Letter from Block Island. Art and context.


This week I am with my family for our annual end of summer week on Block Island.

Today we are in Brooklyn to gather provisions at Fairway. Tomorrow we drive north to catch the Point Judith Ferry.

The New York Times reports that some artists and art historians are concerned about the removal of Confederate statues in the wake of Charlottesville.

The headline reads:

Trump Aside, Artists and Preservationists Debate the Rush to Topple Statues

As is often the case, the headline tends to remove nuance from the reality of the situation and is simply untrue about the rest.

For example:

Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, proposes that the dismantled statues be grouped together and contextualized, so people understand what they stood for.

I think that’s a great idea and doesn’t stand in opposition to taking the monuments down.

But as for the rush?

I haven’t seen a rush.

Some of this crap has been standing there for a long time.

“They also were the work of artists,” said Hollis Robbins, a humanities professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute. She cited Laura Gardin Fraser, whose double equestrian statue of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was one of those removed overnight in Baltimore this week. Ms. Robbins said that artwork should not necessarily be discarded because the subject matter or the artists’ personal history is offensive. “Do we teach T. S. Eliot, who was anti-Semitic, or the films of Roman Polanski, who was charged with rape?” she said. “Should we play Wagner in Israel?”

“While I am personally in favor of these sculptures’ going away, I think it’s important to understand that many of these artists did not have a political motivation,” Ms. Robbins added. “They had an aesthetic motivation.”

I’m sorry. But that is just total and utter bullshit.

If an artist makes a statue of Jefferson Davis for a town square then they either have a political agenda or a financial one. Or both.

As for context, I’m for it.

But where have these people been for a hundred years? Where has there been the demand for context all this time?

If you don’t teach that T.S. Eliot was an anti-Semite, why haven’t you been doing it?

Want context?

Put a sculpture up in Charlottesville exhibiting the thousands of lynchings of African Americans in the decades after slavery.

Surround the monument to Italian fascism that sits on Chicago’s lakefront with graphic images of the slaughter of millions.

If it is context you want, why aren’t you providing it?

Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers episode #28. With Brandon Johnson.

My brother was back at the microphone in the little radio booth at Co-Prosperity Sphere Friday morning.

He had missed the week before because of a health scare. It was good to have him back across the table.

He told us that the doctors were going to keep him under body surveillance.

No biggy. The government has been doing that for years.

Joining us in studio was our friend, Brandon Johnson, Chicago Teacher Union political organizer.

If Brandon’s voice sounds familiar it is because he is all over the radio dial with programs of his own on Chicago’s WCPT  and Chicago’s historic Black radio station, WVON.

A one hour weekly radio show is crazy when you have been having news weeks like we have ben having.

You know things are moving fast when the news that Steve Bannon got pushed or jumped ship was announced while we were on the air.

We simply don’t have enough time.

Here’s the podcast.


In Durham, North Carolina. “I am Spartacus!”

Nothing would make Donald Trump happier than  to turn his disastrous Tantrum at Trump Tower and his open support for Nazi white supremacists into a debate about the aesthetics of Confederate monuments.

If what is happening in Durham, North Carolina demonstrates anything, it demonstrates how the fight against racist Confederate symbols, the fight against the Trump agenda along with his fascist movement can be made broader and even more inclusive.

A few days ago people took matters into their own hands and took down one of Durham’s Confederate statues.

Huffington Post reports on what happened next:

Four people turned themselves in to authorities in Durham, North Carolina, on Thursday to face charges for their role in toppling a Confederate monument during a protest on Monday.


They weren’t alone.

Joining them outside the Durham County courthouse were hundreds of other protesters, many of whom attempted to symbolically turn themselves in for vandalizing the Confederate statue as well.

View image on Twitter

“All of us are willing to share the cost of our freedom,” Serena Sebring, one of the protest’s organizers, told reporters. “All of us are here, and we are willing to take whatever responsibility, whatever consequences come along with the removal of that statue.”

A parent wants to know why an expensive corporate training program is being implemented at his neighborhood CPS school.

Logan Square’s Darwin Elementary School.

A few years ago there was some controversy over Steven Covey’s The Leader in Me program which was purchased by CPS. CPS had spent over a quarter of a million dollars on The Leader in Me at the time.

Supporters of the program, started under former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard before he resigned in October, say it fosters a disciplined approach to education and helps with so-called social emotional learning. But some critics say there is not enough proof it works and argue it is costly at a time when the district is facing financial woes.

