knowledge. Because websites have what purport to be the answers, students need to be able to formulate good questions that will enable them to discern the difference between wheat and chaff. And don’t forget that good questions, projects, and team-activities will keep young people involved;  they’ll be too busy to spend their time hating.

 

 

 

 

Thoughtful Gifts

 

At year’s end many of us make gifts to worthy organizations. It helps them and also gives us a tax deduction or two.  Below are seven organizations that I hope you will consider supporting, non-profit organizations that I have come to admire during my career:

*** FAIRTEST:  The ongoing “Opt Out” movement was one of the most remarkable developments I observed during my 41-year reporting career. Suddenly—and without support of any established organizations, including teacher unions—true grassroots opposition emerged when students, parents and some teachers said “No Mas!” to high stakes testing.  Only one organization tracked the spread of this movement, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, widely known as FAIRTEST.  For decades FAIRTEST has been a reliable and honorable advocate in the battle to get beyond the ’test and punish’ mentality that dominates schools today.  FAIRTEST works with activists across the nation, testifies to legislatures, and advises colleges considering test-optional admissions. http://www.fairtest.org/

*** MARA-A-PULA is widely considered to be one of the top independent schools in Africa, and the best in Botswana. Its mission is to prepare leaders who will serve their communities. Nearly two-thirds of Maru-a-Pula’s 765 students are citizens of Botswana. Maru-a-Pula students have gone on to attend schools like Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, MIT, Williams, the London School of Economics, and Oxford, where two former students were Rhodes Scholars. Because of the AIDS pandemic, many are orphans attending on full scholarship, and that’s where your gift can help. http://www.afmap.org

*** URBAN ASSEMBLY:  The easy way to improve educational opportunities is to start in kindergarten and add a grade every year. Want tough? Then start high schools with kids who’ve already spent 8 years in traditional schools.  Because Richard Kahan likes a challenge, he decided to tackle high schools when he transitioned from a successful career in real estate and urban planning. Today Urban Assembly includes 21 high performing, themed public schools in New York City, including seven Career & Technical Education (CTE) schools and three all-girls schools, serving over 9,000 students from low-income neighborhoods.  The themed schools like the Academy for Government and Law and the Gateway School for Technology are open to all students. https://urbanassembly.org/

*** NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION: Only a few years old, NPE already has more than 100,000 individual members as well as dozens of grassroots local groups. Started by veteran teacher Anthony Cody and historian Diane Ravitch, NPE opposes high-stakes testing; privatization of public education; mass school closures to save money or to facilitate privatization; demonization of teachers; lowering of standards for the education profession; and for-profit management of schools. While that’s a mouthful, the list of what NPE supports is much, much longer, including schools that offer a full and rich curriculum for all children, including the arts, physical education, history, civics, foreign languages, literature, mathematics, and the sciences; early childhood education; high standards of professionalism; and assessments that are used to support children and teachers, not to punish or stigmatize them or to hand out monetary rewards. http://networkforpubliceducation.org/

***NEW VISIONS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS has been providing vital support to NYC schools for 26 years.  Today it’s working with 50,000 students in 70 traditional public schools and 7 charter high schools. Students in NEW VISIONS schools are more likely to attend school regularly (92%), earn academic credits and Regents diplomas, and be ready for college than their peers in regular high schools. http://www.newvisions.org/

*** WHAT KIDS CAN DO was years ahead of its time when, 20 years ago, it began celebrating young people’s accomplishments. You may already know WKCD from “Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students,” but WKCD now uses digital, print, and broadcast media to demonstrate what kids can accomplish when given the opportunities and supports they need. WKCD helps thousands of marginalized kids discover the best in themselves. http://whatkidscando.org/index8.html

*** YOUTHBUILD, which I reported on in the late 1980’s, is dedicated to giving marginalized youth 2nd, 3rd and perhaps 4th chances. Today it’s stronger than ever, and its dynamic founder, Dorothy Stoneman, remains one of my heroes.  Once just Boston-based, YouthBuild now reaches many corners of the globe. Clearly there’s a need: 2.3 million low-income US 16-24 year-olds are not in education, employment, or training. Globally, over 200 million youth need education, jobs, entrepreneurship, and other opportunities. YouthBuild provides pathways. https://www.youthbuild.org/

Oh, and don’t forget your local NPR and PBS stations!

Thank you, and Happy New Year….

 

A Dark Day

(It seems appropriate to mark the longest night of the year and a dark time in our political  history by reprinting this tongue-in-cheek paean to greed.  Hundreds of readers took me seriously the first time around, nearly four years ago. I guess I should have published it on April 1.)

After 37 years with NPR and PBS, I’ve finally come to my senses. I have had it with the non-profit world. It’s my turn to make the big bucks.

Because education is what I know, that’s where I intend to set up shop. I am going into the business of remedial education, and I know it’s going to be a gold mine. All I need are failing kids, and I don’t see any signs that the supply is drying up.

What has prompted this 180-degree turn? This sudden change of heart?

It was a recent news report, the key paragraph quoted below:

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for ‘challenging corrections budgets.’ In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full.

(The emphasis was added.)

