Up on the News
Police would later say it was a botched robbery near Onteora's
main campus in Boiceville that left a Willow man nursing
a pair of gunshot wounds, triggered a major police response,
and ended with two alleged gang members fresh out of high
school jailed for attempted murder.
Two 16-year-old Kingston boys were charged September 9 with
attempted murder in the shooting of a 20-year-old man, whose
name was not released, near Onteora Middle/Senior High School,
which was briefly locked down Wednesday afternoon, Sept.
8, while authorities searched for the suspects.
Brandon L. Jones and Eban X. Woullard, both 16, were arrested
in Kingston at 4:10 A.M. the following Thursday morning,
September 9, following a joint search by state police, Kingston
police and members of the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement
Narcotics Team (URGENT). Both were charged with attempted
murder, a felony. Jones was additionally charged with criminal
possession of a weapon, also a felony. The two were arraigned
before Olive Town Justice Ronald Wright and sent to the
Ulster County Jail without bail.
Police said the two suspects went to the town of Olive with
intent to commit robbery, but that the specific motive for
the shooting remained unclear. The shooting occurred in
or near the victim's car on Deerfield Road behind the school,
where the victim lived and suffered gunshot wounds to the
leg and upper arm. He was taken to Westchester Medical Center
where he was later listed in stable condition. The .38-caliber
revolver believed to have been used in the shooting was
found Thursday afternoon in a wooded area behind Onteora
High School's playing fields.
Police began looking along pathways in the wooded area starting
at 9 a.m. Thursday, and noted that an 18-year-old Woodsock
male, who they would not identify because they said he was
otherwise uninvolved in the case, had driven the two suspects
to Boiceville late Wednesday afternoon.
Police said that on arriving at 79 Deerfield Road on Wednesday
afternoon, the teens approached the 20 year old man from
Willow sitting in a car in the driveway, a dispute ensued,
and one of the 16 year olds (police declined to say which)
pulled out a .38 caliber revolver and fired two shots. The
pair then fled on foot through the woods between Deerfield
Road and the back of the Onteora High School playing fields,
emerging at the Lukoil gas station on State Route 28 where
they hitched a ride back to Kingston.
Dozens of police descended on the area around Deerfield
Road while the two were returning to Kingston and a lockdown
was ordered at the high school, where a command post was
set up by police in a conference room, with state police
deploying helicopters, dog teams and heavily-armed foot
patrols to search backyards and wooded areas around the
A landing zone was set up at Bennett Elementary school from
which a medical evacuation helicopter transported the shooting
victim. County URGENT officers were able to identify the
alleged gunmen within an hour of the shooting, using their
records, then tracked down the teens in Kingston later that
night with the help of city police.
Police later added that while the Kingston teens had ties
to the Bloods street gang, the victim had no known gang
ties and police do not believe the shooting stemmed from
a gang feud.
Ulster County Sheriff's deputies, town of Olive police,
qnd Department of Environmental Conservation police assisted
Kingston police, members of the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement
Narcotics Team and state police in the fast investigation.
Laurie Osmond, president of the Onteora Board of education,
said she was relieved police had recovered the weapon because
the school's track team runs in that general area.
"This is a small community and due to texting and cell
phones, rumors could easily have gotten out of control,"
she said. "They all remained calm and calmed the students'
Osmond added that the staff contacted parents of students
who were still at the school Wednesday and arranged for
them to be picked up.
The school was closed Thursday in observance of Rosh Hashanah.
OCS Interim Superintendent Charlotte Gregory followed up
on the shooting at a school board meeting the following
Tuesday, noting how over 50 kids remained in the gym until
late buses arrived or parents were notified.
"The next day, we had a day off which was good because
by that time the perpetrators had been arrested and we were
able to put on the website that all was safe and children
could feel secure," she added. "This was a crime
scene, too close to the school and we're still working on
some residue from that," she said.
Administrators had a meeting to review what took place and
if there were any areas that needed improvement, but overall
Gregory said she was pleased by how quickly and orderly
everyone including coaches responded to the incident in
assuring the students were safe.
