Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#DividedBaltimore, Session #6: The Justice System

Tonight's #DividedBaltimore class at the University of Baltimore focused on the criminal justice system, and how it helps perpetuated I divisions within Baltimore. The Criminal Justice system and its role in segregation is a very unwieldy subject for one night of presentations, but the three presenters managed to look at both specific issues (women re-entering society after incarceration, housing issues) and cases (the Veney Brothers raids), while also providing a wide breadth of information of criminal justice in Baltimore since the Civil War.

The first speaker was UB Professor Michele Cotton, whose primary focus was on civil courts, specifically housing courts. I learned a great deal during her presentation: firstly, that people who go to civil court have no right to counsel, unlike criminal courts. Unsurprisingly, most of these defendants are poor, and Cotton emphasized how these civil cases have a profoundly negative impact on their families, housing, and finances, and how a lot of people's downfalls begin in civil courts. She also presented some really shocking statistics, such as the following: last year, 150,000 cases were filed against tenants by landlords in Baltimore in the civil courts; in a city with only 250,000 total households, this is an astounding number. And next to do that is the fact that less than 1000 cases were filed by tenants against landlords for bad housing conditions. 250,000 to 1000. Crazy.

Presenters Seabrook, Cotton, and Henderson on far left.
The explanation that Cotton offered was that most tenants in Baltimore are low income and people of color, and that there's just not enough information out there about how to litigate against landlords (slumlords?). She then offered several solutions, which she described as "somewhat radical": to use trained, educated non-lawyers to help (since lawyers are rarely provided); to get prejudicial officers to handle cases instead of judges, to help manage the tremendous caseload; and, lastly, to make the process easier for tenants; Cotton described how even efforts to change forms to make them more user-friendly has been difficult.

The next speaker was Professor Jose Anderson, and I learned so much during his presentation on Crime and Justice in Baltimore. Professor Anderson is currently writing a book about Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall's mentor, and Anderson began his presentation with a Houston quotation: "So goes Maryland, so goes the nation." Maryland, Anderson reminded us, was a slave state, but it also had the largest number of free people of color, plus the largest railroad in the world and some of its largest industries. In Maryland, the need to control people was based upon issues of commerce, so the Fugitive Slave Act was not just slaves, but also persons who had committed crimes. Laws were very harsh. And these Maryland laws spread around the country.

Professor Anderson continued, with this hypothetical: "If I could arrest you of a petty crime, then I could put you back in the condition of servitude, meaning you could work for free for the government. Big incentive to put people back into the criminal justice system." It wasn't until the 1930s when this practice stopped.

He went on to describe the Veney Brothers case in 1964. This particular case involved a robbery that went bad on Greenmount Avenue on Christmas Eve. In responding to the robbery, one police officer, Sergeant Jack Cooper, was killed by the brothers, and another, Joseph Maskell, was stabbed. In searching for the Veney brothers, the police department knocked down the doors of "hundreds" of Black households. 
Veney Brother Raids at 700 Poplar Grove Street (Baltimore Sun photo)

Professor Anderson used the example of the Veney brothers searches to illustrate how courts can improve themselves and get better, and this creates real social change surrounding criminal justice in Baltimore and beyond. In this particular case, the NAACP attempted to get an injunction to stop these illegal searches, and the first judge agreed that the searches were illegal, but put it back on the police to monitor themselves. But they didn't and the searches continued. But the next judge, on appeal, judge Simon Sobeloff (1894-1973), stopped the raids. He was a judge of Jewish descent (and an alum of City College) from Baltimore, and, according to Anderson, probably cost him a seat on the Supreme Court with his strong rulings against injustice, but did it anyway. Anderson cited another great judge, Frank Kaufman, who was another judge who made local governments do what they were required to do, asking for equality in the juvenile justice system.
Judge Simon Sobeloff, a champion of social justice

Professor Anderson then discussed a modern example, that of the drug-free zones which were brought about by the city council, signed into the law by mayor Kurt Schmoke. At the time, Professor Anderson was public defender, and, as an advocate, he didn't like the tool very much, as it just moved the crime around. However, it was a solution, even though it was a half-solution. Finding the balance between providing safety and enforcing law, preserving rights and upholding law, is always the challenge of the courts.  