You may be wondering what a report on prisons has to do with education, but this is deja vu all over again, in Yogi’s memorable phrase, because back in 1982 I spent six months in juvenile institutions in several states, including Minnesota, South Carolina and Texas, for an NPR documentary “Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Crime” (which won the George Polk Award that year).

Here’s what I learned: Juvenile institutions remained at-capacity or near-capacity no matter what the juvenile crime rate happened to be. For example, when juvenile offenses declined precipitously in Minnesota, the authorities simply changed the rules about what got you locked up. They criminalized behavior that previously led to a slap on the wrist. One particular example sticks in my mind: Until the crime rate went down, girls who ran away from home had been classified as PINS, persons in need of supervision, which requires no jail time. Then, rather than have the juvenile facilities empty, running away became an offense that warranted incarceration.

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What a revelation: the needs of the institution — for bodies to watch over — took precedence over the needs of youth. ‘We’ve got the facility, the guards, the payroll; we need youthful offenders,’ the logic went. Because the dominant value system favored adults and jobs over kids, they didn’t even need a guarantee.

So you can see the brilliance of Corrections Corporation of America, asking for an iron-clad guarantee from the 48 states that they will keep the prisons 90 percent full! Who cares what the crime rate is. Just keep the convicts coming.

Now, let’s talk about my business plan.

What I am going to offer states and school districts is this: I will take over their remedial education in return for their guarantee that they will keep giving high school diplomas to students who aren’t ready to function.

Come to think of it, I may not need a written guarantee. Just look at the track record of school reform since in began in earnest with the publication of A Nation At Risk in 1983, and since that time governments and foundations have spent billions of dollars. The dropout rate hasn’t changed much, and the number of graduates needing remedial work when they go to college has climbed dramatically.

Who have been the primary beneficiaries of ‘school reform,’ I ask you?

Duh, the for-profit companies! While consultants and think tanks have done OK, and reporters have been kept busy, the real money has been in testing and textbooks and technology and construction.

Frankly, ‘school reform’ is too expensive for states to continue with, especially since it hasn’t worked. They can cut back on reform, sign with me, and save a bundle.

I have some definite advantages over schools: (1) the technology to diagnose deficiencies and create specific programs that address those shortcomings and measure accomplishment; (2) a population of (finally) motivated young people who realize they need certain skills if they want to find decent jobs; and (3) powerful financial incentives that encourage me to teach them quickly.

Regarding No. 1: schools have semesters, but I will have self-paced modules. Learn it, prove you’ve learned it, and you’re done.

No. 2: While schools have lots of students who are bored and fed up with being treated like numbers, my clients — those former students — will be eager to learn and get on with their lives.

No. 3 is the key. Unlike today’s educators, I will get paid only when the students succeed. Should I fail, I get hurt where it matters: in the pocketbook. In most education systems, failure is blamed on the students. And then their failure is usually ‘punished’ by promotion to the next grade.

So my approach is revolutionary.

Is there competition? I am not the least bit worried about the Departments of Remediation that some colleges have created, because they function exactly like those juvenile institutions back in the 1980s — they need remedial students to stay open. So if they are successful in helping some kids, they will inevitably lower the bar for ‘remediation,’ in order to keep the warm bodies coming. Their financial incentives are screwed up.

Mind, you, I am smarter than that. I will not be calling what I do ‘remediation’ or anything that sounds remotely like failure. What I am going to offer to do is ‘certify’ the skill levels of high school graduates; it’s the same way that the mechanic ‘certifies’ your wreck of a car by banging out all the dents, changing the oil, points and plugs and installing new shock absorbers so it is ready for the road!

The only possible threat to my business would be an education system that focused on the needs of individual children; a system that taught and encouraged thinking instead of teaching (and testing) things. In that approach, time would be the variable, performance the constant. Students would be empowered to dig deeply into issues and…. (Why bother going on about this — it’s not going to happen!)

I’m looking for investors. Act now, to get in early.

(if you’re interested in the comments from 2012: http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=5587)

Will The Past Be Repeated (Part 2)

Our bus of 40+ “pilgrims” left Mississippi and headed for Selma, Alabama, the site of three historic Civil Rights marches in March, 1965.  As the bus sped along, we watched “Selma,” Ava DuVernay’s wonderful film that brings to life the struggle southern Black citizens faced when they attempted to register to vote.  (The narrative and photos regarding our experiences in Mississippi are here.)

Earlier we heard about the obstacles put in way of Black would-be voters from Flonzie Brown Wright, who was inspired to join the Civil Rights revolution after the assassination of Medgar Evers in June, 1963, in Jackson, Mississippi.  Black registrants, she told us, had to correctly answer 21 questions, while Whites had to answer only six. Item 17 was the toughest: The Registrar cut the Alabama Constitution in small slivers, the applicant would pick one sliver and then interpret its meaning…to the Registrar’s satisfaction.   The sliver Flonzie pulled said ‘habeas corpus,’ a phrase she had never heard–and which she suspected the Registrar hadn’t either. She couldn’t explain it, and so the Registrar marked her application ‘denied.’  By the rules, she had to wait at least 30 days before reapplying.