On The Big Changes
Half of that question
is answered by the speech itself, which describes the state
of the American educational system from the viewpoint of Erica
Goldson. It excited interest from every age group and political
complexion, drawing an overwhelming flood of praise and recognition
even from more traditionalist academic websites, igniting
an internet impulse to share its insights.
Goldson advised undergraduates that they "still have
the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical"
and create their own perspectives, insisting that the excuse
"You have to learn this for the test" was not good
"Education is an excellent tool, if used properly,"
she added in almost the next breath, seemingly as much to
teachers and administrators, "but focus more on learning
rather than getting good grades."
Stunned by the magnitude of the response, Goldson found herself
being invited to speak at meetings and as a guest on talk
shows from Boston to California, including a new program in
Washington, D.C. hosted by former presidential advisor Van
Jones, who ironically served an administration striving to
promote increased federal control of education through an
intensified schedule of standardized testing. Reached in San
Francisco on September 18, where she had been flown from SUNY
Buffalo to address a Libertarian "Campaign for Liberty"
meeting, she said she was finding a familiar mind-set at higher
educational levels and lamented the difficulty in focusing
on learning because of the stressing of tests and grades.
"So many people have been sending me so many things to
read and watch," Goldson explained, "and going to
the conferences and all, I've been learning so much more about
what I was originally complaining about. It's definitely an
enlightening process I'm going through right now."
Besides an alternative education conference she'll be speaking
at in Minnesota early next year, Goldson was excited about
appearing on Fox's Freedom Watch television program with educational
icon John Taylor Gatto. One of three names mentioned in her
speech and author of influential books like Dumbing Us Down,
The Underground History of American Education and Weapons
of Mass Instruction, Gatto was scheduled for a WAMC radio
program last Spring with students from the English class of
Donna Bryan, (who, along with H.L. Mencken, was the third
name mentioned by Erica that day).
Bryan, or "Ms. B" as the students refer to her,
found that educational results improve when students are challenged
to think rather than just learn, and when ideas that are personally
meaningful to young students are introduced to the curriculum.
This approach apparently prompted Goldson to credit Bryan
in the speech for allowing her to develop her abilities of
Oddly bypassing an opportunity to shine a positive reflection
on the district from all the attention their star student
has commanded, the C/A school administration has remained
mute on the topic, perhaps miffed by Goldson's sleight of
hand prior to the event when asked to submit a copy of the
speech for administration approval. When she and salutatorian
speaker Caitlin Malone were told they could write only about
approved topics, Goldson sensed that what she wanted to say
might be squelched and submitted a speech other than the one
she intended to read.
Although Bryan declines to comment and administration insists
it was entirely due to "reorganizational scheduling concerns,"
there's more than a hint of question, as well, in the drastic
itinerary changes that have since resulted in the school district's
Fall schedule. Bryan no longer teaches the Honors class, of
which Erica was a product, and no longer instructs the grade
level for which she devoted her training. Bryan was informed
of the changes shortly before she addressed U.S. Secretary
of Education Arne Duncan in a forum, outlined last issue,
which is anticipated to effect the complexion of curriculum
Space doesn't permit an adequate accounting of the intense
fiscal and political pressures which preceded Secretary Duncan's
visit to Albany in late August, but the basic backbeat goes
something like this: The $100 million given to education in
early 2009 from the "stimulus package" was running
out and school districts, facing recession-tied state budget
cuts, began laying off teachers. Dangling a "carrot that
looks like a stick" (as one critic put it), the administration's
huge "education reform" program offered funds to
states that made themselves eligible by agreeing to basic
conditions like raising the cap on the number of charter schools
permitted and sending details of individual student records
to a federal data center.
"We have to keep children in the classroom," Duncan
said. "We have to keep teachers teaching. We don't want
to have 300,000 teachers going on the unemployment lines.
We have to step up."
New York was one of the states which agreed to the terms of
Race to the Top (RTTT) funding and was awarded $700 million
while other states, like neighboring Vermont, declined the
bait. After the National Education Association (NEA) had voted
a resolution of "no confidence" in RTTT at their
July convention, Duncan prevailed upon the other large teacher's
union, American Federation of Teachers, to embrace it along
with the NYS Board of Regents.
