He was a big man, a presence to be reckoned with on any football
team. Dressed in a pressed shirt and colorful tie, he spread his arms
out and gestured around the room. “I’m a new teacher here. How do I do
this?” he asked.
I knew what “this” was—a room with only a few windows, thick-paned
and laced with heavy gauge wire, designed to keep what’s in, in; a
locked industrial metal door; the squawk of walkie-talkies in the
hallways. It was a classroom much like the one in the county jail where I
taught high school students for ten years. But this classroom was in
the Judge Connelly Center Education Program in the Greater Boston area, a
residential adolescent treatment program for adjudicated young
offenders, kids who had been in and out of the child welfare and justice
systems, some for much of their young lives. I was there to talk with
teachers and support staff about my own experiences working in
I could have answered by talking about curriculum and the importance
of choosing materials that were culturally relevant. As an English
teacher, I was always looking for readings with characters and situations
that the young guys I taught could identify with. I could have
explained how I pushed them to go beyond cultural relevance and to begin
to develop the critical skills they needed to tackle state mandated
work on immigration issues, I have come to know many undocumented immigrants. My
relationships with them prompted me to write my new book Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal (due out from Beacon
in May 2014). In it, I show how “illegality” and “undocumentedness” are concepts that
were created to exclude and exploit. I probe how and why people, especially
Mexican and Central Americans, have been assigned this status—and to what ends.
The more I wrote,
the more struck I was with how utterly arbitrary our immigration system is. But
writing about it is one thing, and living it is another. Last week the
arbitrariness hit home—literally—when my close friend and housemate was flagged
by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is now threatened with
deportation, after a routine traffic stop near our house.
Mariola and her son Ernesto
Mariola appeared in
my life shortly after arriving in the United States from Guatemala, terrified, traumatized,
homeless, and seven months pregnant. She fled after many years of abuse and mistreatment. I told her that she could stay temporarily
in my extra bedroom while she figured out her next steps. That “temporarily”
evolved into a long-term house-sharing arrangement. Her son, Ernesto, was born
in May 2010 at Salem Hospital and came home to my house, where he has lived
ever since. Both of my own children were away at college and took a bemused
fascination with my new household configuration. Mariola and Ernesto have
become integral and beloved parts of all of our lives.
The first thing that hooked me on the manuscript of Steve Puleo’s Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 (published 10 years ago this month) was the molasses. How could it not? I’d heard a bit about the molasses flood before, which is to say that I knew there had been a deadly wave of molasses, and that it had taken place in the North End. But I’m not a native Bostonian. I was surprised, then, to discover that no one had ever written a full-length account of the disaster. It’s such a dramatic and quirky bit of history; it’s irresistible.
What surprised me even more, however, was the full story Steve uncovered. The flood itself was a terrible tragedy, and Steve has a great sense of drama; he knows how to build narrative tension. Dark Tide dives deep into the specifics of why the molasses flood was so fast and so powerful, bringing to life the many people and animals who died terribly when the tank burst. (The death of fireman George Layhe, pinned beneath the collapsed firehouse, until he finally ran out of the strength to keep his head above the molasses and drowned, stays with me still.)
While 11 percent of the population of Mexico lives north of
the US border, the decision to migrate is rarely voluntary. Free trade
agreements and economic policies that exacerbate and reinforce wealth disparity
make it impossible for Mexicans to make a living at home. And yet when they
migrate to the United States, they must grapple with criminalization, low
wages, and exploitation. In The Right to Stay Home, David
shows how these immigrant communities are fighting back—envisioning a world in which migration isn't forced and people are guaranteed the "right to stay
You'll get a behind the scenes look at medical practices and hospitals, biases doctors have, how their tribulations affect their interactions with patients in bad--and good ways, and what can be done to improve things.
Grey’s Anatomy was not that far off.
Ofri confirms that all those mean jokes they made at the expense of obese patients and drug addicts are du jour in hospitals.
She also talks candidly about politically incorrect stereotypes doctors hold about patients, Asians are stoic, Hispanics: hystrionic.
At the same time, Ofri offers cases where doctors go out of their way to help patients whom they care for. One of Ofri’s patients in the book needs a new heart, but can’t get one because she’s undocumented. Ofri cares for her for eight years trying to make her life as comfortable as possible.
Although Beacon has not primarily been known to publish poetry, we have always had a select list of exceptional poets who reflect the values at the core of our mission, including, for many years, the premier poet of the natural world, Mary Oliver, and, of course, the inimitable Sonia Sanchez, who represents a vibrant tradition of oral interpretation that blends and bends the lines between verse and music. Sonia has famously performed with rap artists and memorably with Sweet Honey in the Rock and other artists, including Diana Ross. Sonia has been on a mission for decades of using poetry in public schools and she makes it a rule that wherever she’s invited to read for an adult audience, she also tries to visit a local school and read to and engage with the students. We are enormously proud of her work.
