Archive for the ‘philadelphia’ category

Feeling Uncomfortable

December 31, 2015

Recently Friends Central, a Suburban Philadelphia private Quaker High School removed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its teaching curriculum. The school said the book, with its wide use of the N-word, made some of its students uncomfortable. The school went on to say it thought removal was not censorship but rather a testament to listening “to our students”. Hmmm.

Any school’s teaching curriculum can only be so big. All the possible important pieces of literature cannot be included, simply due to teaching time. So one must assume that Friends Central had included the classic Huck Finn for an academic reason. To remove it because some students felt uncomfortable must raise eyebrows. Aren’t students in school to learn from those who presumably have the benefit of greater knowledge and experience?

Huck Finn is considered important because it describes a segregated America which current white generation have not experienced. While the text may make some African American students uncomfortable, do these students (and their adult supporters) recognize that Huck Finn does not endorse segregation. Rather Mark Twain uses the book in an attempt to open the minds of white Americans to a period of insensitivity and hypocrisy. Hmmm.

This past year has also seen a number of college protests (Missouri, Ithaca College, Virginia Commonwealth, Yale for examples) where African American students have alleged school policies were not inclusive enough and racial insensitivity made them feel uncomfortable. Some of these “uncomfortable” situations lead to the resignation of senior Administrators. These incidents, however, differ markedly from removing a classic text from the curriculum. The college incidents involved the overall learning environment while the Friends Central involved learning materials.

Feeling uncomfortable in the learning process is a natural by-product of education. Feeling uncomfortable in a social setting is not a necessary condition. Improving the University level social setting could spell a more productive learning environment. At the end of the day, however, the burden to learn still falls back to the student.

Feeling uncomfortable with the teaching curriculum begs the question of whether the material was academically worthy in the first place. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a well established reputation.

If Friends Central felt there was a book more important than Huck Finn and used the new book to replaced Finn in the curriculum, the decision could be tested on the basis of academic merit. Removing a book for “comfort” reasons begs the question of whether Friends Central has “dumbed down” its curriculum in an effort to achieve comfort.

Is that what learning is about?

When The Hand That Gives Is That Hand That Takes

November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving is probably America’s favorite holiday. People say timing is everything and Thanksgiving which occurs almost three months after the last major holiday (Labor Day) hits a sweet spot for timing. Americans seem ready to travel and reconnect with family and friends.

In Philadelphia, the City holds its annual “Thanksgiving Day Parade” which in fact is Christmas Parade (or maybe I should say Holiday Parade). Originally this Parade was sponsored by Gimbel Brothers Department Stores (Macy’s fierce competitor). Unfortunately, Gimbel’s days ended in 1986 and a local ABC television channel pick up the lead sponsorship. The parade was saved and life was good.

Over the years, the parade has managed to bring to Philadelphia 15 or so first class marching bands from east of the Mississippi. A special occasion for the band’s members and a treat for Philadelphians. Each year the parade organizers presented a family friendly welcome to the holiday season. This year, however, they went over the top.

Apparently the money necessary to bring in top notch marching units and to pay for police and city clean up services is substantial (although not significantly more this year than the past). Never the less, the desire for ever larger TV audiences (beat the other channels) drove other forces than just covering the parade’s cost. And there in laid the problem.

The 2015 Parade became a “made for TV” event.

The Parade’s conclusion is directly in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and all units march must pass this reviewing point. The marching units march crisply and play their best.   Unfortunately, the Television Station also made the reviewing point their stage too. Hmmm.

If you haven’t guessed by now, the terrific marching units were of little interest to the TV moguls. Instead they arranged for brightly costumed singing and dancing units (who did not march) to perform while the parade stopped and waited. Add to this, time reserved for commercials, the parade did little marching and lots of standing still and waiting.

Thursday was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 60’s. The experience was exasperating but had the weather been like 2014 when it was cold, most spectators would have simply gone home disappointed.

The nice weather enable most to tough it out, stay to the end when Santa arrives, and the leave frustrated and disappointed.

The ABC affiliate hopefully will take note that their goals of producing a wonderful television event should not take precedent over the real event itself. Parades are for kids of all ages, and marching bands should be just that, something one goes and sees “march”.

What’s The Difference Between New York City and Philadelphia?

July 29, 2015

Philadelphia is a grand city well known for its role in history. Our Country can be traced to Philadelphia for starters. Sports teams, the symphony orchestra, universities, and museums rank among the best in the nation. So why the question about comparing Philadelphia to New York City?