"I was asked to be there because New York, through the
Speak Truth to Power project, is being recognized as an innovator
in human rights education," said Bryan. "The president
of NYSUT, Dick Ianuzzi, wanted to emphasize to Duncan that
New York State United Teachers exists as a social justice
organization and, as such, they have an interest in educating
students about social justice and human rights issues."
As a member of the Speak Truth to Power team developing a
rights-associated curriculum, Bryan advised Duncan that, according
to the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
education should "transmit our way of existing in the
world as historical beings capable of intervening and changing
our circumstances for the better." (Article 26 reads,
in part: "Education shall be directed to the full development
of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms.")
"I also told him that students and teachers who are exploring
these issues and applying what they learned," Bryan added,
"are marginalized, targeted, ignored and that the federal
government has to do everything it can to insure that people
who are teaching and learning about these issues are supported."
It's reasonable to wonder how Duncan, who did not respond
to Bryan's remarks, saw compatibility in these goals and the
corporate business model RTTT seeks to impose on the educational
system. Fundamentally, the foundations supporting and funding
the program, Gates, Eli Broad, Julian Robertson, Walton Family
(Wal-Mart), etc., are notoriously anti-union, globalist-oriented
organizations extolling "data-driven decision-making."
Ethics are negotiable in the corporate climate, a give-and-take
element susceptible to a bargaining process.
"All of this talk about reform constantly harps about
globalization, how the world is so small and all of that gunsmoke
and manure," said Bryan, who was jolted by her school's
Superintendent's Conference Day presentation given before
the semester began a few weeks ago. Given by former district
director for Kirsten Gillibrand Mike Russo, now with the multi-national
Global Foundaries, which is building a 3 million sq. ft. nanotech-microchip
factory in Greene County.
"A part of their presentation on what they require in
a workforce and how we should teach to produce 'team players'
with a 'global mindset' was that they learn to be 'process-oriented'
rather than goal-oriented," Bryan recalled. "When
one of the teachers asked him 'What can we do to educate students
so that they're useful to you?' his answer was, 'Well, in
a gym class, you can make sure students are in good shape
and realize the principles of good health because they'll
be working 12 hour shifts.' So, this was our 'teacher training
day' this year. People get jobs, jobs, jobs but don't realize
that the 'business model' is always sucking out more than
it puts in."
Erica Goldson had said something similar, speaking from San
Francisco about having some reservations about the Libertarian
movement, whose conference she'd just addressed.
"At least I know they're fed up with what's going on
in the world - like corporations coming in and telling everyone
what to do," she said. "At least on that, I'm on
board with them."
Some of these
methods have been used in the area off and on over the years
- such as the speed monitor that lets you know what your speed
is as you approach. They work well while they are in place...
Feldman also suggested that pavement scoring, such as that
done on the Thruway breakdown lanes, might serve as a reminder
to a driver that they have strayed outside their lane. He
also suggested pamphlets that could be handed out to skiers
and hunters (during road checks) to warn them of speeding.
Supervisor Leifeld made a motion to send a letter to NYS DOT.
It seems the Ulster County Traffic Board has renewed their
interest after the recent string of accidents that have claimed
several lives in a very short course of time. It had been
commented recently that in many of the cases, it was driver
inattention that caused the accident, but Route 28 has become
a dangerous road lately.
Moving on to town business, Leifeld announced the bids received
for the replacement/repair of the Highway Department garage
roof. The lowest was from Evergreen Mountain Contracting Corp.
($137,900); with Sure Construction Corp. coming in second
($139,000) and Precision Roofing at third ($188,000). Councilperson
LaMonda made a motion to accept the low bid - which was unanimously
approved by the remainder of the board.
Residents of Deerfield Road stepped forward at this point
and presented a petition which was signed by all but three
homeowners of the road. The petition asks that the road be
given a speed limit. As it stands now, with no speed limit
signs posted, it is generally thought that up to 55 miles
per hour is acceptable. There has been an on-going problem
with speeding and reckless driving along the once quiet, dead
end road, creating an unsafe environment for all living there,
both adults and children.
