Monthly Archives: February 2009

What the Media want to Know about HBCUs?

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Arne Duncan on Tour and the Next Generation of Educators

By Emery Petchauer

One important area of concern that received little attention during this year’s monumental presidential election was education. Other than a brief nod during one debate — during which both candidates represented cursory and almost identical positions — education and the looming future of the No Child Left Behind Act was indeed left behind.

Currently, understanding the future direction of public education in the United States revolves around President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The improvements that Duncan is planning stem from a proposed $140 billion stimulus (sound familiar?), a large portion of which is intended to help states maintain and create teaching jobs and other positions in schools. Duncan plans to venture out on a listening tour across the county to hear firsthand what people in local places and spaces think.

On this tour, I hope Duncan hears from current college students who are intending to major in education. If he does, he will get a glimpse of some major problems that must be addressed during his tenure. One of these is the incongruency among states’ certification requirements and tests. He will hear about states such New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia that either adhere to different passing scores on certification exams, often change their passing scores, or use different exams altogether.

Hopefully, Duncan will hear that confusion is the least important result of these policies. These incongruencies create more obstacles for talented, new teachers who desire to leave their certifying states and teach in high need, urban areas in neighboring states. Like all bad policies, these incongruencies ultimately harm groups who need help the most: children in high need urban and rural schools.

I also hope that Duncan will see that some states such as Pennsylvania are transitioning into bizarre certification models — based upon no clear research base — that will make it absolutely miserable for college students to major in education. For starters, such models mandate a cemented course sequence, leave no room for electives and attempt to dictate the qualifications for faculty employment in teacher education programs. Without question, such models will decrease the number of gifted college students applying to and completing the major.

Some might suggest that any pressure put on states from the federal department of education is both undesirable and unconstitutional. My response would be that in the last 50 years, the federal government has increasingly stepped in and steered states straight when they have been off course.

Look no further than Supreme Court cases that not only declared racial segregation illegal but later outlined other measures for desegregation and related penalties. Today, strong-arm federal influence is happening on the daily through the No Child Left Behind Act. All of this means that Arne Duncan should and will have a say in teacher education at the state level, and I hope he hears from students in those programs as he makes decisions that will shape the next generation of educators.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

Educators of Conscience Call for an Academic Boycott of Israel

by J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D.

jkauanuiOn Monday, February 2, 2009, scholar Benny Morris gave a lecture, “The First Arab-Israeli War,” at Wesleyan University, which was sponsored by the Jewish and Israeli Studies Certificate Program. As a New Historian who supports Zionist ideology, Morris is one of Israel’s most distinguished historians. He became well known after accessing and analyzing Israeli military documents and discovering that they ran counter to the Zionist propaganda that asserted Palestinians left their homeland voluntarily; instead, they had been systematically expelled from their homeland in 1948. Some would say he was even sympathetic with Palestinians for a number of years. However, since 2000, he has become an apologist for the right in Israel by trying to justify the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians and even suggested in an interview in Ha’aretz that the state of Israel did not go far enough. To justify this point, he referred to the United States: “Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians. There are cases in which the overall, final good justifies harsh and cruel acts that are committed in the course of history.” This contemporary colonial position in support of ethnic cleansing is morally bankrupt, and as repugnant as advocating the merits of modern day slavery.

At his recent lecture at Wesleyan, less than a dozen or so protesters showed up to picket the event. The demonstration was organized by The Middle East Crisis Committee—a Conn.-based activist group that organized in 1982 in New Haven, Conn., during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. No Wesleyan students joined the protest, and no other Wesleyan professor stood with the group, although the next day, The Wesleyan Argus reported that a few people in the audience challenged with Morris, and those who attended were said to be “both Orthodox Jews and members of student pro-Palestinian liberation groups.”

