Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Why Covid has spread in Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and "Cutting School" -- how Black schools have been a focus of experimentation and profit

Today on my WBAI podcast "Talk out of School" I updated listeners on the additional school closures planned this week in NYC, first by Mayor de Blasio in nine zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens, and now in larger numbers in red and orange zones of high Covid positivity, determined by Governor Cuomo and his Covid task force.  

On the podcast, Naftuli Moster of Yaffed, who first appeared on the podcast in May, explained why many of the hot spots experiencing high rates of COVID positivity  in NYC are located primarily in areas with high concentrations of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. He said this was for two reasons: one, there is no science instruction at the Yeshivas, the schools that Ultra-Orthodox boys attend, and thus they don’t understand how viral transmission occurs. Two, the members of these insular communities have long flouted the law in areas of education and public health without any consequences, and in fact have received special favors and additional funding because of their political influence. Many have gotten used to violating rules set down by the city or state, in this case regarding the need to avoid mass gatherings, wear masks, and maintain social distancing. 

Naftuli suggested the best way the Governor and Mayor should address the refusal of many members of these communities to comply with the new restrictions would be by threatening their leaders with a loss of public funding, including discretionary child-care vouchers, funds which they have received at disproportionate levels in the past. 

Then I interviewed Noliwe Rooks, W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature at Cornell, about her new book, Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education, which analyzes the history of education inequity in the U.S. and the way in which the schooling of Black students has been repeatedly used as an opportunity for experimentation and profit by education reformers and entrepreneurs. 

Instead of providing these students with the same opportunities wealthy white students receive, such as small classes, experienced teachers, and plenty of extracurricular activities, including art and music, as well as intensive support when they are struggling,  Prof. Rooks explained how their schools continue to be defunded and privatized, through the expansion of charters, vouchers and online learning.  You can subscribe and download other episodes of "Talk out of School" here.

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