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Bruce Carmel PDF Print E-mail

Bruce Carmel is Senior Director of Postsecondary Planning in the Education and Youth Services Division of FEGS Health and Human Services. The thoughts and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FEGS.

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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JANUARY 22, 2014, REMEMBERING SALLY

I met Sally Ashley in 1990. She was the best tutor at the adult literacy program where I was the Center Director. Our center was unusual. Most students in adult literacy programs can read at least a little bit. Some are speakers of other languages who can real just fine in their own language. Some can read moderately well or even very well but need to improve their literacy, math, and test taking skills in order to get a high school equivalency diploma. But at our center, we worked with lots of people who couldn’t really read at all. We’d spend months or years teaching them to read basic words and phrases that had meaning to them and that they needed to survive. We went through a long process of transcribing their speech, their oral histories and opinions, turning them into essays that they could practice reading. This worked way better than teaching them phonics—which in most cases had been tried before over and over with no success.

Sally was a wonderful tutor. She was energetic, committed, smart, fun, and creative. She was interested in learning effective techniques for teaching adults who had very little literacy skill. She was open to innovative and varied strategies. She also made learning exciting and fun for students who had little confidence and faced many challenges learning to read.

After several years of being a star tutor in the program, Sally came on board as a staff person. She replaced me as the Center Director when I moved to other responsibilitie s. We worked together until 1995 when I left that job.

Sally lived right around the corner from me on the upper west side. We would run into each other in the street a few times a year, chat for a few minutes, and occasionally get together for brunch.

“You know you’ll always have to call me,” she let me know. “I never call.”

That was fine with me. I understood that it wasn’t personal.

We always had a lot to talk about. We’d reminisce about our adult literacy program and the students from all those years ago. We talked about the effectiveness of the program. Our students had reported on the big differences in their lives. They could read the subway station signs and know where they were without counting stops or remembering what stations looked like. They could read some of their mail. They could understand their paychecks better. They could read notes from their bosses. They could write to their children’s teachers—even though the handwriting often looked jagged and childish. But the biggest change was not the change in skill level, but the change in how they felt about themselves. After years and years of hiding what was usually a shameful secret, they were talking about with others who had the same problem and doing something about it. It was common for students to say they had come out of the darkness into the light.

But it seemed there was a limit to what they could learn. They did not become fluent readers. We gave a simple test back then called the READ Test, where they were asked to read simple sentences of increasing levels of difficulty. Students would often make progress on that. But when they got to the TABE, a test where you read passages and answer multiple choice questions, they would usually show little progress. They read slowly and were not good at picking answers to sometimes tricky questions. I am not a big fan of the TABE by any means, but a good reader can do well on that test. Our students rarely got above a fifth grade level.

Sally and I admitted the dirty little secret of adult literacy programs: most non-readers never became proficient readers. Like many programs working with people who really can’t read, our program had tacitly operated on the assumption that people who didn’t know how to read had the ability to learn if they had the chance and applied themselves. We operated as if they hadn’t learned to read because they didn’t have the opportunity earlier. Now they were determined adults and they would be fine.

Adult literacy programs pretty much ignore the following: It’s possible that there was something going on with brain function or learning disability that had prevented some children from learning how to read and that problem continues into their adult lives. Whatever kept them from learning how to read might still be there. Another possibility is that they once had had the ability to learn to read, but they missed the chance due to life circumstances such as not going to school and/or not having much literacy at home and that window had closed. This is true with oral language development and maybe it was true with literacy. Maybe they had missed their chance to learn to read and write.

Maybe it’s human nature to deny this. We want to believe that anything is possible if we try hard enough and have good intentions. We want to believe that the past can be repaired. Although there is a lot that is possible for adults who cannot read, it doesn’t seem that there’s an easy fix for this problem and there may be limits to how much some people can learn.

Sally and I talked about other things besides basic literacy. We talked about our jobs—and my job after she retired. We talked about writing. She’d written several books: a biography, a book for women returning to the workforce, and a novel. She was working on another one. We talked about our families. We talked about getting older.

“Eighty!” she exclaimed. “I'm going to be eighty! Can you believe it? How did that happen? When did that happen?”

I said that I remembered something she had said about getting older a long time ago. Someone at our job was complaining about getting older and Sally said "Oh, so I guess you don't value wisdom?" I reminded her of that and told her that had helped me shape my values as I was getting older myself.

“I said that?” she said and took a long pause. “Well I guess it’s some consolation.”

We talked about her bout with cancer and she pushed me to have a colonoscopy when I reached the age for that.

In May, I moved twenty blocks uptown. I didn’t run into Sally anymore, but every time I was in my old neighborhood, I thought about calling her. Then I’d forget about it until the next time I was walking around in the west 90s.

A few weeks ago, I went to the movies with my friend Susan. I got to the theater a little earlier, and I thought to call Sally. Seeing Susan reminded me. They are two wonderful people with whom I used to work. I called and got a busy signal. My stomach did a little flip. I thought two things: Maybe she’s not up-to-date with technology and doesn’t have call waiting or maybe the number is disconnected…which could mean something bad. I put her name into Safari on my phone, feeling but not naming what I feared. And there it was: “Sally Ashley Dolgenos, Obituary.”

At first I thought “No, this isn’t her! This is for her ex-husband. I remember when he died in the 1990s. His name was Dolgenos. She didn’t use that name. This is his obituary. This is old.” It was hard to read on my phone. It was just a little bit of text and a place to click “read more.” The obituary said something about four kids, Sarah Lawrence, and Pleasantville. This all sounded familiar. Then I saw something about literacy and a book she’s written. This was her. It was not for her ex-husband. It was Sally. She’d died in July. Abdominal cancer. A service was held in August. I missed her memorial by four months.

Whenever I saw Sally, I left feeling inspired, happy and grateful that I had her in my life. She was so full of life, a real force of nature. Our relationship was occasional and kind of stand-alone. I didn’t know her family. She didn’t know mine. We didn’t have mutual friends. I’m not in touch with anyone else who really knew her. There’s nobody to whom I can say, “Hey remember my friend Sally…” There’s no one to grieve with. It’s strange when someone who had so much charisma and energy dies. Where does all that life go? It’s hard to believe that she’s gone. I’m going to miss her.
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MARCH 8, 2013 BIG GED/HSE NEWS!
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/180961/state-ed-preps- contract-for-ne w-ged-test/
" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/180961/state-ed-preps- contract-for-ne w-ged-test/


“The State Education Department has announced plans to contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop a new state high school Equivalency Diploma assessment to replace the current General Educational Development test,” says the “Capitol Confidential” the blog of the New York’s Capital Region’s Times Union

A year from now I could be eating my words, but I have to say this is a huge victory for public education in New York State and maybe the whole country. It’s been two years since the American Council on Education announced the “ground-breaking [sic] new business that will drive the future…of the GED Testing program.” Truer words were never spoken, but I am pretty sure this is not what GED Testing® had in mind.

Back in March of 2011, the adult literacy world was taken by surprise by the announcement of the GED Test being purchased by Pearson Vue. The price was going to go way up. It would be all computer-based. There were other concerns including Pearson’s expensive test prep materials. Read some of my earlier posts if you want to know more.

Eighteen months ago, this seemed like a good idea, but a long shot: The GED was just the test the state used to award a high school equivalency (HSE) diploma. Why not just use a different, better, and cheaper test as the assessment for obtaining an HSE? It was a simple idea, but also radical.

(Please scroll down to November 9, 2011, suggestion number 4.)

Now it’s March and a new vendor has been selected. Programs are nervous about the new test and preparation materials. The test won’t be given until January 2014, but we need to start test prep well before that. In addition, waiting to see how students do on this new test is bound to be a stressful time. There are many unknowns, but there’s one thing we do know now: We have a test for 2014. That’s a big relief.
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AUGUST 16, 2012 CRAIN'S NEW YORK ARTICLE ON GED (R)
On August 13, 2012, an article about the new GED Test ® appeared in Crain’s New York . The article points out that 25,000 people per year in New York State are likely to be denied access to a high school equivalency diploma starting in 2014 when the GED ® Testing Service implements a new, more expensive, computer-based test. I am happy to see Deputy Commissioner Kevin Smith’s leadership on this situation. We are indeed “racing the clock” as Sierra Stoneman-Bell states in the article.

I noticed something interesting in the article. Regarding Education Law 317 that ensures that New York State does not charge test takers for the GED ® exam, Randall Trask, the president of The GED Testing Service—a part of Pearson the publishing giant—is quoted as saying, "It sounds like a wonderful thing, but in an environment where budgets are tight, it might be having exactly the opposite of the intended effect.” This gave me pause. What exactly is Mr. Trask saying? Let’s take it bit by bit:

1. No charge for the GED test “sounds like a wonderful thing.” I’m in agreement with Mr. Trask there. It does sound like a wonderful idea to me. Most of the people I have known who want to take the GED are poor. Charging for the GED test would be a hardship that would prevent some people from taking the exam.

2. Mr. Trask continues, “but in an environment where budgets are tight…” I’m still with him here. Budgets are tight. Adult literacy programs have been breathing sighs of relief over the past few years when State budgets have not been cut. We even celebrated when Adult Literacy Education funding increased by million.

3. “…it might have exactly the opposite of the intended effect,” Trask concludes. It took me a minute to understand this part. I believe the intended effect of 317 is “access to the GED Test.” I believe Mr. Trask is saying that because “budgets are tight,” the government might need the public to share the sacrifice and pay for part of the costs. This might hold water if tight budgets had caused the State to cut funding for GED Testing. If hard economic times had led to budget cuts, that would mean fewer people had access to the free GED Test, and that would be the “opposite of the intended effect.” But that’s not what happened. The State didn’t cut the budget for GED Testing. A for-profit company is increasing the price of the test. So it’s not “an environment when budgets are tight” that’s creating a problem for 25,000 test takers. It’s a for-profit company that is increasing the price of the test that they own. Interesting....

To read more: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120812/EDUCATION/308129972#ixzz23WmQHc2t
" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120812/EDUCATION/308129972#ixzz23WmQHc2t
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JUNE 19, 2012 QUE SERA SERA
I’m not one of those people who thinks that everything that happens is “meant to be” or that there has to be a reason for everything. I believe there are some occurrences that are just plain old bad, unfortunate, or tragic. A few examples: I don’t think that Pearson Publishing making lots of money off poor people who need to get a GED ®/ High School Equivalency Diploma is “meant to be.” I don’t think that adult literacy students who don’t have much of a voice being on the receiving end of disproportionat e budget cuts is “all for the best.” I think this might make me a deist and a man who believes in free will.

I have also been accused of being an optimist. I always think we’re going to get all the adult literacy money restored. (Well, I always did until this year.) I think Obama will be re-elected. I thought Kerry would win too. Come to think of it, I had high hopes for Mondale.

I hope I’m also open-minded. I may not think everything that happens is “for the best,” but I try to make things work when I can.

Being open-minded and an optimist can be a good combination. Like last night: I was riding my bike home from West 13th Street and at around 28th Street I noticed that my front tire looked like it needed air. I stopped my bike and squeezed the tire. It wasn’t just low. It was flat. I live on West 98th Street. I decided to try and ride home with a flat tire.

At around 62nd Street, the front wheel was really wobbling. I wondered if I was damaging my bike riding like this, so I stopped and started walking it. A man coming the other way slowed down and asked “Do you need air?” I said that I did. When we looked more closely at the front tire we saw it was damaged. The tire was torn and it had come loose from the metal rim. I thanked him and said that it was very good of him to have stopped. “Walk along the river,” he said. “It’s nicer.”

So I moved off the bike path that goes under the West Side Highway and onto the pedestrian’s path. The sun was setting. The George Washington Bridge was all lit up. There were sculptures along the way. I made five phone calls: phone calls, not texts, but actual phone calls. Lately I’ve noticed that I get a stiff neck whenever I talk on the phone for more than a minute. I’m not used to it. Long phone conversations-- which used to add lots of meaning to my life--have been replaced by short texts that are more remote, brief, and controlled.

Only my brother-in-law and sister were at home. I talked to both of them while I walked past a concert on a pier and they made dinner. I left messages for my other sister and three friends. My friend John called me back a few blocks later and we had a nice chat. We talked about texting and how it was less intimate and less connected and how we should try to actually talk to each other more. As the sky grew darker, I spotted a firefly. I realized it had been a long time since I had seen one. Fireflies remind me of long ago summer nights in Ohio and not so long ago visits to Fire Island.

“They’re here in the park all the time,” I thought, “but I’m not.”

Of course I wanted more. I wanted a field full of thousands of fireflies, lighting up like the phosphorescent hydras in Vieques—but no--they were occasional and often solitary. I watched them glowing, one or maybe two at a time. What’s the word for this? I thought. They don’t flare. They don’t flash. They slowly surge and slowly fade. Maybe that’s what they do: they “surge” and “fade.” Why do they do this? I thought. For what purpose? Maybe there isn’t one. I wondered if this was something I had known as a child and forgotten* and before I knew it, I was almost home.

There you have it. A flat tire helped me have an evening much more lovely and meaningful than the smooth ride I’d have wished for. Perhaps it was “meant to be.”

Let’s see if we can transfer this experience to the two examples I gave at the beginning:

1. Pearson Publishing has taken over the GED® Test. I don’t think this is a good thing, but I do see a lot of good things that are coming out of this. Advocates in New York City are working hard to propose alternative tests and pathways to a high school diploma. The Board of Regents is probably talking about the high school equivalency diploma more than it ever has before. The State Education Department is working well with advocacy groups. Good relationships are being built. Greatly needed attention is being brought to the millions of people in New York State who don’t have a high school diploma. In addition, right now—although there are three pathways to a HSE--the GED® Test is the only one that really gets used very much. The work that is being done now could create addition pathways that would better serve all the people in need of a diploma.

2. Adult Literacy funding in New York City has suffered some disproportionat e cuts. First of all, that’s not the whole picture. Federal funding is stable (unless the CSBG cuts go through). State funding actually increased a tiny bit. Although some adult literacy funding streams are suffering, city funding for young adult literacy has increased. That doesn’t make the problem of other cuts go away, but it is to be commended. And if I dare to look really hard for a silver lining on the dark storm cloud of budget reductions, these hard times have galvanized literacy advocates. We are working together more closely, making ourselves better known to elected officials in the city, involving students in advocating for the services they need, and building a foundation of support that may serve us well in better economic times.

I’m not saying that the privatization of education and budget cuts to adult literacy are a good thing, but I’ll try to make things work. Who knows what good things might happen next?
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APRIL 23, 2012 HOW I LEARN

When I was a boy, I was a good student. My best subjects were english and history. I was pretty good in art class. I was okay in science and math was hard. I got A’s in the subjects where I was "gifted" without doing much work at all. I liked reading, but I didn’t like the books we were assigned in english class. I never read The Red Badge of Courage or The Scarlet Letter. I read parts of Lord of the Flies, A Tale of Two Cities, and Moby Dick. I tried to read them. I really did. But I read slowly and once the class got ahead of where I was in the book, I lost my motivation. In class, I’d listen to the conversation and figure out what the books were about. After a few minutes of catching up, I’d be get very active in the discussions of why Hester Prynne or Piggy did whatever they’d done. I’d end up with A’s on the tests. I thought I was pretty smart for being able to do so well in English without even reading those boring books.

My approach to math and science was different because the classes asked something different from me. Homework in english was usually reading and unless we were given a pop quiz, my failure to complete the assignment was never discovered. Homework in math and science often required me to hand in something. For science we had to write up lab reports. Math homework was given every day, usually the problems from a page or two in our textbook. I got decent grades in those classes, but I wasn’t at the top of the class. Other people were natural math whizzes, not me. The exception was geometry. Our teacher said that people are either good in algebra or good in geometry. I wasn’t so good in algebra, so I figured I must be good in geometry. Geometry was easy for me.

In the 12th grade, I took calculus. It was an advanced class, so just being in there meant I was good at math, but it didn’t feel like it. Calculus was very challenging. It was hard for me to keep up. I remember not wanting to miss school, even if I was sick, because if I missed even one day, I’d be lost for the next week. There were four marking periods each year in my high school. I got a B in the 1st quarter and then a C in the 2nd. I didn’t want my grade point average to be lowered, so decided I would get an A in the next marking period, not matter what it took. I studied harder—reviewing homework and reading the explanations in the book, asked the teacher for help and did any extra credit that was available. I got an A. Getting that grade was a great strain. I had to study and study and study. I didn’t think I could maintain that level of intensity—or maybe I didn’t really want to. The next quarter, I eased up and I ended up with a B for the last marking period.

It did not occur to me until now that by studying hard for that 3rd quarter, I might have become a better mathematician. During the 2nd quarter I attended class regularly, did the homework religiously, and studied some. I got a C. The 3rd quarter, I attended class regularly, did the homework religiously, studied more intensely, did extra work, and asked the teacher for help. I figured I got my A from muscle and sweat applied to my limited abilities--whic h were written in stone. But look at what happened in the 3rd quarter: I was studying just as hard as I did when I got a C, but I got a B. Had I become a better mathematician? This idea, this construct, that one could improve one’s intellectual capabilities, was not something I could assimilate or accommodate, so I just ignored it.

Now I see learning differently--ma ybe a lot differently. Experience has shown me that I can get better at some things. A few examples: When I first started writing foundation grants, they all got rejected. Over time, I learned how to create relationships with the foundations to whom I was applying and I got better at writing the grants. With practice and feedback, I started to get funding. Another example is advocacy work. When I first starting doing it, I didn’t like it. I remember standing on the steps of City Hall thinking, “I hate doing this, but it’s got to be done.” I’d say “Support adult literacy,” to a Council Member who’d reply, “Who’s initiative is that?” I didn’t know what an initiative was. But I kept at it. I watched others who were more experienced than I was and asked them for guidance. A few years later, I knew what an initiative was and asked Council Member Sara Gonzalez if she would sponsor one for adult literacy. Nowadays, I like standing on the steps of City Hall and I like talking the politicians. People tell me I’m good at it.

I wonder if the students in adult and youth literacy programs believe that they can get better at something. I wonder if they believe they can practice math, writing, reading, test-taking and improve. I got better at math by just doing what I was already doing harder. I wonder what might have happened if someone would have given me new strategies and said “Now you know how to do this. Now it’s different. Now you will get A’s. Now you are smarter.”