While the call to boycott Israeli academics and institutions has not yet taken root on U.S. campuses in any widespread way, there is a new development across the country that deserves urgent attention. Last month, educators of conscience launched the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.  Several brave scholars—Rabab Abdulhadi, Nada Elia, Manzar Foroohar, Jess Ghannam, Sherna Berger Gluck, Sondra Hale, David Klein, Dennis Kortheuer, David Lloyd, Sunaina Maira, Marcy Newman, Edie Pistolesi, and Magid Shihade—initiated the effort and comprise the Organizing Committee. The Advisory Board includes: Bill Fletcher, Glen Ford, Mark Gonzales, Edward S. Herman, Robin D. G. Kelley, James Petras, and me. Specifically, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel comes in response to international calls by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and by more than 500 Israeli citizens to foreign embassies in Tel Aviv to stand up and challenge Israel’s unlawful assault on the people and institutions of Gaza.

Israel’s latest assault on Gaza has killed at least 1,300 Palestinians, one third of them children, and injured 5,300 or more–the vast majority of whom are civilians who endured incessant bombardment that amounts to collective punishment and blatant war crimes. After three weeks of renewed attacks since Israel launched air strikes on December 27, 2008 against the 1.5 million Palestinians, Israel unilaterally declared a cease-fire and withdrew from Gaza. It has been a tenuous cease-fire given that Israel continues to assert its political right to attack Gaza if Hamas continues firing rockets across the border, and has done so since the withdrawal, even though under international law, Palestinians have the right to engage in armed resistance because they are illegally occupied. In the U.S. media, Hamas is represented as the aggressor with little or no acknowledgment that it was Israel that broke the cease fire on November 4, 2008; while the world’s attention was focused on the U.S. presidential elections Israel launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men to provoke a response that would create a pretext for further invasion.

Israel has also consistently targeted educational institutions of all kinds. Since December 27, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, the Ministry of Education, the American International School, at least 10 United Nations Reliefs and Work Agency schools, and numerous other educational facilities. Israeli’s actions against the Palestinians have been fully supported by the US government through military aid and diplomatic oversight. Because of this, we in the United States have a particular moral obligation to speak out in protest of Israel’s compounded aggression as it fortifies an apartheid regime of settler colonialism in the occupied territories.  We must ask why there are economic sanctions against the occupied rather than the occupier.

Educators of conscience who support the U.S. Campaign urge our colleagues, nationally, regionally, and internationally, to stand up against Israel’s ongoing scholasticide and to support the non-violent call for academic boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions. The mission of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel is clear: (1) Refraining from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions that do not vocally oppose Israeli state policies against Palestine; (2) Advocating a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions; (3) Promoting divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions; (4) Working toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations; and (5) Supporting Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

The U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel draws on the same strategy that created the global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa: Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS). BDS is an effective way to put non-violent external pressure on Israel. In the form of an academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel, educators of conscience can help bring an end to the ongoing massacres of civilians and the occupation of Gaza and Palestine as part of a comprehensive boycott, including divestment, political sanctions, and the immediate halt to all military aid, sales and deliveries to Israel.

This boycott should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by: 1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

Although the U.S. Campaign specifically addresses institutions and not individuals, hopefully we’ll see a louder moral outcry on the next campus where Benny Morris and any other Zionist may be invited to lecture.

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D. is an associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University. She is the producer and host of a public affairs radio program, “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond,” on WESU, Middletown, CT, which is syndicated throughout 13 states along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and archived online:  Her first book, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity, is newly released from Duke University Press. She is on the Advisory Board for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Defining a Person’s Blackness?

By Dr. Elwood Watson

Last October at an annual conference that highlights various aspects of the Black experience, I attended a panel where Dr. Ronald Walters, professor of government and African American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park and several other scholars were discussing the potential impact that the upcoming election could have on the Black Community. Walters made several thought provoking points during his presentation to the audience. However, one of the most notable things he mentioned during his insightful talk was an experience he encountered on his campus when he was within ear shot distance of a group of Black students.