It was explained that without State DOT approval, the town
cannot arbitrarily post a speed limit. The Police Department
can, however, enforce other laws that would reduce speed and
recklessness on the road. It was recommended that road checks
be done to enforce all traffic safety, to all residents equally
- not just to those who seem to be affecting the unsavory
Residents in attendance agreed that both adults and kids were
responsible for inappropriate driving in the area and welcomed
the thought of road checks. Apparently, there have been many,
many vehicles in and out of one particular house for purposes
suspected not to be of a legal nature, which led to the recent
shooting at this same location.
Councilperson LaMonda motioned to forward the petition to
the appropriate state officials for review of the issue, but
again indicated that it takes months for anything to happen.
Two area police officers, who happen to live either on Deerfield
or at its entrance, voiced their concerns that police agencies
should be doing a better job of making contact with the individuals
who are creating the problems on the road.
"Driving up and down the road with the windows up and
never getting out of the car to speak with them" is totally
State Police Rob Klein noted that numerous calls through the
state police office shows that complaints have been received
about incidents on the road. Deputy Glen Bettenger made the
statement that he's been dealing with the Butler house since
2002, and there is no question in his mind that there has
been an escalating problem there that needs to be addressed.
He gave his home number so that neighbors could call him at
any time of the night and he would respond.
"I moved from Kingston to get away from Henry Street,
and now it's in Boiceville," he stated.
Klein said that all officers need to be doing their job and
be more proactive with this situation or it will get worse.
Residents asked that more patrols come through, that there
are no problems in other areas of Olive, therefore, there
should be a concentration of effort in this area.
LaMonda indicated that a meeting of the Police Commissioners
is being held on Thursday evening, September 23, where these
issues will be addressed. Leifeld invited Klein and Bettenger
to attend this meeting to discuss further any procedures they
feel might be helpful in getting things under control. Some
residents were uncomfortable about making calls to report
on the activities because they are fearful of retribution
so LaMonda vowed that after Thursday, if any Olive Police
Officer responds to a call for Deerfield Road, he WILL be
addressing the individuals, and no one's name will be identified.
If this does not happen, he said he would resign.
The number to contact Olive Police is 331 3115. If you call
911, they will dispatch the nearest law enforcement available.
The 3115 number rings into the State Police barracks, where
they will dispatch Olive officers if they are on duty - and
if not, a state trooper will be sent to handle the issue.
Klein recommended calling the 3115 number so that a record
of the complaint will be on file.
In other business, the Olive Free Library is seeking 414 status
through a referendum on this year's ballot. Basically, if
the vote is favorable, the library will start receiving a
fixed amount of $129,000 as a line item on your town taxes,
similar to the way taxes are collected for the Fire Department.
Currently, the budget allocates approximately $44,000 to the
Library each year, but that amount is at the discretion of
the Town Board. By having a set amount of $129,000 each year
to work with, the Library intends to add other amounts they
receive through grants, bequests and trust funds, to maintain
an approximate $200,000 annual budget. The Town would no longer
control the amount they fund to the Library, but would be
required to budget in $129,000 each year. The Library would
not be able to change this amount without another referendum
In the final items of the evening, Resolution # 15 was unanimously
passed enabling Supervisor Leifeld to list the property in
front of the Sewage Treatment Plant in Boiceville for sale.
Money received for the sale of the property will be paid to
the Catskill Watershed Corporation as reimbursement for the
original purchase of the property for the construction of
Rhythm Of Life
I was four months pregnant when I told my friends, they were
really happy for me until I told them I was moving. We hugged
and cried, one of my closest friends wanted to know why I was
moving to a town where I was the only dark skinned one. Who
is going to help with the baby she asked, and how was I going
to show my art? She said I had more potential in the city than
in the mountains. She thought I was crazy to move from the only
home I had known outside of Jamaica. Everything my girlfriend
said was on point, I was nervous about moving from the city,
but I was also excited about having a baby and raising it in
a clean environment in the woods. My studio apartment in Harlem
on 125th Street had only two windows facing the street, the
bus depot was behind the building and the bus stop was out front.