I don’t think we are sufficiently explicit about this with our students. I'm not sure we say “Writing is hard for you now, but it won’t always be hard. You are out of practice. You don’t know all the strategies we will teach you. Let’s practice together and you will get better at this” often enough—if at all. I think we probably need to say things like that over and over and again, engaging our students in discussions about learning, unpacking their doubts and fears. It seems likely that some students might be thinking, “I’m not good at school. I never have been. I’m not going to do well here either.” If that concept of self doesn’t change, if our students don’t believe they can learn, it might be hard for them to make progress. I know that can be a challenge. I can hear them now, “Why do we have to talk about this again? Can’t you just teach us something?”

I'm looking forward to talking to the students, teachers, advisors, and other staff the FEGS Bronx Youth Center. I'll try to do an update later of how things went.
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APRIL 2, 2012 THANKS FOR THE SIGN

Part I
Every weekday morning, there’s a coffee cart that parks across the street from the F·E·G·S main office. A few weeks ago, an A-frame sandwich sign appeared on the sidewalk next to the cart:

Danish, Bagles
Coffee, Tea
Muffns, Dounts
Egg on a Roll, Crossants
Roll with Butter

I know the man who works in the cart. He is Egyptian. My friend Kamal is from Morocco and I asked him how to say “Good morning” in Arabic: “Saba El Khair,” the literal meaning of which is (I think) “morning of light.” When I greeted the coffee cart man in Arabic, he said something back that I didn’t understand.

“Huh?” I said.

“It’s Hebrew,” he said. “Your language.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know Hebrew. “Shokron”

I noticed the errors every day I walked past the sign. They kind of jumped out at me. I thought about other people seeing it everyday too. Did they notice? Did they care? I thought about mentioning the misspellings, but I decided this would be a bad idea:

1. I didn’t think I knew this man well to offer such feedback.
2. It was too many words. If it had been just one, I think that would have been easier, but the list was too long.
3. I was pretty sure I didn’t know how to let him know in a way that would be helpful, and I was pretty sure I did know point out his spelling mistakes in a way that would cause offense.
So I said nothing.

Part II
After the coffee cart man’s correct assumption that I was Jewish and his incorrect assumption that I knew Hebrew, I found myself thinking about the language instruction I’d received growing up. I’d taken Hebrew lessons for almost five years, from the third grade up until the middle of the seventh grade when I had my Bar Mitzvah. In the third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades, I went to Hebrew classes at the temple. In the third and fourth grades it was after school on Wednesdays. In the fifth and sixth grade, it was on both Mondays and Wednesdays. In the seventh grade, I was tutored by a graduate student from Hebrew Union College who came to our house. We went over and over my Torah and Haftorah portions, the prayers, and other pieces of Hebrew I would have to read. She also helped me write the speech I would give in English.

I hated Hebrew School. To get there, I rode a bus that pulled up in front of my school, drove on to Pleasant Ridge Elementary to pick up more kids, and continued down to Wise Temple in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati. I think it took about 10 minutes to get to Pleasant Ridge and another 15 or 20 minutes to get to the temple. (A community called “Pleasant Ridge” sounds strange to me now. like the name a town would have in a John Waters movie. Back then, it was just a name of a nearby place. I didn’t think of it as descriptive, let alone ironic.)

The bus ride was the main reason I hated Hebrew school. There were two other boys from my school who rode the bus, Andy and Kenny. During that first leg of the trip, I sat in silence, alone on the seat that held two people, staring out the window, full of dread over what was to come. At Pleasant Ridge--dozens of unruly boys stomped on. They all knew each other, or seemed to. A friendlier, more confident child might have talked to them and even made some new friends. I just sat there scared of them, hoping there would be enough room on the bus so that no one would have to sit right next to me, trying to not be noticed. I don’t have a specific memory of anyone every bothering me at all. I recall an endless game of “Keep-away” with someone’s knit ski cap. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I don’t think it was my hat, but I was terrified, nonetheless, thinking that the next time it might be me.

Once we got to the Temple, terror was replaced with boredom. I remember the desk/chairs we sat in. The seats and the desktops were blond wood, resting on olive- drab metal legs and connected by metal arms. I remember us talking to the teachers at the beginning of class, all young men who were students at Hebrew Union College, about anything but Hebrew. We’d try to engage them in a conversation about the Cincinnati Reds or the Royals, or what we’d seen on TV the night before, trying to eat up as much of the class time as possible. I would carefully time my request to use the bathroom, delaying it for as long as I could bear, knowing this would be my only bit of relief from the seemingly endless class. I never actually used the bathroom, but it was a chance to get out of the room for a few minutes, walking ever so slowly to the water fountain down the hall and back. One time, I was told “no,” that I had asked too many times and I would have to wait. I chewed on my chapped lips until I drew a little blood, showed that to the teacher, and got excused to go wash my face.

I can’t say for sure how long the classes were, but I would estimate between 90 minutes and two hours. The bus picked us up at 3:15pm and dropped us off near home before 6pm, the time we always had dinner. To a ten year old, two hours can be a very long time.

I know that the bus picked us up at 3:15 because I remember a few times when it was late, watching the minute hand on my watch that seemed to be stuck--it was moving so slowly. Once I got in a bit of trouble—not really even trouble, just questioned--for leaving at 3:18 and walking home, saying the bus never came. The driver later reported he had gotten there at 3:20.

I’m pretty sure that I didn’t learn much at all in Hebrew classes. I considered the possibility that I did learn and I’ve just forgotten it all, but I don’t think so. At some point, I did learn names of the Hebrew letters and how to read words phonetically. I don’t remember any of the lessons we might have had, any activities, any books or worksheets, nor any tests or quizzes. Today I know these words and phrases:
• “Shalom” (as does most of the world)
• A few prayers: the ones you say for the candles, the wine, and bread; The Sh’ma; and part of the Kaddish. (I didn’t learn any of that in Hebrew School, but from hearing them periodically over many years in temple and at home).
• The words for “dog,” “cat,” and what to say when someone sneezes (“lab-ri-oot”) (I asked my Israeli ex-brother-in-l aw about those.)
• “Thank you” because I like to say thank you to people in their first languages and I asked an Israeli acquaintance, so I could add Hebrew to my collection.
• The words for “mother” and “father.” I learned those in Hebrew School. I believe we also learned the words for “pencil” and “teacher” but I have forgotten them.

Part III
The coffee cart man never spoke in Hebrew to me again, but I often lamented my lack of Hebrew proficiency when I saw him. I thought about the other languages I had studied in school for years and how little of them I knew. None were as bad as Hebrew. I know a little bit of German from four years of it in high school. I can say “How are you?,” “I speak a little German,” “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good night.” I remember bits the dialogues we had to memorize:
"Where is Monica?"
"In the boat."
"What are you doing?"
I’m practicing the violin."
"Is the post office open?"
"No, it is closed on Saturday."
I took French in college and that’s a little better. I can say “My name is Bruce,” “How are you?” “I like you,” “I am tired,” “I am hungry,” and a few other phrases. (I learned “I’m sorry” from a college friend who was a French major. I used it often, being frequently late to class.)

I thought about the differences between learning Hebrew and learning German and French. I don’t think any of the language instruction I got was very good. I remember sitting in rows, listening to a teacher, worksheets, textbooks, and something called “dictation”—writing down the foreign phrases the teacher recited, whether I know what they meant or not.

When I was learning German, I was in high school. I didn’t care about learning the language, but I did care about my grades. I learned as much as I needed to get an “A.” When I was learning French in college, I still cared about grades, but I also actually wanted to learn the language. I wanted to be able to speak French. I wanted to walk down the street and hang out in the student union speaking French. With Hebrew, I didn’t care about anything at all. I was only studying because I was sent there. I have a vague memory of getting grades, but those were grades from Hebrew School. They didn’t count like public school grades. And sadly, no one suggested to me that learning another language might be a useful thing to do.

Part IV
The mistakes were still there: Bagles, Dounts, Muffns, Crossants. I thought about the articles and books I’d read that discussed the ineffectiveness of correcting students’ errors in student writing. I thought that through for a minute. A big reason why that doesn’t work is that many students don’t really care about becoming good writers and don’t really care about what they wrote. What’s the point of correcting the errors in an essay that doesn’t mean anything to you that you are just going to throw away anyway?

It occurred to me that it was different for my coffee cart friend. He could have have reasons to fix the spelling. He’s living in America. Knowing how to write English correctly might be something he wants to do. Plus he might care about his sign. It’s his advertisement for his business. He probably doesn’t want it to be wrong. And it’s sort of permanent.

I wondered if this could be affecting his business. I would never know. If it wasn’t affecting his business, it might have affected how people thought of him. They might be thinking “Here is a man who cannot spell,” “Here is a man who doesn’t know how to use a dictionary,” or maybe even some anti-immigrant sentiment.

“Saba El Khair,” I said. “Small coffee, milk and no sugar….Do you want me to fix your sign?” With no premeditation, the words had sprung from my mouth.

“YES!!!” said the coffee man. “Please! Can you fix it? I don’t know!”

“Sure,” I said.

He handed me three thick markers and a damp cloth.

The ink didn’t come off the sign easily. The markers weren’t the right kind to use on a dry erase board. The man (I feel bad that I don’t know his name) came out of the cart with a scrubby sponge. We worked together to remove the misspelled words. I rewrote the four words correctly as he walked the few steps back to his cart. “Croissant” looked weird to me and I got nervous.

“There you go,” I said, handing him back his markers.

“Thank you!” he said. “Thank you!”

I took my coffee and went back to work, eager relate this delightful workplace literacy anecdote to my coworkers. I told the story to my colleague Jennifer Hall, who was leaving the main office and heading to the Business of Sports School.

“Do you want to see the sign?” I said.

She’s such a good sport. She said yes. We walked across the street. She unlocked her bike and we headed toward the cart and the sign.

“Let’s pretend we’re just walking to the corner,” I said. “I don’t want him to think I’m showing someone his mistakes.”

He was busy with customers as we passed, but he stopped to call out:

“Thanks for the sign!”

Thanks for the sign. When somebody yells that at me, it’s got to mean something.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JANUARY 27, 2012 JOB SHADOWING


In addition to being Groundhog’s Day, February 2 is also“Job Shadowing Day.” (It took me a while to get that the connection.)

Job Shadowing Day was launched by General Colin Powell and America's Promise – The Alliance for Youth, Junior Achievement, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor. It’s an opportunity for young people to get exposure to careers and the world of work. The project has grown and about one million young people a year are currently participating. This year, FEGS was asked by the Department of Education to coordinate Job Shadowing Month. We are working with high schools throughout the city to bring this interesting opportunity to more young people. We are providing training to staff, developing sites for shadowing, and coordinating matches between students and “career mentors.”

Just what is “Job Shadowing”? you may ask…For this project, job shadowing is just one day—three to five hours is recommended. Students meet someone with a job that is related to their goals, interests, and aptitudes, watch them work, maybe get a tour of the workplace, and ask some questions. Staff preps the students and does follow-up, but the centerpiece of the program is the one-time shadowing experience.

I’m asking some friends, colleagues and acquaintances to be mentors. I’m also helping with the staff training. One of the schools represented at a recent training was the John Adams YABC. When I introduced myself, I retold a joke I like to use whenever John Adams is in the house. “My first job teaching was at John Adams High School…[pause]…I did a TERRIBLE job. Please accept my apology.”

I am inclined to think of education and youth development in the long-term. It’s a process. Learning is recursive. But I started thinking times in my life when one experience, one conversation, one comment, or one moment had an impact on me. Symmetrically, a couple were John-Adams-High -School related:

When I started working at John Adams, I was a tutor. I worked with four different classes as part of the Queens English Project—a wonderful reading and writing program developed and led by Marie Ponsot. (Who is on course to have her 91st birthday on April 6, 2012!) One of my first days, a teacher asked me to take half the class and lead a discussion of the book we were reading. I can’t remember what the book was, but I remember being excited and thinking I was going to do a great job. I asked my first question and the students said nothing. I panicked. I didn’t know how to wait or how to scaffold questioning. I asked another question right away. They said nothing again of course. I didn’t know what to do. I kept asking more questions and nobody said anything. I starting answering the questions myself. It may have been the longest twenty minutes of my life.

I called Professor Ponsot in distress. She said that the teacher should have given me more support and guidance and that I shouldn’t worry. “You’re a natural teacher,” she said. She really didn’t know me that well. I’m not sure if she said it because she saw something in me or she just said it to make me feel better. Whichever it was, that comment had a huge impact on me. I believed her and I went on to be a very successful tutor. When teachers were sick, I handled the classes and the substitute just sat in the back and watched. When a teacher had jury tutor, I taught her class for a few weeks by myself. The subs just sat in the back and I did all the work.

Then came the part for which I owe my apology: Halfway through the year, they needed a new English teacher. Seeing as I’d been such a fine tutor, they asked me if I wanted the job. I jumped at the chance. (Teachers working on a “per diem” license made 11,000 dollars a year. At that time, it seemed to me like a ton of money. Yes, I am that old.) I was kind of a disaster in the classroom. I had just finished my first semester in English Education at NYU. It was all about student centered learning and the writing process. Those approaches remain at the core of my educational philosophy today. Unfortunately, I had only learned about the theories and not too much about their practical applications. I didn’t know how to provide a structure within my progressive philosophy. I started each class by asking them “What do you want to do today?” That didn’t work.

After one particularly bad day, I went to see Ms. Gray—one of the teachers I had worked with as a tutor. She talked me through it and got me off the ledge. I was ready to quit and she convinced me that I could do it. I went on to finish out the year as a less terrible teacher. I figured out how to get through each day. My students did a bit of interesting writing about topics of their own choosing, but my classes weren’t all that productive or engaging. We spent way too much time reading plays in “Scholastic Scope” magazine because that got me through the day. Over the summer, I decided I didn’t want to go back to that setting. I can’t remember if I actually ever contacted the school or just avoided the whole situation. Seeing as they weren’t contacting me, I guess the decision to part was mutual.

A few years ago, Marie Ponsot had a table at a book fair in Bryant Park. In addition to being a great teacher, she is a great poet. I went by and told her thank you for telling me I was a teacher. She was nice enough but we didn’t have all that much to say to each other. I think I’d expected too much.

I started to think about other one-time interactions that may have influenced me positively and negatively:

In the third grade, I was having problems with our math assignment. I remember standing at the teacher’s desk, miserable, paralyzed and crying, as she scolded me for not knowing the answer. In my memory the teacher (I remember her name, but I don’t usually like to give names if I’m not saying something nice), was berating and humiliating me. I realize that might not have been the case. Nevertheless, I got very upset about it all.

In the fourth grade, Ms. Shapiro gave us the assignment to write a story based on pictures from the newspaper that she handed out. The next day she read my story to the class and people laughed and told me that I was funny. I felt exceptional.

In undergraduate school, I wanted to be an actor, so I took ballet classes. I started in the beginner classes and moved up to intermediate and then intermediate/advanced. After that came the advanced class. Dancers from the Cincinnati Ballet Company were sometimes in that class. I asked the teacher if I could come to that class sometime. The teacher—for whom I had great admiration--tol d me that she didn’t think that I was ready and that she didn’t want me to hurt myself. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. Not only did she think I was not good enough to dance with the ballet company, I was so inferior that I might injure myself trying.

In my first year of graduate school, for the first assignment for “Teaching Expository Writing,” Professor Vine told us to write whatever we wanted. I ended up writing a children’s story. The week after we turned it in, he said that sometimes a student writes something very special and he wanted to share it with us. Then he read my story. I felt exceptional.

I can’t know for sure if those moments actually changed the course of my life. Maybe I wasn’t very good at math and that made Mrs. D________ frustrated. Maybe my fourth grade story was delightful and Mrs. Shapiro just noticed that. Maybe my dance teacher was truth-telling, pointing out my limitations, and saving me from frustrating years trying to do something I couldn’t do all that well. Etc, etc.

Or maybe it was the other way around. Since those moments—math has been hard for me; English class was always easy; I gave up dancing; and being a writer of some sort has become a part of my identity. I can’t really know for sure.

I am not expecting everyone to have a life-changing experience job shadowing. And of course, we won’t be able to measure the long-term affects. But I am looking forward to seeing how the Job Shadowing experience goes with the participants—both the students and the mentors.
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avatar Jennifer Hall
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Great blog.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 28, 2011 NOBODY LIKES CHANGE…EXCEPT ME
(Reflections on all sorts of changes including the new GED® Test)

Stick with this if you can. I swear we will eventually get to GED® Testing and the High School Equivalency Diploma.

Who knows if I am remembering things accurately, but I recall Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, with whom I had the privilege of working in the 1990s, saying, “Nobody likes change, not even a wet baby.” Now I admit I don’t have a whole lot of personal experience changing a baby. In fact, I’ve never done it. But I have been around more than a few babies crying, some while their diapers were being changed.

I Googled this little epigram to see just where it came from. "'Nobody likes change except a wet baby' Mark Twain" came up first on the list. I looked further down the search until I found somebody named “Pastor Nate” who had a blog entry entitled “No One Likes Change…Not Even a Wet Baby!” This was posted on August 6, 2007. http://pastornate-avl.blogspot.com/2007/08/no-one-likes-ch angenot-even-we t-baby.html " rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://pastornate-avl.blogspot.com/2007/08/no-one-likes-ch angenot-even-we t-baby.html I’m not sure if Commissioner Paoli coined the twist on Mark Twain’s expression, but she certainly said it before that.

Maybe you already see my point, but here’s why I like Lilliam Paoli/Pastor Nate’s saying better than Mark Twain’s: Even when a change is for the better, people often resist and fear it. Some babies cry when you try to get them out of their soiled diapers. They would rather sit in the mess they know than experience a fresh, clean, but unknown diaper.

Here’s an example from my own life: I was working as a Center Director at Literacy Volunteers of New York City. I loved my job. Then the Executive Director announced that he would be leaving. He was going to graduate school to become a therapist. This shocked me. I felt like my world was falling apart. What would happen next? I felt abandoned. The job I had loved suddenly seemed boring and small compared to the new horizons ahead of the outgoing ED. And who would the new Executive Director be? Would I get along with him/her? Would I be able to keep my job?

