Boston Resolve: One Year Anniversary of Marathon Bombing!

Dear Commons Community,

One year ago, the Boston Marathon was marred by the cowardly bombing of innocents. Today, Boston shows its resolve by coming out and staging this year’s marathon which promises to be the best-attended of all time. We stand with the people of Boston not to be cowered by the extremists and fanatics of the world.

We stand with you, Boston!!!


Governor Andrew Cuomo: Chairman of Charter School/Hedgefund Retreat in Lake Placid!

Dear Commons Community,

The item below was sent to me by my colleague, Joel Spring. It was posted by Professor Alan Singer, Hofstra University. It appears that Governor Cuomo is following up his support for charter schools earlier this year in his confrontation with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio by chairing what is being described as a charter school “extravaganza”.



The Dishonorable Andrew Cuomo Meets the Hedge Fund / Charter School Zombies *

– Alan’s Latest Huffington Post


From May 4 to May 6, 2014 the Honorable Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York State, is scheduled to be the Honorary Chairman at a three-day charter school/hedge fund extravaganza that is anything but honorable. Other celebrity “guests” who are supposed to attend the Lake Placid retreat sponsored by a group called Education Reform Now include Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and horror film producer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan, who attended elite private schools as a youth, decided he is an education expert and wrote a book about saving public schools after filming in a Philadelphia public high school.

For $1,000 each, participants in the Lake Placid retreat “Embark on three spring days of fun, fellowship and strategy with the nation’s thought leaders on education reform.” Those who are special, or especially rich, can get VIP treatment for $2,500.

According to the online agenda, break-out sessions include discussions on “The Next Big Thing: Groundbreaking Approaches to Teacher Preparation,” “Up, Down, and Sideways: Building an Effective School Reform Coalition,” ” Tight-Loose Options for Ensuring All Kids Have Access to a Great Education,” and “Collaborative Models for Changing State and Local Teacher Policies.” But really only one topic will be discussed – How to promote and profit from the privatization of public education in the United States.

Education Reform Now (ERN) is a non-profit advocacy group that lobbies state and federal public officials to support charter schools and tougher teacher evaluations and tenure requirements. In Washington state it supported a successful effort to lift the state ban on charter schools. While ERN claims to be left-leaning, in New Jersey it has been allied with Governor Chris Christie in efforts to weaken the teachers union, increase the number of years before teachers are eligible for tenure, and to evaluate teacher based on student performance on high-stakes standardized assessments.

It is no surprise that Cuomo, who has presidential ambitions, is lending his name to the retreat. Education Reform Now has donated $65,000 to Cuomo’s campaign chest since 2010 through a series of political action committee. Members of the ERN Board of Directors and founders of its “unofficially” affiliated political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform, also give individual contributions to Cuomo. They include John Petry, a board member for ERN, co-founder of DFER, founder and manager of Sessa Capital, and co-chair of New York City’s Success Academy Charter Schools. Other ERN/DFER deep pocket hedge fund operators who help bankroll Cuomo are Joel Greenblatt, founder of Gotham Capital and co-chair of the Success Academy network and Whitney Tilson, founder and managing partner of Kase Capital Management. A DFER representative described the retreat as an “opportunity for elected officials, advocacy leaders, and philanthropists to come together to discuss policy and political ideas to reform education.”

According to a Cuomo spokesperson, “The Governor is pleased to welcome a major national education conference to the North Country as we continue to build on this administration’s efforts to increase tourism and economic development opportunities in Upstate New York . . . Instead of criticizing these guests, we should all be focusing on bringing innovation and success to all public schools, charter and non-charter alike.”

The Education Reform Now Board of Directors reads like a list of hedge fund royalty. Charles H. Ledley, Board Chair of Education Reform Now, is an Analyst at Highfields Capital Management. He was a partner at Cornwall Capital and a consultant at Bain & Company, Mitt Romney’s old firm. John Petry, founder and managing principal at Sessa Capital, previously was a partner at Gotham Capital and Gotham Asset Management. Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo is a Partner at Covey Capital. Brian Zied, who previously worked at Maverick Capital and Bear, Stearns is the founder of Charter Bridge Capital. John Sabat, aboard member of Harlem Success Academy 4, works at Cubist Systematic Strategies. Michael Sabat is a Vice President at Sanford C. Bernstein

M. Night Shyamalan has produced or director such “noted” Hollywood horror film features including After Earth (2013), Devil (2010), The Happening (2008), The Village (2004), and The Sixth Sense (1999). I wonder if he plans to use the conference as a setting for a new horror flick, “Zombies that Ate Our Public Schools.”

