Sunday, March 02, 2014


John Lawhead is a very deep thinker who is the brains behind many an ICE policy over the years. Recently, he felt compelled to respond to Professor Mark Naison.  Naison leads an organization we often agree with known as the Badass Teachers Association (BATs).

Recently, BATs supported an initiative from Governor Andrew Cuomo on privatized prison education.

The piece below first appeared Thursday at John's Catch 29: inside the nyc schools fix blog.

A Message to Mark Naison          

by John Lawhead

I’m utterly baffled by your celebration of Gov. Cuomo’s college classes in the prisons initiative and your choleric overreaction to dissenters. For one thing this program is simply the expansion of an ongoing program established with private funds in 2007 and is likely to continue as some kind of public-private partnership, in keeping with Cuomo’s relentless drive to reduce state services.

Another thing is the timing of the announcement. It came two days after Assembly Member Karim Camara and State Senator Adriano Espaillat issued their Valentine’s Day statement of support for John King and the Common Core State Standards. This has led observers besides myself, including David Howard King in the Gotham Gazette, to surmise that Cuomo was offering a token of appreciation to Karim Carmara and the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus which he leads. Indeed the governor’s press release announcing the prison classes initiative quotes Camara praising the initiative as a “progressive investment in the future.” The impression of a quickly hatched quid pro quo seems further validated by the fact that Cuomo mentioned job training and better reentry services, but said nothing about college classes in his State of the State speech a month earlier.

Apparently, the admins at the Badassed Teachers Association had to scramble to keep up with your personal interest in defending the governor’s initiative in order to make it organization policy. They posted a long compilation of material, some of it plagiarized from the ACLU website and Teaching Tolerance magazine without attribution. Apparently someone googled “school to prison pipeline” to get the stuff.

The result is of this awkward document is a dramatic shift from an appeal that unites all teachers who “refuse to be blamed for the failure of society to erase poverty and inequity” to a group that declares that many prisoners have been “failed by the education system, as well as the mental health field” with members who owe it to themselves “to recognize those people and educate them like ‘we’ were supposed to in the first place.”

Will there soon be a metric for measuring which schools send the most people to prison so Bill Gates can devise a intervention?

There is not a word in this policy statement about the lack of jobs in this country. I don’t imagine the mass incarceration of Americans being significantly reduced without changing the economy. That seems like something to be figured out by organized working people rather than by philanthropic foundations and advocacy groups. In the meantime, the BATs become spectators, waiting for another good policy to applaud. I’m baffled, I’m bewildered and I’m sad.


Michael Fiorillo said...

John's points, as always, are well taken and well expressed.

By the way, who elected or appointed this fellow to speak for K-12 teachers?

His choice for naming his group - tone deaf and cringeworthy - alone is enough to make people question his judgement.

Teachers will regret granting him the prominence he has egotistically usurped.

James Eterno said...

I agree with you Michael on the ridiculous nature of the name of the group and have told plenty of people that.

Patrick Walsh said...

The juvenile name is the least of it. I, myself, am more than tired of self-appointed educational messiahs, that much the more so when beneath their Lefty rhetoric they are nasty, ruthless narcissists. I would just as soon allow this person Naison represent my profession and myself as I would DFER or Bill Gates or Mike Bloomberg. It seems to me that beneath their various lines of bullshit they are all seeking the same thing and that thing is not our dignity.

John Lawhead said...

Thanks for the kind words, James. I found I needed to disaffiliate from the BATs politically, though it still holds an interest for me as a forum for thousands of teachers.

Robin said...

I, too, have left BATs. I do not need them thinking or speaking for me. The fact that two of the founders are not public classroom teachers yet are determining the course for thousands of teachers caused me turmoil. While I am not very familiar with issues in NY, I signed on to BATs because of its original mission - eliminating Common Core and high-stakes testing, helping students and educators,and addressing the issue of poverty, which is at the root of so many school problems. This new mission has gone too far astray for me to continue my membership. Illinois has its own problems and I have chosen to continue my activism there.