Monday, February 27, 2012

Whither Murray LA? Poor Judgement (and Poor Spelling) by Principal Mason Ding Respected Teacher

posted by chicago pop

Local 5th and 6th grade writing and social studies teacher Lincoln Brown was recently disciplined by the principal of Murray Elementary Language Academy, Gregory Mason, for using the word nigger in his classroom. Done in an educational context, this is no different from reading Mein Kampf in the presence of Jewish students, or presenting descriptions of Muslim "infidels" in the Song of Roland to students of that religion. Nothing is gained from removing these deposits of reality that run all through our culture for better or for worse. We don't condone them. We study them to understand the world that has preceded us.

As far as I have been able to determine from the press, this is a case of a neighborhood principal making a very poor judgement that affects the career reputation of a long serving CPS teacher. The fact that Mason's written statement conveyed in the Sun-Times is also misspelled and grammatically challenged - cardinal sins for an educator, as far as I am concerned - suggests that the merits of this particular disciplinary action might be in need of as much review as the grammar of his statement. 

The facts appear to be these: 

Lincoln Brown, 48, says he used the n-word in front of his majority African-American class at Murray Language Academy on Oct. 4 last year after one of his students passed a note to a girl with rap lyrics including the n-word.

Brown — who grew up in Hyde Park and has taught in black neighborhood schools for 21 years — “attempted to give his own denunciation of the use of such language” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.

He discussed the use of the racial slur in Huckleberry Finn in an attempt to show “how upsetting such language can be,” but just as he used the n-word, the school’s principal, Gregory Mason walked into the classroom, the lawsuit alleges.

Two weeks later, Mason wrote to Brown, giving an account of the incident that disputes the precise words and context in which Brown used the n-word. Mason charged Brown with “using verbally abusive language to or in front of students” and “cruel, immoral, negligent or criminal conduct or communication to a student, that causes psychological or physical harm” in violation of the Chicago Public Schools policy.

Following a hearing in late October, the principal told the teacher that he would be suspended for five days without pay, the suit says. Brown appealed to CPS, but a CPS hearing officer ruled in December that he had “engaged in inappropriate discussions with sixth-grade students during instructional time,” ordering him to serve his suspension starting Friday.

Mason writes in his statement: “The very insistent (sic) I entered the room, I heard Mr. Brown discussing with the entire class of students on the word, ‘N*****’"  Further, "When Mason returned to the class roughly 15 minutes later, he wrote, Brown was teaching grammar, but “totally off subjected (sic), Mr. Brown asked the students, ‘have you ever thought about why blacks are killed in movies first?’”"

The idea that some words should never be uttered is not a principle of rational thought. It is a principle of superstition, a relic of magical thinking and the fear that words themselves convey actions equivalent to their meanings. In a modern worldview, free of superstition and dogma, we understand that a word carries different meanings based on the context of its utterance. It is the context that we should be aware of, not the word in isolation. Nothing in the context of this case - a context which includes Lincoln Brown's biography and career - suggests that Lincoln Brown was making racist remarks. Again, the fact that a copy of Mein Kampf sits on my bookshelf (as it does) does not mean that I support National Socialism, or that I am a Nazi. The fact that I might discuss features of Nazi ideology, or quote the speeches of Adolf Hitler, does not mean that I am anti-Semitic. Would it be inappropriate to build a class discussion around these issues if students were already discussing them?

The same applies to the word nigger

I don't use this word, though here I refuse to euphemize it, to blank it out with an abbreviation and a hyphen, because this is not how one should deal with the reality of past or present injustices, as people or as societies. Especially not when the word is, as we all know, commonly used by many of the people to whom it was once applied, including children. This is a contradiction that has not been sufficiently thought out in the culture at large, but that is an issue for another day.

Readers interested in showing their support for local teacher Lincoln Brown may add their names to the petition currently being circulated by the group "MLA Parents in Support of Mr. Brown."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Letter to the editor in support of Ray Lodato's First District Congressional Bid

posted by chicago pop

We have been asked to post this letter to the editor, rejected by the Hyde Park Herald and the Chicago Tribune, from Mr. Alex Gomez. Mr. Gomez is Campaign Manager for Ray Lodato's bid for the First District Congressional seat currently held by Bobby Rush.

To the Editor,

Democratic Congressional candidate Raymond Lodato has promised to "get the First District back to work." We share his concern with bringing jobs to the district, and are additionally concerned about Congressman Rush's dismal voting record, which was recently explored by The Chicago Tribune newspaper. Rush's claim to 'seniority' is absolutely hollow. He is not the ranking minority member on any committee. Five Democratic representatives who arrived in Washington the same year he did are, as are another four who arrived after him. But ranking minority members, like committee chairs, are chosen by their fellow representatives based on the respect they command. Rush commands little respect from his colleagues, so his constituents don't benefit from his many years in Congress. He has longevity, not seniority. Fortunately, we have an alternative in Raymond Lodato, who will be a forceful, independent and effective Representative for the District.