The Pope is coming and with the Pope, lots of people, that’s why.

Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia on September 25 and 26. The Pope will also visit Washington and New York City too. While both of those cities will certainly want to put their best foot forward, the Pontiff’s visit is no big deal. Washington and NYC are used to foreign dignitaries of all types caravanning through town. But not Philadelphia.

Philadelphia enjoys large tourist crowds through out the year.  The question is how large is “large”/   The local tourist bureau estimates that on average 100,000 or so visitors come to the city each day. That’s a lot of people but is about one tenth or one twentieth the number anticipated to visit Philadelphia during the Pope’s visit. Hmmm.

City officials are clearly panicked over the prospect of crowd control, emergency services, and public conveniences. Subway access will be limited to those holding a lottery pass.  This will limit the use of public transportation to those lucky few. Officials have hinted at wide areas of street closures and even wider swatches of no parking. Many Philadelphians, however, have seen this visit as an opportunity to rent their home or apartment and make some money. Hmmm.

Philadelphia is much more like Boston as large cities go. Both are relatively small compared to NYC and feature residences snuggled along side of major tourist attractions. After business hours, Philadelphia becomes a “bedroom” community while New York remains alive 7/24.

It is possible that city officials are making too much of “what can go wrong” possibilities but better safe than sorry, I suppose.

For my money, I think I will just go to Baltimore and escape the crowds.

Religious Tolerance?

July 9, 2015

A suburban Philadelphia private parochial school is making news. The school, located in the wealthy Marion neighborhood, dismissed (fired) their popular (from students and parents perspective) director of religious studies. No specific reason was given since the school does not comment on personnel matters. Hmmm.

Margie Winters, an employee at the Waldron Mercy Academy since 2007, was notified in late June of her dismissal. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said it had no involvement. I wonder why they felt the need to comment?

Oh yes, Margie and her wife are in a same sex marriage.

In a time when the law of the land approves same sex marriages, this particular religious school seems to think it is better to follow older and more conservative rules. The school must feel students should understand that it is ok to discriminate and treat some others as if they are second class humans for “religious” reasons, even though the nation (just recently) has decided not to discriminate. Christian charity? Hmmm.

Waldron Mercy may not be over this “forced error”. While the Academy is a private institution and has broad justification to claim it was just following Catholic teachings, they have also been more than willing to accept State financial aid. With the acceptance of State aid, Waldron Mercy falls under the State anti-discrimination laws. Hmmm.

Think about it, someone can be qualified to be a director of religious education but those qualification cease upon open knowledge of a same sex marriage. Hmmm.

Not Smart Enough…

May 7, 2015

Philadelphia is a Democrat city… at least as party registrations are concerned. The Mayoral primary is scheduled for next Tuesday and the field of six are beating the bushes trying to secure enough votes to get on the November ballot (and almost certain victory).

Big money is in the race too. Two candidates, Anthony Hardy Williams and Jim Kenny have been supported by deep pockets, Williams by suburban based financiers and Kenny by city based unions. The other candidates have been left to pass the hat.  Not surprisingly, Kenny and Williams appear tied in polls.

The local TV and newspapers have done a reasonably good job interviewing each candidate and making available to the public the candidates’ views on a wide range of issues, from taxes, to schools to policing. All of the candidate looked like utter fools with their proposals on school funding, most likely because they were advised to wait until elected mayor before telling the public that taxes must be increased. Never the less, the public has an idea of who’s running.

One of the policies on the minds of about 45% of Philadelphians is the stop and frisk police procedure. For many African Americans this is a discriminatory practice and should be stopped. Hmmm.

Since the current Mayor (Michael Nutter) took office and appointed Charles Ramsey Police Chief, the homicide rate has decreased each year and stands now 46% of 2007. Part of Ramsey efforts has been “stop and frisk”.

Williams said this week that he would fire Chief Ramsey if elected because the Chief was the architect of “stop and frisk”. Williams said he was listening to the people and would take this action once elected. Hmmm.

Mayor Nutter who has stood mainly on the sidelines during the primary campaign and who is term limited and can’t run, issued a statement that said “if someone is not smart enough to recognize the decrease in homicides, then that person is probably not smart enough to run the rest of city government”.

Of course a poorly managed “stop and frisk” policy could run the risk of violating individual rights. And with the recent spate of “police on black” incidents, Philadelphia “stop and frisk” also needs to be carefully administered or excesses can happen.