We are also proud to have on our backlist several books of Spanish-language poets in bilingual editions, including a wonderful volume of Lorca and Jimenez, and one of Neruda and Vallejo, both translated by Robert Bly.
On the left, previous editions of James Baldwin's Jimmy's Blues and Gypsy. On the right, Beacon's forthcoming edition of Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems
When we experience the religious rituals of the “other,” we usually cannot help but respond with an internal running commentary, seeking connections to our own past. I know that whenever I heard the blast of a conch shell at an Afro-Brazilian rite during my years in Brazil, my mind would skip back to the sound of the shofar in my childhood temple.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many Christians (and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists) find themselves attending services with Jewish partners, or parents, or other family members. These services, while tremendously important to Jews, can be difficult for those without Jewish education to access, due to length, solemnity, and the density of Hebrew. Nevertheless, I always strongly recommend that those of other religions accompany their Jewish partners or parents to synagogue services, both to keep them from feeling lonely, and to learn and reflect.
Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg decided to combine errands this past week. Along with dropping his son off at Harvard, he decided to deliver an important message to New England—about climate change. With son Robert and daughter Isabel in tow, he made his pitch across four states. No venue was too small or too modest: a nature center here, an ice cream parlor there, small-town bookstores here and there, and places of worship of various stripes.
I heard Rob speak last Monday at a synagogue in Brookline, MA. Though only a dozen people gathered to meet him on that balmy summer evening, he delivered his message with passion and determination—qualities that run through the brief, persuasive book he has written: America's Climate Century. Every person in the room was a climate change activist in the making, in his view. This is not an issue that we can afford to be passively concerned about; it demands broad public engagement. Nothing less, he feels, will stir a polarized Congress out of its short-sighted paralysis.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, best known for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream Speech." On that day, over a quarter-million people rallied in the first-ever nationally televised demonstration. The March brought together
all factions of the civil rights movement at a time of growing tension. In the weeks after
the pivotal Birmingham
campaign, some 2,000 demonstrations took place across the country. Not only did
the movement attack the southern bastions of segregation, it also moved north to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago,
and other cities. Coming just two months after President John F. Kennedy’s
landmark address and legislation on civil rights, the March gave America its
first comprehensive view of the movement.
In honor of the Great Day, we're sharing some intimate glimpses of the March—from civil rights activists and leaders to ordinary citizens who helped shape the greatest civil rights demonstration ever.
“They came every way—flatbed trucks with the wood floor that
they used to carry tobacco, pickup trucks that were all dinged up, charter
buses, school buses, station wagons, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, tricycles,
and I could see people still coming in groups… Children of every size, pregnant
women, elderly people who seemed tired but happy to be there, clothing that
made me know that they struggled to make it day to day, made me know they
worked on farms or offices or even nearby for the government.” —Erica Jenkins,
a fifteen-year-old who attended the March on Washington.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom happened fifty years ago this week. Most people don't know much about the day beyond a few snippets of one historic speech. But the full story is dramatic, compelling, and central to our understanding of how the civil rights movement shaped our history.
On August 28, 1963, over a quarter-million people—two-thirds black and one-third white—held the greatest civil rights demonstration ever. In this major reinterpretation of the Great Day—the peak of the movement—Charles Euchner brings back the tension and promise of the march. Building on countless interviews, archives, FBI files, and private recordings, this hour-by-hour account offers intimate glimpses into the lives of those key players and ordinary people who converged on the National Mall to fight for civil rights in the March on Washington.
With a new school year just around the corner, students are stocking up on supplies and teachers are polishing their curriculum plans. To help the latter, Beacon offers guides to help in teaching many of our most popular titles. Find these and other teachers guides at our Scribd page and at Beacon.org.
Psst: if you're not a teacher, these guides can still be great tools for reading and comprehending some great books!
Teacher Patricia Rigley shares ideas for lesson plans, discussion questions, and sample assignments.
Long before the avalanche of praise for his work—from Oprah Winfrey, from President Bill Clinton, from President Barack Obama—long before he became known for his talk show appearances, Members Project spots, and documentaries like Waiting for "Superman", Geoffrey Canada was a small boy growing up scared on the mean streets of the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where "sidewalk boys" learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In his candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
Today's post is a cross-post from a post by Willow Pennell on the Bright List.
