Essex Market School, the East Side. By Jacob Riis, ca. 1888-1895.
I just caught this poignant essay at the New York Times about How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis' 1890 exposé of day-to-day life in New York City tenements. Bill de Blasio mentioned Riis during his inaugural address, and the book — which depicted urban squalor through vivid, flash photography (a new technology at the time) — is credited with sparking the movement toward modern sanitation laws and housing regulations.
What's less well known is that Riis' exploration of poverty in New York City turned him into an education reformer — one who sounded a whole lot like today's teacher accountability hawks. His follow-up to How the Other Half Lives was a volume called The Children of the Poor. Here's a litte excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Teacher Wars (Doubleday, Sept. 2014), about the familiar arguent Riis made in that book:
Riis acknowledged the systemic constraints on immigrant children’s lives. The United States lacked strong anti-child labor laws and relied mostly on overextended local charities, many with a proselytizing religious mission, to provide the poor with health care and jobs training. There was no public support for sanitary affordable housing and far too little government funding for truant officers who were supposed to encourage child workers to enroll in school. (In New York City, Riis found that a paltry 12 officers were responsible for tracking 50,000 absent children between the ages of 5 and 14, many of them homeless.) Nevertheless, like today’s accountably reformers, Riis considered teachers the determining factor in whether a child escaped poverty. He wrote that schools are “our chief defense against the tenement and the flood of ignorance with which it would swamp us. … it is the personal influence of the teacher that counts for most in dealing with the child. It follows it into the home, and often through life to the second and third generation, smoothing the way of sorrow and hardship with counsel and aid in a hundred ways.”
On Tuesday I wrote atThe Nation that President Obama has been preparing for years to credit Michelle for helping him evolve on gay marriage. Why? Male Democrats love to ascribe their more progressive "private" opinions to their wives.
Roberts asked the president if First Lady Michelle Obama was involved in this decision. Obama said she was, and he talked specifically about his own faith in responding.
“This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”
It would have been a more historic moment if Obama hadn't also reaffirmed states' rights to decide the matter on their own. Here's hoping he can "evolve" on that, too — since I don't believe he truly believes it, just like he was never really "personally" against gay marriage.
Here are some images of downtown Newark, NJ on the day I reported this story, about Cory Booker and Chris Christie's efforts to convince teachers and other white-collar professionals to move to the neighborhood.
This is the retail corridor along Market Street, walking from Penn Station to the area of the proposed SOMA development.
The art deco Paramount Theater, opened in 1886 and shuttered in 1986. It was sold in 2007 for $2 million, but has yet to be developed. You can check out the gorgeous interior, which is set to be demolished, here.
Turning south onto Halsey Street, approaching the site of the proposed SOMA and Teachers' Village developments. The building below will be demolished to make way for new construction by Richard Meier. (See renderings of the project here and here.)
The future of these handsome buildings, some of them abandoned, remains in question. A lot depends on whether the SOMA developers can attract enough financing to the project.
This is 17 Williams Street, a historic building next to the Teachers' Village site that is set to be rehabilatated. Here in 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous was written by Dr. Bob Smith, in an office donated by his friend Bill Wilson, a publisher.
Driving through the industrial district that lies between South Central and downtown L.A.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Brian Reed, an English teacher at Animo Pat Brown Charter High School in the South L.A. neighborhood of Florence-Firestone. Animo Pat Brown is a Green Dot school, which means it is a very rare breed–a unionized charter. The school is housed in a renovated lingerie factory and is airy and beautiful. The student body is 95 percent Latino.
Florence-Firestone is an inner city neighborhood with a fairly high crime rate, but many of the blocks are beautiful, with small bungalow homes boasting lovely front gardens. Other blocks are a bit more run-down.