* Zombies feast on human flesh. Hedge Funds feast on cracks in the global financial system to amass huge fortunes. Hedge Fund zombies see charter schools as a way to grow even fatter by feasting on public school dollars. For more on the Dishonorable Andrew Cuomo and the impact of charter schools on public schools, check out a terrific music video by Middletown High School students, “No Mo Cuomo.”

Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership 128 Hagedorn Hall / 119 Hofstra University / Hempstead, NY 11549 (P) 516-463-5853 (F) 516-463-6196

Lecture: Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, National Socialism, World Jewry, and the History of Being!

Dear Commons Community,

The following announcement was posted by Professor Manfred Phillipp, President of the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences.



Wednesday, April 23  / CUNY Graduate Center Room C201-203 /  6:00 p.m. 

365 Fifth Avenue (at 34th Street), Manhattan, New York

Heidegger intended the Black Notebooks, which were recently published in Germany, as the culminating achievement of his 102-volume Collected Works. They represent, among other things, a stark reaffirmation of his philosophical commitment to National Socialism and, as such, a point of no return for Heidegger scholarship. But what the Black Notebooks also disturbingly reveal is Heidegger’s obsession with “World Jewry” in the most negative and cliché-ridden terms: as a pivotal source of cultural and social dissolution that must be eliminated in order to realize National Socialism’s “inner truth and greatness,” as Heidegger himself put it in 1935. How, then, should one go about resolving the conundrum of a great thinker who remained entirely convinced that the Nazi regime, with its unbridled racism and exterminationist militarism, represented an adequate solution to the “decline of the West”?

To read the New York Times’ recent coverage of the Black Notebooks, CLICK HERE.

Richard Wolin is distinguished professor of history, political science, and comparative literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. Among his books are Heidegger’s Children: Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, and Herbert Marcuse; The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism; and The Wind From the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution and the Legacy of the 1960s. He frequently writes on intellectual and political topics for the New Republic, the Nation, and Dissent.

Co-sponsored by the Ph.D. Program in History, the Committee on Social and Political Thought, the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences, the Center for the Humanities, and the Center for Jewish Studies.

Admission Free.


Paul Krugman on Economic Development and the Environment!

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Krugman had a  column earlier this week on environment issues.   He refuted the commonly-held assumption that increasing economic development results in more pollution and damage to the environment.  In building his case he referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, and a recently released a draft of  chapters from its latest assessment.   Krugman commented:

“…let’s talk for a minute about the overall relationship between economic growth and the environment.

Other things equal, more G.D.P. tends to mean more pollution. What transformed China into the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases? Explosive economic growth. But other things don’t have to be equal. There’s no necessary one-to-one relationship between growth and pollution.

People on both the left and the right often fail to understand this point. … On the left, you sometimes find environmentalists asserting that to save the planet we must give up on the idea of an ever-growing economy; on the right, you often find assertions that any attempt to limit pollution will have devastating impacts on growth. But there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.”

Krugman’s argument is built on the fact the renewable forms of energy (i.e., solar power) will expand and mitigate against the argument that economic development automatically results in more pollution.

I hope he is right.



Muslims in New York City Push to Add Two Holidays to Public School Calendar!

Dear Commons Community,

During last year’s New York mayoral election, a number of candidates including Bill de Blasio pledged to add Muslim holidays to the public school calendar.  The issue might seem of modest importance alongside deeper concerns among many Muslims in the city, including the Police Department’s monitoring of their community since the Sept. 11 attacks. But the rally, held recently in a public school auditorium in Queens was a testament to how the city’s Muslim community is gaining a measure of political confidence.  As reported in the New York Times:

“The meeting opened with a pledge from the podium to try to end, God willing, by the hour of the evening prayer. Clusters of colorfully veiled women kept watch over jittery young children. Rows of men conversed in a jangle of languages.