Flonzie told us that she went home and memorized the entire Constitution. 30 days later, she returned to the Courthouse, just happened to pull ‘habeas corpus’ again, and passed. Of course, she now realizes that ‘habeas corpus’ was probably written on every single one of those slivers!

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(In time Flonzie would run for office and win, eventually becoming the supervisor of the Registrar of Voters!)

Blacks throughout the South had been agitating and protesting over voter registration for some time.  In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had spent months on a campaign in Albany in his home state of Georgia.  Because Dr. King’s effort to register voters there had not succeeded, he came to Selma. He reasoned that, because Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark (below) was known for his hair-trigger temper and stubbornness, Selma offered a better opportunity to call national attention to the cause.

Dr. King was correct.  Clark ordered his troops to take action against non-violent protesters who were blocking the Selma Courthouse steps.  Jimmie Lee Jackson, an African American teenager, tried to stop a police officer from savagely beating his grandmother. In response, the policeman beat and then shot Jackson, killing him.

While no Civil Rights activists were killed during the actual march from Selma to Montgomery, two others died.

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After the successful march to Montgomery, James Reeb, a White Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, inadvertently walked into a segregationist bar. He was savagely beaten and died two days later.

Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a White homemaker from Detroit, was driving several marchers back to Selma when Klansmen drove up alongside and shot her to death.

But it was Jimmy Lee Jackson’s death that catalyzed was the March 7th march, the one we all know as “Bloody Sunday.”  Organized in the Brown Chapel A.M.E Church , the march began in a vacant lot behind the red brick building.  (Joan and I and many of our group each brought home a small pebble from that lot, a reminder of the courage shown by those men and women.)

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The Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate General, spans the Alabama River.

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The city of Selma basically ends at the river; the other side is under the jurisdiction of Dallas County, and it was there that 200 state troopers, some on horseback carrying whips and cattle prods, were waiting for the approximately 500 marchers on Sunday, March 7th.

Sheriff Clark ordered the marchers to turn around. When they refused, the officers shot teargas and waded into the crowd, beating the nonviolent protesters with billy clubs and sending more than 50 to the hospital. Young John Lewis, now a long-serving Congressman, was among those savagely beaten.

(On the following Tuesday the marchers, now numbering 2000, again began to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge. On the other side, the same force awaited. But as the marchers reached the crest of the bridge, the police withdrew. Dr. King and the others knelt in prayer. When he arose, Dr. King turned around and led the marchers back to Selma in what became known as “Turnaround Tuesday.” He apparently feared a trap, which would have led to greater harm to the marchers.)

The national outcry that followed “Bloody Sunday” changed things. When Alabama Governor George Wallace refused to provide protection, President Lyndon Johnson sent in  2,000 soldiers, mobilized 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard, and ordered the participation of  FBI agents and Federal Marshals.  Marchers began the 54-mile journey on March 21, averaged about 10 miles a day, and slept in Black-owned properties en route. The group–now numbering about 25,000–arrived in Montgomery on March 24, 1965.

This photo–the curb outside the Alabama State Capitol–requires some explanation.

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Governor Wallace refused to allow Dr. King to speak from the Capitol grounds, including the marble sidewalk. In fact, we were told that he ordered troopers to shoot anyone who set foot on the sidewalk. (Our guide said ‘shoot to kill,’ but no one has corroborated that.)

So the March organizers brought in a flatbed truck and parked it about a foot away from the sidewalk. From that flatbed and using hay bales as his lectern, Dr. King gave one of his most memorable speeches, “How long? Not long.”

Unfortunately, no plaque marks the spot or the occasion, one of the turning points in the African American struggle for equal rights.  (There is, however, a star marking the spot on the Capitol steps where Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, spoke to his supporters during the Civil War.)

“Bloody Sunday” and the Selma-to-Montgomery March changed American history. Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Right Act of 1965 that same March, and the Congress passed it. No more trumped-up tests for voters and other phony barriers.

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Dr. King, who delivered that memorable speech, was only 25 when he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954 (above).  Dexter Avenue Baptist is the only church that he ever pastored, although he delivered many memorable sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church his father pastored. This Church, since renamed to acknowledge King’s role, is just one block from the State Capitol, and it was here that many of the meetings that sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott were held.

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Local Civil Rights activists–not including Dr. King–had been planning for some time to challenge Montgomery’s segregated (but allegedly ‘separate but equal’) bus system. All ‘colored’ riders were required to sit in the back of the bus and to give up their seats if a White passenger couldn’t find a seat. Moreover, ‘colored’ passengers had to enter the front of the bus to pay their fare but get off the bus and board through the rear door.

When 42-year-old Rosa Parks boarded a bus to go home from an exhausting day at work on December 1, 1955, she sat in the first row of the “colored” section in the middle of the bus.  When the bus filled up and the driver noticed that several white men were standing, he demanded that Parks and several other African Americans give up their seats. Three other African American passengers reluctantly gave up their places, but Parks remained seated. The driver asked her again, once again she refused, and she was arrested and booked for violating the Montgomery City Code. At her trial a week later, in a 30-minute hearing, Parks was found guilty and fined $10 and assessed $4 court fee.

