Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: American racism at its most pathetic

I don’t blame Black folk for thinking we’ve lost our minds. The recent noisy—and racist—outrage over the casting of a young African American actress as Ariel in the new live-action version of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” movie is proof positive

At times like this, all we can say is Jesus, take the wheel. And let’s make sure he’s the white Jesus we remember from the portraits hung in every children’s Sunday School room I recall while growing up white in the South. I remember his flowing light brown locks and rosy cheeks looking down on us as we colored pictures of a fair-haired David launching his slingshot at the deeply tanned Goliath. Yeah. That stuff starts early.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but Ariel is white,” wrote one anonymous whiner, taking Disney to task in an online forum.

“Now I’m super upset!” was another’s brief comment.

“I was really looking forward to this movie and now I’m bummed.”

You get the gist of it. Super upset and bummed white America can’t even right now.

Fortunately, there were a few jewels amid the goat poo, including this: “I’m so pissed they didn’t cast someone who has a natural mermaid tail.”

Right? If you’re going to lose your mind and scatter bigoted bon mots all over the Twitterverse, let’s imagine how the mermaids must feel. Except they’re mythical. So, to put this in perspective: A mythical creature (there’s no such thing as mermaids in real life; I know, I’m soooo bummed) will be played by someone with black hair instead of red hair like the CARTOON version.

Let’s focus on that word for a sec. Cartoon. Dumb white people ( I can say that because I have often been one) surely understand this is all make-believe, right?

This just in: You almost never see a tuxedo clad mouse leading an orchestra in real life. Ditto a desert creature who has clearly overdosed on Adderall and (meep meep) spends his days trying to outrun a ravenous rabbit that thinks it’s a coyote.

My daughter was besotted with Ariel when she was little, which was fine with Duh Hubby and me although, over a glass of wine enjoyed while she watched the movie for the eleventybillionth time, we’d joke the movie’s premise was a bit shaky: A very young woman runs away from home and throws herself at a handsome prince, swapping her beautiful singing voice for the ability to walk with legs so the prince wouldn’t think she was weird and maybe they could bike together and stuff.

Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. Ariel wasn’t what you’d call a strong role model for young women but it’s fantasy. I have almost never encountered an overprotective crab/manny with a faux British accent. The “B-b-b-b-ut Ariel’s white” foolishness is racist, plain and simple. Hard to argue “purity” of storyline when your “heroine” is a man-crazy runaway teen with wretched judgment. Ariel’s skin color should be the least of y’alls’ worries.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

Education

Advocates demand investigation into awarding of controversial Istation contract

Public schools advocates and parents prepare to hold a press conference Friday to demand a one year delay in the implementation of the controversial Istation reading assessment tool.

Under a blazing mid-morning sun with the North Carolina legislative building as a backdrop, NC Families for School Testing Reform on Friday doubled-down on its demand that state education officials delay implementation of the controversial Istation K-3 reading assessment tool for one year.

The parent advocacy group has also asked Attorney General Josh Stein and State Auditor Beth Wood to investigate Superintendent Mark Johnson’s decision to award the $8.3 million contract to Istation after selection committees ranked a competing firm higher.

Selection committees chosen by Johnson ranked Amplify’s mCLASS assessment above Istation.

Johnson and the State Board of Education (SBE) have agreed to move forward with implementation of Istation. However, data collection for teacher performance evaluations will be delayed until January.

“We believe that the time frame for program implementation is insufficient and we’re concerned about possible irregularities in awarding the contract for testing services,” said Suzanne Miller, an organizer for the advocacy group.

Miller was joined by a dozen or more parent advocates, educators and N.C. Association of Education President Mark Jewell at a 10 a.m. press conference held on Bicentennial Mall.

Suzanne Miller

Several speakers took aim at Johnson’s limited teaching experience and questioned where he’s able to make decisions that are in the best interest of North Carolina’s school children.