Professor Anderson's solutions to improve justice:
1) Police training, remove pride from the process
2) Be mindful it's not always the leaders who have the answers
3) Deference to community leaders and block captains

The third speaker was Renita Seabrook of the University of Baltimore, and her presentation was entitled From Victim 2 "Shero". Professor Seabrook's work focuses on formally incarcerated female inmates and their re-entry to society.

Professor Seabrook began with numbers, reporting that there are currently 111,287 women locked in state and prison federal prison. White women compose the majority, but black women are sentenced significantly higher (115 per 1000,000), Hispanic/Latino women (64 per 100,000), and white women (49 per 1000,000).
Professor Seabrook: From Victim to "Shero"

Why has this happened? A number of reasons: the war on drugs, mandatory minimums, get tough on crime policies. According to Professor Seabrook, African American women are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and generally receive longer sentences than their white counterparts. They represent 13% of US population and 50% of incarcerated population.

What are the pathways that lead women to incarcerated? street women, harmed and harming women, battered women, drug-connected women, and economically motivated women.

Professor Seabrook then went back to the title of her presentation.
From Victim: What are social injustices and challenges they face?
1) lack of basic education
2) life skills
3) support systems
4) employment opportunities
5) housing
Challenges: they are likely to return to one of the six poorest Bmore neighborhoods:
1) Sandown/Wichester
2) Waverly
3) Edmondson Village
4) Belair-Eidson
5) Park Heights
6) Walbrook-Forest Park
Demosgrapically, residents in these neighbhords are predominantly AA female-headed households with children under the age of 18

And how can we create a "Shero"?
1) Stimulate social change
2) Promote social justice
3) Establish partnerships with non-profit and governmental agencies

Professor Seabrook offered several community organizations that are committed to improving the lives of formerly incarcerated women:
1) Alternative Directions, Inc. (Seabrook's organization, Helping Others 2 Win, operates under this one)
2) Marion House
3) Tuerk House
4) Baltimore City Mayor's Office, ReEntry Program
5) New Life Program for Ex-Offender Women, Inc.

Next week's session is about Health Care in Baltimore, and how it reinforces segregation. The class is at 5:30 on Mondays at UB. More information here: http://blogs.ubalt.edu/dividedbaltimore/

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Class Size Doesn't Matter (Said No Teacher Ever)

This year, I teach just under 160 students.

Each of my five classes has 30 students or over. My largest class has 34.

This is not unusual for my school, nor for teachers in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Class sizes and class loads are high around the system.

Lots of research supports the fact that class size affects student achievement, a lot. And, in my 15 years as a teacher, I definitely agree. The difference between a class of 24 (for me, the ideal size for teaching) and 34, or 32, or even 30, is pretty huge. It's the difference between a crowd and a group; it's the difference between being able to have 2-minute writing conferences with students to having 1-minute ones. There's a point in a load of students where it feels like you can really check in with each student every day in a meaningful manner, and that point is less than 30 in a 45-minute period.

However, while class size is discussed a lot in the realm of teaching, but, sometimes, I think that conversation is too short-sighted. Overall load is just as important. The work of a teacher in those 45 minutes of a class period are definitely important, but it's the time outside of those 45 minutes that takes just as much thought and energy. I've spent much of this Saturday night grading 9th grade essays, and I still have quite a bit to do. My seniors' work is piling up, and even the Drama class has an entire summative assessment (their responses to this play) on the docket to grade. I literally have hundreds of pieces of paper in my world right now that I have to either score or offer feedback on, and this will get even worse at the end of the quarter as the month closes.

There's more to it than that, of course. Each day, 160 human beings come through my world for whom I am responsible and about whom I care. As I get to know them more and more, I'm placing them all on informal individualized learning plans about how I can make them better writers, better readers, better discussers, and better actors. And, believe me, I'm not complaining: these connections with students and helping them reach their goals and get better at reading and writing is something I love to do; it's my life's work. But it's a lot harder with 160 kids every day -- the biggest daily load of my career -- than 140 kids. Or 120. Or 75, which was my student load my first two years of teaching.