At the marvelous Rosa Parks Library and Museum, visitors virtually experience what Mrs. Parks did. You stand alongside a real city bus and watch the entire drama unfold inside. Not to be missed!

We learned that the boycott might never have come off had it not been for another unsung hero, Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council.  She mimeographed thousands of circulars and had them distributed.  It said in part, “This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday.”

Somehow the local newspaper got a copy of the circular and turned it into the lead story, which actually had the unintended effect of publicizing the nascent boycott!  The world moves in mysterious ways.

And notice that Jo Ann Robinson’s circular called for a one day boycott!  It lasted for well over a year, 382 days to be exact.

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When 40,000 African Americans stopping riding the buses, the economic pain for the city and the company was immediate: about $3,000 per day in fares.  It was a difficult struggle for the boycotters, who had to find alternate ways to get to work, if in fact they did not lose their jobs.

civil-rights-bus-tour-nov-2016-280As the Museum’s exhibits relate, the bus boycott meant 382 days of walking to work (for some, 20 miles), seemingly impromptu ‘car-pooling’ (because scheduling would have been illegal), harassment, intimidation, and violence for the Montgomery’s African-American community. Dr. King, who had been chosen to lead the movement because he was young and new to the city,  and his family were in personal danger.  His home was attacked.

Dr. King and nearly 100 others were charged with ‘interfering with a local business.’ Rather than waiting to be arrested, they turned themselves in, crowding the jail and eventually the court.  He was fined $500 and served two weeks in jail.

Meanwhile, the local NAACP, under the leadership of E.D. Nixon, argued in court that the city ordinance mandating segregated seating was unconstitutional, based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. After being defeated in several lower court rulings and suffering large financial losses, the city of Montgomery finally conceded defeat and lifted the law mandating segregated public transportation. The bus boycott was over!

The white backlash was strong.  In March 1957 the city of Montgomery passed an ordinance making it “unlawful for white and colored persons to play together, or, in company with each other . . . in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, baseball, football, golf, track, and at swimming pools, beaches, lakes or ponds or any other game or games or athletic contests, either indoors or outdoors.”  And violence erupted. Five Black churches were burned, and two buses were fired upon by snipers, wounding several Black passengers, including one pregnant woman.

Rosa Parks eventually moved to Detroit, because neither she nor her husband could find work in Montgomery and because of death threats.  She remained active in the battle for Civil Rights throughout her life.

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Not far from Dexter Avenue Church and the State Capitol is the Civil Rights Memorial Center, a living monument to the Movement’s ‘foot soldiers,’ the many unsung heroes who died during the struggle.  This deeply moving memorial was designed by Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect Maya Lin.

 

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The Memorial, a project of the invaluable Southern Poverty Law Center, invites quiet contemplation and a renewed commitment to racial justice and tolerance.

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So many brave men, women and children, dead at the hands of violent racists. Most of those memorialized here were unknown to me, but look carefully at the photo below to find the names of the four little girls who died when their Church in Birmingham was bombed in 1963.

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Visiting Montgomery was a deeply emotional experience on many levels, but nothing was more moving for me, and many others, than being in the King family home, a modest dwelling owned by the Church.

civil-rights-bus-tour-nov-2016-337Entering the King family living room, which we have all seen in photographs and on television, was a powerful moment.

img_3212And I was not prepared for the waves of emotion that swept over me when I touched the dining room table where Dr. King, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, E. D. Nixon, Harry Belafonte, and others planned their next moves.  (No photos because by then their small home was filled with all 40+ of us.)

Visitors are free to walk into Dr. King’s small study, even to touch his books and his collection of LP record albums. To pick up the rotary phone and imagine hate-filled voices threatening the King family.  Or sit at the kitchen table where Dr. King prayed for guidance late on January 27, 1956, when he was plagued by doubts.

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

Three days later his home was fire-bombed, the family barely escaping serious harm. When an angry crowd gathered outside on the streets, Dr. King emerged and spoke to the people gathered there:

If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword”. We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you”. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.”

As we all know, in 1968 Dr. King was ‘stopped,’ murdered by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee. The Civil Rights movement stuttered and stumbled on occasion, but, as Dr. King foretold, it has not been stopped, although, arguably, the drive for equality, tolerance and freedom faces its greatest challenges in 2017 and the years ahead.

The final stop on our memorable Civil Rights tour was Birmingham, often called “Bombingham” in the 1960s.  If you have read Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name, you know that industrial Birmingham played a central role in the South’s deliberate–and largely successful–strategy for keeping many Blacks from achieving financial and other success, from Reconstruction to the beginning of the Second World War.

(If you haven’t read Slavery by Another Name, I urge you to do so.  Quite honestly, it’s an experience that demarcates my life into before I read the book and after I read it.)