The bus drivers would leave their parked bus running right under
my window and the fumes would enter my apt and hang there. The
walls were cracking, in the winter the heat went off and in
summer it was boiling hot. There was also a Chinese take out
in the storefront below that attracted rats and roaches-that
place was a mess.
My husband tried to cheer me up, "look honey, at least
you won't have to pay your greedy landlord any more rent."
My first winter here was beautiful and surreal, piles of white
fluffy snow, it was as if I lived in the Swiss Alps. My baby
was due in the summer, in the mean time I did my art, cleaned
the house and played with baby clothes. We took pictures of
my freakishly huge pregnant belly. My mind kept wandering back
to NYC. I contemplated giving up the artist life completely,
anyway, who is going to sit six hours on a bus to come visit
me? I thought I'd better get more aquatinted with my new surroundings
since I definitely don't blend in. I do not enjoy being stared
at. People unabashedly look me over carefully from face to feet.
I stand out up here in the woods. The green, lush mountains
of the Catskills surround me. I feel attached to the nature
and the people I have met here, neighbors and friends--sure
I miss NYC, but the silent mountains beckon. I know that not
everyone is going to love me at first sight, after a while I
accepted it and I am much stronger in my skin. I went from being
an anonymous artist in the big overwhelming city, to being an
anonymous artist living in the woods-thankfully I had a gorgeous,
newborn baby boy to keep me busy.
When I was twelve years old I had my first religious experience
in Jamaica. I was living in the parish of Spanish Town, an older
woman we called Nanny lived next door and she was always friendly
towards me. Ever so often in the evening just before dusk she
would be dressed in a sparkling white man-shirt, buttoned from
the top and a red plaid skirt. On her head she wore an intricately
wrapped turban. She seemed very happy to be going wherever she
was going. One day I saw her in her backyard hanging clothes
on the clothesline. I asked her if I could go to church with
her, she smiled and told me to ask permission first, anything
to do with church I knew my stepfather would say yes to and
he did. Nanny told me to wear white clothes and to wrap my head,
she ended up wrapping it with me before we left.
The Pocomania revival was in a large old barn, holes in the
ceiling completed the spooky feeling that came over me. There
was a turbaned man, he was the priest, the people's voices were
one and they were driven to frenzy by rhythmic drumming. They
called the priest Shepherd Jaston and the congregation was mostly
women; trooping and laboring they exhaled violently, "hup!
hup!," as they straightened from bent positions to hop
side ways, some of the women would fall to the floor in a trance.
It was something for me to see at that age, the purity and passion
in their expressions were so unguarded. I thought to myself
one day I will capture what I saw that night.
I'm now working on my Pocomania pieces that I dreamt about ever
since I was twelve years old in Jamaica. I need to capture it.
Jamaica has changed so much since I left there twenty years
ago, even the dialect has changed. I don't consider myself a
primitive Caribbean artist nor do I see myself as naÔve,
those terms are heavily burdened with racial and social preconceptions,
even though Jamaica and Haiti's art are considered primitive
because of their history. Information always comes to me creatively
because I am from another country and my interpretation of American
culture is viewed as an outsider taking a peek through the American
window. In the city I could not think or focus, it was truly
a rat race there. Always the best ones come from their county
by boat or plane, they come here to America, the land of milk
and honey, to be the best they can be. The competition is fierce,
dreadful yet beautiful. I found NYC a challenge, I struggled
at the dream to be acknowledged. All the hard work, the kids,
the art, will it pay off? Only time will tell.
It's fall and my oldest is off to school, my mind is on the
baby now. After he eats breakfast I play with him until he's
bored, then he will find a toy that might distract him for a
few minutes. I start the laundry, do the dishes and change his
diaper. When my husband is home he watches the baby for a few
hours while I do some outdoor activities like weeding the garden
or going for a walk in the woods. After that I take the baby
for a nice stroll and sometimes he naps. While strolling I focus
inwardly blocking my mind from baby stuff and my inner artist
responds. What shall I work on today, the background maybe?