“This current debacle is another example of administrative mismanagement and deception on the part of the State Superintendent,” Jewell said. “Had he simply followed the recommendation of the experts he himself assembled to advise on the subject, we would not be in this mess.”

Jewell joined Miller in calling on Johnson and state education officials to delay implementation of Istation until after an investigation has been conducted into the contract award.

“We see now reason why this hastily made decision cannot wait until a proper investigation is conducted before haphazardly implementing a system that does not appear to be the best for North Carolina,” Jewell said.

Michelle Burton, president of the Durham Association of Educators and an elementary school librarian, lamented what she contends is a movement by Johnson and like-minded education officials and lawmakers to supplant teachers with technology.

Burton said educators thought the technology revolution would increase tests scores and close the achievement gap.

“We are seeing all the unintended consequences that technology has had on our children,” Burton said. “It has decreased their attention spans. Our children can’t really decipher from what’s real information and fake news and it definitely didn’t [eliminate] the achievement gap.”

Paula Dinga, an elementary school teacher from Buncombe County, said educators are better at determining whether a child is learning to read than technology-based assessment tools.

“We are intimately aware of their reading behaviors and can apply our professional judgment to designing the best instructional environment,” Dinga said.

Susan Book, one of the co-founders of Save Our Schools, a parent led advocacy group, asked parents and advocates to ask Stein’s office to conduct an investigation into the Istation contract.

She also urged them to keep “pounding” away at Johnson, the State Board of Education (SBE) and state lawmakers until the truth about the contract is revealed.

“They have the power to look into this too,” Book said of state lawmakers. “It’s our legislature that gave the State Superintendent unprecedented powers and it’s our legislature that has the power to take it away.”

In 2016, the SBE and Johnson were locked in a bitter battle for control of the state Department of Public Instruction after Republican lawmakers transferred some of the board’s power to Johnson.

The SBE sued, but the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a three-judge’s panel ruling that the transfer of power was constitutional.

Miller has submitted a letter to Stein’s office asking for an investigation into the procurement process that led to Istation being awarded the reading assessment contract instead of Amplify.

She also asked for help in securing public records about the contract award the group requested from the NCDPI.

“We requested multiple times for the full records into this procurement process and finally received 166 pages, but they noted there are more documents that are not being released, and this is a huge concern we have,” Miller wrote to N.C. Department of Justice’s Open Government office.

The advocacy group’s press conference came a day after Amplify officials met with NCDPI to discuss the contract award.

Details of what happened inside the meeting were not shared. But NCDPI spokesman Graham Wilson provided this statement late Thursday:

“DPI and the Superintendent have followed and continue to follow all applicable laws, policies, and rules related to the procurement process. Today, as part of that process, we met with the losing vendor as per their request.”

Wilson said Johnson has 10 days to respond to Amplify and will do so before July 28.

Miller, Book and Chelsea Bartel, a school psychologist tried to attend the meeting between Amplify and NCDPI staffers but were asked to leave by security guards who told them the meeting was not open to visitors or media.

Bartel is one of three people who received “cease and desist” letter from an Istation attorney demanding that they stop making “false and misleading” representations about the company.

The others went to Amy Jablonski, a former Department of Public Instruction employee who has announced she’s running for state superintendent and Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte teacher, who has written extensively about the controversial contract award on his blog, “Notes from the Chalkboard.”

“It’s a curious PR strategy for a company that you’d think would be focused on winning over North Carolina teachers right now,” Parmenter wrote this week. “It’s unfortunate to see attempts like this to silence educators who simply want the truth and what’s best for our children.”

News

AOC responds to Trump at Maryland event: “We will not go back”

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s frightening event in Greenville this week, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — one of the targets of the recent racist attacks by Trump and his supporters — responded last night at an event in Maryland. Reporter Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters, filed this story:

At rally in Silver Spring, Ocasio-Cortez stands her ground

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) takes the stage Thursday night at a Democracy Summer Maryland program at the Silver Spring Civic Center. “We will not give back our rights. We will not deny our own humanity at the border. We will not go back. … And we sure as hell will not stand still,” she tells the crowd. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hit back at President Trump on Thursday night, proclaiming in a speech in Silver Spring that she and other newly elected female lawmakers have no intention of stepping back from policy debates — or returning to the land of their ancestors.

