Sunday, August 21, 2011

The cultural front

I'm popping in here mostly with links because I'm in the midst of a writing project that's taking a lot of time and concentration, and will for quite a while to come. So. For now:

I suggest that you head over to author Carleen Brice's always interesting and informative site White Readers Meet Black Authors for this list of upcoming new books by writers of color. I see quite a few that I'm adding to my to-read list.

One book on the list, Martha Southgate's new novel The Taste of Salt, reminded me to post her piece for Entertainment Weekly on The Help. There is a lot of hard-hitting truth-telling commentary on both the book and movie written by African Americans, and I'd encourage readers to seek out and read it. Ms. Southgate's is particularly pithy. Also check out Color Online's post, which includes a link to the first chapter of The Taste of Salt.

Speaking of movies, and turning from the untruthful, inauthentic, reprehensible to several that seem to be more up our alley, author Zetta Elliott recommends two that sound really worth seeing: Gun Hill Road and Attack the Block.

There's also John Sayles' new movie Amigo, which is about U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. If you read the New York Times review, a mix of praise for Sayles' artistry, caution about his politics, and, worryingly, satisfaction with his evenhandedness, you know that this film pulls its punches more than those on our side of the class struggle would wish. Indeed, a Filipina activist friend of mine saw it and judged it "only okay." I'll probably see it once it hits my TV's on-demand system because it's not as if there's a glut of films about the U.S. invasion and occupation of the Philippines--I'd bet most people in this country don't even know it ever happened--but of course the best source for information about this history, whether served up via fiction or nonfiction, is Filipino writers and artists. I've read several novels by Filipinos this year. I'm going to see what Filipino films I can find.

Finally, there's this. The most gag-o-rific new book on the market, winning prominent reviews throughout the bourgeois media, is the horrifyingly yet aptly titled Class Warfare, subtitled Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools by the reactionary enemy of public education Steven Brill. Pun aside, this is indeed class warfare, but Brill and his admirers aren't the least bit honest about which class they represent and which they're waging war on. They pretend they care about the public schools. Nonsense. They care about the huge flow of private profit that would begin to flow (that is already flowing to charter-school outfits) if they could only crush the teachers' unions and end government funding of public education entirely. Plow through the front-page piece by Sara Mosle in today's New York Times Book Review, all three pages of it if you can stomach it. You'll search in vain for any mention of the real, the primary cause of so-called failed schools (in itself a completely dishonest and untrustworthy category, when failure is defined as it everywhere now is by the anti-public-school, anti-teachers'-union forces in power from the Education Department on down)--that is, you won't find any reference to funding and finances. Not until nearly the end of this review, and even then the only mention goes to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and to the disgusting federal "Race to the Top" that dangled financial reward to school districts that dismantle even the pretense of a system of equal education. Yet for any honest analyst, there can be no mystery. The scandal, the crime--indeed, The Shame of the Nation as the exemplary writer and equal-education advocate Jonathan Kozol titled his last book, which you've really got to read if you haven't already, but first read this recent interview with him--is quite simple. It's all about funding. Schools that serve a population that's poor, working-class, people of color, any or all of these, are under-funded. Drastically, outrageously, we're talking about no textbooks, no chalk, no chairs, no working toilets and worse. Schools that serve a population that's more prosperous and more white have way way more money to work with, and it shows. It's like the emperor's new clothes the way these commentators, these education "reformers" (read destroyers), harumph around analyzing why oh why this high school in, say, the South Bronx can't seem to send a better percentage of its graduates to college or even graduate a better percentage of its kids vs. why oh why this sparkly pretty clean high-tech-equipped high school in, say, Greenwich, Connecticut manages to graduate almost all its students and send them off to college, good colleges, too. Duh. What a difficult conundrum. Right.

OK, now that I've demoralized us all, let's try to pull ourselves back up with this: the new movie Precious Knowledge, which just played at the New York Latino Film Festival and will show on PBS next spring. It's about the struggle to create, and now to defend, ethnic studies classes in Tucson, Arizona. With young people and educators like those shown in this film leading the way, I feel sure that the fight to save our schools, while tough, will be won.