"Lillian Faderman is an extraordinary storyteller, one of the few who can tell a painful story, with a complex ending—and imbue it with humor, sensuality and earthy grace, in every sentence."—Amy Bloom, author of Away
Lillian Faderman’s mother was an immigrant, a garment worker, a woman in love with a man who would never marry her, a single mother, and a jew desperately trying to bring her family to America during the Holocaust.
Regret infused her life and Faderman swore she’d never live a life like her mother’s, but as she writes in the introduction, “though I’d known all her secrets, I hadn’t known her.”
Faderman wrote this book to try to understand her mother. It's a tale of making it on one’s own in a time when an unmarried mother was a pariah, and an examination of forgiving one’s family the turns they made.
My Mother's Wars has the sweep of early twentieth century history, but unlike most books and biographies about the period, there is no triumphant overcoming of hardship, only a puzzled making do. The story of a real life.
On August 28, 1963, over 200,000
demonstrators gathered at the National Mall for the March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom seeking to advocate for social and economic justice. Before
the march, the leaders of the civil rights movement known as the Big Six, alerted
President John F. Kennedy of their intentions, including the advancement of
voter rights, school desegregation, and passage of a comprehensive civil rights
bill. The speakers included such notables as Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, John
Lewis, and finally Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Toward the end of the event, Dr.
King moved the audience with his now iconic
“I Have a Dream” speech.
Tom Hallock is Associate Publisher at Beacon Press.
Today is Jessie Bennett’s last day at
Beacon Press, and I want to take the opportunity to thank her in the space she
created. Jessie came to Beacon six years
ago, answering the call for someone to fill “a temporary, grant-funded
position” to create a blog for the press. In my new hire letter I wrote, “There
is a possibility that the position will be funded for a second year.” Thanks to
her work, it was funded for a second and then a third, by which time we had
come to feel that both the blog and its editor were essential to the work of
We launched Beacon Broadside because we wanted to amplify the
voices of our authors, and to provide them with a way to connect their work to
the events of the day. Beacon Broadside required that we develop a “new mind”,
as we explored a different way for Beacon to fulfill its mission and engage
with readers, investing in something whose return would not be financial. Jessie
was the perfect midwife, creating a lively, timely and thoughtful blog that has
done all these things.
The Chicago Tribune spoke with Mark Hyman for advice on how to avoid going broke while supporting your kids' love of sports:
When Mark Hyman interviewed parents of young athletes for his book on the rising cost of youth sports, he found tales of love, dedication and massive expenditures.
"One parent told me, 'I'm spending more money on my younger son's ice hockey than I am on my older son's college tuition,'" Hyman said.
One dad, Fran Dicari, calculated that he spent $11,704 in 2011 on soccer and baseball trips, golf clubs, physical therapy, gas for getting to games and all manner of fees, uniforms and equipment for two kids.
As soon as John Winthrop and his gang of Puritans landed on the little temporary island known to the locals as Shawmut, they started digging and delving and filling marshes and swamps and inlets to build more land. Nothing new in all that, it seems to be a habit of Western culture; Rome was constructed around the Pontine Marshes, the Dutch put up massive dikes to keep the North Sea at bay, and Venice was built on pilings set in the marshy Venice Lagoon.
Boston, as the Shawmut came to be called, was separated from the mainland by a narrow little strip of land (now, basically, Washington Street) that flooded in spring tides, creating a tight little island. By the 1650s, more tidal streams were channeled, more marshes were filled, and more land was created over the centuries—including the massive filling of the banks of the Charles to create the famous Back Bay.
But coastlines are a fickle things, always coming and going. There was at time, not that long ago as geologic time is measured, when Boston sat under a mile of ice. And there was also a time when you could have hiked out to Georges Bank. Now according to a new study by the National Academy of Sciences, Boston could once more be under water (literally, not financially). The town is one of many coastal cities, including New York and Miami, that could see high tides flooding commonly used streets and neighborhoods in the next decades or so as a result of rising sea levels created by global climate change. And more high water to come in the next fifty years.
The last time Boston flooded entirely was about 11,000 years ago, as a result of the melting of the glacier.
This time around, it will happen from the same reason—melting ice—only this time it will be the polar ice cap and the 600,000 square mile Greenland ice sheet. And this time around, it will be our own fault.
Russia's new anti-gay law has a loophole: The law, which has led to numerous arrests, beatings, and bans against LGBT people, specifically prohibits the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations," but homosexuality is as traditionally Russian as vodka and caviar.
Where does one begin the list of prominent LGBT Russians? Peter Tchaikovsky, one of Russia's foremost composers; Nikolai Gogol, one of its leading writers; from the world of dance, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Nureyev; not to mention members of Russia's ruling classes, including Grand Duke Sergei Romanov, brother to the czar and mayor of Moscow from 1891 to 1905.