I'm thinking about the art the way I would think of my kids.
What are they in the mood for? The baby is still asleep, I race
back up the hill, sometimes depending on how tired he is he
sleeps for an hour when I get home, then I'm determined to make
it work for me. All the planning in the world won't matter if
the baby wakes up as the stroller stops at the door: the inward
Months can go by before I get a chance to do any art. I don't
have months to dawdle along right now. Next month is the Hudson
art walk, it is when the antique stores display artists work
in their window I have two places that are interested in my
work. The anxiety is settling in my gut, fear of what could
go wrong is reaching inside me, controlling, clutching at the
edges of my mind. I must finish this art or I'll be miserable.
I'm a self-taught artist and sometimes I underestimate what
I can handle artistically. In the piece I'm working on now I
made a sketch a turbaned woman's profile in the foreground.
I stood in front of the sketch and I felt that familiar feeling.
Fear just looms up in me, I began a rambling self-talk to convince
myself that I don't need to draw the ear. Maybe I can cheat
and draw a flower in the place of the ear, I've never drawn
a noticeable ear like that, I like the flower idea. Three days
later I showed my husband my rough sketch. "Nice,"
he murmured. I asked him what would he think if I did not go
with the ear, maybe a flower... he squinted his eyes, he was
trying to see it from my point of view. After what I thought
took him forever he blurted out, "you gotta do the ear
man." "Really?" I asked trying not to sound too
bummed out. "Yeah, it makes the picture." That was
the plain truth. While fear kept tapping me on the shoulder
as I began drawing the ear the strangest thing happened. I opened
my mouth and whispered to my art, "no fear," and I
kept repeating that until the ear was finished. Whether or not
someone else likes the ear doesn't matter, I like it because
I'm still smiling from ear to ear.
To A Full Board...
Speaking in the bright lights of media cameras at a national
school reform conference in Albany on August 30 about an educational
policy she believes is progressively demoralizing teachers and
students nationwide, Donna Bryan was as acutely aware of where
the "Race to the Top" program being promoted by Secretary
Duncan had come from as she was of the events of the past few
years which had brought her there.
A decade earlier, Bryan, typically referred to as "Ms.
B" by the students at Coxsackie-Athens High School, had
written about the privatization of public education at the roots
of the current federal "RTTT" program in terms that
seemed far-fetched to some readers, even as conversions in the
prison system to the private sector provided an obvious model
for the process. By playing up faults and shortcomings in state
and federal prisons, as analyzed by think tanks and public policy
centers whose own funding shaped research agendas, a vast for-profit
penal system had established itself. And Bryan observed the
same processes at work in the academic arena.
Referring to a Brookings Institute report commissioned by the
National Alliance of Business in an article she wrote in July,
2000, Bryan quoted the report's warning that "We are now
entering an era that will increasingly recognize success and
punish failure," and noted the "Improving Performance
Competition In American Public Education" report's urgent
request for the public posting of report card scores and homogenization
of knowledge while "pitting teachers against one another
by way of financial incentives for educators whose students
toe the line." All of these notions are now familiar points
of contention in recent educational legislation.
Now, Bryan found herself face-to-face with the most powerful
advocate of replacing public education with charter schools
in the nation's history, an official who was touring the South
pushing the program with his boss's possible opponent in the
next Presidential election, Newt Gingrich, and "moving
in apparent lockstep," as Bloomberg/Businessweek put it,
with the staunchly pro-charter Gates Foundation (which has separately
funded numerous state applications in the Race to the Top lottery
wherein one of the key rules of eligibility for a state to compete
is to open the gates wide for private schools).
"School reform has been an issue since the first public
school opened its doors," said Bryan. "The federal
government believes that charter schools are the answer to that
age-old debate but the evidence of charter school success doesn't
hold water. Studies show more negative results and very few
strong improvements according to their own criteria of standardized
tests. It was NCLB (the Bush administration?s "No Child
Left Behind" program) which placed so much emphasis on
them, always citing 'scientific data' based on a business model
which was often spurious and forcing a narrowing of curriculum
which saw educators concentrating on test scores at the expense
of a broader topic range."