                                                                              Rebecca Janowitz
                                                                              Joan Merlin Palmer
                                                                              Linda Swift
                                                                              Duel Richardson
                                                                              Judy Jakush
                                                                              Edward "Ted" Fetters

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tribune reports on Antheus in Hyde Park

posted by chicago pop

A decent little piece in the Tribune's business section today more or less covers the range of local opinions (including ours) on the Antheus-financed MAC-vasion of Hyde Park Kenwood. George Rumsey gets in a tart little zing, someone complains that Hyde Park risks losing its 'small town' feel, and someone else worries about the neighborhood no longer being a bastion of low-income housing. I had a number of more positive things to say in addition to the comment quoted, but they didn't make it into this short piece. Which is a sort of too bad, because - probably unintentionally - the piece comes off as Antheus/MAC vs. Everybody. 

A choice excerpt: 

This month, a small group of residents gathered at the Hyde Park Art Center to see Gang's designs.

While several praised the scale and beauty of Gang's work, some residents said they were worried that the project might alter Hyde Park's quirky, small-town feel. And others were concerned about Antheus' plans to ask the city for $10 million in financial assistance — money the company initially said it wouldn't seek. Funding would come from the 53rd Street tax increment financing (TIF) district.

"You are using TIF money for huge projects that are forcing independent business owners who have been in Hyde Park for generations in some cases to close," said resident S. Beth Thomas. "You want to make Hyde Park look like a world-class neighborhood, but my concern is the people who are being displaced," she said.
And Rumsey's little splash of NIMBY hot sauce on Eli Ungar's business lunch:

"MAC has a history of making really dumb decisions when they acquire new properties and having to back down when it's a public relations disaster," said George Rumsey, an affordable housing advocate and former president of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference.
Ungar, 44, often plays "good cop" and flies in to rescue MAC, using his affable personality to calm residents' ire. "He knows how to feel your pain," Rumsey said. "He'll say, 'Let me look at it' and calls and takes people to lunch."
Meanwhile, the Del Prado and East Park building look better and better every day, the Shoreland is kept from demolition, and the sidewalks down each side of Hyde Park Boulevard are shoveled within hours of every snow storm - not something a good number of local property managers were managing to accomplish prior to Antheus's MAC-vasion.

Clarke's Opening on Monday!

posted by chicago pop

Alas, a non-locally owned chain displacing cell phone stores and promoting foot-traffic on 53rd Street late at night. From the U of C's 53rd Street Blog:

Clarke’s 24-hour restaurant will open this Monday starting at 8 a.m. During its opening day, Clarke’s will offer a pre-Valentine’s Day special to include a 10 percent discount for each total bill until midnight.
Located at 1451 E. 53rd St., the menu choices include a variety of items such as omelets, pancakes, stir-fry dishes, sandwiches and a host of other food selections.

UChicago officials brought the all-night eatery to Hyde Park’s key commercial corridor to address the interests of students and the community for more late-night amenities.

“As we continue to work closely with the community, the City and Alderman Will Burns to strengthen our ongoing revitalization efforts, we believe adding the right mix of restaurants and retail businesses will bring added value to Hyde Park that residents have been asking for over the past several years,” said James Hennessy, director of Commercial Real Estate Operations for the University.

Established in 1986, Clarke’s has existing locations in Lincoln Park, Evanston, Lakeview and Bucktown.
“We are very proud to make Hyde Park our new home for Clarke’s as a key destination on the South Side of Chicago,” said Steve Dionysopoulos, co-owner of Clarke’s. “With the rapid growth in an important business area along 53rd Street, we believe that our 24-hour restaurant will meet the needs of both students and the community at large. We are very excited to be a part of the Hyde Park community.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Leslie Hairston's Pay Raises; or, the High Cost of South Side Living

posted by chicago pop

There's a good chance 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston makes more than you. Unless you make more than $114,913, which is a healthy amount, but not unusual for a public servant in this financially well-endowed metropolis. What's interesting about this figure is that it results from legislatively authorized 'automatic adjustments' to council member incomes to match Chicago's 'cost of living.' 

Given the way property taxes in the HP-K zip codes have been shooting up the last year or so, I think we could all use some city council - generated automatic adjustments. Alas, pity those without the power to raise their own salaries.

Thanks to HPP reader CD for the pointer to this helpful graph in the Chicago Tribune.

[Source: 'What Chicago aldermen make,' Chicago Tribune, January 29, 2012]