In the 1960s, Birmingham had one of the strongest and most violent chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.  Homemade bombs were the weapon of choice for white racists (thus the city’s nickname). Eugene “Bull” Connor, Birmingham’s police commissioner, was notorious for–and apparently proud of–using brutality in combating demonstrators, union members, and Blacks.  Birmingham was also the focus of Civil Rights demonstrations, some led by Dr. King.  He had been arrested in the Spring of 1963, and it was after that arrest that he wrote the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

And many of the Civil Rights demonstrations and marches began here, at the 16th Street Baptist Church, making it an obvious target.image1-6

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Bombers struck on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963.  The bomb went off just outside the room where five teenage girls were  getting ready to sing. Four died.  A fifth young girl, Sarah Collins, age 10 and the younger sister of Addie May Collins, was blinded in one eye.image2-17

Across the street from the Church is this majestic memorial to the four girls.  Note the dancing shoes.

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That image remains in the forefront of my memory.  Four young lives snuffed out by white racists.

After the bombing, Alabama Governor George Wallace sent police and state troopers to quell protests. Two protestors were killed.  However, outrage over the killings led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  As noted in Part One, the case was reopened after Jerry Mitchell’s investigative reports.  Two of the bombers were eventually brought to justice.  The case was directed by former United States Attorney Doug Jones, who told the full story to our group one evening.  J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI Director, had sealed the files after the bombing, thus effectively preventing prosecution of suspects.  That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Jones told us, because, if a case had been brought to trial in the 1960’s, an all-white jury would have acquitted the defendants.  Mr. Jones in now in private practice in Birmingham.

Where are we as a country today, as Barack Obama prepares to leave office?  Will we allow the past to repeat itself?   Will our President-elect, seemingly unburdened by an understanding of history or by intellectual curiosity, unleash the forces of hatred? Has he already done so?

Even if Mr. Trump surprises us, it is still difficult to be optimistic after reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which lays out in excruciating detail how the Reagan Administration’s War on Drugs has racialized our justice system and populated our prisons and parole systems with millions of African American men, thus marking them as ‘second class citizens’ who are unable to vote, serve on a jury, or qualify for valued jobs.

But, as our Civil Rights tour made manifest, America has been in the depths before, and we have emerged triumphant.  The pendulum swings, and it clearly has swung in a direction that many of us find frightening and depressing.

We must continue to believe, with Dr. King, that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”   And we must work together toward that end.

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Thank you for taking this journey with me.  Please share this 2-part journal with others, particularly your younger friends and acquaintances.

 

(Photos by Joan Lonergan, Leslie Worthington and Julia Parker; historical photos courtesy of the Associated Press.)

(For more information about the tour, contact the talented and energetic Tyson Elbert of Mississippi State University at tyson@sig.msstate.edu.  I can be reached at john.merrow@gmail.com)

 

Will the Past Be Repeated?

What follows is a journal of response and reflection after a remarkable 4-day journey along what might be called the Civil Rights Trail, from Jackson, Meridian and Philadelphia in Mississippi, and Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama. My wife and I and about 40 others made this trip at a time of rising anxiety among minorities and many whites about the increase in hate-related behavior following our recent presidential election.  The question hanging over us: will we allow the past to repeat itself?

image4-6JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI:  (Our first stop) The Greyhound bus station in downtown Jackson has been restored since the days of the Freedom Riders, who were seeking to desegregate public accommodations (as required by the Supreme Court). It takes a powerful imagination to visualize busloads of Freedom Riders arriving May 24th, 1961, guarded by tight security. In other cities the Freedom Riders had been viciously attacked, their buses burned, and the city of Jackson was determined to avoid violence (fearing for its reputation, not the Civil Rights activists.) And so, on arriving at the Greyhound station, the activists got off the buses and walked into the ‘White Only’ waiting room, where they were immediately arrested, marched into other buses, and taken to jail or directly to Parchman Farm, Mississippi’s notorious maximum security state prison. At their trial (and before convicting them), the judge actually turned his back whenever their defense attorney was speaking. He sentenced 161 Freedom Riders to 60 days in Parchman, although the convictions were eventually overturned. While at Parchman, most were held in isolation. Mississippi’s Governor, Ross Barnett, is supposed to have told prison officials, “Break their spirits, not their bones.”

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Medgar Evers, a college-educated World War II veteran and a prominent civil rights activist, lived and died here.  Died on June 12, 1963, shot in the back by Byron De La Beckwith, a prominent member of the White Citizens’ Council. Mr. Evers had survived two earlier assassination attempts; a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home and, one week before his murder, someone tried to run him down as he was crossing the street outside the local NAACP office.

Our guides on the trip were former ‘foot soldiers’ in the struggle for Civil Rights. One told us how Mr. Evers had been taken to the local hospital, where he was denied treatment because of his race and only admitted when hospital officials realized that he was ‘important.’ It was too late. He died..and was later buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

De La Beckwith got away with murder…for  31 years.  Finally, in 1994 he was brought to justice and sentenced to life imprisonment (Two previous trials in 1964 had resulted in hung juries).  De La Beckwith died at age 80 in 2001, seven years after being convicted. We heard this gripping story, and others, from a remarkable reporter, Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson.img_3124Jerry, whose numerous awards include a MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant, is a fearless reporter whose work has put at least four notorious race-baiting Klansmen behind bars…including one of the men who bombed the Birmingham church in 1963 and one of the Klansmen who murdered James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in 1964. Jerry is also a warm, generous, engaging story-teller as well as a credit to the profession I recently retired from.