At around this time last year, I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a cardiomyopathy (weakness of the heart muscle, caused by a virus) that pretty much makes me exhausted all the time as my heart struggles to pump blood around my body. After several scary months, I thought I was on the mend as the summer came to a close, with my heart's Ejection Fraction improving and, in general, just feeling better. Six weeks into the school year, though, and I feel like I've devolved; my friends and colleagues are asking why I'm short of breath all of the time, and I'm pretty much more tired than I've ever been. I finally reached out to my cardiologist on Friday, and she wants me to run through another echocardiogram in the next two weeks. I'm crossing my fingers that I'm only, in my cardiologist's word, "deconditioned."

But I can't shake the feeling that I feel like I'm working so hard that my health is failing, because, indeed, I feel like I'm being ground down into a nub. I got a reflexology massage through Groupon the other day, and my tough-talking Eastern European reflexologist expressed surprise that, as a "young man" my body sure was racked with tension and stiffness, to the point where she couldn't even do anything with my torso, instead focusing all her energy on my pressure points on my head, ears, and feet. Although I'm exercising 4 times a week and watching what I eat, I haven't lost weight and haven't felt good and healthy since the school year started. Lots of factors are in play with this -- a new standards-based grading policy that we are getting used to (re: I kinda like it), new books to teach, the #dividedBaltimore class I'm taking, more problems than ever with the copy machine, unexpected interruptions to instruction due to standardized tests forced by the district, moving to a different floor of the classroom to teach a new class -- but the sheer number of students is the most stressful, because it's hard to shake the guilty feeling that you could do better by them if there were more reasonable class size and class load numbers.

I make a nice salary for the Baltimore City Public Schools. Several of my colleagues do too. I wonder, though, if better teacher incentives would be better working conditions: a guarantee of lower class sizes (never more than 25 students in a class) and class loads (never more than 100 to a teacher).  I wonder if class size and load guarantee would have been a better investment to BCPSS and our students than our contract?

Until our nation, and our school systems, get serious about class sizes and class loads, I do believe that many educational reforms will be mostly window dressing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Baltimore Theater Review: An Inspector Calls

Chris Genebach with Deborah Hazlett / photo by Stan Barouh
This year, I'm teaching one section of Drama II, and today I had the pleasure of being part of a field trip to see An Inspector Calls, Everyman Theatre's opening production of their 2015-2016 season.

The trip was made possible with Everyman Theatre's High School Matinee program, which has been providing free shows to Baltimore City students free matinee shows for over fifteen years. If you don't know, usually teachers who want to take students on a field trip have to (a) secure buses, which cost roughly $400/each; (b) get tickets for whatever event we hope to take students to, usually out of pocket up front; and (c) collect money from students for the event and busses over the course of weeks. For example, whenever I have tried to take my English class to a play before, it involves me collecting hundreds of sweaty dollar bills to pay back the credit card I'd booked the seats on. It's arduous.

This incredible program run by Everyman Theater eliminates all that. The theater books the buses without cost and provides free tickets for the students. They also lead workshops about each play the day before and the day after the performance. It's a tremendous program that reaches hundreds of high school students a year, and our students will be attending the entire season this year. Bravo to Everyman; you should consider donating to them.

The first show of the season this year was An Inspector Calls, and, let me be honest: when I heard about it, I kind of privately rolled my eyes and thought, "ugh, another talky British comedy of manners." I could not have been more wrong. This is one of the best plays I've ever seen. 

The play has one set, the dining room of the wealthy Birling family, who are enjoying an engagement dinner for their daughter to the son of another rich family. The year is 1912; the Titanic had not yet embarked on its journey, and World War I is still a couple of years off.

Written in 1946, this context is important for playwright J.B. Priestley, who is saying some profound things here about social class structures and our responsibility to our fellow humans. Priestley is writing this play after two world wars have been fought, after the great Titanic had been sunk, and he is chiding these unreflective rich people who are unknowingly hurtling towards a demise that they're having a part in causing.

