Thursday, May 26, 2016

Black History Manifesto (uPhakamile uMaDhlamini)

 Black History
Black struggle
Black consciousness
I remember you Steve Biko
Black History
It’s every day, my way of life,
How I was taught
How I remember
How I continue the fight
I salute you all fallen heroes
Onkgopotse Tiro, Robert Sobukwe, Malcom X,
I read and share your stories every day
Chant your names
Audre Lorde, Taytu Betul, Mirriam Makeba
I call out to you great ancestors,
Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Thomas Sankara
I give thanks to you
Toussaint Louverture, Kwame Nkrumah, Kwame Ture
For my sanity I call out
Aluta Continua I call out
Not yet uhuru!
The blood shed was not in vain
Soldier on we must
Bob Marley I call out for my people’s emancipation from mental slavery
Acquiescence, fear
I draw courage and resilience from you
Winnie Mandela, Lilian Ngoyi, Charlotte Maxeke
Judged and persecuted for this black skin
In these nervous conditions,
I remember you Frans Fanon

Yes let’s scrap Black History Month and sustain the suppression of our freedoms! Let us deny ourselves the time to interrogate and reflect on our past. “Black history is American history!” said two actors once in separate interviews. 

Would Carter G. Woodson agree that American history is Black history? For his efforts and many others who give their time to initiatives like Black History Month, and in South Africa observations like the Human Rights Day and June 16, for the restoration and remembrance of our histories.

One of the most painful realizations of the black experience is the denial and distortion of our history. And the process of discarding the lies, learning and unlearning ‘truths’, decolonizing,  liberating self against the watchful eye of white supremacy is agonizing to say the least.

It is also hard for FORGIVENESS to materialize with NO ADMISSION of the crimes committed against Black people but instead we are met with more resistance by way of accusations and machinations. “Why are Black people so damn sensitive, they should move on already?”  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission established after the first democratic elections in South Afrika was unsuccessful in providing the catharsis and reconciliation that was hoped for precisely because of the resistant tactics and lack of accountability.

The US, Canada and UK have a month to celebrate Black History and in South Afrika we have less than ten days spread across the calendar.  They may seem menial to others as in the case of the aforementioned Afrikan American actors who declared the Black History Month commemoration useless and argued Black history was American history. Reactionary commentary like theirs is problematic and neglects to see the many strides and greater ones that are achievable with the support and solidarity of the Black community across the globe.

Rather than critique the controversial BET stable one of the actors failed to recognize the importance of the platform, a Black institution which should be seen and used for the advancement of the Black struggle. We need to strengthen these spaces and moments of celebration, grow them! What if we forgot the Oscars, the Grammy and the likes and permanently boycotted them? And rallied support for our own Black conscious work and companies and products, our autonomy, freedom!

What has American history taught us?
We learn everyday of its selective memory.
American history has always written people and events out.
American history does not acknowledge the genocide it committed against Native Americans but chooses to romanticize the land grabs marked by the Thanksgiving Celebration, the same land it denies Afrikan Americans and wealth built on the backs of their ancestors nor will it admit to the trickery and dehumanization of Mexicans that continues to this day. It will never speak of its conspiracies against Latin Americans, Africans and Asians.

American History is Black History they say?

In America, Black History has been a learning opportunity of the histories and individuals that remind us of the conniving ways of capitalism that birthed the observance of Juneteenth and a chance to interrogate the systemic injustice like the prison industrial complex that murdered George Jackson, denies Mumia Abu-Jamal medication and let’s not forget the 6x9 feet cells and detention centers for us immigrants that threaten our lives every day.

Black history is also about its survival and contribution to our self-realization, self-determination and self-sustenance. What also begs our immediate attention and interrogation is the cultural misappropriation by the west kept alive by our high levels of consumerism.

Let’s not only celebrate Black History Month, but join in on the commemoration of the history of Native Americans, of the people of Nicaragua and Cuba, rally behind the people of Palestine and Western Sahara. Find our way into the discovery of many more histories hidden and denied in the Library of Congress and in the basements of European museums.

For knowledge is survival, so for whose comfort is dismissing Black commemorations as was the attempt in South Afrika to rebrand Heritage Day celebrating our diverse cultures to ‘National Braai Day. And while it may be fun and trendy, at what cost is the compromise?

Against 500 years of disarray it may seem insignificant but these are moments of freeing ourselves, of imagining and moving towards realizing a postcolonial society. Where’s your beginning, how are you liberating yourself and others around you or are you just keeping watch over the fence of your own privilege making sure we stay in our assigned boxes?

Wise women once said, “That which causes you discomfort is a cause for interrogation”.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

How Lowering Class-Size Could Help Prevent Enrollment Decrease (And Solve The Budget Crisis)

Laney College is experiencing a budget crisis. The Governor’s latest budget proposal projects $5 million less revenue got the district, which will significantly impact our ability to provide services to our students.