For a city which once boasted over one homicide per day, it is refreshing to see this senseless number decreasing. And more than anything else, guess which section of Philadelphia where these homicides take place?

I hope African American voters can see that Williams is probably not smart enough for their best interests.

Forty Thousand Can’t Be Wrong, 5 Can

May 4, 2015

In Philadelphia on Sunday, 40,000 runners ran down Broad Street (which splits the city into halves) from North Philadelphia to the Navy yard in deep South Philly. There were probably 1000 or so top class runners leaving 39,000 fun runners clocking times from 7 to 11+ minutes per mile. It was a spirited race atmosphere.  Impromptu bands played free all long the path. Rocky music can be heard at various places to help keep the runner’s spirits soaring.

The Broad Street Run is one of many events sponsored and supported (all or in part) by the City of Philadelphia where anyone can participate. On these days, anyone can be a Philadelphian.

Most runners wore normal running gear. Many of them wore shirts proclaiming memory or support for someone sick, less fortunate or symbolic of some greater good. Spectators lined the Street and were fully engaged.  They offered “hand slaps” as runner passed by and cheered “doing great, keep it up”.

The run involved everyone even though there was little prize money and none beyond the top two or three men, women, and wheel chair entires. Involvement came from sheer enjoyment of living.

The Broad Street Run is an example of something money can’t buy. The 2016 Presidential election, however, may be something that can be bought, and if not, there will be mind blowing amounts of money spent trying.

The Federal Election Commission chairwomen said in a recent speech that the FEC was powerless to enforce campaign financing rules for the 2016 election. As a consequent, the path is clear for untold amounts of money to be raised and spent by completely opaque super PACs.

The Supreme Court has told us in a 5-4 decision that this unlimited spending funneled through corporations is actually an exercise of free speech. The Court’s decision seemed wrong headed when first made, and now as each year brings even more unchecked spending, I just wonder whether the Justices can still sleep well at night.

Ironically, many pundits seem concerned about certain donations to the Clinton Foundation by foreigners. The implication seems that foreign interests might gain favors from a President Hillary Clinton following generous donations to the Clinton Global Initiative. Hmmm.

With opaque super PAC rules, actual donors remain anonymous. Hmmm.

I wonder why foreign interests are not being mentioned as a risk with Super PACs? Or did the Supreme Court feel they get free speech too?

Money Speaks, But Does It Think All The Way Through The Problem

April 2, 2015

In the upcoming Philadelphia mayoral race, big money is making its presence felt. What is surprising is that the big money (from three investors in Susquehanna Investors) expect something in return. What, how can that be?

The three investors are not reticent to acknowledge they expect the potential Mayor to be sympathetic to their cause – more charter schools in the impoverished section of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, like other large cities, has a huge problem with K-12 education, especially in the 9-12 grades. By this age, the poverty condition from which many of the students come, has subverted the high school’s educational mission into simply survival from gang-like dysfunctional behavior. How can students who want to learn attain an education in this type of environment?

The answer, these investors have said is to syphon the brighter, willing to study students from public schools and put them into charter schools. For parents who fear for their children, this is a very appealing alternative.

The growth of charter schools in other large cities has already answered similar needs for parents so the idea is not novel. The political battle pitting teacher’s unions, school administrators, educational experts, and local residents, however, has settled on a certain number of charters. These investors want to target the poorest sections of Philadelphia and increase the number of charters in these districts. What’s wrong with this?

The Philadelphia situation is close to desperate with graduation rates hovering around 50% and institutional poverty only getting worse as so many young men and women enter the work force with no degree and no skills. Worse, Pennsylvania State legislature has no interest in sending more money for Philadelphia school and the Philadelphia City Counsel is reluctant to raise taxes to close school budget gaps. The conditions of schools in the poorest districts are just getting worse. So again, what’s wrong with charters?

The short answer is charters lead to the increasing the concentration of disciplinary and special needs students in the already dysfunctional schools. More charter schools is equivalent to throwing less fit people out of the life boat so that those more educationally competitive can survive. Hmmm.

If charter schools were required to accept the same population as the public school it replaced, and the non-union, the highly motivated teachers and administrators were put to the task of out performing the current union teachers and legacy administrators, this experiment would soon determine whether “selectivity” or “charter/public was the route to better schools.

Regrettably, more charters shed no light upon what to do with those students who are not taken into a charter school. Maybe these investors “money” has some ideas about that too.