It turned that things changed a lot. I’d been comfortable and satisfied before, but the new Executive Director created opportunities of which I’d never even dreamed I was capable. I wrote grants. I started new programs. I hired a team of teachers. I played hardball when I had to negotiate a lease. In the end, the change I had feared ended up greatly improving my life. By the way and perhaps not so coincidentally, that new Executive Director was Lilliam Barrios-Paoli.

Fast forward to 2011-2012 and the neighborhood where I live is changing a lot. The health food store that used to be in between the subway station and my apartment closed. Now I have to go half a block in the other direction to get flaxseed, rolled oats, and peanut brittle. The Duane Reade that was right in my building closed. I spent a few weeks lamenting my plight of having to walk two blocks in the other direction to get the cat litter we like (“we” is me and the cat). It turns out I am eating a lot less junk food. Walking two blocks for honey-wheat pretzels and Baked Lays just isn’t happening. (If you’ve had enough of these “change” items, please skip to the asterisk *)

The changes keep coming. A few days later, I went to the bodega that’s only a few steps away from my apartment building. Lots of canned goods were outside and it said “Half Off.” I bought two cans of lychees, figuring they were just getting rid of some old stock. The next day, I went in to buy kale, and there were big signs that said everything was “Half Off.” The shelves were practically bare.
“What’s happening here?” I asked.
“Today’s the last day,” said an older woman standing next to a younger woman who rang up my purchase.
“One dollar,” said the woman at the register. Kale is never less than two dollars. I wondered if her subtext was “Give me a dollar and take the stupid kale. What do I care? I’m unemployed as of tomorrow.”
“Tree-ma-cas-ee,” I said.
“You speak Indonesian,” said the older woman.
“Just a little bit,” I said. “Only that word actually.”

I’d been buying fruits, vegetables, and the occasional over-priced quart of milk from this store for twenty years. It’s gone now.

This list of neighborhood changes goes on: the Starbucks on 95th Street, the frozen yogurt place, the aforementioned Gourmet Garage…. New places have moved in: Two Boots Pizza and a tea and spices shop where the man behind the counter didn’t know what a “light” coffee was. (He thought “light” meant “with nonfat milk.”) Who knows what good or bad things are to come? West Side Markets--that pretty grocery store chain with excellent reasonably priced cheeses and produce--is moving into where the Duane Reade used to be. I’ll never having to eat Gourmet Garage’s nice looking but bland fresh mozzarella again! Maybe Atomic Wings, Kiehl’s or a Roasting Plant are on the way.

*HIGH SCHOOL EQUIVALENCY
This past fall, I heard someone from the New York State Education Department say that Pearson-- the large for-profit company that has merged with the American Council on Education--was going to charge 120 dollars for every GED® exam when the new test gets launched in 2014. The state pays 20 dollars per test now. Since then I’ve heard that Pearson may charge 200 dollars per test.

My first reaction to this news was a somewhat familiar feeling of despair. A terrible change was coming and it would ruin my world. What would become of us? About 50,000 people take the test each year in New York State. I just don’t see the State Education Department finding an extra 5 million dollars (50,000 x the 100 dollar increase) to give to a for-profit publishing company. To complicate matters even more, there is Section 317 of New York State’s Education Law, which bans fees for the administration of the GED® test.

I am hoping this potential disaster we’re heading for is alarming enough to bring about some changes in the GED® Testing procedures, pathways to a High School Equivalency Diploma, and adult literacy education in general. The adult literacy community is really mobilizing on this. I’m on three different task force/ committees/ work groups addressing the issue. We are talking about the two other pathways to a High School Equivalency diploma allowed in New York State (24 college credits and the National External Diploma Program). We are collecting information about other pathways in other states. We are thinking about timelines for pilot testing new ideas. The fact that Pearson stands to make a lot of money and the fact that they have a monopoly on a contract that never was put to bid is bringing some attention to this usually neglected issue. Finding a satisfying solution to this situation is a long way away, but I am guardedly hopeful.

All in all, I think that I have a fairly good attitude about change. Sure, it scares me. I often resist it, but life has taught me to be open to change. Sometimes, even when things are comfortable, change brings about something better.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 20, 2011 I MAY BE CORRECT…
A few nights ago, I was talking to an old friend about his new teaching position at a community college. He said he’s loving it, but his students are not well prepared. He said the college where he is teaching is the only school they could have ever gotten into. He started to lament how it’s a real crying shame that these young people were given a high school diploma with such weak reading and writing skills. Then he mentioned an 8th grade exam from 1895 that I should look at. He said that it’s really hard and that he couldn’t have passed it.

I proceeded to steamroll him with my opinions about people who pine for the good old days.

“Would you like to go to a surgeon with a 1895 education?” I asked him.
I don’t remember what he said to that. He may not have answered it all. I have an image of him looking back at me, slightly dumbfounded and maybe a little hurt. Then I told him he should read my blog because I wrote about this sort of thing a lot. He did not ask me for the url.

Of course when I got home I had to look this up. I Googled “1895 8th grade final exam” and the first on the list of results was:
http://www.snopes.com/language/document/1895exam.asp" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.snopes.com/language/document/1895exam.asp

Seeing “snopes” at the top the list was immensely satisfying to me. www.snopes.com, I am sure many of you know, is “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.” Snopes is where you go to find out that alligators are not going to come out of your toilet and that Steve from “Blues Clues” is not dead.

Snopes examines the claim that a 8th Grade Final Exam from 1895 that was found in the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina Kansas demonstrates a “shocking decline in educational standards.” Snopes says this is FALSE. It says that much of the knowledge required to do well on the test is specific to the times when it was given and no longer relevant. Of course we don’t know how many bushels of wheat can fit into a wagon box of a certain size. A lot of the other questions were about grammar and punctuation—questions on naming the parts of speech. There is much less emphasis on identifying the parts of speech in education today. Even educators who teach a lot of grammar are more likely to teach students how to use the parts of speech correctly and spend less time on identifying them out of context.

Having been so validated, I was off to the races. I scoured the internet for data about 1895 and how worse off many people were back then. I wrote a long snarky blog posting taking the test and my poor innocent friend apart limb by limb. I enjoyed doing this while I was doing it, but the next day when I re-read all I’d written, I felt kind of dirty. First of all, I was basically trashing my friend behind his back. Second of all, it seemed like I was bragging about how very, very smart I was. But there was more to it than that. Why did I become rabid whenever anyone suggested that the world was going to hell and that things were better, easier, and simpler back in the good old days? My rant on this topic was feeling a little too familiar in a not-so-good way.

I asked myself honestly why I was so bothered. The answer came pretty quickly.

I claim to believe with great certainty that the world is progressing in a good way. I can point out many examples of how this is so: treatments for cancer, increased longevity, increased numbers of people graduating from high school and college, and improved human rights for many groups of people. I enjoy searching for data to back up my claims. I can go on and on about this for a long time.

But why do I get so upset? It’s out of proportion. Here’s the truth of it: I don’t really know for sure. Yes, I want our world to be becoming a better place. I hope it is becoming a better place. Maybe I need it to be evolving into a better place. That doesn't make it so. What if it’s not? What if the technology that I embrace so lovingly for using fiber optics to perform formerly impossible surgeries is also creating weapons that will blow us to bits? What if global warming is going to destroy the earth? Prospect such as these terrify and sadden me, so I overreact to cover up my fears.

Having admitted this, I deleted most of that obnoxious posting. Now that I am calmer, I will simply say that I don’t believe that the world is becoming a worse place. I think it’s becoming a better place for most people. Not a perfect place, but a better place. I think it’s great that my friends students get to go to college. I can’t prove it. I will just try and let that be. And to paraphrase a wise, helpful and kind friend of mine: I may be correct regarding this fact or that one, but it’s not right to try and make somebody who disagrees with me feel bad.
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avatar gurlzone
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Bruce, I enjoyed sharing your journey of honest self-examinatio n more than the overt content. Thank you.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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I don't disagree :-) Thanks for your comment.
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avatar Joseph Giovannelli
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Bruce,

While I try to avoid being snarky about it, the "good old days" argument tends to make me crazy also, Part of it is because it's just false--years ago I read Diane Ravitch's book "The Great School Wars". In it she shows that the NYC public school system, while historically doing a good job for some students and some groups, did a pretty lousy job for others. Yes, in spite of the evidence people typically assert that the schools used to be great and are not anymore (evidence be damned)

The other reason I hate the argument is that it totally closses off any further consideration or debate. Short of getting into a time machine, what happened in the past is gone forever. So what if people or schools were "better" or "smarter" then. You friend has a issue and a problem today--how to address his current students' lack of preparadness. Who care how they stack up against some (mostly mythological) past. Is that supposed to get us off the hook, or is it supposed to just get us good and depressed?! I dont find either alternative particularly compelling.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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Thanks for y our comment Joseph!
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avatar Paul Snellgrove
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Well thought (and felt) out. It's a bit like the saying, "We always have the choice of being right, or being kind. It's usually better to choose kind." Not that we should let erroneous statements fly and fester (e.g., the birthers and Obama), but we really need to look at ourselves to see what battles truly are worth fighting.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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Thanks for your comment Paul. For me it's progress to keep my mouth shut most of the time. I've learned that I know how to respond and make the situation WORSE by hurting someone's feelings, making the offending party more committed to what they said and making him or her resent alternative views, but I usually don't know how to open my mouth and make things better.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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NOVEMBER 9, 2011 EXPLORING OUR OPTIONS
Right now, there are two ways to get a High School Equivalency Diploma from the New York State Education Department:

1. Pass the GED ® exam.
2. Complete 24 credits (or its equivalent) as a recognized candidate for a degree or a certificate at an approved institution.

In addition, a local diploma can be granted in some parts of our state by completing the National External Diploma Program (NEDP).

For more info on the NEDP: http://www2.casas.org/home/index.cfm?fuseaction=nedp.welcome

From what I understand, the GED® exam is by far the most common pathway. About 50,000 people each year take the exam in New York State. I don’t know how many people get their diplomas the other two ways. If anyone does know that, I’d appreciate it if you would leave that information as a comment here. My understanding is that the 24-credit programs are rare. Sometimes proprietary schools promise students a diploma if they complete the 24 credits, but students are often just left with big loan payments and no diploma. The National External Diploma Program usually requires lots of one-on-one meetings with adult students and an advisor. It’s very expensive in terms of staffing. Students have to demonstrate mastery of 65 competencies. There are some NEDP programs in New York State, but none in New York City. A local diploma is granted by a high school and I am not sure if this is a credential that colleges and universities accept.

I’ve heard different numbers tossed around, but it sounds like the new GED® exam will cost at least 100 dollars per complete battery of tests when the new version comes out in 2014. 50,000 people take the GED® test each year. That’s 5 million dollars our state doesn’t have. I just don’t think this new GED® is going to work for New York State anymore.

Given the cost, New York State might be advised to create other, cheaper pathways to a High School Equivalency Diploma (no “R” in a circle required). Just off the top of my head, I can think of a few ideas. Maybe someone else has. (If you have, please “comment” here). None of these have been fully explored by me. I DO NOTrecommend any of these options as a pathway to a high school equivalency diploma. What I do recommend is that the work groups that are happening on High School Equivalency explore all sensible pathways to a diploma.

Here are five ideas to get the ball rolling:
1. The Regents Exams:There are five Regents Exams that high school students have to pass in order to get their diploma. This seems like a bit of a no-brainer. Adults would have to pass the same exact tests required for in-school youth: Algebra, Global History and Geography, U.S. History and Government, Comprehensive English, and a science exam. I’m not sure what the cost of administering Regents exams is, so that would need to be considered.
Norm any of the four following valid and reliable tests to see what scores should be achieved for high school equivalency:
2. The COMPASS Test. Most students who enroll in CUNY schools need to take remedial classes. The lack of alignment between GED® test skills and college skills contributes to this. If student took COMPASS preparation classes instead of GED preparation classes, increased college readiness seems likely to me. According to the pricing list sent to me by ACT, the COMPASS would cost .33 and .66 per curriculum area, depending on how many New York State bought.
3. The College Board’s ACCUPLACER tests. These tests are used by schools throughout the country including SUNY schools. Just like with the COMPASS, if students studying for an equivalency diploma were preparing to take the ACCUPLACER, that would likely be better prepared for college academic course.
4. The TABE Test. I never thought I’d see the day that I would have a kind word to say about my arch enemy, the TABE test. I’m not quite there...however, the TABE has reading, writing, social studies, science, and math tests that are much cheaper than the semi-precious 2014 GED® exam is expected to be. I wonder if McGraw-Hill, the company that owns the TABE test would be willing to do the norming if they knew New York State would buy 50,000 complete batteries each year.
5. The CASAS Test. This test isn’t used in New York, but it’s California’s version of the TABE. They have tests in language arts, math, U.S. history, biology, world history, and physical science.

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment here. Thanks!
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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OCTOBER 10, 2011 NOW IT'S ISTANBUL, NOT CONSTANTINOPLE

Just to clarify....The GED® is not a diploma. It is a battery of tests. GED stands for “General Education Development,” not –as many people think--General Equivalency Diploma.” Passing the battery of GED tests is “the most commonly accepted equivalency for high school skills” (Lazar Treschan and David Jason Fischer, “From Basic Skills to Better Futures: General Economic Dividends for New York City," The Community Service Society Reports, June 2009).

In my experience, that’s not how people use the term "GED." They use it to mean “high school equivalency diploma.” Students come to F•E•G•S saying they want to “get their GED.” They don’t say “I want my high school equivalency.” When they pass the test and the diploma arrives, they say “I got my GED!”

This might need to change. In March 2011, a partnership of the American Council of Education and Pearson was announced as “a ground-breaking new business that will drive future direction, design, and delivery of the GED ® testing program” (The misspelling of “groundbreaking” does not really bode well.)

http://www.pearson.com/media-1/announcements/?i=1399

I believe that before this ground…hyphen...breaking…[chuckle]...partnership, it used to be plain old “GED,” without that “R” in the circle. The R in the circle means the term is a registered trademark. That’s different from a simple “TM.” From what I understand, registering a trademark means the trademark’s owner can sue to prevent unauthorized use. The new GED Testing Service—has registered “GED.” It’s theirs. They own it. We can’t use it:

“GED ® and the GED Testing Service ® are registered trademarks of the American Council on Education ® and may not be used or reproduced without the express written permission of the American Council on Education ®.”

That’s what the New York State Education Department’s GED web page says this in italics at the bottom. You can see for yourself if you like:

http://www.acces.nysed.gov/ged/

This gave me pause. What does “may not be used” mean? Am I not allowed to say “GED” unless Pearson gives me permission? That can’t be right, can it? .I looked it up. In the “Limits and Defenses to Claims of Infringement” section, Wikipedia talks about “fair use.”

‘…Audi can run advertisements saying that a trade publication has rated an Audi model higher than a BMW model, since they are only using "BMW" to identify the competitor. In a related sense, an auto mechanic can truthfully advertise that he services Cadillacs, and a former Playboy Playmate of the Year can identify herself as such on her website.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark

So I think that means that I am not allowed to “use” a trademarked term to name my own products. I cannot create a recipe for chicken soup and call it “Campbell’s.” But I am allowed to “use” the name in conversation. I’m allowed to say “I ate some Campbell’s soup for lunch.” I think that’s how it goes anyway.

I believe that means we should only call it the “GED” if we use the American Council of Education/ Pearson test. If the State starts using a different assessment tool or different criteria to award high school equivalency diplomas, they can’t call it the GED. It would be a “High School Equivalency” diploma, not a GED diploma.

I doubt that you can actually be sued for saying using the term “GED” when you really mean “High School Equivalency Diploma.” It’s just not a true statement. Sort of like when people say they were “butt naked” or “the gig is up.”

“HSE”….Sounds a little weird, but I think I could get used to it.

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avatar Bruce Carmel
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SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 MORE ON GED TESTING AND PREPARATION
Yesterday I attended a forum entitled “Reforming New York’s GED System: How to Raise the State’s Dismal GED Attainment Rate and Ensure More of Those with a GED Go on to College.” This event was sponsored by the Schuyler Center, the Center for an Urban Future, and the Center for New York City Affairs [at] the New School, and made possible by a generous grant from the Working Poor Families Project. (Forgive me if "sponsored" is the wrong word. I looked in vain for a verb in the materials related to the conference.) This panel accompanied the release of the Center for an Urban Future’s report “Failing the Test” written by Sarah Brannen and edited by Jonathan Bowles.

The event was a panel discussion followed by some questions and answers. The panelists were Nicole Chestang from GED Testing Service, Kevin Smith from the New York State Education Department, Derrick Griffith from Groundwork, Inc., Timothy Lisante from the New York City Department of Education, and Lazar Treschan from the Community Service Society.

In 2008, Jacqueline Cook wrote a report called “Our Chance for Change: A Four-year Reform Initiative for GED Testing in New York City.” In 2009, The Community Service Society released “From Basic Skills to Better Futures: Generating Economic Dividends for New York City”, authored by Lazar Treschan and David Fisher. Jacque’s report brought much needed attention to New York City’s GED testing system (or lack thereof) and offered recommendations. Lazar and David made a case for the economic benefits of creating a more robust GED preparation and testing system that would include bridges to higher education and careers.

I fear those three titles say it all. We had our chance for change. We could have helped people go from basic skills to a better future. But sadly, we have failed the test.

Unfortunately, the sound bite from Jacque’s great report that has stuck is that New York State GED test takers had a very low passing rate: 43 percent. (I am trying not to say “sadly” anymore in this posting. I will try and use synonyms such as unhappily, joylessly, sorrowfully, dismally, and gloomily from now on.) Many of us in the field say it is more important to increase the number of GEDs obtained in New York City, not the passing rate. If our city increases the passing rate, but fewer people get their diplomas, things have gotten worse, not better.