What could be more "traditional" than this list? Indeed, so "traditional" was Russian homosexuality that it was even seen as a distinctive symptom of Russian decadence by some revolutionaries. Indeed, none other than Ivan the Terrible (1538-1584) and Dmitry 'the Pretender (unk.-1606) were known to be homosexual, or at least to have had male lovers.
In fact, what is nontraditional is the suppression of sexual diversity, not its expression. Following the Russian Revolution, the regime under Lenin formally legalized homosexual acts (along with divorce and abortion), but Stalin criminalized them in 1933. So they would remain until 1993: officially illegal, yet tolerated on and off, depending on those in power. Which of these legal regimes is "traditional" and which is "nontraditional"? Is Stalin more traditional than Lenin?
The reality is that, as everywhere, sexual diversity in Russia is entirely traditional and entirely natural. Of course, contemporary labels -- "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," "transgender" -- are culturally specific and of relatively late vintage. But the existence of same-sex relationships goes back as far as Russian history itself. Indeed, a few years ago, a 600-page volume containing 69 biographies of famous Russian lesbians and gays was compiled by Vladimir Kirsanov, editor of the gay magazine Kvir.
Now we all know that Vitaly Milonov, the most vocal of the anti-gay bill's sponsors, had homosexuality in mind when he introduced the bill. But a literal reading of the bill's actual language, coupled with even a passing glance at Russian history, does not agree.
Of course, it's unlikely that a Russian jurist will really read the law so cleverly -- although doing so would provide an "out" for moderates seeking to control the damage it has caused, which now extends to calls to boycott the 2012 Winter Olympics, Russian vodka, and Russian performance venues.
Yet even if such a literal reading never finds its way into a judicial decision, it serves as an important reminder that although homosexuality goes by different names in different places and at different times, it is a traditional part of every culture that the human race has ever created. Sexual diversity is, like other forms of diversity, an intrinsic, natural part of the human experience. Alas, so are efforts, like Russia's, to deny it.
Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
This isn’t about teachers being afraid that they’ll be knifed in class or have their cars stolen in the bad neighborhoods where they teach. Nor are they worried that a disruptive student will threaten them, or that a disturbed gunman will invade their school. It’s not about being berated by an angry parent, or accused of being unfair—or something far worse—by a student.
I follow the education reform debate closely. Over time I realized that most of the voices raised in this debate were those of people who had nothing to do with the classroom. The obvious question was, “What do politicians, business executives, clergy, academic researchers know about teaching?” The people who would know best—teachers—were rarely heard. Yet the ones I knew and came in contact with were eager to talk about what they did. It was a decidedly different conversation from the ones the pundits and critics were having. Yes, most teachers lamented mandated testing, the loss of classroom autonomy and a one-size-fits-all curriculum shaped by test results. But most were happiest talking about what teaching has always been about: students and the amazing things they do (or don’t do, given the day).
So I decided to invite teachers from a variety of educational settings to share their experiences, to talk about why they teach and who they teach, and to tell the stories that keep them in the classroom.
In approaching teachers to write for the series I was surprised how many at first hesitated. It wasn’t because they were too busy or didn’t have anything to say. Some had even written drafts and then gotten cold feet about going public. None of the articles were vindictive or critical of their school administrations. None were personal attacks or a fault finding feast. If anything the pieces were warmhearted, funny, and insightful. What criticism there was was directed toward our national education policy and its harmful effect on students. Still, in the end, a few teachers backed out altogether while others asked that their full name not be used or that their schools’ location be purposely vague.
And there’s the fear. Teachers were worried that somehow they would get in trouble with their school administrators. From what many teachers report there’s a strong message being given to teaching staffs: Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ask questions. Don’t bring up the inconvenient truth, say, of a school policy implemented to meet a national mandate that contradicts current research or best practices. In such an atmosphere of distrust, powerlessness, and alienation from what should be a culture of collegiality and collaboration what choices do teachers have but to hunker down and try to survive? After all, these days, teacher evaluations have become just as high stakes as student testing.
According to a MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, teacher satisfaction has slipped from 65% in 2008 to only 39% in 2012. Perhaps this fear of speaking out is contributing to that dissatisfaction. The sample of teachers that I encountered may seem small and therefore inconclusive. And maybe it’s just a coincidence that teachers from different schools and different parts of the country felt this fear, this need for caution. But it’s enough to make me wonder what is going on in our schools when teachers are afraid to engage in sincere democratic discourse, a process that we have always valued and that we teach our students is an essential ingredient of a healthy country.