Music, art, history, science, geography, social studies, civics,
literature and other traditional school subjects have increasingly
been diminished before the new intensified focus on math and
reading skills featured in tests. Where test scores inched up
under NCLB, it was often found that states had lowered the bar
so that more students could hop over it or padded the numbers
in other ways.
"What can't ever be forgotten is that standardized tests,
the development of them, the research, writing and printing
of them, the textbooks, software and technology that accompany
them is a huge money-making operation," Bryan pointed out.
"The NCLB structure that RTTT builds upon represents an
unprecedented increase of corporate and federal control at the
local level. The neglected areas this arrangement pushes out
of the equation, along with budgetary constraints, are the ingredients
which make up a fulfilling education. We can't talk about learning
to be a fully developed human being and leave out these other
expressions as ways to know the world."
An old expression, "You can lead a horse to water but you
cannot make him drink and you can stuff a man with knowledge
but you cannot make him think," calls for a conclusion
that this is something the subject has to do himself. But the
trick is involving a student's interest deeply enough to ignite
his or her intellectual curiosity. Bryan has found that mastering
this knack makes all the difference in addressing active, engaged
students or passive, disinterested ones just going through the
Teaching in the Coxsackie-Athens district for the past seven
years has brought notice and recognition to Bryan's efforts,
including a 2009 Claes Nobel Educator of Excellence Award, a
Teaching Tolerance Grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center;
various district-wide accolades and articles in NY Teacher,
the Albany Times Union and other publications which noted her
teaching curriculum. Further notice has come from her participation
in the WAMC Student Town Meeting radio broadcast series, and
Ms. B's establishment, four years ago, of a World of Difference
Human Rights Awareness Club at the school.
"The idea was twofold," Bryan explains. "It was
to enlighten individual students about human rights issues and,
also, to create a cadre of ambassadors to the school community
and to the wider community in general, hopefully to educate
others about the issues involved."
In November 2009, NYSUT Treasurer Lee Cutler, who was heading
up a social justice initiative on the union's behalf, heard
about the activities of the club and paid a visit to the school
to sit in on Bryan's classes for the day. That visit eventually
led to her recruitment to work with a group of eleven teachers
from around the state on a project centered around the individuals
and ideas expressed in the 2001 book, "Speak Truth To Power:
Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World" by Kerry
Kennedy, Eddie Adams and Nan Richardson. Working in New York
City and Albany with Kennedy and the "STP" group,
Bryan chose Czechoslovakian playwright, politician and dissident
Vaclav Havel and the issue of freedom of expression to expand
"We each developed very focused and specific lesson plans
using pedagogical practice and philosophy that could be adapted
by other teachers, written with adherence to what the state
standards specify is good teaching about Social Studies, English,
and so on. The standards are very specific," Bryan explained.
"For instance, one of the standards for high school English,
Standard #4, is speaking, writing and researching language for
social discourse. We wrote those lessons according to what I
think are very sine qua non standards for language or social
studies learning to advance the idea that we're educating human
beings about their world, not just focusing on academic subjects."
Bryan finds an important element in broadening the horizons
of students and honing their alertness to the world around them
is missing in standard curriculum and that it tends to be an
invigorating one for young people.
"My technique is to let students know that I'm not there
to fill their heads with stuff; that I'm not an authoritarian,"
Bryan revealed. "We're there to learn together and the
context is always that what we're going to learn is how to be
responsible, moral human beings. I think it's important for
anyone who works with teenagers, in particular, to recognize
that the'?re a marginalized population. We say that we care
about them, that they're important but the most prominent role
they play in this society is as a target of marketing and manipulation-
not only of products and services but also with ideas. As a
population which is marginalized, they have a really deep and
natural sense of justice. They understand what it feels like
not to have a voice and they're deeply moved when they have
information that illuminates how human rights are abridged for
many, many people. It has a very liberating effect. That's something
that Paolo Freire called 'the pedagogy of liberation...'.