Speaking to a large, jubilant crowd of left-leaning activists in Silver Spring, Ocasio-Cortez borrowed language from the president’s recent, racially charged tweet, a post that has kept the New York Democrat and several of her colleagues at the center of intense media coverage for several days.

After name-checking the other members of “the squad” — the four freshman lawmakers targeted by Trump — the New York Democrat pledged the quartet intends to stand their ground.

“It has taken us 240 years for us to have this unique composite of a Congress in this moment — and we will not go back,” she said to sustained cheers and applause.

“We will go not back to the days of injustice,” she continued. “We will not give back our rights. We will not deny our own humanity at the border. We will not go back. … And we sure as hell will not stand still.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) headlined an event with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on Thursday night at the Silver Spring Civic Center. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

On Sunday, Trump on Twitter encouraged Ocasio-Cortez and three other freshman Democrats — Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — to “go back,” a presumed reference to the homeland of their ancestors. (Three of the lawmakers were born in the United States; Omar is from Somalia.)

Thousands of people who attended a Trump rally in North Carolina on Wednesday adopted the message, chanting “send her back,” as the president adopted a look of approval.

Ocasio-Cortez made her remarks at a rally organized by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to benefit Democracy Summer Maryland, a political organizing program for young people that the lawmaker began seven years ago when he served in the state legislature.

More than 700 people attended the event, which was held at the Silver Spring Civic Center. Some were turned away due to space constraints. Many of those who attended arrived early, despite intense heat, with the line stretching down the block and around the corner.

The big turnout and security presence were testimony to the strong following the former bartender from the Bronx has generated — and the element of curiosity that surrounds her. Read more

Commentary

New report offers damning assessment of Trump judicial picks

Brett Kavanaugh

Thomas Farr

A new report from the national NAACP offers a damning assessment of numerous Donald Trump federal court nominees and the president’s strategy to alter the judiciary. Among the nominations featured is the ultimately failed one of North Carolina’s Thomas Farr — the controversial conservative lawyer who has spent this week defending the state’s gerrymandered legislative maps in the ongoing Common Cause v. Lewis trial. Interestingly, Farr is the only one of the nominees highlighted whose nomination was defeated.

As the group noted in a release accompanying the report:

In 2 ½ years, President Donald Trump has appointed an alarming number of nominees with appalling records of enabling or defending voter suppression,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO.” This is no accident, and the pattern is devastating. Undermining voting rights is now a qualification for nomination to the federal bench. This administration is weaponizing the federal judiciary to restrict the vote.

Our courts are essential to ensuring full political participation for everyone under the Constitution and civil rights laws. The American people deserve judges who are impartial, fair, and committed to equal justice under law. It is time to stand up to this extraordinary perversion of the judicial appointment process to undermine our democracy. Our rights to fully participate in the political process lie in the balance.”

This is from the introduction to “Trump’s Judicial Playbook: Weaponizing the Bench to suppress the vote”:

The NAACP seeks to shine a light on the Trump administration’s strategy to weaponize the judiciary to restrict the vote. Enabled by the Senate’s short-circuited confirmation process that minimizes scrutiny of nominees, Trump has appointed 126 individuals to the federal bench. Judges with demonstrated hostility to voting rights are now populating courts at every level, from Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, to the appellate courts which decide most of our law, to the district courts where voting rights cases are first filed. Several nominees were appointed to Southern jurisdictions, which serve large communities of color and hear an outsized share of voting rights cases. Many of the nominees are very young and will serve for decades.