Our trip was organized by  the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and the Education Policy Center at The University of Alabama. Most participants worked at Community Colleges in Alabama and Mississippi and were serving as Educational Policy Fellows in a program run by the Institute for Educational Leadership. My wife and I gained (paid) admission because I serve on the IEL Board.

This was our next stop, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, which is in rural Mississippi but near both Philadelphia and Meridian.

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This church has been burned twice, in 1964 and again in 1971.  The first burning occurred in June of 1964 when two groups of Klansmen surrounded the church, expecting to find Michael ‘Mickey’ Schwerner inside.  The Church’s leaders had agreed to allow a Freedom School to operate there, and someone had shared that news with the wrong people.  We learned that the Klansmen fought among themselves about the ‘appropriate’ punishment for the Church and parishioners. They savagely beat some churchgoers and then left, but one of the two Klan groups later returned and torched the church, destroying it.

We were privileged to hear from parishioners and church officials everywhere we visited, and what remains most striking, unforgettably so, is the forgiving attitude of those who were victimized by white racists.  When I expressed amazement, one woman said simply, “If you let hate fester, it will kill you.”  She paused and added, “And then they win.”

When word that Mt. Zion Church had been burned to the ground reached Mickey Schwerner in Oxford, Ohio, where he and his wife were helping train the Freedom Summer volunteers, he packed his bag and left for Mississippi.  Accompanying him were his close associate James Chaney, a native of Mississippi and an African American, and one bright volunteer, Andrew Goodman of New York City.

Arriving in Meridian, they went to their headquarters to tell the two young people at the office of their plans. One of them was Roscoe Jones, then 18 years old, who was one of our guides on this remarkable tour.  Roscoe told us that James Chaney asked him to come along, but Mickey said Roscoe couldn’t come without his mother’s permission, which he did not have.  Because he stayed behind, he is alive today.  Roscoe, now 69 years old, is pictured below at James Chaney’s gravesite.

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On the drive from Mt. Zion back to Meridian, their station wagon got a flat tire. While they were changing the tire, local law enforcement noticed two whites and one black and stopped to question them. When a cop recognized Schwerner (known to them as ‘The Goatee’), the police waited until the three drove away and then arrested them.  The charge was ‘speeding.’  They were held in the Philadelphia jail (below) until well after dark–long enough for the law officers to inform the Klan and for members to gather near the jail.

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As Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman left town late that night they were followed by law enforcement and others. Before they reached the Neshoba County line (and perhaps safety), their car was pulled over after a high speed chase, and all three were abducted, driven to another location, and murdered. Schwerner and Goodman were shot on the spot, but Chaney was savagely beaten before being killed.  Andy Goodman, a New York college student, had been in Mississippi less than 30 hours.  They were murdered close to this spot below.  Buried in an earthen dam, their bodies were not discovered for 44 days…and then only after a substantial reward was offered.

(During the search, which included dredging canals and ponds, searchers discovered NINE additional bodies, victims of earlier violence.)

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That was in 1964, and, sadly, the race hatred remains.  Plaques commemorating their deaths are ‘routinely’ trashed. Notice in the photo below the TWO plaques near Mt. Zion Church, the vandalized one on the ground, its new replacement recently installed. img_5589

And James Chaney’s grave has been vandalized so many times that some local citizens have welded bars to keep it from being toppled over. The bars are clearly visible behind the tombstone.

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civil-rights-bus-tour-nov-2016-209On James Chaney’s tombstone are these words: “There are those who are alive yet who will never live. There are those who are dead yet who will live forever. Great deeds inspire and encourage the living.”

When the state of Mississippi refused to prosecute, the US Government charged 18 men with civil rights violations. Seven were convicted in 1967 but served only minor sentences.

However, the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman changed history. One consequence was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, after which minority registration soared from about 6% in Mississippi to over 60% today, for example.

And to come full circle, 41 years after the murders and after extensive investigations by reporter Jerry Mitchell, one perpetrator, Edgar Ray Killen, was charged. Killen, an ordained Baptist minister and active Klan member, was convicted in 2005 on three counts of manslaughter and is serving a 60-year sentence.  Killen was known to all as “Preacher.”

With that, our bus left Mississippi and headed for Alabama, which I will write about next. Meantime, I urge you to watch “Freedom Summer,” a superb PBS film from WGBH and American Experience.

(The photos were taken by Julia Parker, Leslie Worthington and Joan Lonergan.)

I am Thankful for….

Although I am very concerned about our future, Thanksgiving Week is a time to reflect on how much I am thankful for.  Here’s my list of some of the people and organizations that make our lives life better.  Because some of them are non-profits relying on individual generosity, I am including their contact information.

FAIRTEST:  This organization (full name: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing) has been an honest and honorable advocate for reducing our reliance on standardized bubble tests.  It’s also a solid source of information about the growing ‘Opt Out’ movement, where students simply say ‘No Mas’ to excessive testing.  A non-profit, FAIRTEST is an organization to be both thankful for and worthy of your financial support.

