A Message to Mark Naison

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 a 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.

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