The Center for an Urban Future clearly outlines the problems with the system and makes three recommendations:
1) Require the OPT [Official Practice Test] or similar diagnostic tool
2) Implement a reasonable fee for taking the test
3) Scaling models and techniques

Requiring the Official Practice Test could be a good idea for a few reasons—as long as there is funding attached. Administering and scoring a practice test is cheaper than administering and scoring the real GED exam. It’s half as long and it can be scored locally. Tests wouldn’t have to be mailed to Albany. Another reason I think taking the OPT is a good idea is that it is good practice. I believe that people who take a practice test are better prepared for the GED exam than people who have never seen the GED exam or a test like it. My big concern is that this would be an unfunded mandate. Now is not a good time to ask the State for new money for new program components. We’re gloomily fighting to keep the little bit we’ve got. If the State required an OPT score to sit for the exam, where would people who are not in programs take a practice test? “Get them in a program!” you might say. That would be great, but with all the funding cuts we’ve experienced in the years since Jacque’s report came out, there are very few seats available in GED preparation classes.

The second recommendation is to charge GED test takers a reasonable fee. Twenty or twenty-five dollars doesn’t sound so bad—until you meet our students. Unhappily, this would be a budget cut passed on to the people who can least afford it.

In the CUF report, Nicole Chestang says, “People don’t always value what is free.” Ms. Chestang is Vice President and Executive Director of GED Testing Service, which is described in her biography as “a program of the American Council of Education.” Pearson, the for-profit company with whom ACE partnered in 2001 described things differently on their web site. They call it “a groundbreaking new business" http://www.pearson.com/media-1/announcements/?i=1399." rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.pearson.com/media-1/announcements/?i=1399.

So if it’s a “business,” I am not surprised to hear Ms. Chestang speaking out against things that are free. I wonder how she feels about public schooling, the fire department and snow removal.

The last recommendation—scaling models and techniques--sou nds great to me. Taking some best practices and implementing them across programs is a good idea. The report notes that scaling up programs can be a challenge. I agree that it would be very challenging, especially if there are no additional resources available to support system change.

As some of you may know, I try to look at the bright side, even when things seem hopelessly gloomy, joyless, and sorrowful. One bright spot is Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan. Nolan is chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee. I first met her when I was working at the Queens Library at the turn of the century. She’s long been a champion of adult literacy and access to GED testing. The Assemblywoman was at the forum and asked about the takeover of ACE by a for-profit company. She’s also a creator of the State Law that requires that the GED exam must be free. If we didn’t have her on our side, I’d be worried.

Another bright spot is Kevin Smith, the Deputy Commissioner of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services in New York State. Kevin has been fighting the good fight for many years, and I have a lot of faith in him. I also have to give credit to the New York City Department of Education, who continues to invest in creative programs and systems that help many young people--who would have otherwise dropped out--get a diploma.

Finally, it’s great that the Center for an Urban Future is recognizing and researching this serious problem. The two earlier reports helped bring attention to GED testing and preparation, a big problem that was pretty much being ignored before DYCD, the Trust and Jacque shined a light on it. That laid the groundwork for the CSS report got some press and bit more attention. This third report provides more evidence of the huge need for GED testing and preparation, the lack of services, and the need for changing the system.


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avatar Janice Tosto
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Hi Bruce,

Thanks for your report! I also attended this event. Sorry I missed you.

Regards,
Janice
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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MAY 26, 2011 IT'S NOT YOUR MOTHER'S UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION

In “Your So-Called Education,” (The New York Times, Sunday Opinion, May 15, 2011) Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, lament the current state of undergraduate education in America. They call for college and university faculty to “increase academic rigor on our campuses.” They disapprove of “a larger cultural change in the relationship between students and colleges” where students are thought of as “clients” or “consumers.” They refer to research by Babcock and Marks that found that many undergraduate students did not have to do much reading, writing or studying. They also report that college students study a mere 12 to 13 hours a week now. I’m not sure where they get their numbers from. In “Leisure College, USA: The Decline in Student Study Time” (“American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research,” No.7, August 2010), Babcock and Marks say it’s 14 hours a week--down from 24 hours in 1960. In addition, Arum and Roksa cite research that found that 32 percent of students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over a semester.

I am always suspicious of claims that the world is going to hell and that things were better in the good old days. Maybe Nan Kempner or The Duke of Windsor were better off in 1960, but not so much if you were a toddler killed because safety car seats weren’t invented until 1962, one of the Scottsboro boys, a ten-year old in an iron lung who just missed the polio vaccine, or a housewife who got regular beatings from a husband who considered her his “property.”

So I spent a few hours looking at US Census data about educational attainment in 1960. I really got into it, mainly because so very much has changed. Only 41 percent of our country’s adult population over the age of 25 had a high school diploma or better, and just under 8 percent of the population had a bachelor’s degree or higher back then. By 2009, 87 percent of people over 25 had a high school diploma and just under 30 percent had a bachelor’s or higher. That’s a big, big change. About 50 million more people have college degrees now than in 1960.

Instead of lamenting the reduction time spent studying, I prefer to celebrate the fact that many, many, many more people in our country are getting a college education. 50 million more people spent an average of 14 hours—okay fine, make it 12 hours a week—studying for four years… figuring in summer breaks and such, that means about 1400 hours of studying per person multiplied by 50 million. That measn America is now 70,000,000,000 hours smarter. And that 70 billion number isn’t even counting hours in classes. I hope I did that math right. That number is so big, it wouldn’t show up on my calculator.

When I look at those percentages more closely, there is even more significance. In 1960, most college graduates were men. In 2010, most are women. That does not mean that less men are going to college, but it means that many more women are. And what are those women going to college for now compared to 1960? In 1960, 39 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 34 were employed and 47 percent of them were teachers. (The National Bureau of Economic Research). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold over half of managerial and professional jobs. 54 percent of accountants are women. Women also hold half of the jobs in banking and finance. More than 30 percent of our country’s physicians and 45 percent of associates at law firms are women. (The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/)

And there’s more. For example, in 1960, 3.1 percent of adult African Americans had graduated from college. Over 17 percent are graduates today. That’s an increase of over 500 percent. Yes, there’s still a gap for African Americans, and yes there’s still that glass ceiling for women, but I cannot deny that there has also been tremendous progress.

Then I took a few moments to think about what studying was like in 1960. There were no computers. That means students used typewriters and carbon paper to write. Revising a paper meant writing the whole thing over. That took time—a lot of tedious and not very educating time re-typing the parts of the paper that were staying the same along with the new revised bits. Word processing makes revision much faster and makes it much easier to write multiple drafts. There was no internet in 1960. I don’t know if photocopiers were even invented-- (Hey wait a minute!…I just did a Google search and 90 seconds later I know that “The process of Xerography upon which the photocopier is based was first successfully demonstrated by Chester F. Carlson in Astoria, Queens, New York City on 22 October 1938” and that it was another 20 people the first fully automated photocopier was offered for sale. Do you know how long it would have taken me to find a fact like that in 1960?)
(http://anse.rs/lcaOpq).

In 2011, students can read articles online or get photocopies. In 1960 if you wanted to read an article, you would often have to go to the libraries and find the journal in which it was published or read it on microfilm and microfiche. Did you ever have to read an article on microfiche? I am proud to say that I am ancient enough to have done so. It was a cumbersome process. I remember requesting the microfiche sheet, waiting around for the librarian to retrieve it, putting it into the microfiche reader, then reading and laboriously taking notes. I had to write it all down because it couldn’t be photocopied. Sorting through microfiche was actually kind of exciting to me. I remember an amazing article I found on microfiche by William Labov and David Fanshel linguistically analyzing the discourse and language that preceded violent acts such as cutting someone’s throat. I found this a rewarding process, but getting the information I needed was like looking for needles in haystacks. It took a very long time.

There were no VCRs, DVDs, or CDs in 1960. There weren’t even cassette tapes. If you wanted to rent a movie you had to rent a movie. If you missed --Nobel Prize winner Harold Urey discussing the discovery of heavy water and deuterium on the “Johns Hopkins File 7,” educational television series, tough luck, you missed it.

There were no electric calculators or Excel spreadsheets, but you were welcome to take lots of time to use your trusty abacus or slide rule. “Software” didn’t exist; neither did digital cameras, webinars, or conference calling. I think the list of things that weren’t around in 1960, things that make studying faster and more productive, is quite long. I’ve only named a few examples, but I think I’ve made my point.

Did I mention that Arum and Roksa have written a book? [Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses./i] It is "a damning indictment of the American higher-educatio n system" according to the Chronicle of Higher Education) Now if I wanted to buy their book, I could find out which 24 institutions they looked at. But I don’t. I probably should—I read [i]Atlas Shruggedjust to make sure my disdain of Ayn Rand was justified. (It was.)

Today’s world is so different from 1960. The number and make-up of college students is so different. What it means to “study” is so different. I don’t think it makes much sense to compare what undergraduate school was like in 1960 to what it’s like today.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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FEBRUARY 5, 2011. I'VE BEEN AVOIDANT
The Brooklyn Adult Education Fair was on Wednesday February 2, 2011 at Brooklyn Borough Hall. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has taken the lead in holding an adult education fair in every borough. She wants to let the public—including the 1.6 million New Yorkers who don’t have a high school diplomas—about all the services available.

We’d done one in the Bronx about six weeks ago. Hundreds of people showed up. The City Council Speaker and the Bronx Borough President spoke. 300 people were given a quick preview of the GED exam. It was a few sample questions. Based on their performance, we guided people to either take a full Official Practice Test (OPT) or to enroll in instruction. We knew the screening tool was not a perfect assessment instrument. That’s why we sent anyone who indicated even possible readiness to a better test—the OPT. Over 95 percent of the people screened were referred to instruction. Very few indicated a skill level that would indicate that they were ready to take the GED exam.

In the Bronx, a lot of people who participated in the screened were very discouraged. We had hoped to refer them to instruction, but we ended up spending a lot of time consoling them. They were discouraged by the difficulty of the screening tool. This was a big lesson learned.

We made some adjustments to the screening for Brooklyn. We changed the assessment tool to include a few easier questions. We wrote an intro script that explained that very few people were able to walk in off the street and pass the GED exam, but that most people had the potential to pass the exam if they had some instruction. We had teachers meet with each person individual and give them the results.

20 providers showed up, lots a staff from those agencies, and lots of staff from the City Council. We had an addition dozen people ready to administer our fabulous new screening tool. Last Wednesday, you may recall, started off very icy. The weather didn’t end up being that awful, but it wasn’t that good. By 4pm—when the fair started—Borough Hall wasn’t too bad. But the weather, along with some other factors, hurt our turnout. About 100 people showed up and we administered the screening to 70 people. People did a little bit better this time. About 10 percent were referred to the OPT.

I think many of us were disappointed that hundreds of people weren’t beating the doors down. I guess I should remind ourselves that a major intervention for 100 people is not bad for one afternoon. The lower than expected turnout caused us to be over-staffed. So the people who were there got lots and lots of care. I think it was a positive experience for them.

There were so many people who helped this event run smoothly. I hesitate to mention names because I hate leaving someone out, but a few people really deserve special recognition. Thanks to Nick Rolf, Torrence Allen, Mike Schweinsburg, Linda Avitabile and Natalie or maybe Natali (I am sorry Natalie, I don’t remember your last name. I tried so hard to find it. Unless you are Natali Sierra), Ellen Richer, Josh Willis and the legion of lovely Turning Point employees who came to help.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JANUARY 19, 2011 YES, I KNOW I MENTIONED "GLEE" TWICE.
I often start my day poking around on the yahoo.com home page. I like the “trending now” box, which lists celebrities, natural wonders or disasters, heavenly bodies, weather situations, medications, health conditions, and everything else that is for some reason getting a lot of internet traffic. I spend too much time feeling disappointed, mean-spirited, and guilty when it invariably turns out that Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jerry Lee Lewis are not dead, but merely ailing or complaining. It’s a letdown when it turns out that Charlie Sheen predictably got high or drunk again; that Halle Berry, Amy Adams, or Carrie Underwood are yet again pregnant, engaged, divorced, or wearing a new dress. For me “Anne Hathaway will play lesbian aunt on ‘Glee’” is something worth knowing.

(Ha! I just checked to make sure Jerry Lee Lewis is not dead. Also a note to my friend Fred, the NYNP editor: please post quickly. Zsa Zsa may live forever, but it’s not likely.)

Another section on the yahoo.com homepage I like doesn’t seem to have a name. It’s at the top and center. It says “Today” and the date. Then there’s one big picture with a caption and four small pictures with captions underneath that. The big picture is one of the little ones enlarged. If you scroll over any of the four little ones, that little picture becomes the big picture. (Wow. I wonder if that makes any sense or if it was worth the trouble to try and explain.) These are sometimes interesting items. For example, at 9:48pm on Monday the 17th of January, 2011, the captions say: “Plan to resurrect mammoth” [as in “prehistoric elephant-ish mammal”], “Venus’s dress shortest yet,” “Get a perfect credit score,” and “Ronald Reagan’s sons feuding.” Something for everyone, right?

On Monday morning, the “Red Carpet Report Card” from the Golden Globes Award was featured in this untitled headline section. I clicked on a picture of Angelina Jolie in a very green dress and was transported to a slide show of 57 pictures of TV and movie actresses, comments and grades of their appearance. I looked at everyone, although around picture 32, I stopped reading the captions. With few exceptions they all look the same to me. Sleek dresses that show a lot of cleavage and collarbone). The hair is sometimes up, sometimes down, and occasionally very short. Sometimes it’s sleek and sometimes it’s tousled. Lots of smiles—mostly toothy, but sometimes closed-mouth. Some red lips some pink. Not a lot of jewelry. One or two hands on the hip must be featured in the “Starlet 101” syllabus because 27 actresses struck that pose.

Women who looked like princesses from a Disney movie or toy ballerinas were well received. Divert from that and you were in trouble. Helena Bonham Carter is dressed like a 1980’s punk princess with black sunglasses, one red shoe and one green shoe. She has both hands on her hips and she is not smiling. She got an “F.” She is, just by the way, a serious actress. Tilda Swinton looks like a man on a crew team—short hair, not a lot of makeup, a button-down shirt, a plain butter colored skirt that doe not show off any curves she might have. She got an “F” and is a serious actress too. Hallie Steinfeld stands out because she is twelve.

Gabourey Sibide who is very overweight and Amber Riley from “Glee” who is big but not as big as Gabby also stand out. Helen Mirren is unique for wearing a big diamond necklace and being old (serious actress). Annette Bening looks a little like Albert Einstein from the neck up with crazy messy hair and horn-rimmed glasses. She got a C (serious actress). Looking like a stripper didn’t count against January Jones who was called “red hot” and got a “B”

So what in the world is the point of a youth development and adult literacy professional writing about this for the New York Nonprofit Press? I think it’s pretty obvious. My heart and soul and brain believe that it’s important to help people, make a contribution, and be useful, yet look at the nonsense that bombards me every single day. Fashion. Illusions of beauty. Youth. Edie Falco and Tina Fey dressing up like Barbie dolls. This is what I am supposed to care about? This is what I am supposed to admire? And I take the time to look at it. No wonder I am confused.

New Year’s Resolution: Be more fierce and proud about the work I do.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 30, 2010 LIGHTING UP A STOGIE
I was on the R train yesterday sitting next to a woman reading a book written in Asian Characters. She started humming “O Come All Ye Faithful” a little too loudly. I wondered if her book was a book of Christmas songs. I am very sensitive to sounds. I get easily annoyed. I got up and moved down the car, hoping I’d be far enough away to not hear her. Her humming got louder and soon she was singing. She didn’t really know all the words. She was not a terrible singer until she got to the high parts.

I switched to the express train at 36th Street. Sadly, she switched too. She began to sing louder and louder. Even more sadly, we were on an express train to Atlantic Avenue. It would take a good five to seven minutes to get to the next stop. She sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” over and over again. Some of her invented lyrics made me smile. Much of the song turned into mumbling if she didn’t know the words, but sometimes she just charged ahead with whatever words fit. At one point I was sure I heard “O come light up a stogie! O come light up a stogie!”

She sang the same verse and chorus over and over and over again. It reminded me of a 1980s car alarm—stopping for a moment only to start up again and again. I really wanted to say “Will you shut up already?!” I didn’t for two reasons. First of all, I’ve learned not to indulge my self-righteous correcting of other people’s behavior. That kind of confrontation is pretty much always a bad idea. If I am bothered, I should move to another car. The second reason was that I was imagining the other passengers thinking favorably of this woman spreading the word of God. Maybe they appreciated a little religion on the way home. Maybe they would side against me if I objected.

We pulled into Atlantic Avenue and she quieted down. The next stop was going to be DeKalb. Then she started singing “Joy to the World.” She knew far fewer of these words and there were many more high notes. I switched cars at the next stop. It takes a good eight to ten minutes to get from DeKalb to Canal.

I thought about this woman off and on all night long. The memory of an inter-agency staff training I’d attended a few years ago floated into my head. They had us do an icebreaker where we had to tell the group something about ourselves that we thought would surprise them. I’d been subjected this one before. I didn’t like it. I could think of lots and lots and lots of things that the people in the room didn’t know about me, and that was just how I wanted to keep it. I tried not to laugh as I imagined all the very personal things that the people around the room might be thinking and what it would be like if they actually said them. I decided I was okay with telling the group that I used take ballet lessons.

“I’ve started preaching on the trains,” said a woman sitting across the room who I had seen at trainings like this one a few times before. ‘I don’t know what happened, but one day I just started. The spirit moved me.”

This alarmed me. Did this woman think this was an acceptable or even admirable activity? I talked to my friend/co-worker Susan about it after.

“Yeah that was weird,” she said. We wondered if other people thought it was weird or if they thought it was a nice thing to be doing. We weren’t sure. I decided this woman might be unbalanced.

This morning I was back on the R train. I was thinking about the woman singing on the train and the preacher-woman from the training. I was wondering why I objected to them so much. I was thinking I would write something about this.

I was getting impatient. When we were in between 36th and 45th Street, I got up and moved toward the front of the car. At 45th Street I moved to the next car, so I’d be closer to my exit when we got to my stop.
I sat down and looked across the train only to find the Christmas Caroler looking at me. I am not sure I would have recognized her had she not had the same book full opened on her lap.

“Hello,” she said. I recognized her. Did she recognize me?

“Hi,” I said. Maybe I should have just nodded.

“God bless you,” she said.

“Thanks. God bless you too,” I replied. That might have been a mistake.

