Public Schools Do Work

When I read all the negative information about our public schools that is being circulated I can’t help and wonder why? Then I come down to earth quickly and realize that it’s all about greed and power. Charter schools have become the “new darlings” of education, but have they also become the new form of lucrative income for the new form of “poverty pimps.”I recently wrote about my own personal experience with public schools in what was considered one of the worst districts, School District #7 in the South Bronx. As a student, a student teacher and later as a teacher I have no major complaints. My three children, now all adults and doing well are also products of public schools. Yes, there were always some problems, but they always seemed to be overcome by the quality of good teachers and some school administrators that were more interested in the students than a source of income, or political power.

Below are a few other notes about the public schools that I want to share with my readers because the impending cuts could be devastating to the future of what we know as a public school system in our country.

President Obama said last week that any budget that sacrifices a commitment to education is a budget that sacrifices our future: “And I will not let it happen.”

Here’s why he’s taking a stand:

The cuts in the House Republican budget to education would be devastating for teachers, students, and families — costing 55,000 jobs, slashing financial aid for 8 million college kids, and dropping hundreds of thousands from Head Start, an early-education program proven to help low-income children graduate high school.

The following is a note that best describes my thoughts as well.

“What if our public schools are the symbols of what’s right in the nation rather than what’s wrong. I can show you a public school in the heart of the South Bronx, surrounded by housing projects, shelters, and drug rehabilitation programs, that functions far better than any private business working in that neighborhood, or in any adjoining community. It’s a place where everyone greets you with a smile, where the walls are covered with amazing art work and exhibition of student projects, where community history is honored in an “Old School Museum,” and where students, many of them living in desperate poverty, are loved and protected. This is PS 140, with Principal Paul Cannon. Not a charter school. This is America at its best. And does anybody acknowledge the people who work in this institution, and give him or her respect? No. Maybe private business should study how PS 140 works instead of trying to impose their operational model on PS 140.”

If you still have a doubt about our public schools. then check out the following;


Thomas Porton, who has taught for over forty years at James Monroe High School (now Monroe Campus) in the Bronx, was named yesterday, March 22, 2011, as one of ten recipients nationally of the Kennedy Center Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.  Mr. Porton, whose current school is Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design, will receive this award, which also includes a stipend of $10,000,  based on a nomination by David Gonzalez, a student of his from the early 1970’s. David Gonzalez’s nominating statement follows:

My Art Father He handed me a camera and said “Shoot”.  He handed me a pen and said “Write”.  He handed me a ticket and said “Go”.  He handed me permission to explore, examine, and create, and I did the improbable, and near impossible for a kid from my rough and tumble neighborhood – I became a performing artist.  Tom Porton could have done anything with his brilliant mind, he could have easily been a captain of commerce, but he shucked the easy money and came to teach at James Monroe High School in the Bronx at the height of the gang violence, the heroin epidemic, and the burning of what seemed like every apartment building in the borough.  On the outside there was real danger, but in Mr. Porton’s English class we were safe and the possibilities were endless.  He gave us Shakespeare, Vonnegut, Capote, Trumbo, Dickinson, Cummings.  He brought in 16mm prints of Kurosawa, Bergman, Cocteau, Chaplin, and Citizen Kane, then loaned us his own Super 8mm cameras and editing tools and said “Make a movie!”, and we did.  Mine was of an ad hoc group of strangers who hand-by-hand managed to spin the massive Astor Place Cube in New York’s East Village.   He hounded Broadway producers for freebies and took us to see rehearsals, previews, and premieres of 1776, Grease, The Little Shop of Horrors, Equus, and more.  He showed us photos of the devastation at Nagasaki and Hiroshima then took us to see Butoh dance performances at the infamous performance studio at WBAI. These were much more than entertainments for me – they were an introduction to the secular liturgy that is embedded in great art.  Tom Porton taught the curriculum and far, far more.  He opened the door to the world of performance, critical thinking, world culture, and social aesthetics – and always with a joyful laugh, a hearty pat on the back, a sly wink that said, “This is yours, all of it, see it, know it, be it.”  I heeded his words, and I continue to.  It has been forty years since I first met Tom at Monroe and he is still teaching there though he could have retired years ago.  Mr. Porton’s shining example and dedication have beamed through me to the hundreds of thousands of young people I have performed for during my career as a performing artist and writer.  Like me there have been many other of his students, each of us magnifying his gift, each of us charged with a mission to turn our creativity into a form of social activism.  Tom Porton was/is my “Art Father”, and his good work endures, emanates, and multiplies. I believe that Mr. P. perfectly reflects the ideals of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award and deserves its honor. Sincerely, David Gonzalez, P.H.D.