Thanks to the message-disseminating power of CoolCleveland, the event Claudia Taller and I hosted this past Saturday at Visible Voice Books in Tremont, “Write/Left: A Salon for Progressive Thinkers and Writers,” was a great success. The three hours of exchanging ideas, discussing issues, and offering specific advice on how to jumpstart writing careers was so enlightening and enjoyable for the attendees that we’re planning follow-up sessions starting in late May or early June. Stay tuned.
Signs that We’re Insane
One of the common definitions of insanity is “to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” That’s where we are with the search for a new superintendent for Cleveland schools. It’s like hiring a new captain for the Titanic… no matter who’s brought on board — no mater how talented, dedicated or caring the person happens to be — the ship will continue to sink, and deep down we all have to know that.
We’re whistling past the graveyard in terms of public education in Ohio, and have been for years. Until and unless we radically change school funding, improvement will be sporadic and spotty… at best. But, with the conservatives in the Legislature still spending their time attempting to steamroller the middleclass (when they’re not attempting to re-fight the Civil War), there is little chance in this state for education funding reform; it’s going to have to come from the federal government… if reform is going to come at all.
When I was at Visible Voice Books on Saturday I picked up a copy of Paul Tough’s 2008 book Whatever it Takes, subtitled “Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.” I’ve been in attendance on every occasion Canada has spoken in Cleveland, and each time his message is more profound, more well-defined, and more logical. His truly great mind obviously never rests.
Core to his beliefs is that big city school districts simply shuffle superintendents around the country. Once they fail in one city they go to the next. And the reason is… experts know it’s not their fault. None of them are Superman. And “Superman” is part of the name of the documentary that featured Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone: Waiting for Superman.
In the film, Canada’s message is clear as a bell for any who care to listen: Superman isn’t coming to save us. It’s going to take systemic change to save our big city schools; and he should know, he’s actually making those changes in New York City.
But he’s not doing it by nibbling around the edges… his program is 24/7 total wraparound mentoring services, and not for age three or four, but from day one of the child’s life, and even before. His “Baby College” teaches expectant mothers how to eat healthy so they deliver a healthy, full-weight baby.
In Cleveland some very well-meaning people are about to launch a program focused on getting preschoolers ready for kindergarten. Sounds like another Head Start-type Program to me. If that’s what they have in mind they might as well dump the money on Public Square, douse it with gasoline, (yeah, I know, the gasoline is probably worth more than the money) and set fire to it. And here’s why: Whenever I go into prisons with my reentry mentoring program I ask the convicts, by a show of hands, how many attended Head Start as preschoolers. Virtually every hand in the room always shoots up.
Now, I’ve gotten in real trouble criticizing Head Start before (a petite, elderly female professor at Oberlin College once invited me outside so that she could kick my ass for some remarks I made to some students) but the fact remains: Sending a child from a dysfunctional family to the best quality preschool for five, six or even eight hours a day, and then returning them to the dysfunctional environment for the remaining hours of the day simply — except in the rare case — won’t work. As Canada points out, it simply can’t.
Simply put, starting at age three is exactly three years too late, and anything other than total mentoring simply won’t work. Many of these parents, left to their own devices, will feed their kids a steady diet of junk food… and teachers will wonder why the child can’t focus or sit still. God help them, these parents simply don’t know any better; that’s why 24/7 mentoring is so critically important.
I would rather the program that’s being planned for Cleveland be scaled back in terms of number of children served, and be redesigned to exactly follow the Harlem model to the letter, which, of course, is more expensive per child. Why are we going to try to reinvent the wheel when a highly successful model is already extant? Does anyone have an answer?
My summer project, “The Vineyards of Château Hough,” needs your money, your time, or both. This very wet spring has played havoc with my plans to get an early jump on the work needed for Year Two of the vineyard. It’s simply been too wet to set foot on the plot of land. [See Cool Cleveland video here).
But that’s about to change in the coming weeks as the land dries up. Every weekend for the foreseeable future when it isn’t raining, and the temperature is above 60 degrees, we’ll be out there getting our exercise on.
We’re seeking three things: volunteers to help with the work, donations of unused gardening tools, and financial sponsors for each of our 14 rows of grapevines. You could have your (or your organization’s) name right on the row. And if last year is any indication, there’s going to be lots of folks coming out to see what we’re doing right here in Hough.
Our goal is to hire and train youth from the community in viticulture, but the grant dollars are scarce this year. Since the project is under our 501(C)3, all contributions are 100 percent tax deductible. Visit our website at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com or call me at 216.469.0124.
We’re also planning to install a “biocellar,” the first one in the country as I understand it. Go to: http://Scribd.com/doc/54051934/Biocellar-Phase-II-Report to see what the future could hold for Cleveland. These structures could be game-changers in terms of land reutilization and urban drop propagation. And you can be a part of this future… now how cool is that?