From Wisconsin to Washington, DC, the claims are made: unions are responsible for budget deficits, and their members are overpaid and enjoy cushy benefits. The only way to save the American economy, pundits claim, is to weaken the labor movement, strip workers of collective bargaining rights, and champion private industry. In "They're Bankrupting Us!": And 20 Other Myths about Unions, labor leader Bill Fletcher Jr. makes sense of this debate as he unpacks the twenty-one myths most often cited by anti-union propagandists. Drawing on his experiences as a longtime labor activist and organizer, Fletcher traces the historical roots of these myths and provides an honest assessment of the missteps of the labor movement. He reveals many of labor's significant contributions, such as establishing the forty-hour work week and minimum wage, guaranteeing safe workplaces, and fighting for equity within the workforce. This timely, accessible, "warts and all" book argues, ultimately, that unions are necessary for democracy and ensure economic and social justice for all people.
The debate over Humanist chaplains in the military continues this week with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins offering several of the most common sentiments held by those who oppose the effort to create this resource for nonreligious members of the military.
Perkins suggests that nonreligious chaplains are a “bizarre” idea, adding that “by definition, a chaplain’s duties are to offer prayer, spiritual counseling, and religious instruction.” The confusion surrounding chaplains for the nonreligious isn’t new—or especially surprising. The popular connotations of the word chaplain are clearly religious; more often than not, they are explicitly Christian.
But if you look, for example, at Harvard University—where I work as one of two Humanist chaplains alongside Greg Epstein—you will find nearly 40 chaplains representing a plethora of religious and philosophical communities, from atheism/Humanism to Zoroastrianism. For many of the traditions represented in this diverse group, the title of chaplain has little to no historical precedent, but as a group we collaboratively work to expand the definition of the word to meet the needs of Harvard’s religiously diverse community.
There was a time when only Christians were permitted to be military chaplains:
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Jews could not serve as chaplains in the U.S. armed forces. When the war commenced in 1861, Jews enlisted in both the Union and Confederate armies. The Northern Congress adopted a bill in July of 1861 that permitted each regiment's commander, on a vote of his field officers, to appoint a regimental chaplain so long as he was "a regularly ordained minister of some Christian denomination."
Although Jews were permitted just a year later, it would be another 132 years before the U.S. armed forces saw its first Muslim chaplain. Definitions change, in other words.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Department of Defense spokesman, has defended the military’s lack of nonreligious chaplains by saying: “The department does not endorse religion or any one religion or religious organization, and provides to the maximum extent possible for the free exercise of religion by all members of the military services who choose to do so.” The implication is that explicitly nonreligious servicemen and servicewomen are free to consult with a religious chaplain. But for the same reason that a Christian may prefer a Christian chaplain over a Muslim or Jewish chaplain, nonreligious people should be free to seek out assistance from a member of their own community.
As a Humanist chaplain, I frequently hear a version of Perkins' argument (For more on what exactly I do as a chaplain, check out a short piece I wrote last year): “[Advocates] argue that nonbelievers suffer the same fear and pain that affects every service member. But isn’t that why the military has psychologists?” (A serious question: does he mean to imply that religious people don’t visit both chaplains and psychologists?)
Some students and members of our local community visit psychologists, but they come to me and my colleague Greg for different reasons. Psychologists are medical professionals who diagnose and treat behavior and mental processes; chaplains are not. Psychologists provide an important but altogether different set of services than we do. We are available to talk with members of our community about how their nonreligious values inform their actions, and how their worldview helps them respond to and process tragedy. We are there to listen, but we can also share some of our thoughts and share from our experiences—something that most psychologists do not do. We can also go to members of our community, rather than wait for them to come to us, to connect them to a community of their peers—another role a psychologist alone can’t play. Finally, and significantly: going to a psychologist is non-confidential in the military, so chaplains play an important role in that context.
So what about the debate surrounding the use of the word chaplain? Personally, I don’t feel particularly attached to it. But when it is the standard used for other community care practitioners, as it is at Harvard and in the military, then it should be applied across the board. I feel similarly about the debate over whether to call legally-recognized same-sex partnerships “marriages” or “civil unions;” when one term is normative and certain groups of people—minority groups that have historically been marginalized—are excluded from using it, then the distinction is problematic.
“Atheist chaplains are like vegetarian carnivores. They don’t exist!” Perkins writes. He’s likely just trying to be clever, but allow me to clarify: we do in fact exist, Tony, and we’re here if you’d like to talk. Hopefully that will soon be the case for members of the military, too.
For more information on Humanist chaplains in the military, click here.