They were Muslims from Bosnia and Montenegro, Egypt and Syria, Pakistan and Bangladesh — several hundred in all.

It was a gathering remarkable in its diversity from among New York City’s Muslims, a growing group whose members often find it difficult to work together politically because of differences in national origin, language, sect and class. But a single issue has managed to unify them: the push to close the city’s public schools for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the most sacred Muslim holidays.

Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting, and Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims traditionally observe these days by praying in the morning, then celebrating with family and friends, exchanging gifts and sharing a large meal. The campaign is asking for one day off for each holiday when it falls on a school day.”

This will be an interesting decision for Mayor de Blasio.  In 2009, the New York City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution to grant the days off. But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg would not implement the idea, saying children needed more time in school, not less.


MOOC Provider Udacity No Longer to Offer Free Certificates!

Dear Commons Community,

In a major break from its previous policy, MOOC provider Udacity will no longer offer free certificates.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“People will still be able to view Udacity’s online-course materials without paying, but those who want a credential will have to open their wallets.

“Discontinuing the ‘free’ certificates has been one of the most difficult decisions we’ve made,” wrote Sebastian Thrun, Udacity’s founder, in a blog post about the policy change. “We know that many of our hardworking students can’t afford to pay for classes. At the same time, we cannot hope that our certificates will ever carry great value if we don’t make this change.”

So far Udacity has given students who complete a MOOC the option of downloading a free certificate. But lately the company has been designing courses that combine the promise of instructional rigor with premium services to create tuition-based offerings. Those “full” courses cost $150 per month and include contact with human coaches, project-based assignments, and job-placement services.

“The courseware will still be available, so you can still learn for free,” wrote Mr. Thrun. “But you can’t get our credentials unless you give us a chance to find out who you are and vouch for your skills.”

This was inevitable.  At some point, MOOC providers such as Udacity have to become financially sustainable and generate a return on their funders’ investments.



Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Pledges $50 Million to Fight National Rifle Association!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael R. Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year building a nationwide grass-roots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence, an organization he hopes can eventually out-muscle the National Rifle Association.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, said gun control advocates need to learn from the N.R.A. and punish those politicians who fail to support their agenda — even Democrats whose positions otherwise align with his own.

“They say, ‘We don’t care. We’re going to go after you,’ ” he said of the N.R.A. “ ‘If you don’t vote with us we’re going to go after your kids and your grandkids and your great-grandkids. And we’re never going to stop.’ ”

He added: “We’ve got to make them afraid of us.”

…The considerable advantages that gun rights advocates enjoy — in intensity, organization and political clout — will not be easy to overcome. Indeed, Mr. Bloomberg has already spent millions of dollars trying to persuade members of Congress to support enhanced background check laws with virtually nothing to show for it.

What is more, for many gun owners, the issue is a deeply personal one that energizes them politically, said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, who dismissed the mayor’s plans.

“He’s got the money to waste,” Mr. Pratt said. “So I guess he’s free to do so. But frankly, I think he’s going to find out why his side keeps losing.”

The N.R.A. had no comment.”

Let the battle begin.  We are in Mr. Bloomberg’s corner.



Book Review: The Great American Education-Industrial Complex… in the Teachers College Record!

Cover Final

Dear Commons Community,

Last year, my colleague Joel Spring and I published The Great American Education-Industrial Complex: Ideology, Technology, and Profit  (Routledge/Taylor & Francis).  On Friday, the Teachers College Record, had a review of it written by David Casalaspi.  The review points out the book’s strengths as well as the problems of researching difficult topics such as education policy, decision making, and political influence.  Joel and I appreciate and support Mr. Casalaspi’s conclusion:

“while other scholars have written in more detail about individual components of the complex, Picciano and Spring adumbrate a much more comprehensive, realistic and fluid portrait of educational governance than has been portrayed in recent literature.  Their acknowledgement that shifts in governance over the past few decades have empowered unelected elites and challenged traditional democratic power structures is an important one—and something that certainly demands the scrutiny of a democratic public.”