“You have to open heart to Jesus. Not just mind, but heart too,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, aware of other people on the train listening to this.

“He died for you. Talk to him. You talk to him,” she said.

I didn’t say anything back.

“God loves you. He died for you on cross. What’s your name?” she said.

I wanted to say, “Yeah right, like I am going to tell you my name. And who the hell are you to decide what my spiritual path should be? Worry about yourself.”

We pulled into 53rd Street. I stood up, said “Thanks” and got off the train.

"Talk to him," she called after me.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 26, 2010: UNFINISHED OR SELF-CENSORED BLOG ENTRIES

How the head of a big nonprofit advocacy organization was more concerned with her makeup and hair than who was watching her two-year old child when I saw her in the green room of a local talk show.

How a friend of mine said something about old people being bothersome and slow when we were at a modern dance performance and how I ended up hopping out of my seat and helping a somewhat feeble woman into her seat, trying to push her up from her shoulder, how that didn’t work, and how I apologized as I pushed her up with my hand on her butt.

How so many people on facebook were outraged when an earlier vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” falied to do away with the policy, but then didn’t say much when it was repealed—and what I think that says about our society.

How it really should be "Don't Ask. Don't tell" or "Don't ask; don't tell." ( I think.)

How people are so inclined to disparage our government and our President and so reluctant to have hope and faith.

Annoyance with an acquaintance/ “friend” who works as an office manager and has an undergraduate degree in Art History, but feels highly qualified to say really damning and mean things about Obama’s economic policies.

Several entries about how people (including myself) act on the subway and what that behavior leads me to infer about the economy, America’s spiritual condition, and racial tensions in our country.

Mondo Guerra from “Project Runway.”

Detailed summary of a City Council Hearing

More deserved heapings of praise on Sara Gonzalez—the adult literacy “Champion” of the City Council

Despair about budget cuts to adult literacy

Hope in the face of budget cuts to adult literacy

Despair about other things.


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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 16, 2010 LET'S START WITH THE NINE-CENT CHICKEN

Yesterday I was shopping in a Gristede’s supermarket. I wanted some chicken. If you are a chicken-buyer like me, you probably know that the price of chicken really varies. For example, a really good deal on boneless breasts is 2.99 or sometimes even 1.99 a pound. But then the next week at the same store, that same chicken might be 5.99 or 6.99 a pound. I won’t buy it if it’s that much. I’ll just go to another store and then maybe another. Usually I find a price I can live with. If not, I eat something else for dinner.

I was looking for a whole cut-up chicken. I’d made some marinara sauce. I like to sauté the chicken parts then pour sauce over it and cook it till it’s all done. Chicken Cacciatore.

I didn’t see any whole cut-up chickens. This internal monologue followed: “Well I guess I could make it with other parts. What have they got here?...six forty-nine a pound for boneless breasts. Forget that….two ninety-nine a pound for split breasts with the bone in. Maybe… Oh look, here’s a couple packages in the corner. What are they? Five cents a pound for this cut-up half a chicken—Huh? Hold up. Five cents a pound? No way!”

But there it was: The sticker said this half chicken costs nine cents (0.09). This didn’t fit into my understanding of the world, so my little brain tried to reconcile this aberration. “Maybe it’s necks and you didn’t notice.” Nope. It was two big pieces: a breast/wing and a leg/thigh. “Maybe it’s spoiled. Maybe the date’s expired.” Nope. It was good for another three days. I looked at the package behind the nine-cent chicken. It’s also five cents a pound—a little bigger so it was ten cents.

There was store employee pricing hot dogs a few feet away....

“Excuse me ma’am,” I said and pointed to the price, “This can’t be right.”

“Oh look at that,” she said in that hard voice that made me think she’s been to more than a few Narcotics Anonymous meetings. “You’re right. That’s wrong. I made a mistake.”

She walked back and looks at the other packages. There were a few other packages priced like this. “You know what?” she said, “Let me know when you’re ready to check out. I’ll tell the manager. You can have this one.”

“Oh thanks,” I said. “So I get a reward for being honest?” It kind of crossed my mind that maybe I was legally entitled to the price that appeared on the sticker, but there was no need to go down that self-righteous road.

“Yes you do,” she said. “You get a reward.”

“I’m ready,” I said. “I’m just buying this.”

We went up the register and she got the manager. “I made this mistake,” she said. “I’m changing the other ones, but he should have this.”

The manager shrugged and the checker rang up my nine-cent chicken.

I believe there are many times when I get lucky, get treated kindly, and have things work out better than they ought to. Do I really appreciate these instances? In the case of this chicken, I think I really did. I told a couple friends about it. I wrote this blog entry about it. But there are other times when I am not so grateful.

Let’s take Adult Literacy Funding, for example. In 2009, the Department of Youth and Community Development amended adult literacy contracts to include American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. Contract amounts were hugely increased for Fiscal Year 2010 and significantly increased for the first three months of 2011. I was indeed happy about this, but did I really realize what a remarkable thing this was? I am not sure.

Then ARRA ran out and the axes started to fall. Although the stimulus money was untouched, our core adult literacy program funding was cut more than 30% for fiscal year 2011--after threats of total elimination in an early budget proposed by the Mayor. Then mid-year cuts were announced a few weeks ago. 3.3% more cut from adult literacy. Put it all together and it’s a reduction of over one-third. This upset me a lot. From a couple days I even went to that what's-the-poin t-I-might-as-we ll-give-up-the world-against-m e place.

This is what I am interested in here: How does my happiness and satisfaction over the ARRA increase compare to the intensity of my sadness and frustration over the recent cuts? I think I feel the bad more than I feel the good.

It’s easier for me to be cynical, disappointed and bitter than to be hopeful, satisfied, and encouraged. Maybe “easier” is the wrong word. “Safer” might be better. If I’m already disappointed, you can’t really hurt me, can you? If I’m hopeful, I am setting myself up for a fall. The thing is, I don’t think that “life sucks” is accurate. Sure, lots of bad things happen in this world, but good things happen too. Do I notice them?

I am happy to say I now see the negative way of distorting reality as a character defect I can work to change. Progress has been slow but pretty steady. It takes honesty and gratitude. So now when I’m hungry, angry, lonely, and tired after a tough day at work, and I just miss the train home, I certainly don’t like it, but I am honest about the reality of the situation. I admit that this does not happen all the time—or maybe even all that often. And I remember that maybe just the day before I was running late and a train pulled in just as I stepped onto the platform, decided to run express instead of local, and got me safely to my destination on time.

I don’t have to remind myself to complain when things don’t go the way I want (aka “I’ve been screwed”). That comes naturally. But I do need to remind myself to notice and enjoy it when things go right—as they actually sometimes do.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 11, 2010 NEVER WORK WITH DOGS OR CHILDREN
There was a City Council Hearing on Monday about the budget. It went on all day long. They started at 10am. I left at 6pm and there were still people left to testify. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but I’ve also been avoiding it.

The city agencies testified first. Then they called up some people who were in wheelchairs and getting picked up by Access-A-Ride. They talked about how the services that were being cut have been keeping them alive.

Then the unions testified. Then some legal people. Then the rest of us. The first group called to speak included a woman who was testifying on behalf of her disabled son; Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center; three formerly homeless youth who had been on the streets but were now housed by Ali Forney; and me, speaking on behalf of the New York Coalition for Adult Literacy.

I had two minutes. I thanked the Council, the Speaker, and Sara Gonzalez for their support. I reminded the Council that Adult Literacy programs serve more disconnected youth than any other city-funded education program. I mentioned that we’d already received a cut of over 30 percent at the beginning of the year. I made a few other points and finished up with 45 seconds left on the clock. There were a lot of people left to speak, so I tried to be brief.

It was rough hearing everyone talking about how much their budgets had been cut, the continued or even increased need for services, and the resulting train wrecks. So many different agencies and the people they serve are hurting. It was a hard day.
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avatar bruce carmel
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NOVEMBER 21, 2010 ADULT EDUCATION FAIR IN THE BRONX
(The fair was on the 15th but it was a busy week--okay not really that busy--I am just lazy.)

Well that was fun. “How did this so-called 'Adult Education Fair' come about?” you are probably asking. I will tell you….

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn contacted the New York Coalition for Adult Literacy (NYCAL) late last summer to talk about having Adult Literacy Fairs in each borough. The first one was supposed to be in Brooklyn. I told them I would be happy to help.

It was a little bumpy to begin with. First of all, I was visiting my family in Seattle when I got a call from the Speaker’s office. I was in my pajama bottoms, in Seattle, at my mom’s (telling her “Yes I know there are bagels in the freezer and no I don’t want one right now and I am not sure why you can’t get the Scrabble game on Facebook AGAIN and I am on the phone!)That’s weird enough, right? This was the original idea: They would get the word out about all the wonderful options available to people who need to get their GED. NYCAL could help get them into programs, improve their literacy skills, get them GEDs, get them jobs, enroll them into college, get them paying taxes, help us pull out of this recession faster, and everyone would live happily ever after.

This sounds great—except for the fact that we received huge and disproportionat e cuts from City (DYCD cut over 30% to community-based organizations) and the state (the New York State Education department cut over 30 percent of Adult Literacy Education funding).

Digressive Rant:
Tons of people out of work... Employers complaining they can’t find workers with skills for the jobs that are available...Hmmmm…let’s pretend I’m a legislator or an appointed official. Should I help people improve their basic skills so they can get jobs or should I slash funding for the very programs that our economy needs? Oh wait! There’s another option. Something worse. Aha! Let’s propose total elimination of adult literacy programs. Yeah that should cause quite a stir. I’ll go with that one!


So yeah….classes had been cut in many programs. Teachers laid off. I didn’t feel good about doing outreach and recruitment only to dump people onto long, long waiting lists. This wasn’t what the Speaker’s office had hoped to hear.

But we (if I may be so bold as to speak for the adult literacy community) were totally delighted that the Speaker was not only interested in adult literacy, she had actually taken the time to learn about it and do some things about it. We--(okay maybe I better switch from “we” to “I”. Adult literacy folk don’t like anyone presuming to speak on their behalf without a lengthy consensus-build ing process. And I support that)…I didn’t want us to squander an opportunity. How could this be made to work? (Yeah I know it’s the passive voice.)

YES... WE... COULD....

The Brooklyn Borough President and Speaker Quinn had schedule that conflicted, so the first fair would be in the Bronx. The ubiquitous Linda Avitabile agreed to be the point person. She made it work. Sure—there were programs that could not take in new students at this time. A couple said “Please! No outreach! No recruitment! Anything but that.” But some programs did have some space. The Department of Education came onboard. They are the biggest provider and they can always take new students. There were a few other pockets where students could get in. There were also places for people interested in the GED exam. Highbridge set up a quick and dirty screening for prospective test takers. Anyone doing well on this initial screening could sign up for a date to take the Official Practice Test.

So the day of the event: I’d never been to Bronx Borough Hall before. It was kind of hard to find directions online. I was warned that there were two courthouses and to be careful not to go the wrong one. I got out of the 161st station hoping to see signs that said "Grand Concourse." No such luck. But I did see Yankee Stadium in one direction and a big government-y looking building in the other. (He comes my favorite part of all this) When I entered the official-lookin g building, I thought I was in the wrong courthouse. There were no signs and no indication of an Adult Education Fair. I wasn't on the Grand Concourse. I was on Walton Avenue or something. I figured they’d point me to the other courthouse. But it turned out this was the right place. I asked security if there was an adult literacy fair happening. Shockingly—security never knows anything—they knew and directed me down the hall and to the right.

“Oh great,” I smugly thought. “Who’s gonna come to this? The address doesn't make sense. No signs out front and foreboding metal detectors inside.”

It turns out I was coming in the side entrance. Out front on the Grand Concourse, there was a big beautiful sign. There were posters in Spanish and English at the doors of the rotunda. So once again (here’s my favorite favorite part) I was wrong. I like it when I am wrong and admit it.

The event was scheduled from 4-8pm. I got there at about 4:05 and there were already lots of people there. The place was busy up until I left around 7:00. In total, 292 people signed in. I bet at least 400 were there in total (some just walked in and didn’t sign). They got to find out about the adult education options available in the Bronx. Some started the intake process to get into a program. Over 250 got screening to see if they should take classes or go straight to the GED exam.

Thanks to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her amazing staff (including Nick Rolf, Tony Simone, and Torrence Allen), The Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and his awesome staff including Jesse Mojica, Highbridge Community Life and the ubiquitious Linda A., other Bronx literacy providers (I don’t have a good list so I won’t try to name everyone—but I have to mention Paul Wasserman from Lehman College. He’s a pillar. I mean it.) and everyone who attended the fair.

Next stop: Brooklyn! The next Adult Education Fair could happen as early as January 2011.
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avatar Janice Tosto
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Hi Bruce,

Thanks for the update! I found out about the Literacy Fairs about two weeks ago, but have been too busy to attend. Hopefully my teacher or I can get to the next one.

Regards,
Janice Tosto
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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NOVEMBER 11, 2010. I HOPE I AM GETTING NICER. I HOPE WE ALL ARE
So I was heading to work, feeling proud of myself for getting out the house with plenty time to actually be early for an often tedious and sometimes painful Program Directors Meeting. The subway was medium crowded as we sat in the 96th Street station. The doors started doing that thing where they open and close four, five six, times. People holding the doors, I figured. It occured to me that I hadn’t been experiencing this so much recently. I haven’t noticed people holding the doors, opening and closing over and over, and irritated conductors telling passengers to let go.

“Yes!” I thought. “People are happier, more prosperous and more relaxed. They aren’t holding the subway doors open. They aren’t clinging to the little bit of whatever so desperately. They are willing to step aside and graciously wait for the next train. The times--they are a changin'!” That’s what I hoped anyway.

At 72nd Street a passenger pushed past a young businessman. She said “excuse me” very quietly. He was wearing earphones and didn’t hear her. She called him an idiot. He didn’t hear that either. Then she squeezed her behind into a seat that was apparently extremely important for her to get into and said disdainfully, “I pray every day…” I believe she meant she prays for the FOOLISH people who get in her way, prays for them to see the light and be more aware of her world and her needs. “I pray every day,” she said. To which, I responded, “Well it’s not working”—meaning “You are a sour old bat, calling people names and pushing them out of the way, just to get a silly seat on a crowded subway. What’s the point of praying if you are a nasty person? Pray harder. Pray better.”

Luckily she didn’t hear me. I have this bad habit--that I hope pops up with diminishing frequency—of saying judgmental things under my breath that I never should say at all. I think that no one can hear, when in fact, I said whatever it was way too loudly. One time, a probably perfectly okay woman wedged herself into a seat next to me. I actually said, “You got a funny idea about the size of your butt.” I thought I was saying it really quietly so no one could hear. I was not. She told me to mind my own damn business and lucky for me didn’t beat the crap out of my unpleasant self.

Another time I was riding the train and a woman desperately pushed past her fellow passengers to squeeze herself into the seat next to the lady who was sitting next to me, who serenely said “At all costs!” delivered with superb comic timing. She didn't seem nasty to me, just amused. I've tried to use that line myself a few times. I don't think I've ever made it work.

So maybe people aren't perfect. Of course they aren't. But I hope there's a little bit of a change. Maybe the worst of the recession is over. Maybe people are going back to work, spending money, and happier. Maybe our smart and confident President—even though his approval ratings are not great—has actually had a calming effect on American and New York City. Even if you don’t like Obama, I don’t think he seems as dangerous as George W. Bush, does he? You might not like his policies or his personality, but with Bush, I figured he was sending us to war and to ruin just for the hell of it and to help his buddies make a buck or two. (Perhaps that last defense of Obama was unnecessary.This the New YorkNonprofit Press for goodness sakes.)
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NOVEMBER 1, 2010 TIED FOR FIRST
A couple days ago, a friend of mine wrote, “_____ doesn't like living. Nice guys finish last” as his facebook update. [Punctuation added by me.]

If I am going to think about coming in last, first, or somewhere in the middle, I need to clarify what race I am in. There are many contests in which I might choose to compete. I can try to get the most money, the most power, the cutest boyfriend, or the biggest house. I can try to be the most sarcastic or the most manipulative. I could try and drink you under the table. I could try to be the biggest liar, cheat, or thief.

Some of those races tempt me. Not the liar/cheating/drinking races, but the money and power races. I walk around New York City and see fancy buildings, people, restaurants, clothes, and cars. I see “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”-type shows where someone has a huge house with an atrium and a fountain that spell out her entire name. It’s easy to I think “Yeah I want that too!”

Kanye West had his bottom teeth removed and replaced with diamonds. He has to go to the dentist a lot to take care of this. To me, it just looks weird. But still…I wish I had that kind of money. I want diamonds instead of teeth too!

I don’t wear jewelry. I don’t even like diamonds. Still…I guess I’d like to be able have that stuff if I wanted it. I’d like to have the option.

If I'd wanted to win the “most expensive mouth” race, I really should have gone down a different path. I’m not saying I could have won the “who’s richest?” race. I don’t think I have the talent for that. But I certainly could have been a lot richer than I am now. I could have gone to college for anything. I chose to go to school to study how people learn and think. I wrote my dissertation about people who don’t know how to read and write. I choose to work outside of big institutions with marginalized—usually poor—people. There’s not a lot of money in that.

Most people I know who have lots of material things also have jobs I don’t think I would like. I have a friend who sells advertising space. He makes a lot more money than I do. He has a very, very expensive watch (the charm of which escapes me.) He says he can’t wait until he gets to retire. I kind of want to work forever. I love this guy, but we have drifted apart. I haven’t talked to him in a long time.

I guess there are some people who have lots of money and got it from doing cool things. There’s Toni Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and the Coen Brothers. They’re rich and sort of powerful, right? I don’t know them. I wonder if they are nice.

I don’t think it’s just about jobs, by the way. I have one friend who is a lawyer and he worked for a bank. He’s a very kind and good guy. I think it’s about how we are in life—how we do whatever we do, at work and all the time.

If I am on the subway and there is an older person in front of me, slowly trying to get a cart down the stairs, what do I do? If I push past and catch the train that was pulling into the station, I win the “get to where I am going faster than you” race. But if I stop to help her, tell her it’s no trouble, maybe even say something nice, and miss that train, I win the “being nice to old people” race. (I’d like to think that there is extra-credit karma. You know…the train that I missed explodes in the tunnel and I meet a program officer who decides to nominate me for a MacArthur grant on the next one. But read on....)