WHAT KIDS CAN DO was years ahead of its time when it began spotlighting the accomplishment of young people in 2001. You may know WKCD from “Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students” (The New Press 2005), but WKCD uses digital, print, and broadcast media to send a dual message: 1) What young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and supports they need, and 2) what they can contribute when we take their voices and ideas seriously. The youth who concern WKCD most are those marginalized by poverty, race, and language. WKCD was founded an educator and a journalist with more than 60 years combined experience supporting adolescent learning in and out of school.

READWORKS  If you believe as I do, that reading is the essential gateway to success, then Readworks is a group you should be thankful for. Readworks is a free and easy-to-use that helps teachers do a better job.  In its own words, “ReadWorks is committed to solving America’s reading comprehension crisis and student achievement gap. Driven by cognitive science research,the non-profit ReadWorks creates world-class content, teacher guidance, and integrated tools that improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement.   Lean and mean group that spends its money helping teachers helping kids.

THE URBAN ASSEMBLY  While improving educational opportunities is never easy, the smoothest path to success is to start in kindergarten and first grade, then add a grade or two every year.  The tough job is starting in high school, after the kids you want to help have spent eight or more years in traditional schools.  So that’s what Richard Kahan decided to do when he transitioned from a hugely successful career in real estate and urban planning. Today The Urban Assembly supports a group of 21 high performing, small public schools in New York City, including seven Career & Technical Education (CTE) schools and three all-girls schools, serving over 9,000 students from low-income neighborhoods.  These themed schools (EG, Academy for Government and Law; Gateway School for Technology; Institute of Math and Science for Young Women) are open to all students.

YOUTHBUILD  I got to know YouthBuild during my first go-round at the NewsHour sometime between 1985-1990. I’m happy to report that this organization, dedicated to giving marginalized youth a second, third and perhaps fourth chance, is stronger than ever. Its dynamic founder, Dorothy Stoneman, remains one of my heroes.  Once just Boston-based, YouthBuild now reaches many corners of the globe.  From its website: “There are at least 2.3 million low-income 16-24 year-olds in the United States who are not in education, employment, or training. Globally, over 200 million youth are working poor and earning less than $2.00 a day. All are in urgent need of pathways to education, jobs, entrepreneurship, and other opportunities leading to productive livelihoods and community leadership. YouthBuild programs provide those pathways. All over the world they unleash the positive energy of low-income young people to rebuild their communities and their lives, breaking the cycle of poverty with a commitment to work, education, family, and community.”

In case you are wondering, YouthBuild is a non-profit that accepts contributions from readers like you!

THE CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND Perhaps all you need to know about CDF is its slogan, Leave No Child Behind.  Yep, George W. Bush ripped it off but–significantly–changed the voice from active to passive.  CDF is activist and has been since Marian Wright Edelman founded it in 1973. I have fond memories of coffee klatches in her kitchen in Washington, DC, in the late 1970’s, listening to and learning from one of America’s great contributors. It’s needed more than ever today.

COMMUNITY SCHOOLS These are one of our brightest hopes for the future, schools that celebrate and embrace their communities.  While a few organizations push this concept, the go-to organization is the Coalition for Community Schools, headquartered in Washington but serving hundreds of communities.  Take a look, please, and share this with your educator friends.

CORE KNOWLEDGE  I am a huge fan of this approach to curriculum and of its founder, the great E. D. Hirsch, Jr.  Don Hirsch is a small-d democrat who believes that the more people know, the better off we all are. I’ve been in a bunch of Core Knowledge schools, and every one has made me want to be a kid again.  Nearly 1300 schools from preschool through 8th grade in 46 states and Washington, DC, uses the Core Knowledge curriculum. From its website: “The idea behind Core Knowledge is simple and powerful: knowledge builds on knowledge. The more you know, the more you are able to learn. This insight, well-established by cognitive science, has profound implications for teaching and learning. Nearly all of our most important goals for education–greater reading comprehension, the ability to think critically and solve problems, even higher test scores–are a function of the depth and breadth of our knowledge.”

MAKERSPACE  This is an idea whose time has come. If you are not on this train, climb aboard now because it’s a great way to energize kids and channel their creative energy. Want to see students eager to come to school? Visit one with a thriving Maker Space.   From one website: “Makerspaces are community centers with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.

Makerspaces represent the democratization of design, engineering, fabrication and education. They are a fairly new phenomenon, but are beginning to produce projects with significant national impacts.”

My son started and runs a Makerspace at his school, but I’d be a fan regardless.

PROJECT-BASED LEARNING  My favorite approach–but far from the only one–is that taken by Expeditionary Learning, but the general idea is that kids should be working together on projects that create knowledge. In schools that embrace projects, the hallmarks are discovery, inquiry, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. And as its supporters like to point out, “Teachers talk less. Students talk and think more.”

GWEN IFILL  I am thankful for the life, career and friendship of Gwen, who died on November 14th at age 61.  The tributes have been well-deserved, endless and eloquent, because Gwen made a huge difference to so many.  She will not be forgotten, and her mark on journalism is permanent.

