Monday, October 31, 2016

Pulling Back the Curtain

Dear Editor:

          The following disclaimer/explanation appeared at the end of an editorial published in the Albuquerque Journal on Friday, October 21, 2016 that ridiculed area teachers for taking part in a peaceful, symbolic protest in front of the Board of Education headquarters in Albuquerque:
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.
         First, I find the above statement lacking in clarity.  Who are the "members of the editorial board"?  There is an "Administration" designation that consists of the editor and five others.  There is also an "Opinion" designation that consists of four additional Journal staff.  However, there is no identifiable "editorial board" listed on the Journal web page. Your readers deserve to know whose opinions are being represented in the paper's editorials—and whose are not.
          Second, exactly who or what does the term “the newspaper” include?  All employees?  All staff?  A corporation?  If by “the newspaper” the Editorial Board implies all employees, how does the Board go about verifying that other Journal employees agree with the opinions expressed by the Editorial Board?  No Journal staff members I know have ever been consulted by the "editorial board" as to whether or not they agree with the opinions expressed in the paper’s editorials.
          Third, I find the disclaimer/explanation lacking in logic.  That editorials purport to represent “the newspaper” does not prevent the authors from signing them.  Why not sign editorials?  Doing so would go a long way toward enhancing transparency and accountability at the Journal.  It would also afford Journal employees the opportunity to either associate with or disassociate themselves from the opinions of the "editorial board." The teachers involved in the protest on October 19 proudly stated their names and their schools’ names prior to speaking.  This was akin to signing their names to an editorial.  They were not afraid.
          Finally, I counted 103 names on the list of employees at the Journal website.  This list does not seem to include the dozens if not scores of employees whose duties include printing, distributing, and delivering the paper, publishing the online version of the paper, cleaning the facilities, providing security, and so on.  Even if those employed by the Journal numbered only 103, the small number of Administrative and/or Opinion staff represent a mere 5.8% or 3.8% of those employed by “the newspaper,” hardly a majority or even a meaningful minority.  
          I urge the Editorial Board of the Journal to bear in mind the above points the next time they choose to minimize and marginalize the voices and opinions of large, medium, or small groups of teachers who have no problems with transparency, accountability, and courageous self-representation while engaging in peaceful, public events designed to draw attention to injustices endemic in our public education system.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Bootstraps Redux

      Though enlightening in some respects, Dan Herrera’s Up Front series on “rising out” of poverty, published recently in the Albuquerque Journal, ultimately serves to promote the “bootstraps” myth, or the sociological trope that presupposes that individuals born into poverty are largely to blame for their condition and are therefore responsible for “rising out” of it.  In fact, Mr. Herrera asserts that poverty is a “go-to excuse” and a “crutch” that the poor use to absolve themselves of personal responsibility.  What Mr. Herrera and others choose not to discuss, however, is the fact that the vast majority of people born into poverty remain in poverty unless their hard work to overcome it is accompanied by other key factors, such as being born white, being born a U.S. citizen, being Christian, possessing English as their native language, and often just good luck.  
My father was a good example of this.  He was born into extreme poverty in Waco, Texas in 1926 and soon became even poorer during the Great Depression.  The same was true of the African American and Mexican American children who lived on the other side of Elm Street.  However, my father was born a white U.S. citizen, spoke white English, went to a white Methodist church, and served in the Navy during WWII long enough to avail himself of the brand new GI Bill, which financed his undergraduate and graduate studies.  He later became a college professor.  This was not the case for the children on the other side of Elm Street, most of whom, like my father, also aspired to a life free of want.  Were Mr. Herrera to request bootstraps stories for the Waco Tribune, doubtless few if any of my father’s counterparts of color would be able to contribute.
It is not surprising that the Albuquerque Journal is running such a series.  The bootstraps myth conforms to the editorial staff’s conservative ideological agenda, which promotes an extremely limited role of governments in addressing social and economic disparities and injustices.  This agenda is clearly evident in the editorial staff’s misguided support of the current corporate education “reforms” of both Governor Martinez and President Obama.  These “reforms” reject poverty as a part of a complex of phenomena that contribute to academic under achievement.  As the “reform” ideology goes, if a child living in poverty is unable to achieve on par with those living in relative wealth, it is her own fault (and, increasingly, the fault of her teacher).  The more she—and she alone—is held accountable for her fate, the more those living in comfort can escape accountability and continue to sleep soundly, convinced that her poverty persists simply because she has not yet tried hard enough to overcome it.  
       The bootstraps stories included in Mr. Herrer's series are heartwarming and inspirational. For every success story, however, there are scores of other stories that will never be written. If they were, they would likely attest to poverty as a nearly inescapable condition maintained by powerful economic and political forces that benefit from a persistent and chronic underclass. Readers of Mr. Herrera's column would be well advised to keep these unwritten stories in mind as they read the Journal's carefully selected success stories that feature individual initiative as the sole mechanism for "rising out of poverty."