This is no accident. Read more

Education

House revisits ‘reading war’ but votes against requiring phonics instruction in bill to fix Read to Achieve

A debate in the state House about a bill designed to improve North Carolina’s signature education reform program – Read to Achieve – morphed into a lengthy discussion this week about the value of phonics in reading instruction.

State Rep. Larry Pittman, (R-Cabarrus), offered an amendment to Senate Bill 438, also known as the “Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019” that would require students to receive instruction in phonics starting in kindergarten through first grade.

“Sometimes we discard the so-called old fashioned way of doing something because it’s old-fashioned, without stopping to think about the fact that it’s worked so well for so long,” said Pittman, who attributed his success as a reader to phonics instruction.

Pittman said not using phonics to teach reading is like teaching someone to “lay bricks when you don’t teach them the relationship between brick and mortar.”

“This bill will do a lot of good things to help with education but requiring, not just saying we encourage phonics, will help a lot kids, and they’ll be reading by third-grade a whole lot better,” Pittman said.

The use of phonics to teach reading was replaced by the whole language approach, which teaches students to read words as whole pieces of languages.

Meanwhile, phonetic-based reading is taught by having children use letter sounds and letter symbols.

Many older Americans swear by phonics instruction and the often attribute the nation’s much-discussed reading woes to the switch to a whole-language approach to teaching reading, which became popular nearly four-decades ago.

“This is a good amendment,” said State Rep. Charles Graham (D-Robeson), a retired educator. “When we’re talking about teaching to read, we know all children do not learn the same way. Phonics is a different way to work with some students who may not be able to understand whole language reading.”

State Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, (D-Guilford), an education consultant and former assistant school superintendent, said it would be harmful to require educators to focus solely on phonics.

Clemmons said phonics is only one of the five areas that are considered part of reading instruction, along with phonemic awareness, vocabulary developing, reading fluency and reading comprehension.

“Proscribing an over-emphasis on one of those five ultimately would negatively affect, in my opinion, the reading of all of our children,” Clemmons said.

Clemmons noted that SB 438 includes a provision that requires educators to develop Individual Reading Plans (IRPs) for students struggling to learn to read.

“The intention of the Individual Reading Plans as written in this bill is for children to have the instruction on whichever the five areas they need, and proscribing all of them to have phonics does not help overall the reading of our state,” Clemmons said.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham), who introduced the bill in the spring, has said the use of IRPs in Mississippi and Florida have resulted in substantial reading gains for struggling readers.

State Rep. Craig Horn, (R-Union), said there isn’t anything in SB 438 that prohibits educators from using phonics to teach a child to read.

“As a matter of fact, the bill specifically moves us toward individual Reading Plans, and if that’s [phonics] is what’s best for a child, then that’s what we should apply for the child,” Horn said. “To thrust [phonics] upon a child, to thrust upon a teacher that this is the way you will do it because it worked for me last year or 50 years ago, that doesn’t make reasonable sense to me.”

Pittman’s was eventually defeated on an 86-23 vote.

He introduced a second amendment that would require a task force the Superintendent of Public Instruction would have to create if SB 438 becomes law, to study whether phonics is adequately integrated into the state’s standard course of study or whether a separate course of study is needed.

“This is exactly right on,” Horn said. “This is what we should be doing. Let’s study it, take a look at it and implement it where necessary.”

Pittman’s second amendment was approved on a 108-0 vote.

The House vote on SB 438 was much closer.

It narrowly passed on a 59-50 second-reading vote with all but one Republican voting in favor of the bill. Three Democrats cast votes in favor of SB 438.

Adopted in 2012, North Carolina’s Read to Achieve legislation’s goal is to ensure all children are reading at above grade level by the end of third-grade.

After spending more than $150 million on the effort, the results have been dismal. More than 43 percent of third-graders tested during the 2017-18 school year did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

“The overarching theme is Read to Achieve is working in some places and it’s not working as well as it should in other places,” Berger said Tuesday during a House committee meeting. “If something needs to be fixed, let’s fix it. If things are working well, then let’s try to replicate those things.”