A couple years ago, I was going to visit a friend in Roosevelt Hospital. It was not the first time I’d been there. I was walking down west 59th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. I was cold. I was kind of hungry. I was the only one on this dark side of the street. I looked across into the windows of the emergency room. I could see but not hear inside. Nothing dramatic was going on--just people sitting in their coats, waiting and maybe bleeding.

I felt sad and lonely. I didn’t want to be on this depressing street going to the depressing hospital. I wanted to be on a fabulous date or heading to a glamorous party. Instead, I was heading to the Duane Reade across the street to get some snacks for my sick friend. I’d been to that Duane Reade too many times--for this friend and others. I knew where the snack aisle was. I knew where the refrigerated section was. I didn’t really like knowing this store so well. It was not something I wanted to know. I was stressed about money. I was a little resentful having to spend my cash on Gatorade and potato chips that I wasn’t even going to eat.

I thought about what a “good person” I was to be doing this. I thought about being rewarded for this someday.

Suddenly—and I don’t remember a reason for this—I realized that there was no reward besides the experience. I would get to walk down a cold lonely street and spend money I would rather spend on something else; sign in at the desk, ask directions of the unfriendly guard; be reluctantly helped to my friend by a chilly nurse; pass vulnerable, scared, sick people with their asses hanging out of their gowns; have an awkward and disturbing visit in a smelly room; and head home worrying about my friend. I wasn’t guaranteed undying gratitude and there would be no nice gift later. When I realized this, I felt much better. I settled into what I was doing. I wanted to be there—to be a good and decent friend. That was all.

I hope I’m in the “nice guy” race—not the “replace your bottom teeth with diamonds” race. There can be lots and lots of winners in that one, can’t there? If I try to help people; if I achieve some peace and serenity; if I fill my life with love and friendship; If I’m a good son, brother, uncle and cousin--if I do that--that’s all there is to it.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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OCTOBER 31, 2010 FULL-TIME TEACHERS--A SPOOKY SITUATION
I was asked to give a presentation at a Department of Youth and Community Development workshop called “Effective Strategies for Outreach, Recruitment, Attendance and Retention.” It was me and Susan Thompson, the EXCELLENT Program Manager I am lucky enough to have working with me; Paola Ruiz from Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation; and the ubiquitous Linda Avitabile from Highbridge Community Life, ably assisted by two other awesome staff people from Highbridge: Echo Shumaker Pruitt and someone named either Sondra or Sandra who’s name wasn’t on the agenda—so I don’t know how to spell it.

Mostly we talked about retention. Recruitment isn’t a program for most community-based organizations who have long, long waiting lists. Retaining students is a great challenge. Funders have unrealistic, out-of-touch expectations. Our students come to us voluntarily. Families, jobs, health issues, and a myriad of other realities often get in the way. A lot of people drop out. Sometimes they come back to us later—sometimes years later. Sometimes they go to another program and we never know about it. Most of the time we don’t know when that happens.

I used to worry about this is unhelpful ways. Of course it’s our job to do the very best we can, to provide the best instruction possible, to assist in the elimination of obstacles and design programs that fit in with people’s lives, but no matter how great a program is, students will drop out. A major goal of our program is to prevent attrition. That’s fine. But I have become more accepting of dropouts. If we start off with twenty students in a class and only ten finish, I am sure going to wish we’d held onto more students. But now I like to focus more on the ten who stayed. Maybe that’s what it takes to help ten. You got to enroll twenty. Even though the ten who dropped out and didn’t take the bad standardized test we are required to give students, who’s to say they didn’t learn a lot while they were with us? And sometimes the people who drop come back later. I hope that means they had a good experience the first time.

Two interesting things happened at this training:

First Thing: When we broke into small groups to discuss our retention strategies, one woman went off on an intense rant about the “big box” store that was right next to her program, how she bought a lot of stuff from them, and how she’d asked them for a donation. She was told she had to apply through some sort of corporate procedure. Why couldn't they just give her a big tub of peanut butter or some rolls of paper towels? She was outraged. The other people in our group nodded politely, said nothing and hoped that she would eventually run out of steam, which she did.

Second Thing: When we were moving into our small groups, a participant came up and asked me how we could afford full time teachers. Susan had mentioned that as one of our strategies to retain students. Because we offer full-time positions with benefits, quality professionals, we start off with strong talented teachers. Having them around full-time allows for staff development and the building of a community of professionals. That results in a higher quality of instruction and that contributes to student retention.

I said we had to raise private money to help pay for it.

I thought about it later. When she said “ How can you afford full-time teachers?” a more correct answer would have been. “WE CAN’T. But we do it anyway.” Paying our teachers as much as I possibly can and providing them with benefits makes my life very stressful. How much easier it would be to balance the budget if I didn’t have to figure 25% for fringe benefits and if we didn’t pay teachers for vacation time, prep time, and staff development hours! But then what would the point of it all be?

This is something I worry about a lot. The starting salary for our teachers is not so bad compared to the Department of Education. But we can’t give the yearly increases like the DOE does. I’d like teaching at Turning Point to be more of a career. I would like it if my teachers didn’t have to work part-time jobs on the side to have a decent life.

I keep coming back to the same place: It’s so hard to run an adult literacy program! I just want to give up sometimes. Then I remind myself that this is why it’s important to stay.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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OCTOBER 21, 2010 BULLYING
“Bullying is a form of abuse. It comprises repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful. The power imbalance may be social power and/or physical power.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

I’ve been hearing about “bullying” lately. The press coverage of the suicides of several teenagers who were gay--or perceived to be gay--has resulted in an outpouring of concern. Ellen DeGeneres, Kathy Griffin, Tim Gunn, and Hillary Clinton all made statements. (If you don’t know who those people are, just Google or YouTube them. You’ve got some catching up to do.) You might also want to look up “The Trevor Project” and “It Gets Better.”

Be forewarned: If you are unfortunate enough to encounter this treacly display of young-actors-I- never-heard-of “Glee”ing it up in this horrible video (“‘It Gets Better” Broadway sings for the Trevor Project,”) I can’t be held responsible.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeKI8biAglU" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeKI8biAglU

A BULLYING-RELATE D ANECDOTE
Although I am loathe to write anything facebook-relate d, I think I have no choice here:

I recently got a “friend request” from somebody I thought I didn’t know. We had a mutual friend—someone I had worked with thirteen years ago at an afterschool program. I looked at what I could see of his profile and a lot of his friends were familiar names: other staff members and young people who had been in the program--all grown up now. I figured he had been a participant in the program who I just wasn’t remembering.

So I added him as a friend, unsure who this tall bearded man was. After I accepted his friend request, I could see more of his profile. I looked at the pictures trying to remember who this guy might be. I only worked at this program for a year and a half, but it had been so much fun. I remember many of the young people I had known there.

“That’s 4 the ADD Bruce!” he commented on my wall.

I looked at his profile again and started to remember this over-active, energetic, distracted, very high-strung, behavior problem of an eight- or nine-year-old boy. (I’d been thinking about the teenagers in the program. They were the ones I’d known the best.)

Bits and pieces started coming back to me. There were two older girls who were related to him—cousins or aunts or half-sisters. One was a graduate of the program, in college, and she worked as a counselor in the summer program. The other was a maybe a junior in high school. I think that maybe he’d lived with them. I think his parents weren’t around.

Then I remembered him crying. What had happened? He he'd been very upset. Distraught. That out of control crying of a child that's not going away for a while. Had someone hurt him? Teased him? Called him names? Bullied him? Something like that. But whatever it was, I remember the staff taking care of him, talking to him, comforting him, waiting till he calmed down, and working to the other kids who'd been involved.

A few nights ago he IMed me.

“Hi Bruce!”

“Hi _______”

“Do you remember me?”

“I think so,” I wrote back. “Are you ________ and _______’s cousin or nephew or something like that?”

We went on to chat for a while about what he’d been up to over the past thirteen (!) years. He’d finished high school in 2005 and he’s going to one of the private proprietary schools that we warn students about. He was doing okay.

He asked me if I remembered a time when he’d interviewed me. He’d decided to create a radio talk show where he would be the host interviewing famous people. He didn’t know any famous people so he interviewed me and a coordinator of the program. I had a vague recollection of this. He told me that he still had the tape if I wanted to hear it sometime.

He told me that I had been his favorite. That surprised me. I hadn’t worked with him that much. I had basically forgotten all about him until now. We can’t really know the impact we are going to have on young people, can we?

A MEMORY OF BULLYING
When I was in elementary school, I remember a kid who was ostracized. I don’t know how it started, but I remember that no one liked him. He had “cooties” and stuff like that. I wasn’t a leader of this effort to be mean to this kid, but I went along with it. I didn’t say “Hey you guys! Stop it! He has feelings too!” I am not so proud of this, but when I was eight years old, I didn’t really have much compassion or empathy for others.

I also remember that our teacher somehow found out about this teasing. She talked to the class about how we shouldn’t be mean to each other and how we needed to be nicer to this boy. And after that, things changed for him. We started a club of people to be this kid's friends. Things got better for this one kid, and I hope it made all of us a little more decent to one another.

MORE ON BULLYING
A couple weeks ago, I read something that said we needed to start punishing bullies.”Bullying must be stopped!” I don’t know if that’s really the answer. Yes, it’s important to stop bullying when we see it, but I’m not a big fan of “punishing.” If a kid is being a bully, I think it’s probably better to find out what’s going on. Bullies aren’t so sympathetic, but they have their own problems. What’s going on at home? Are they themselves being bullied or teased by someone? What are they afraid of that’s causing this? In my experience, it's better to try and change a behavior than to forbid or punish it.

Of course, it’s important to teach kids to be nice to each other. I also think it’s important for young people to have positive relationships with adults who encourage and support them. As I remember it, this guy who facebook-friend ed me had some real issues, but he also had his two cousins and his aunt looking out for him. He had the staff at our afterschool program caring about him too. When somebody made him cry, we knew about it and did something. I would like to think that that incident took place in the context of a life of a child who felt loved, valued, supported. Upset? Yes. Suicidal? I can't know for sure, but I hope it never came close to that.

Unfortunately, bullying and teasing are not new. The Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey stated that LGBTQ teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight teenagers.
http://gaylife.about.com/od/gayteens/a/gaysuicide.htm" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://gaylife.about.com/od/gayteens/a/gaysuicide.htm

Bullying is not going to go away easily. But it’s an important positive step that this is being talked about. “No more bullying” and “It gets better,” (even in that awful video) are much better messages than “Stop being such a sissy.”
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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OCTOBER 9. 2010
TRYING TO BE NICER (A SPRAWLING, MESSY BLOG ENTRY ABOUT MEDIA and ME)
Heading to work the other day....I was sitting on a half empty N train, pulling out of Canal Street and headed over the bridge. I had flipped through my newspaper and had moved on to Word Mole (the Boggle-ish game on my phone)


A TANGENT:
I used to have The New York Times delivered to my apartment every day. I’d start my day by drinking coffee and reading the paper. I am not a morning person and this was a good transition into being awake.

I am not sure why, but at some point I stopped that routine. Maybe it was when I got a job at the Queens Library. It was a pretty long commute and I had to leave the house earlier. It was harder to make time in the morning for thirty minutes or more of reading.

I noticed the papers were just piling up. Every week or so I’d just bundle them for recycling—unread. I switched to having only Saturdays and Sundays delivered. That was nice for a while, but eventually, those were going out the door untouched as well.

A TANGENT OFF THE TANGENT:
I rarely read the whole paper anyway. I read the obituaries, Dining, and the Arts sections pretty regularly. Sometimes I'd read the local news. Other little bits here and there. This has not changed. I am strangely proud to say that I know who replaced Alicia Silverstone in "Time Stands Still," but I had to look up the name of the current British Prime Minister...and had to check and see if "British Prime Minister" is an actual title. I am sorry, but headlines like "I.M.F Doesn't Press China on Currency" just don't grab me.

BACK TO THE ORIGINAL TANGENT:
For a while after that, I bought the paper from a newsstand a few times a week.
A couple years ago that fell apart too. There were several reasons. I got more of my news from the internet. I got a cell phone that had a few games on it and I would play them on the train. Those free papers (with Sudoku!) emerged. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the price went up to two dollars. Two dollars! Suddenly buying a newspaper seemed like an investment. It was like...I don’t know...a fourth of the price of a mass market paperback. And even though it’s probably as many words as a quarter of a book, it doesn’t have that permanence. Buying The Timesbecame a rare indulgence.

BACK TO THE N TRAIN:
So as the train pulled out of Canal Street, this woman sat down near me. She was about my age, maybe older, short, dignified. She was not right next to me--but nearby--and reached for my two-dollar paper, which was folded up on the seat next to me.

“Is this yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said with finality. (I’m in the middle of round 18. I have to get to 220 points and Word Mole just told me that “squatting” is not a word. Why is this woman bothering me?)

“Can I look at it?” she said, cheerfully pushing on.

It’s one of those funny questions...like “Is this seat taken?” I didn’t want her to look at it really. It was my paper. Why should I let her use it?

“Sure,” I said—coldly and full of distain.

She picked up the front page section. She didn’t open the paper or fold it. She just read it.

I started riffing in my head about how she'd crossed a boundary, and how forward and pushy she was. She was not just looking at it. She was reading it. I decided she was taking too long. I actually started to formulate a bedbug argument. What if she had bedbugs in her home and passed them on to innocent me through her buggy hands on my expensive newspaper? I can be so self-righteous sometimes! It's ridiculous.

We approached 36th Street—my stop. I was preparing. I was not rehearsing what to say or anything, but I was aware that I would need an extra couple of seconds to get my paper back. I stood up and put my backpack on.

“Thank you,” she said as she handed me the section she was reading. I didn't have to ask.

And suddenly, I was lucky enough to think "What the hell is wrong with me?"

“You can keep it,” I said and sort of maybe smiled.

“No, it’s your paper,” she said.

“I’ve finished that part,” I said (even though I hadn’t). “You keep it.”

"It's okay" she said.

"Keep it," I said. "Please."

She shrugged and said "Thanks."

I said I would try to be nicer. Sometimes doing the right thing is my first response. Sometimes the best I can do is promptly admit when I am wrong. I guess that's progress.

BY THE WAY:
Christina Ricci got pretty good reviews in "Time Stands Still"

David Cameron is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Doesn't really ring a bell. James Cameron? Sure. Cameron Diaz? Even better.
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avatar Promotional Products
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I always hate when people "borrow" my paper. Drives me nuts. Happens all the time at McD's. It looks like you found the better path. I'm going to try that next time.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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OCTOBER 1, 2010
I’VE BEEN NOMINATED! AND I’M NOT CRANKY! :-)
http://dogoodrighthere.org/campaigns/195" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://dogoodrighthere.org/campaigns/195

Somebody told me that my last blog entry sounded cranky. I guess I should have peppered it with smiley faces ☺ I am not sure the New York Nonprofit Press posting mechanisms (which I have to say could be called “cranky”) will let those through. I will try, but if they don’t show up, I ask readers to drop in at least one happy face every paragraph or so....like right about....NOW!:-)

Maybe I am cranky. I hope I am cheerful more often. I also hope that any cynicism, overly dry wit, sarcasm, and hunger for gossip I have--that might seem cranky--is offset by caring, humility, and a good sense of humor. I really don’t hate people too often. Even when they irritate me, I usually have compassion as well. And I think my saving grace is that although I might have strong opinions, they are usually tempered with a firm “What the hell do I know anyway?” :-)

So…I’VE BEEN NOMINATED!!…for the Brooklyn Community Foundation Do Gooder Award. http://dogoodrighthere.org/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://dogoodrighthere.org/

It’s for people who have helped Brooklyn in different areas. I have been nominated in the "Education and Youth Achievement" category for may advocacy work in adult literacy. And if I dare say so, I am not undeserving. I am not the only one who fought hard to save literacy programs in New York City and in BROOKLYN this year, but I think I am the only one of us who is nominated for this cool award.

Of course my ego would love an award, but I really want to win the prize so I can give money to the New York Coalition for Adult Literacy. Our budget is really small and a couple thousand dollars would pay for an entire rally (like the one we did in June to save city-funded literacy program) or a couple of buses to Albany (like the one we took up there in May to help save funding for GED testing).

Voting is open from October 1st until the 15th. Apparently you can vote for someone once a day. So I guess that means that someone can vote for a nominee 15 times. To win, it looks like one needs to have done significant good in Brooklyn and/or have a few internet-savvy obsessive compulsive friends with a lot of time on their hands. (Sometimes a smiley face is just overkill, isn't it?)

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avatar Janice Tosto
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Hi Bruce,

Nice to have finally met you at the CTW meeting! Congrats on the nomination and good luck!
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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SEPTEMBER 25, 2010
I SORT OF HATE PEOPLE SOMETIMES

Last weekend, I spent Saturday morning conducting a training for workshop presenters--a "train the trainer" thing. It was for a nonprofit group with which I am connected. They are having an all-day conference in October. I’ve worked with them in this capacity before and they asked me to help out again. I was glad to do it.

The man who was coordinating this training was having a hard time. When he asked me to lend my services, he said something like, “Okay here’s the list of people we need to train.” He expected me to find out their availability, pick a date, invite everyone, book a room…etc. That was not what I was signing up for.

“Think of it this way,” I tried. “It’s like you're throwing a birthday party for a little kid and I’m your clown. I’ll show up and do my act. That’s the training. You have to take care of everything else.”

I think my analogy just confused him.

This gripe is actually not the point of my little story. When I do a training like this, I usually suggest that refreshments be provided. It contributes to a welcoming atmosphere. With this situation, it looked like we were going to be lucky if we had tables and chairs. I figured I’d better bake some cookies.

At the start of the session, I placed a big plate of rather puffy chocolate chip-ish cookies in the middle of the table.

“Here’s some cookies I made,” I said. “They are sort of lower in fat and high in protein.”

“High in protein?” sneered this one tool of a participant. “How are they high in protein.”

“Egg white and oatmeal,” I said. “I use less butter and grind up flax seeds too. So it’s a little better for cholestrol.”