The action centers around the suicide of a beautiful young woman, and the titular inspector who investigates her death. And, after he arrives, the exposition is over and the play's action really begins. Played by Chris Genebach in a powerful, gritty performance that nicely counters those of the actors playing the upper-crust characters, the Inspector begins to question and expose the dark underbellies of the Birling family members as he attempts to unravel the mystery of the young woman's death.

The result is riveting, full of red herrings and twists, gasp-inducing moments and laughs. It is truly a thriller. (Seeing it with an audience of nearly 200 unabashed Baltimore high schoolers punctuated those thrills even more. They were awesomely responsive.) But what makes this play such a work of art is the unexpected contemporariness with which its rendered. Though set 103 years ago, the issues of class division and strife, of upper-class characters without a clue about those that inhabit the lower classes, rings so true. Bravo to Noah Himmselstein for bringing an edginess to Priestley's amazing script.

Besides Genebach, I also really liked Deborah Hazlett as Sybil Birling, who brought a bit of a Maggie Smith vibe to her role as the unruffled matriarch, and Josh Adams, who carries a nice off-kilter persona to his morally conflicted son. But the ensemble overall is all top-notch, and the cast's talkback with the kids after the show was really insightful.

This was my first time at Everyman Theatre's new location, and I can't wait to see what else they have in store for what looks to be an amazing season, with American classics Fences, Death of a Salesman, and A Streetcar Named Desire on the docket. An Inspector Calls was, along with Outsside Mullingar and Under the Skin, one of the shows I'd never heard of before seeing them on this season's schedule. If any of those other shows thrills me or provokes my thoughts like this one did and continues to do as I reflect about it, it's going to be an amazing season. As it is, the season and the monthly field trips are off to an prodigious start.

An Inspector Calls runs from September 9 through October 11.

#DividedBaltimore, Session 4 -- Missed Opportunities: HowTransportation Contributes to a Divided Baltimore

This week's meeting of our #DividedBaltimore course focused on transportation. I was really excited about this week's meeting, primed mostly by an assigned video for the graduate level of the course which featured Sherilyn Ifill's powerful speech at the National HUD conference (I blogged about it here). I was primed to learn more about some of the things she mentioned in her speech, like the 1966 Baltimore subway project which was derailed (pardon the pun) due to white communities not wanting the "element" coming to their communities; thus we get the barely used 7-stop subway that we have today (note: I've never used it or seen it in my 15 years living in Baltimore)  or the light rail, which went from an originally-planned system to truly bridge communities around the area, but ended up only going to the business district of West Baltimore because of white community resistance to desegregation. I was interested in hearing about the trolley system plan, which I'd heard was also cast away. It seems the history of Baltimore is filled with "Missed Opportunities" (as the title of the lectures implies) regarding transportation, and I was excited to learn more about it., as well as modern implications like a discussion of Larry Hogan's recent dismissal of the red line. 

We didn't end up hearing that much about the history, but Eric Norton, the night's first speaker and of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, gave a really interesting talk about the role of transportation in providing access to opportunity and how current policies ameliorate or exacerbate inequality in the Baltimore region.
Norton examining commute times in Baltimore.

He began by discussing and April 2015 study by Harvard -- The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility --  which found that "the relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between mobility and several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community, said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the researchers on the study." - Mikayla Bouchard. "Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty." The New York Times. 7 May 2015.

Norton then began discussing locally, examining the strong correlation between neighborhoods with a prevalence of long commute times and signs of distress, including high unemployment, high poverty, and low life expectancy.