According to the distinguished professor, these students were using the word “ghetto” as if they were discussing either a person(s) or group of people. Professor Walters admitted that he caught the very end of the conversation, thus he was unable to grasp the full extent of whom and what they were talking about. He concluded that such behavior may very well be another sort of group division added to the already numerous number of distractions that the Black community could ill afford.

More recently, just last week, I heard a Black male student here on my campus refer to some fellow Black students as “bougie Negroes.” His comments made me think of the potential divisions that Walters was discussing. Yet his statement also made me ponder a larger question, how do we define Black?

In my forty plus years of life, I have heard numerous terms some Blacks use in describing one another – ghetto, Uncle Tom, sellout, Negro, bougie, oreo, incognegro, aunt Jemima etc … All of these terms have been used in a derisive manner. Even the controversial N-word has been bandied about. Despite the historically genetic poison of this word, it has largely had an ambivalent meaning in the Black community. Some of us love to use it; others of us detest even thinking about it.

The larger question that emerges from this is how and what do we define as Blackness? economic situation? educational attainment? skin tone? religious affiliation? clothing attire? racial genetic makeup? geographic region? I pose the following questions. Are lower income Black people in the Huff section of Cleveland more Black than those who live in the wealthy Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Hills? Do Black people who have doctorates, law degrees and MBAs embody less Blackness than those who only have a high school diploma or even more minimal level of education? Are darker skin Black people like Wesley Snipes more racially legitimate than lighter skinned Blacks like Beyonce Knowles?

Do Black Pentecostals and Southern Baptists have more SOUL than their Presbyterian and Methodist parishioners? Do Black men and women who wear clothes by Damat and Tween and Tracey Lee more representative of a fashion racial consciousness that is absent among those who wear J. Crew and Timberland threads? Are biracial Black people like Halle Berry and Barack Obama less authentic than those of us who have two Black parents? Are Blacks who reside in the heat sweltering, largely agrarian Black belt states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia more racially aware than their fellow Blacks who live in the picturesque, snow capped mountain states of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire?

My answer to all these proposed questions is a resounding NO!

In my opinion, defining another person’s Blackness is an arrogant, misguided exercise in futility. We clearly have more IMPORTANT issues to address. However, there are people within our community who have and would raise such questions for debate. As far as I am concerned any person who is committed to addressing the educational, economic, political and environmental problems that afflict a large segment of Black America and is dedicated to advancing the race – regardless of monetary income, biological makeup, pigmentation of skin, preference in worship, zip code, etc … this includes non-Blacks too, is Black enough for me.


Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

“Full Measure of Happiness”

By Marybeth Gasman

“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

— Barack Obama, 1/20/2009

As I listened to President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, the above mentioned quote stood out more than anything else. Perhaps, when he said, “to choose our better history,” my historian ears perked up and decided to listen more closely. However, Obama had me at “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” I have been so happy to hear our new president talk about our obligation to take care of one another — to be our brother’s keeper. For too long, we as a society have been obsessed with taking care of “me” instead of caring about each “we.” The only way that all of us will have a “chance to pursue” our “full measure of happiness” is with the help of others.

How does all of this optimism apply to higher education, you might be asking? Here’s how: So often I see individuals, policies and systems preventing the success of students. In order to follow procedures, we ignore the individual. President Obama’s message reminds me of all the roadblocks that we put up for students, especially students of color, when we could just as easily create pathways to success. How many students have been slowed down, stopped in their tracks or derailed because they don’t fit our narrow definitions of success? Who defines success? How many future Barack Obamas are we failing to encourage and support? Obama admits to not being a strong student during his early years in college; it took him some time to get serious. Where would we be as a country right now if someone hadn’t seen his potential?

I don’t know about you, but I am on the look out for potential and hoping to find it every day! Please take the time and spend the energy taking care of those around you so that they can achieve their “full measure of happiness.”

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).