 

Who’s Protecting the Children in the Age of Trump?

 

 

President Trump and Public Education

A popular explanation for Donald Trump’s surprising victory has to do with a widespread failure to pay attention to working class whites and their economic dislocation, the result of a changed economy, technology and governmental policies that favored the poor and the non-white.  Campaigning as a populist, he rode that wave of discontent to victory on November 8th.

While that is undoubtedly part of the explanation, I believe we should also be looking at another important cause: The low expectations that schools have had for students since “A Nation at Risk.”  That 1983 report’s dire warnings about “a rising tide of mediocrity” frightened us, and in response, we put all our eggs in the basket of student achievement–as measured by student test scores.  For years now, we have practiced what I call “Regurgitation Education” with the goal of raising test scores.  This approach rewards parroting back answers, while devaluing intellectual curiosity, cooperative learning, projects, field trips, the arts, physical education, and citizenship.

Reducing kids to numbers has produced several generations of graduates whose teachers and curriculum did not help them develop the habit of asking questions, digging deep, or discovering and following their passion.  (Ironically, many of the millions of kids who dropped out without completing the full 12 years of indoctrination may be better off, because they avoided the groupthink of conformist education.)

Because children live up or down to our expectations, many Americans have not grown into curious, socially conscious adults. Mind you, I am not faulting teachers, because decisions about how schools should operate are not made in classrooms.  It was school boards, politicians, policy makers and the general public that created schools that value obedience over just about everything else.

Our schools, and the people who run them, are set up to sort. Essentially, they ask about each child “How intelligent are you?” (using test scores as the measure). They then divide children into groups, essentially ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’ with most children falling into the latter category.

Rather than learning how to learn (and learning to love learning), most young people have been expected to give back the right answers and put in the seat time, for which they are rewarded with a piece of paper called a diploma. However, never having participated in the give-and-take of ordinary citizenship, are they graduating from school prepared for life in a democracy?  Or are they likely to follow blindly the siren song of authoritarians?  Can they weigh claims and counter claims and make decisions based on facts and their family’s and their own self-interest, or will they give their support to those who play on their emotions?

The election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, after a campaign of xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, nativism, anti-intellectualism and denial of science, is proof positive that we are now paying the price for having denied generations of children an education built on inquiry and respect for truth.

The country can survive four years of Donald Trump, but our democracy cannot afford schools that fail to respect and nurture our children. It is within our power to create schools that ask of each child “How are you intelligent?” and then allow and encourage them to follow their passion.  If we fail to change our schools, we will elect a succession of Donald Trumps, and that will be the end of the American experiment.

Three Years Is All It Takes

Every education wonk knows about the research indicating that having a great teacher for three consecutive years makes the difference between achieving academic success and falling further behind.  Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, Tom Kane of Harvard and others have become famous and prosperous for spreading that message far and wide. They did it so effectively that “Three Great Teachers” became the rallying cry of just about everyone from Arne Duncan on down. That’s all it takes, so (this means you, teachers) shape up and do a better job!

New research, however, indicates an even more surprising finding: Three consecutive years of quality nutrition, medical care, housing, clothing, and emotional support at home and in school does even more than having three great teachers.  In a carefully-controlled study, an independent researcher has found that poor children who were given those advantages for three years turned out to be happier, healthier, more capable academically, better behaved and more likely to contribute to their community than children who were denied those basic needs.

The long-term study was a painful challenge, researcher Pierre DeRien told me in a phone interview.  “We had to create a control group of perfectly matched children, and in at least two dozen cases that meant we had to deny identical twins the decent housing, nutrition, medical care and personal attention that their siblings were receiving.”

“Policing that was tough,” he said with what sounded like a rueful laugh. “We often had to intervene to make sure one twin didn’t share his meal or his warm clothing with his sibling, but research comes first.  Frankly, some parents were angry that they had to choose between children, kind of a Sophie’s Choice, but I guess they realized that having one kid well off was better than none.”

Wasn’t that a little bit like a TV cameraman filming a drowning person instead of jumping in to save him, I asked Dr. DeRien?  He was silent for a long minute, perhaps embarrassed, but then recovered.  “Science comes first,” he said, “And our findings will end up saving thousands, perhaps millions of children, so sacrificing those few hundred in the control group was necessary…and right.”

I asked Dr. DeRien about the policy implications of his findings.  Specifically, was he now calling for decent housing, medical care, nutrition, clothing for the estimated 25 million U.S. children now growing up in poverty?  After all, child poverty in the US is easily the worst among developed nations and a national embarrassment.  Perhaps he saw this as the spur America needs to take immediate action.

“Oh, no,” he replied. “All we did was study what happened over three years to 2300 children when we gave them what is the birthright of middle class and upper class children.  I’m seeking funding so I can repeat the study for another three years, this time with at least 25,000 children in the study and another 25,000 in the control group.”

But we have 25 million children in poverty now, I said. They can’t wait three more years, can they?

“The whole point of research is to be sure,” he chided.  “Policy has to be grounded in fact, not some do-gooder fantasy,” he said before hanging up.