Longest commutes in Baltimore City (% with commute over 45 minutes)
Top 5 Neighborhoods:
1. Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park: 34%
2. Greater Rosemont: 33%
3. Greenmount East: 31%
4. Oldtown/Middle East: 31%
5. Poppleton/The Terraces/Hollins Market: 31%

Bottom 5 Neighborhoods:
52. Inner Harbor/Federal Hill: 13%
53. Downtown/Seton Hill: 12%
54. Greater Roland Park/Poplar Hill: 12%
55. North Baltimore/Guilford/Homeland: 12%
56: Canton: 11%

The infamous state map released by Gov. Hogan, with no Baltimore on it.
It's no random occurrence that Freddie Gray's neighborhood has the longest commute time in Baltimore. All of those areas are the areas with no jobs, forcing its citizens -- the ones who can find work -- into spending much time and money getting to their jobs. And, what is happening to these folks' kids when they're standing on the busstop at 5:30 a.m.? Who is seeing them off to school? This is what structural racism looks like.

Below, I'm including a couple of charts that Norton providing, showing the correlation between commute times and (1) children living below the poverty line; and (2) unemployment rates.

This is also, as Norton notes, why Larry Hogan's dismissal of the Red Line on June 25 was so troubling. Even though it got no press outside of Baltimore, it did funnel all state money programmed for the project to outside of Baltimore City. The new transportation budget shows a 30% reduction in transit and a 55% increase in highways. Norton says that with Hogan's recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, that he will be unveiling a "new approach to transit" to Baltimore City, with multiple transit plans to be released. According to Norton, any plans should be judged by whether they improve access to jobs, improve reliability, and improve service.

Correlation between commute time and children living below poverty line in Baltimore.

Correlation between commute times and unemployment rates in Baltimore.
The next speaker was Diane Bell-McKoy of Associated Black Charities, who offered up a lot of statistics that revealed Baltimore's rampant inequality. Some key numbers: of Baltimore's 600,000 residents, 100,000 of people in Baltimore do not have a high school diploma or GED. Bell-McKoy's point overall was that poverty is a manifestation, not a cause.

Tylis Cooper discussing Toya Graham and her lack of access to transportation.
Lastly, we heard from Tylis Cooper of the University of Baltimore, presenting “Employment And Transportation: Developing Pathways To Employment For Baltimore City Residents." She offered several narratives including the needs of citizens for transportation, offering examples like Toya Graham, the mother who gave her son "the business" for participating in the unrest and was later offered several jobs she couldn't take due to transportation, from companies as eclectic as BET, Under Armour, and St. Joseph's Hospital. Cooper's description of the Baltimore Hack as "Baltimore's Uber, before there was Uber" received laughs, but her talk overall looked at the vast disparities that exist both city-wide and state-wide.

Next week's #DividedBaltimore class (it's from 5:30-7:00 at UB) is about segregation and education in Baltimore. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about the history and manifestation of structural racism policies in our school system over the years. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Getting ready for today's #DividedBaltimore class about Transportation: "We cannot afford the distance between that allows us not to recognize the humanity in the other."

In preparation for our class meeting of #DividedBaltimore today (community forum schedule here, all invited and I wish this lecture hall was more filled every week!) at the University of Baltimore, our professor sent along a link to Sherilynn Ifill's talk at the 2015 National Fair Housing Conference, which was broadcast on C-SPAN. The link is here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?327884-2/2015-national-fair-housing-conference-residential-segregation. Ifill is head of the NAACP Legal Defense Team and  professor of law at University of Maryland.

I found her talk to be so powerful that I took notes and now present them as this blog post. All of Ifill's words are in italics, and the quoting is nearly direct, but only as quick as I could type (there might be some slight word choice errors I made as I was typing and rewinding):

The remarks came after Ifill delved into some of the Housing policy decisions that Baltimore made to institutionalize segregation into law. "Few realize," she stated, "that Baltimore played a pivotal and pioneering role in introducing residential segregation to the rest of the nation." She relayed the story that in 1910, when the Baltimore City Council created a zoning law that forbid Black people from buying houses in certain neighborhoods -- a policy that was perpetuated through the 1960s via law and today via income and equity of families who were redlined out of areas -- that Northern cities called the city council to ask advice about how to incorporate these laws into their own city.

She then went into how this ties into transportation.