Did he say, “Gee thanks for making us cookies.”?

No.

Did he say, “How caring and thoughtful!”?

No.

Did he say, “What clever and delicious ideas you have!”?

No.

But rather, he made a noise something like “Harumph,” and seemed disappointed that the cookies actually did have protein in them.
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avatar Jacquie Grossi
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What kind of trainings do you do? I enjoy cookies. And the protein is like an added bonus and a great excuse to eat more than one!
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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Hi Jacquie. It was a training about how to give a good workshop. It wasn't about the content part, but about strategies that are likely to make a workshop or a training more involving, interactive, enjoyable, and meaningful to participants. Let me know if you are ever passing through Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I will make sure to have a few cookies on hand for you :-)
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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SEPTEMBER 22, 2010
CONGRATULATIONS, KEVIN

I had a hard time getting up this morning. I’d been in Saratoga all Monday and Tuesday for the fall board meeting of the New York Association for Continuing/Community Education (NYACCE). It had been two long and productive days. Our train home was delayed so I got back a little later than expected. After two days away, I decided to give myself a break and head into work a little late this morning.

Half awake, I sat down at my computer to check my email and maybe play a round or two of Scramble. I noticed an email forwarded by Tim Driscoll, the President of NYACCE: “FW: re: announcement from Commissioner Steiner”

“Hmmmm….Steiner…Is he the one who testified at the GED hearing?” I wondered. “Well let’s see what he’s got to say…”

I took a sip of coffee and clicked….

The words “Kevin Smith as Deputy Commissioner…” grabbed my eyes.

“What??” I said. “Kevin Smith? Our Kevin Smith? Deputy Commissioner! Am I dreaming?!”

I calmed down enough to read what the email actually said:

“…I will be recommending that The Board of Regents approve the appointment of
Kevin Smith as Deputy Commissioner for Adult Education and Workforce
Development. Kevin will lead the newly reorganized office which
integrates the State's vocational rehabilitation program for adults
with disabilities with adult and continuing education….”

Kevin Smith was going to become our new Deputy Commissioner! Kevin Smith! Kevin Smith—the most tireless, passionate, informed, successful advocate for adult literacy that I have ever known. Kevin Smith--who led Literacy Volunteers of New York State for many years and continued as their Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer when they became Literacy New York. The man who has fought for increased funding for adult literacy funding for decades. That’s who was on deck to lead New York State’s adult education and workforce programs. Holy crap!

Well you can bet that woke me up. I really needed some good news and this is beyond my wildest dreams. I can’t wait to see what happens next.




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avatar Bruce Carmel
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SEPTEMBER 12, 2010
MORE ON RESTRAINT (and Steven Slater)
I guess it was around 1993 when I got my first job really supervising professional staff. Before that I had been a teacher without any staff to supervise. I had also been a manager of volunteers. I’d had a taste of supervising professionals when I was responsible for a Summer Youth Employment Program, but that was only for six weeks.

I wanted to be a good boss. My sister was a manager for a big retail company and I knew she was very good at her job. I asked her for advice and she told me to read The One Minute Manager. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It’s written in that Jonathan Livingston Seagull/Little Prince way, but even worse. The story is pretty clunky, but the advice about management is awesome.

What a relief it was to see someone saying that making your employees happy is the best way to make things productive. It seemed like being a good manager had a lot in common with being a good teacher. Caring for the staff was important. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t have to say “no” and be critical at times, but it was exciting to see a point of view that said that a good boss was not a mean dictator. I’m not sure I would have wanted to move up the management ladder had that been the case.

For the most part this first management job was a good experience. I learned a lot and I learned how satisfying it was when I could help people like their jobs and get things done.

A few months later, I had a real “light bulb” moment. We were in a staff meeting, discussing program operations. I started to say something at the same time as someone I supervised. She stopped talking to let me go ahead with what I had to say. Something flashed in my head. My first response had been that she wanted to hear what I had to say—that she was interested--but then I thought “That’s not it! She just knows you don’t cut off the boss. She might think you’re an idiot. Who knows?” I stopped with what I was about to say and told her, “No—you go ahead.”

What a blessing and a turning point this was! I narrowly escaped going down the sad and misguided road of thinking that when my employees listened to me, said “yes,” complimented me, did what I said—that it meant they thought I had good ideas and that they agreed with me. Sure, maybe sometimes they did, but it was hard to know for sure.

Last week, I led a writing workshop for my staff. We used the writing process approach to write essays about “A Typical Day for Me at Turning Point.” I wrote along with them. About half way through my rough draft, I realized that I had to make a choice. I could either write the truth and not read it to my co-workers…or I could lie. I decided I would write the truth and worry about reading it aloud later. (I am facing some big challenges in my life right now. There was stuff in there that I just didn't want to share with the group.)

When it was my turn to read what I had written, I explained my dilemma, saying that I had gone a little bit “off topic.” I read an essay related to how I felt about my job, but not really describing my typical day.

Others volunteered to read what they had written. I had said that reading your writing would not be required. One person chose not to read what she had written, but summarized her writing when I nudged her a bit. A couple other people didn’t volunteer, but agreed to read when asked. One person was asked to read a couple of times and diplomatically said “I pass” twice. There were a few people who did not read. We did not pressure them and we did not discuss it.

Only one person wrote about negative feelings about her job. She didn’t mention them specifically, but wrote in the context of how other positive things balance out her day.

When we were going through this exercise, I acknowledged the conflict of interest. We talked about the burden we might place on students when we ask them to write about their lives and their feelings. Sometimes writing the truth means getting into something painful. Sometimes writing the truth means writing something that I don’t want my teacher or my classmates to hear.

I think it’s incredibly important that I have the awareness that the people who wrote about how much they love their job might have complaints too—complaints that they decided not to share. It’s also important for me to know that I don’t know why the people who didn’t share chose to be quiet. They might be shy. They might have written something very personal. They might have written about what a total tool they think I am. I heard mostly gratitude and joy, but that’s not all that is there.

Do more people in my life—people in my work life and people in my personal life—deserve to hear more of what I really think? I know there are some times I need to be more restrained, but sometimes I lead people to believe that everything is fine—when it is really, really, really, not.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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SEPTEMBER 10, 2010: STEVEN SLATER AND RESTRAINT
I think of my self as being very up-to-date and connected to the blogosphere. Pretty much all the wrong stuff. I can tell you a lot about whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow was mean to Scarlett Johanssonn on the set of “Iron Man 2” but not so much about what Robert Reich just said about the economy. If you want to know how Zsa zsa Gabor is doing or whether or not that 30 pound goldfish was real, I’m your man.

So of course I knew about Steven Slater a minute or two after he was arrested. Everyone has probably heard about this by now. In case you haven’t, the story might go something like this: Slater was a flight attendant on Jet Blue’s Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to JFK. The plan landed. A passenger got up to get his bag out of the overhead bin before the plan stopped. Slater tried to stop the passenger from doing this and ended up getting hit on the head with the passenger’s bag. He asked for an apology from the passenger who instead of apologizing swore at him. (There are varying accounts of all that.)

Then Slater went to the public address system, cursed out the passenger, stole a beer (or two) from the galley, activated the emergency exit chute, fled the plane by sliding down it, hightailed it to the employee parking lot and drove on home. He was arrested a little while later, charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing.

I heard about this story when it first broke. It showed up as “trending” on Yahoo. My first thoughts were:
“This poor guy! He’s ruined his life with this one outburst. He must be full of regret, shame and fear!”
“Hmmm…sounds like somebody I might know.”
“I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.”

On the way to work, I continued to think about poor Steven Slater and what a mess he got himself into, how it’s generally not a good idea to tell people off—especially over a public address system, how most frustrations pass, how frustration is sometimes just how it goes when you try to do something hard, how it’s probably (maybe always) better to go through challenging things instead of pulling the escape hatch, stealing beer and getting arrested.

Then I walked past a newsstand. Slater was on the front page of the New York Post, Daily News and a few other papers. The headlines say “Plane Crazy,” “Wing-Nut Pleads Not Guilty,” “Fed-Up Flight Attendant Flips Out,” and “Flight Attendant Becomes ‘Hero.’”

Since then, Slater's become either an urban hero, an urban joke, or both. I wouldn't be surprised if he got a book deal or a reality show out of this. I'll bet he'll end up as an entry to the "Urban Dictionary":

Steven Slater, (noun or verb) when someone loses their temper, especially at work, or to lose one's temper. "When my boss asked me to clean the toilets, I Steven Slatered all over him. Now I need a new job."

(I've been trying to end this entry for a couple weeks. This is the best I can do:)

Is it always best to show restraint? I'm not so sure anymore.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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August 3, 2010 POINT OF VIEW

It’s really all about my point of view. I live in the same world every day. Sometimes it seems like a great place full of possibilities. Other times it seems futile and bleak.

A few days ago, I stepped onto a subway car and landed in the middle of a summer camp heading home from a day wherever. I perceived the kids as sad and scared. They were sort of quiet—sad and muted. I saw counselors not engaging with young people at all, except to scold and control. To me, this was an example of how society slowly crushes the hope and the spirit of youth. It brought me down. Life in general seemed hard and maybe impossible. (See my last entry.)

Yesterday I got on a D Train at Atlantic Avenue. (Getting to and from work has become a new challenge with service cuts including a much slower N train). I walked right into the middle of another summer camp. This group was bigger, at least 50 kids and lots of counselors. They were much, much louder—an overwhelming wall of sound. So much talking, singing, clapping, screaming, and occasionally shrieking. So much overlapping noise that I could barely make anything out.

“Oh man,” I thought. “I am not in the mood for all this.” Then I caught myself. “Oh just enjoy them,” I decided. “Watch them. Be amused.”

It wasn't so hard to do. This group made it easy, I think. They were really cute and basically happy. The other group was also cute, but basically sad. Here there were songs and clapping games all over the place. This time, instead of silencing the kids, the counselors joined in. If there were problems, they got involved.

A group of girls was singing the “Boom-chicka-boo m” song (a classic!). I noticed the counselor sitting next to them singing along. Maybe she got it started. Nobody stopped the clapping games and I noticed three girls on the edges of their seats, really focused and determined to clap faster and faster and faster. Two little boys right in front of me were singing a song. I strained to hear the words, but it was so loud, it was hard to make anything out. But I did hear one word, sung with extra emphasis throughout the song : “booty.”One of the boys tugged on counselor’s shirt to get her attention and starting singing his “booty” song.

“I know, I know,” said the counselor. “But that’s nasty.” It wasn't mean the way she said it.

One little girl was bothering another girl, not quite hitting her but almost.
“Delilah,” said a counselor to the aggressive kid, “Come sit next to me.” When Delilah didn’t move, the counselor got up, squeezed herself in between the two fighting girls and got Delilah involved in a clapping game.

“Don’t you need a nap?” said one counselor to two restless campers. Our eyes met and we smiled at each other.

I leaned over. “You guys are good counselors" I said. "I was on a train the other day and all the counselors did was yell.” That was probably a little too much to share with her. Teenage counselors are not really looking for approval from some old guy like me.

It seemed to be that these counselors all had a similar approach. Either they were trained or they had just adopted the approach of the agency. When kids were “bad” they would distract them, engage them in something else. If they didn’t work they tried “If you don’t stop, I am going to tell your parents.”

“I’m gonna tell BOTH your parents,” said one counselor.

“I’m going to count to five,” said another holding up her hand. She started to count down—four fingers, three fingers... “and if you aren’t in your seat, I’m going to tell your mother.”

I am fine with that strategy. I remember many years ago when I suddenly, somehow got thrust from the world of docile, dedicated adult literacy students into the unruly world of afterschool programming. I was running a Beacon program. One cool teacher suggested the “I’m going to tell your mother,” approach.

“They don’t know that you aren’t going to. They don’t know that you don’t even know their parents. Just be careful because not everyone’s mother is still in the picture.”

While the other camp had deadened me, this one literally put a smile on my face. As the train moved into midtown, it got more and more crowded. I noticed more than a few people smiling at these incredibly and increasing loud children. There were two women holding onto the same pole as me. We all smiled at each other.

“They’re pretty funny,” I said. One of the women said something back, but the kids were so loud I couldn’t make it out.

By the time we got to 42nd Street, the train was really packed. I noticed a small, very old woman trying to get on the train. She wore a long-sleeve flowered shirt and a hat— deep red, knitted sort of the shape of a short top hat. A very silly hat for a hot day. It looked like something my mother might use to cover a spare roll of toilet paper. She looked very serious and sort of afraid. A young professional woman was helping her, but I don’t think they knew each other. She stood near the door, holding onto a pole with one hand and her cane with another.

“Oh come on, somebody,” I thought. “Give her your seat, somebody.” But before that thought was even through my judgmental head, the little girl nearest her, who looked to be about seven years old, got up and told her to sit down. I was watching the scene and I don’t think anyone told her to do it. I think it was her idea.

The older lady sat down without saying anything. She didn’t smile. He face was pretty blank.

Watching this, and being surrounded by all these tired New Yorkers on their long commutes home, smiling along with these cared-for children, the world felt like a much better place than before. I almost cried. I wish I would have. It would have made a better story. But I’m not a crier. I came really close though. I got all teary.

(I didn’t say the name on the shirts of that maybe-bad program from a few days ago, but today I am happy to give props to Good Shepherd Services.)
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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Just to be clear: Good Shepherd Services was printed on the tee shirts of the "happy" camp. I'm not saying the name of the camp from last week that was maybe just having a bad day.
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JULY 27, 2010 SUMMER CAMPS AND SHOELACES
I got on the Number 3 train at Times Square late this afternoon and found myself right in the middle of a summer camp field trip. About thirty kids—I would guess they were about 6 or 7 years old--with teenage counselors sprinkled in. They all wore the same orange shirt bearing the name of the community-based organization that ran the camp. It was a pretty even mix of boys and girls.

I have to admit my first choice is to avoid groups such as these. They can be loud, sometimes really loud. I think I am afraid of them too. They might start goofing around and bump into me. One of them might say, “That man is funny looking. Why is his hair so curly? Why is his beard grey” or something like that.

But this group was easy to like. They weren’t at that 9-10-11-year-old “oh my God I cannot believe how loud you kids are!” stage yet. They looked innocent, open, hopeful and beautiful. When I was a little boy, I remember hearing that “You’re so beautiful!”, “You’re so handsome!” and thinking “Really, I am not.” I don’t think of myself as having been an especially good-looking child, but I see now that the adults sincerely meant it. Children are beautiful.

“Turn around, Thomas,” yelled a counselor in front of me to a boy on the other side of the car. “Put your feet in front of you. Sit right!”

“Stop with the hand games,” said another counselor to two campers in the middle of “A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea.”

“Sit down, Cheree,” said another.

Maybe the counselors were tired. Maybe it was the end of a long day, a trip to Ellis Island or the Aquarium. Maybe they usually acted like they liked kids.

“Boom, chicka-boom,” sang a little boy right in front of me. “I said ‘Boom-chicka, boom.'”

I knew that one! Sarah Galanter had taught me—well really the counselors and campers—that one (and several others) when I worked at the East Harlem Tutorial Program. We had a camp--probably a lot like this one-- in the summer.

“I said a-boom-a-chick- a-rocka-chicka- rocka-chicka boom!” he continued. He wasn’t singing very loud. He looked very pleased with himself—maybe feeling proud for remembering how the song went, maybe showing his favorite counselor that he had paid attention, that he knew the song.

He went on, “I said 'boom—“

“Gabriel, no! Be quiet,” said the counselor sitting next to him. “No singing on the subway.”

“Oh come on,” I thought. “Why not? Why don’t you sing along with him? Why don’t you get the other kids singing too?”

Gabriel stopped his singing.

“Zoraida,” said another counselor, “Tie your shoe.” She pointed to Zoraida’s loose shoelace.

Zoraida had her hair in braids. She was missing her two front teeth. She was one of the littler campers. Maybe she was five.

She raised her foot up to meet her hands that were reaching down. The little girl sitting next to her looked older than Zoraida. She had braids too. Maybe she was an older sister. She moved to help.

“I can do it,” Zoraida said quietly and with some determination.

She made two loops—not the way I tie my shoelaces now: one loop, wrap the other lace around, and pull it through.

We were in between 72nd Street and 96th Street. The counselors were telling the campers to get ready to get off at the next stop.”

“Hurry,” said the counselor.

Zoraida stayed calm. She didn’t rush. She tied her two loops together as we zoomed past 86th Street. She tied them again—a double knot—just to be safe.

Then she actually said:

“I’m not a little kid anymore,”-- more to herself than to anyone.

Two loops was the way I first learned how to tie my shoelaces too. The one-loop way was too hard for me when I was first learning. Maybe for Zoraida too.

I wanted to tell Zoraida that she’d done a great job, that she was smart, that she was not—in fact—a little kid anymore. I wanted to ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up and tell her she could become whatever she dreamed of.

“Let’s go!” said a counselor.

“Everybody off!” said another.

A counselor stood in the door to make sure it stayed open until Thomas, Cheree, Zoraida, and everyone else got off. It was crowded and this group was really getting in everyone’s way.

Like I said, maybe it was the end of a long day. Maybe everyone was tired. Maybe the counselors were usually supportive, engaged, and praising. But not today.

MORE ABOUT SHOELACES
I Googled “how to tie a shoelace” to find some wording I could adapt to explain how I tie my shoes. I do it so automatically, I had to watch myself to see what it is I actually do. The top site from the search was “Ian’s Shoelace Site."

This is a web site totally about shoelaces. “Lacing” and “Tying” are big here, but other pages address topics such as “crooked shoelaces,” “shoelace tips,” and my absolute favorite “shoelace news.”

So as I was looking for wording to help me explain how I tie my shoes, I couldn’t help but notice that my way—what I considered the “normal” way—is listed third, after the “Ian Knot” and “Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot.”

And I quote:

“I tie my shoelaces with an "Ian Knot", the World's Fastest Shoelace Knot: Make a loop with both ends and simultaneously pull them through each other to form an almost instant knot. It's a truly revolutionary way to tie your shoelaces!”