The state and district place the primary blame for this budget crisis on decreasing student enrollment. This is partially true, given that the state’s current funding apportionment ratio funds the college according to the number of Full-time equivalent students (FETS), but the state’s funding model shares some blame for the decreasing enrollment. By mandating that Laney’s standard class size be 35 students, in contrast to the smaller size classes at more expensive private and state colleges that our students are competing with and preparing for, this model has lead to a policy in which classrooms are considered more “productive,” and are rewarded, the more overcrowded they are.

One direct result of the over-crowded classrooms is an increased student dropout rate. A higher percentage of students drop out or fail an overcrowded class than a smaller class. Yet the state’s funding model fails to take this into account. Because the state determines funding based on enrollment in the first place, yet, because of overcrowding, creates a climate that increases attrition (decreases retention), its internal contradictions have created what Bonnie Oviatt calls a “self-perpetuating spiral that can tear a community college apart.”[1] This is a warning I take very seriously, and we need to find a way to break the cycle.

Recognizing this self-defeating structural flaw, the district set up a task force to examine and “fine-tune” the District’s budget allocation model in October 2015 to help ensure that Laney receives its fair share of funds from the district. In the meantime, funding will continue to drop as enrollment does, so Former President, Elnora Webb, has “hired two people on short-term contracts to do outreach to bring in more students.” Outreach, and strengthening connections with K-12 schools to help provide alternatives to the school-to-prison pipeline, is indeed crucial and could help contribute to decreased drop-out rates for K-12 schools as well as increased enrollment for Laney, and hopefully these outreach efforts can continue beyond the short-term contract. Yet more can be done.

More recently, Laney’s interim President, Patricia Stanley, has established an Enrollment Management Task Force to “get a feel for what’s going on” and eventually from an Enrollment Management Committee to “put together a 3-5 year plan to raise enrollment.” I sincerely hope they are willing to listen to students and faculty who already have a feel for what’s going on more than many an outside consultant. And, judging from my interactions with students, increasing retention can do more to solve the crisis than outreach. I devoutly hope any proposed Enrollment Management Committee considers devoting as many resources as they do to recruitment efforts to making student retention (limiting attrition) a priority in any strategy for increasing enrollment. As Laney Professor Alicia Cabellero-Christiansen puts it, “you can get people in the doors, but if they don’t show up the next fall what good did it do?”

Since I began teaching at Laney in 2008, we have had very high attrition rates, especially among African American students, which studies have confirmed. Although many are resigned to the “inevitability” of this at Laney, the school is receiving equity funding to study ways to address this inequity crisis, which overlaps with the funding crisis in important ways. Overcrowded classrooms, along with the underfunded support services, contribute to high drop out rates, and lack of equity.

Many of our students need much more one-on-one attention to help them compensate for the disadvantages their underfunded K-12 schools left them at. Recognizing this, many of our professors put in longer hours to meet one-on-one outside of classroom hours. But many students simply cannot make themselves available to meet with teachers outside of class time---because many work several jobs or have families to attend to, and increasingly longer commutes. It’s a struggle enough for them to attend regularly scheduled classes. Thus, teachers who recognize the students’ need for more one-on-one time are virtually forced to take class time away from group work, and this can negatively impact the class’ ability to fulfill the requirement of the course’s SLO. It also can play a significant impact on decreasing retention (increasing dropouts). Yet there’s a way that teachers could provide more one-on-one time without sacrificing necessary group work.

Clearly, students would be better served if such classes were capped at 25 students, as they often are at the more expensive private schools, and not cancelled if they only have 15 students. Doing so will not only increase student equity and success, but will help increase enrollment and, in the long term, be more fiscally responsible than the current economic model based on a short-term bottom line that defines overcrowded high-attrition classrooms as “productive.”

In the short term, under the existing state model in which funding is based on enrollment, reducing class sizes will certainly not save the school or district any money. Yet, by providing better student-to-teacher ratios and more one-on-one, it will decrease the drop-out rate which, in the long term, will contribute to a robust, and more stable fiscal environment with increased student equity.

It may seem to be counterintuitive, or go against conventional wisdom, to take seriously a demand for less crowded classrooms even during good times, let alone during a budget crisis. Yet the Enrollment Management Task Force should consider a 3-5 year plan that would 1) recalibrate the existing state funding ratio to immediately reduce class sizes and, if need be, open more course sections to serve unmet student/consumer needs; 2) allocate at least as many resources to the retention of existing students as on the recruitment of new students; 3) guarantee no student tuition increases during this restructuring period.

Certainly, fiscal solvency doesn’t have to be opposed to the human aspects of education; teachers and students don’t have to be opposed to Human Resources and essential administrators. But we need more innovative thinking, and our students—even in basic skills classes---have some innovative ideas that need to be put on the table about what a “productive” class and a “productive” school is. The administration need to recognize and honor these ideas, which, if we think long-term rather than short-term, could enhance Laney’s reputation as a cosmopolitan world-class community college, and get us out of this budget crisis on firmer footing than we were before it began.

Chris Stroffolino,
English Department