Sherilyn Ifill's remarks at 2015 National Fair Housing Conference:
Transportation decisions have too often been made to further and perpetuate segregation. Policy makers acquiesce to community resistance to desegregation, or work in concert with racist segregation policies so blacks cannot access the jobs, amenities, and services of well-resourced white communities.

That's why it's so ironic that after we watched the disturbing events unfold in Baltimore earlier this year, with the death of Freddie Gray, the unrest, and the sad and pathetic business corridor in which the easy tobacco mart is the norm and not the CVS... it's so ironic that, weeks later, the governor of Maryland, unilaterally decided not to support the Red Line, the rail line that would run east and west in the city. It had, and still has, the potential to unlock the rigid insularity of segregated communities such as the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived.

The project was worked on for ten years, and the decision by the governor was not given much ink outside of Baltimore.

Baltimore was described incessantly on CNN as a "major American city," and, in many ways, it is: there is a baseball team, a football team, great culture, great food, important history. It does not have something that most major American cities have, however: a functioning transportation system.

This isn't by accident. There have been several attempts to create one, all rebuffed by white communities not wanting the "element" to enter their communities.

In 1966, a plan for subway system similar to DC system. Stopped because white communities protested and expressed their concern about what this would mean about the population moving throughout the system. The city settled for a 7-stop rail line that goes from downtown to Johns Hopkins. It doesn't even go in a circle, just there and back again. (Note: I've seen this proposed map before, but can't find it anywhere online. Can anyone provide a link?)

The same thing happened in 1992 with the light rail system, which would go through Baltimore, through West Baltimore, and into the county. The system was created in a way where it does not run through residential neighborhoods, just business district in Baltimore city and county. When there's a desire to have another light rail stop, like when we finally were able to get an NFL team, the city will spend tens of millions on a stop. But there was one community which refused to have a light rail stop, the white community of Ruxton, which said it didn't want to have that "element" in their communities. So, if you ride on the light rail, there will be a stop every three minutes, until there's no stop for 15 minutes, and that's because the rail is traveling through a community that didn't want a stop.

Transportation is the key to unlocking those closed-in communities like you saw in West Baltimore. It opens up jobs and opportunities for these residents. It could help someone get a job somewhere in East Baltimore, like Johns Hopkins, one of the few institutions that will hire ex-offenders. Now, if you were hired to work there at 7 a.m., you would be standing at a busstop for over an hour, waiting on a bus to meander through the city.

Lest you think this is just about convenience...
If you drive through West Baltimore at 5:30 a.m., you will see the moms who come from public housing, from low-income housing, waiting at the bus stops, in the dark, trying to get to their 7:00 shift in East Baltimore. And then you have to ask yourself, where are their children? Who will take them to school? Who will make sure they have something to eat? Who will make sure they have their homework? When they arrive to school, what will the teacher's reaction be?

The decision that the governor made to abandon the Red Line, unless it is revisited and changed, is a decision that reverberates throughout the lives of citizens of Baltimore. It will profoundly implicate Baltimore City and Baltimore County to affirmatively further fair housing for many years to come. Our obligation is to make every community a community of opportunity.

When we litigated Brown vs. Board of Education, we included the harm of segregation to Black children, but we also included the harm to white children. and it talked about the way in which segregation can produce confusion, moral cynicism, and a sense of dislocation among white children that can result in way in which they rationalize the incongruity they see in their own society...

When you watch that awful video of Walter Scott running in that park in Charleston, and getting shot by that police officer... it's not just that the police officers pull up next to Tamir Rice in Cleveland and shoot him, a 12-year old boy. It's that when his sister begins to cry and scream "My brother, my brother!", and they tackle her to the ground and handcuff her and put her in the back of a car. It's that they tell his crying mother, "Be quiet, or we'll arrest you too." You have to begin to wonder, what matter of people are these? What has happened to them? And so it's my belief that as a democracy, as a society, we can simply no longer afford segregation. We cannot afford the distance between that allows us not to recognize the humanity in the other. and you and I do not have the luxury of sitting back thirty years from now and asking these questions, if we have the position of power and authority to lessen, one iota, this distance between us. It was created by the way in which we live. It allows the 'othering/ that doesn't see a grieving mother. And we simply can't afford it anymore.