The program, called “The Leader in Me,” was created by the Utah-based Franklin Covey, a publicly-traded company that CPS has paid more than $263,000 since 2005, including more than $111,000 this year.

This year’s spending was for The Leader in Me, the brainchild of the company’s founder, Stephen Covey.

Covey, who died last year, is the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the centerpiece of leadership training programs run by Franklin Covey that have been used by Fortune 500 companies.

The Leader in Me is a version of Covey’s book adapted for younger students and used by more than 1,000 schools worldwide, though company officials admit evidence that it works is mostly anecdotal and say it’s still too soon to fully measure the impact of the program on the schools where it’s used.

Offered to all CPS schools before the start of the 2012-2013 school year, Andrew Jackson, Walsh Elementary, Pershing West Elementary and South Loop Elementary were the only schools to sign on, a CPS spokesman said.

Brizard is long gone as CPS CEO.

But The Leader in Me is still around.

And a Logan Square’s Darwin Elementary School parent and LSC member, Jeff Young, wonders why?

In a letter sent by Jeff Young to the other members of the Darwin LSC following a school walk-through.

I am concerned about a video we were shown, prior to the walk, in which students and teachers from Darwin appeared. This video, as it was explained to us, was produced by the FranklinCovey company for use with it’s “Leader In Me” program.

In a later letter Jeff Young lays out his objections to a corporate training tool being used at a public elementary school:

1) There is no objective, 3rd party analysis as to whether Leader In Me is any more effective than any other program with similar goals that doesn’t cost as much nor require as much from our school (see 3).

2) Principals in Kentucky and Missouri have been disciplined by their districts for consulting for Franklin Covey while implementing Leader In Me at their schools. Links to articles discussing these situations are below. It concerns me that this program has a financial incentive for it’s adoption with no proven, verifiable academic benefit.

3) Leader In Me contractually obligates our school to share student absenteeism and disciplinary data with Franklin Covey, as well as hold Leadership Day annually. Federal laws tightly controls the disclosure of student data outside of the school; I’m not certain the data we are providing is publicly available or not. By hosting Leadership Day at Darwin, we are essentially holding a sales event at our school for Franklin Covey during which our children help sell their product.

The National Education Association needs to do better in the fight against white supremacy.

Lily Eskelsen
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

On Monday the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, issued a press release in response to the events in Charlottesville.

The statement included this:

“As teachers in the Virginia Education Association and National Education Association, we know our history. Words lead to action. Too many leaders in positions to know and do better have failed to counter white nationalist rhetoric; their reluctance to directly confront and call out racism at every turn contributed to what unfolded Saturday. Heyer, standing up for diversity and against intolerance, and Cullen and Bates, endeavoring to keep all safe, paid the ultimate price for a sickness that we must expose, confront, and overcome.

The statement is disingenuous and inadequate.

It is disingenuous because there is no self-criticism. After all, it was the NEA at their Representative Assembly just two years ago that refused to support the movement demanding the removal of Confederate monuments from the public space.

If you were there you heard the same arguments made on the floor of the RA as you heard coming from the mouths of white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville.

And silence from the podium in response.

“Too many leaders in position to know and do better have failed to counter white nationalist rhetoric; their reluctance to directly confront and call out racism at every turn contributed to what unfolded Saturday.”


And how is it that there is no mention of the name Trump anywhere in this statement?

As the country is thrown into crisis by a president who sides with Nazis, the country’s largest teachers union can’t bring itself to mention his name.

The NEA needs to do much better than that.

The Republicans own Donald Trump. He is the child of Ronald Reagan.


There is no doubt that the white supremacists of all stripes feel emboldened by their guy in the White House.

Nor is their doubt that the establishment of the Republican Party is trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their leader’s performance yesterday.

Look at the picture of Trump’s latest Chief of Staff while Trump was in the midst of his OMG performance.

Chief of Staff John Kelly during Trump’s OMG performance.

But as much as the Republicans want to run from the guy, he is totally theirs.

You can draw a straight line from Ronald Reagan’s application of Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy to yesterday’s tantrum at Trump Tower.

“The Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, now regarded as the largest and most militant Klan group in the country,” wrote the New York Times in July of  1980, “has endorsed Ronald Reagan for President and said in its newspaper that the Republican platform “reads as if it were written by a Klansman.”