"By focusing the lessons of the Speak Truth to Power project
on those human rights defenders and their struggles, we can
see a quality that they all shared...courage. Not only when
they seek the truth but when they transmit their knowledge,
and I think that's one of the underlying things about the project
that's so important to me- to be able to transmit the importance
of courage to students. Because they live in a culture wherein
they're encouraged to look to experts for everything and intimidated
not to trust their own judgment about things, they're further
marginalized. But once students realize that they do have agency,
that there is a conquest of fear in seeking the truth and in
transmitting it, that is liberating and it's something that's
not taught. It's not taught to be courageous."
Bryan, who has integrated philosophical thought into her curricula,
sees the distinction between an ability to learn and an ability
to think which is an absentee in the standardized approach of
"If we look at human rights as a river, education, teaching
and learning is the shoreline from which we plunge into that
river," Bryan observed. "Education comes from the
Latin word 'educe,' which means 'to draw out.' So, you're drawing
that individual person out and into the world. That's real education.
Education is not about data and memorization, submission, fearfulness,
intimidation and conformity. That's not education. That's indoctrination.
And anyone can indoctrinate. All you have to do is make someone
As we will see in part two of this story, intimidation would
not be a factor when NYSUT President Dick Ianuzzi asked Bryan
to represent the union's position at Secretary Duncan's "Back
To School" press conference in Albany, as well as a glimpse
of the strategy of the union's concession on raising the charter
school limits in New York. We will also cover the tidal wave
of inspired response to the valedictorian speech of one of Bryan's
students, Erica Goldson (published in these pages in early July),
which "went viral" on the Internet and the impact
it had on Goldson, Bryan and the Coxsackie-Athens school. We'll
also see an alarming direct example of how the encroachment
of corporatism and globalization is currently capturing the
attention of school administrators in New York State.
A Jar Of Olives...
I also read all the superhero comics: Batman, Superman,
Flash Gordon, Green Lantern, and Super Woman. Although I haven't
seen people in Olive parading around in blue, red or green tights
sporting masks and super powers, I am convinced we have our
very own super-heroes right here at home.
Fred and Janelle Perry deserve super-hero status for organizing
the Run for Jason at the Kent Reeves 5K race at Olive Day. Proceeds
went to Jason Jones who is undergoing Cancer treatments.
Friends of Zack Hilty, who broke his neck diving into a swimming
pool, deserve super-hero status for organizing bake sales and
keeping friends up to date at a website.
The firemen deserve a super-hero shout out for planning the
Country Jam at Shokan Park next Sunday, September 26. Truly,
they are super-heroes for responding to every traffic accident
and fire call.
The volunteers who prepare and cook for the church suppers deserve
credit too. Maybe we can embroider a giant "V" on
their aprons for the volunteer work they do. Following last
week's Chicken Barbecue at the Reservoir Methodist Church, the
Olivebridge Methodist Church will have theirs this Saturday,
Patrick Burkhardt, cousin of Jason Jones, ran the Warrior Dash
in Windham with lots of sponsors. He deserves the super status
for the courage to run in a kilt.
There is a group of seniors who meet at Don DuBois' shop in
Shokan. Don is a hale 96 who is joined by octogenarians Frank
Carle, Bill Gray, Cary Wood and youngsters Ray Carlsen and Marianne
North to build PET vehicles that are donated and shipped around
the world for handicapped people, many the victims of land mines.
These devises are Personal Energy Transportation that look like
giant three-wheeled scooters. These men build to specifications
and are in need of supplies, wood or money, to continue their
good work. They use 1 x 6 x 3 pine planks in three-foot lengths.
If you would like to contribute to this worthy cause, please
call Frank Carle, 657-2347, for more information. They deserve
commendation for their super contribution to third world nations.
I can remember my parents being worried because I read comics
all the time. Thinking back, they made me a better reader, they
gave me heroes to respect, and a few laughs. Thanks to Brenda
Beesmer, remembering those comic books brought back many good
memories. I remember reading Dick Tracy and pooh-poohing those
wrist radios as a technical impossibility. Another lesson I
learned from comics is: If we can imagine it, we can do it.