So in case we're watching these events over the last year and thinking, that's all about policing and doesn't have to do with us, and in case you're wondering, what does HUD have to do with Freddie Gray: it has everything to do with it.

Talk about powerful.

Connecting transportation to the unrest and to justice wasn't something I thought about much before this class. As a teacher, I am consistently disappointed with the MTA, which the BCPSS relies on to bring students to school. As a sometime bike commuter, I'm disappointed in the lack of bike lanes and such. And I've often wondered what Baltimore would be like with a real functioning subway system. I've always lived in East Baltimore, so have never been on the subway, and been on the light rail only a couple of times in my 15 years here (once for an Orioles game, once to head down to Severn area).

But connecting it with injustice and dehumanization of people? I've not considered that too much. That's why I found Ifill's remarks so powerful, and I can't wait to learn more tonight.

Donate to help our students get a library!

For most of my career, I've taught without a functioning library. At times, we've had very good librarians, but never have we had the tools and infrastructure to truly elevate the space into a real 21st century library. 

Over the last two years, however, our school has launched a campaign to build a very good library, full of books and computers and other resources. I can't wait to be able to have classes conduct research beyond just on their cell phones, for the research components of our units to move beyond the theoretical and into practice. I can't wait for our students to be able to find primary sources from Iran during our Persepolis unit, from the Negro Leagues during our Fences unit, or about the Nigerian Civil War during our The Thing Around Your Neck unit. 

Please donate if you can. This is our last push. We are almost there! Use this link here: http://gvcmp.us/mfpozm

Friday, September 25, 2015

Drowning in Student Loans v. 2015

My student loan payment recently went from $160 to $400 every month, and now my payment goes primarily to my principal, rather than primarily to my interest. But, now, of course, it's now much more of a substantial bill. It's my biggest expense, other than my mortgage, for each month.

In college, I was a middle class kid who went to a state school (Michigan State University) and worked every semester and summer: in the cafeteria, as a night receptionist, as a baurista at Cuppa Java in Hannah Plaza, and, most significantly, as an RA. I worked hard in college and paid as much of my tuition and books as I could. As I got my degree and post-graduate teacher certification, I took about $40,000 out in student loans. My parents took out student loans when they went to college, and I did too. It's what we did. I did it because I knew I needed a degree and it was the only way really to do it, or so I thought. I admit to not understanding much about the loans as I was getting them, but I did use the loans only for tuition and books.

I'm thankful for my time in college and for my degree, which helped get me a dream job and prepared me well for it. I'm not bitter about that at all.

I've been paying every month on these loans since early in my career as a public school teacher here in Baltimore, and, about a decade ago, I locked in a fixed rate of 3.75%. My loan has been sold a few times, without my consent, but the interest rate has stayed fixed.

Now, 15 years into my career, I still have $38,000 in student loans, pretty much the same amount as I borrowed. I've paid mostly interest throughout my career, but, now, as my payment has been increased, I'm paying mostly principal ($270 towards principal, $125 towards interest). Perhaps I'll finally start seeing a dent in them.

My idealism usually works out for me, but this is getting me down. This just seems so wrong to me, all the way around. I definitely think I should be paying this back, and will be, but, by the time I pay it all off, I'll have paid nearly $80,000 for my $40,000 in loans. This isn't moral. I'm a public servant and a hard-working one, so all around it's depressing. I want to know who is getting rich off of middle-class kids of public servants who become middle-class public servants themselves. I'm sure it's not other public servants.

I'm set to have this paid off in July of 2026. I'm set to retire in July of 2031 (though I likely won't; I'll just be 53!). Are student loans really meant to saddle a public school teacher for 25 years, until nearly retirement?

Frustration doesn't begin to cover it. It's more like disillusion, to the point where I just try not to think about it. But that $400 out of my account every month sure makes it hard to ignore.

Does anyone have any good news for me? I don't trust these memes I'm seeing about student loans that run through my Facebook feed. My loan is through American Educational Services.