I couldn’t follow that. I clicked on the picture that became a video. Too fast. I clicked around and found a slower, broken-down version.

http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/IanKnot.mpg" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/IanKnot.mpg

Oh…my…God…

It’s too easy! It’s too fast! The thought of changing the way I tie my shoes seems radical and dangerous. Okay Ian, I admit it: REVOLUTIONARY. I’ve been tying my shoelaces the same way for 45 years—well, maybe 44. I think I can let go. I am going to have to practice, but a change is long overdue.
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JULY 15. 2010 MY THANK YOU FETISH
Thank you: It's a good word to know. These are the 20 languages in which I can say “thank you” and who taught me:
1. English: My mom
2. Spanish: I have no idea. Everyone knows that one, don’t they?
3. French: See above
4. German: Miss Hoffmeister in 9th grade German class. I grew up in Cincinnati—a very German town—so our language choices were German and French. Actually I probably knew it before then from Wayne Newton, “Hogan’s Heroes,” or just picking it up.
5. Hungarian: A dictionary. I went to Budapest 9 years ago and used it. Then I practiced with a Hungarian waitress at the Village Den
6. Czech: I tried to learn it from a dictionary, but what I was saying was completely incomprehensibl e to Czechs. This was hard to believe. A waiter would put a cup of coffee down in front of me and I would say what I thought was “thank you” and he would look at me in bewilderment. I would have thought the context would have helped. I guess I was really far off. The concierge at my hotel helped me improve my pronunciation.
7. Portuguese: Silvana Vasconcelos taught me how to say “Thank you,” “Hi,” “How are you?,” and “How’s your foot?”
8. Cantonese: Students in Jennifer Rodriguez’s ESOL class. (I don’t think I say it right. Somebody who is Chinese told me that what I was saying sounded more like “I am gonna cut your throat with a knife” than “thank you.” No wonder Anthony Ng’s mother gave me a weird look.
9. Mandarin: Students in Jennifer’s ESOL class.
10. Turkish: A young man selling fruit off a cart in front of my apartment building. What was his name? I hate this memory loss that comes with age. It will come to me later tonight. Subsequent Turks who have worked there have taught me to said “Hello,” “How are you?” “Fine” and “The fruit looks great!” I was just taught “good morning” today, but I have forgotten it.
11. Bengali: Jennifer Rodriquez or the man who sells fruit off the cart in front of my house at night. I am not sure. In the daytime they are Turkish. At night, they are Bengali. I can also say “Good evening,” “How are you?” and “I’m good.”
12. Korean: Mae who works at the dry cleaners I go to. She taught me “How are you?” as well.
13. Russian: This guy I know named Dennis. Or was it Andrey?
14. Polish: A man named Andrzej who works in my building
15. Arabic: Wally who works at the Sunset Deli
16. Bulgarian: a waitress at Regional (a restaurant by my house) and a counter person at Townsend’s Seafood in Provincetown who corrected my pronunciation.
17. Punjabi: A cab driver in Boston
18. Thai: A waiter at Sook. That one was hard. I think it’s different for men than for women and I think I still say it wrong.
19. Serbian: The guy working at the story where I bought a caramel apple in Provincetown
20. Lithuanian: The woman who sold me a bottle of water at Herring Cove Beach.
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JULY 2, 2010 “Jobs Go Begging As Gap Is Exposed in Worker Skills”

That’s the LEAD STORY on the front page of The New York Times today. “32 percent of companies reported ‘moderate to serious’ skills shortages” (in a survey of 779 industrial companies by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute, and Deloitte)

This article mentions many situations where employers have positions to fill, but can’t find enough people who have the skills needed to do the jobs. For example “All candidates at Ben Venue must pass a basic skills test showing that they can read and understand math at a ninth-grade level.” They can't fill the jobs.

I applaud The Times for recognizing this dire economic situation, but I really don’t know how Motoko Rich managed to write this article without saying the words “literacy” or even “education.” The word “skills” is used eight times in this article. The word “training” is used four times. This reminds me of a party game I played once, where you try to see how long you can talk without using any words with a certain letter in them. In addition to bringing attention to this important issue, maybe Ms. Rich was challenging her lexicon somehow: “Let’s see if I can write an article about the need for literacy education without using the words 'literacy' or 'education.'” Well she did just that--but still I'm glad she wrote about this.

Turning Point’s Educational Center, dozens of other CBOs, CUNY, the Department of Education, and the Libraries know how to help such employers and the low-skilled folks who are applying for their positions. We have high, high success rates—exceeded state targets for educational gain. Unfortunately, we also have big waiting lists which stand to get longer given the impending cuts to DYCD Literacy Programs (the city level) and Adult Literacy Education (the state level). Give me those applicants who are not able to get into Ben Venue. In six months, we can improve their skills by at least one grade level. In a year, we can do even better.

Oh wait a minute! We can’t put them in classes. In fact, we can’t even put them on our waiting list. It’s gotten too long so we shut it down for the summer. It didn’t seem right to let people think they were going to get services anytime soon. We have enough people on the waiting list right now to keep our classes full for the next six months.

How can the State Senate, the Assembly, the Mayor, and the Governor allow for cuts to adult literacy services given this situation? I am NOT including the New York City Council in that list. At least the Council—and I give lots of credit to Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Literacy Champion Sara Gonzalez—restored most of what the Mayor had proposed to eliminate. I am overjoyed that they get it—but dismayed that others do not. How can the United State Senate consider extension to unemployment benefits as a solution to this problem? What are they thinking? “People have no skills. They can’t get jobs. We could put money into adult literacy education so they can upgrade their skills and get employed. Nah! Let’s give them a few more weeks of unemployment. It will cost MORE than what it would cost to educate them, but let’s keep them uneducated and dependent!” I'm not against unemployment benefits, but I prefer educating the workforce.

What’s it going to take for our elected officials to recognize the serious impact that lack of literacy and lack of opportunity to get an education has on the lives of so many individuals and the entire nation's economy? I am hoping the answer to that question is a front page article in today’s New York Times.


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JUNE 30, 2010, THE VALUE OF THE GED
James Heckman—winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Economics for the development of theory and methods for analyzing selective samples—has come out with a paper called “The GED.” He looked at a random sample of 1,000 GED holders who got their diplomas five years ago and came to some conclusions. Based on his Nobel Prize cred—he was the co-winner, by the way, along with the UTTERLY BRILLIANT Daniel McFadden—I have great confidence in the randomness of Heckman’s sampling.

The study found that only 31 percent of GED recipients enrolled in post-secondary education and most enrolled in two-year colleges. He found that 77 percent completed one semester or less. So in other words, the GED is not the golden ticket. If you get your GED, you are not set for life. As we used to say when I was a Boy Scout “No kidding, Sherlock.” (We didn’t say “kidding” of course)

Heckman also states that the existence of the GED encourages some young people to drop out of high school because they think getting the GED is faster and easier. That really is a concern of mine too. I would love for every young person in New York City to get a regular high school diploma. Unfortunately, many don’t.

This research was discussed in Businessweek on May 6, 2010 “Commentary: The Hole in High School Equivalency” (by James Warren. Businessweek ran another article just the other day--“College: Big Investment, Paltry Return,” by Francesca Di Meglio—arguing that people who have a college education don’t make that much more money than people who don’t. (Okay Businessweek . Just what are you up to? I have some ideas, but I think I could get in too much needless trouble for saying them.)

Back to Heckman’s work, but before I move on, I need to mention his agenda, which is investing in early childhood development. In 2007, he gave a T.W. Schultz Award Lecture entitled “The Productivity Argument of Investing in Young Children. His web site states: “Heckman’s work proves that prevention through early childhood development is more life- and cost-effective than remediation.” http://www.heckmanequation.org/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.heckmanequation.org/ I don’t disagree with that, actually.

Along with investing in early childhood development, I strongly support helping youth (and all people) make good choices about birth control, abstinence, and safer sex practices. I support substance abuse and delinquency prevention programs. I favor lots of things that tend to lead to healthy, happy lives. But favoring early childhood development doesn’t mean I think people who don’t have a high school diploma—and that would be 200,000 youth and 1.6 million people total in New York City—should not have a chance to get an education. Neither do I think that abortion should be outlawed (because it could make people think that unwanted pregnancies are easily terminated), that HIV medications should not be made available to those who need them (because that could make people think that they can get HIV and have no worries), or that substance abuse treatment programs should be closed (because they make people think that they can get addicted to drugs and get clean later). I know I am getting a little melodramatic here, but analogies help me think stuff through.

There is so much to say here, I hope my keyboard doesn’t explode.

I know that many people who get a GED don’t go to college. I know that most who go to college don’t graduate. I believe Heckman if he says that people with a GED don't always make more money than those who have no degree at all. But how asinine to therefore come out against the GED! Yes it’s true: Many people who get their GED had to really work hard just to squeak by and get and their diploma. They won’t have an easy time in college—if they go. Many come from families without a lot of experience going to college. Many have learning disabilities. Some have outside issues and pressures such as health, housing, and family problems that probably contributed to their dropping out in the first place. And then there is poverty.

But what, Mr. Heckman (who really, in my opinion, was only awarded HALF of a Nobel Prize anyway) might they do instead of getting their GED? Remain a dropout without a diploma? Work low-wage, off-the books, dead-end jobs? Find a way to collect SSI?

There is an old saying among women, people of color, and other oppressed groups: “You’ll have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” (I wonder if Mr. Heckman knows that one.) I believe these words have been offered through the years to provide consolation and encouragement—to confirm experiences where the world seems or has truly been unfair, to comfort those getting the short end of the stick, and to motivate people to work that much harder. I don’t think it’s been offered to convince people to just give up.

During orientations, I sometimes ask new students to look around the room. “There are 30 people here. Look around. Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you will drop out before the end of this cycle. Two of you will stay. One will get a GED. [dramatic pause] Look around the room again. Three or four people in this room aren’t going to show up for the first day of class. Five people in this room will complete your first semester of college and enroll in a second term. Two of you will graduate with an Associates Degree. One of you will get a Bachelor’s.” Etc., etc…. I am fine with the tough-love thing.

I know that life is hard and that it’s a mean, cruel world. It would be misleading to give the impression that this is not the case for GED recipients. The GED is a significant milestone in a long road that might contain struggle, mistakes, disappointments, discouragement, false starts, restarts, failures and some success. But that doesn’t mean I think people who don’t have a high school diploma shouldn’t bother to try and shouldn’t have another chance.

(Thanks to Lazar Treschan whose response to Heckman got me thinking.)
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avatar Debbie
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Most, ok all, even our non-profit will NOT hire anyone with out a highschool diploma or GED. NO GED, no job.
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avatar I.Santiago
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Very true Debbie. I worked at Horace Mann and can tell how those with Master and Gradute degrees lack in organization and critical thinking skills.
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JUNE 25, 2010 RESTORATIONS LOOK LIKELY
There’s been so much going on. The biggest thing was probably the continued work for restorations to adult literacy funding at the city level. I spent a lot of time on the steps of City Hall.

Four years ago , Turning Point stood to be a casualty of some changes in the way adult literacy funding was being distributed—so I decided I had to do something. I just did what the smarter more experienced advocates told me to do.
“Support Adult Literacy,” I would say to Council Members coming in and out of City Hall.
“Is there an initiative for me to sign on to?” one Member asked.
I didn’t even know what an initiative was. I do now. I used to kind of hate being on the steps of City Hall--but I figured I just had to do it. I like it now.

So let’s cut to the chase: The Mayor and the City Council Speaker shook hands on June 24th at around 10:30pm. The Council votes tomorrow at their Stated Meeting. I am not sure if the exact numbers are set, but it looks like adult literacy will not perish. Considering we were zero-ed out (in terms of City funding) this is very good news. Still, we are probably going to take a hit of some sort. Times are hard. Maybe we need to make some sacrifices.

I think it's important to remember that even full restorations would not have solved the adult literacy problem in New York City. Not by a longshot! 1.3 million people in our city do not speak English very well. 1.6 million do not have a high school diploma or a GED and many of them are poor readers. I have never seen an unduplicated count of how many people don’t speak English well AND/OR don’t have their GED. I think it is conservative to say that number would be at least 2 million people. Less than 3% of them are in education programs. There is still lots of work to be done.

Late Friday afternoon, I got a call from a foundation who was considering us for a grant. I was happy to hear that they were going to give us a nice chunk of money for computers, new furniture, a little remodeling and signage. We just moved into a new space that is very nice, but definitely not state-of-the-ar t. The program officer left a message--I didn’t speak to her “live.” When the message ended, I burst into tears. It only lasted a couple seconds—I am not a big cryer. What was that about?

Part of it was relief: the City is restoring SOME of the adult literacy funding; we are getting a nice grant. All of it happening at once. Yay! I thought about it, and I think there was more going on. I (and many people like me) have to fight so hard to keep our programs going. Our heads are continually on the chopping blocks. There is never enough money. I have to work miracles of fundraising just to keep our doors open. Why does it have to be so hard? Why is the funding so scarce? Why aren’t these 2 million people—or the 200,000 disconnected youth in New York City—being recognized? When are we going to stop begging for crumbs?

Don’t get me wrong. I need those crumbs. But how about some systematic changes? That is the work that needs to be done. I think we (adult literacy and out-of-school-y outh advocates) are starting to do that. Adult literacy was mentioned in the second paragraph of the New York Times article about the city budget accord. Forty Council Members signed a letter asking the Mayor to restore adult literacy funding. When I call my state legislators, they are aware of the impending cuts to adult literacy including GED testing.

We’ve started building some awareness and getting some results. Time to think about what we do next.
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JUNE 11, 2010 HIS NAME MIGHT BE QUINTON
In case you haven’t seen it, a high school student from fell asleep as he stood just to the right of President Obama giving the commencement address at Kalamazoo Central High School.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/08/bored-by-obama- kid-falls_n_604548.html

This didn’t burn up the internet quite at the level of:
Susan Boyle (over 94 million viewings!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY
“Dramatic Prairie Dog” (always makes ME laugh)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHjFxJVeCQs
or my personal favorite “Cat Talking (Translation)”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JynBEX_kg8

…but it got pretty much attention. I watched a few different versions of this clip. Facebook says the young man's name is “Quinton.” Quinton’s a big kid. He looks pretty unhappy to me. He’s wearing choir robe and he’s adjusting his collar over and over again. He rubs his eyes and his face with his hands. I watched one 1:39 minute clip in which this young man yawned eight times. I’d never seen anybody yawning like that. He clapped when everyone else clapped. I wonder if he heard what the President said or if the applause just woke him up. Or maybe he's clapping in his sleep. I read one comment that suggested that he was faking it, that it was a stunt. It sure looks real to me.

The Huffington Post headline says “Bored by Obama: Kid Falls Asleep During Kalamazoo Commencement.” From a youth development perspective, that is so WRONG. I doubt that Quinton’s falling asleep had much to do with how interesting the President was.

If I were the principal at Kalamazoo Central, I’d want to have a talk with Quinton. What’s going on with him? Maybe he just had a bad day, but maybe there is something bigger. Where does he live? Is he sleeping at night? If not, why not? There’s lots of reasons a teenage might be up all night, and I don’t think many of them are good. Did he eat breakfast? How is his health? If he was feeling so sleepy, why didn’t he say something?

Then I’d like to talk to whoever organized the human backdrop of youth behind the President. How were these young people selected and prepped? Do they know what it means to be standing behind the President? Did they know that they would be on TV and the internet all over the world? Did they have a choice about whether or not they would participate or were they just herded onstage?

I hope they didn't just yell at him. I can understand the impulse. The youth at Turning Point are fairly frequently doing things that make me crazy--like begging us to find them a job, then not showing up for an interview that Ken Pemberton (our Employment Specialist) did back flips to set up. But that's what it means to work with youth. We can't kick them out because they fall asleep. We have to help them get what they need to stay awake.
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JUNE 8 LITERACY AND A GRANOLA RECIPE
I was on a TV show this past Sunday: “Tiempo.” http://bit.ly/b5qQRQ

Concerned about the Hispanic community? If you are, be sure to tune into "Tiempo."" That's what they say.

It’s on WABC-TV and it's about the Latino Community in New York City. I was actually a stand-in for the outrageously telegenic Anthony Ng. The show is a “round table” sort of talk show. I shared the screen with a very nice teacher and a student from the Queens Community House.

The host Carolina Leid was really nice. At the beginning, they showed us our names on the screen to make sure they didn’t misspell anything and that our titles were correct. I said mine was fine, but Ms. Leid said something like, “He’s a doctor. We should put ‘Dr.’ before his name.” I said I didn’t really care, but she said to the tech people, “He’s just being modest. Put it in.” She said she worked hard for her graduate degree and she imagined that I had too. Then she called me “Dr. Carmel” through the whole interview.

She asked good questions and I hope I got in some good points about how important literacy is, how it helps people gets jobs, get to college, help their kids better, and even has an impact on people’s health.

Perhaps taking the suggestion of Ms. Leid that I was overly modest, I decided it would be fun to invite a few friends over to watch the show. I made them breakfast. For some reason, I feel compelled to share this recipe for homemade granola. It was really easy to make and everyone liked it:

Mix together:
3 cups rolled oats
half a cup of slivered almonds or other nuts you like
a quarter cup of shredded cocoanut
a quarter cup of brown sugar
a teaspoon of cinnamon
In another bowl, combine a third of a cup of maple syrup and quarter cup of oil or melted butter
Mix that all together. Add a half cup of raisins (unless you invited my friend Jesus who does not like raisins.)
Grease two cookie sheets with some spray on oil. Spread the mix out on the sheets. Bake for about an hour at a low temperature—about 300 degrees. Turn it a few times to get it browned on all sides.

Let me know if you try it out.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JUNE 7, 2010 THE RALLY
The New York Coalition for Adult Literacy had a great turnout at the rally on June 3rd. I am totally guessing, but maybe 1500 people showed up. I will ask Parks and Recreation if they have a number for us. I think they count that.

Fifteen Council Members spoke. Let's give them some credit for recognizing this important issue:
Fernando Cabrera
Margaret Chin
Daniel Dromm
Mathieu Eugene
Sara M. Gonzalez
Robert Jackson
Letitia James
Peter Koo
Brad Lander
Diana Reyna
Ydanis Rodriguez
James Sanders, Jr.
Albert Vann
Mark Weprin
Jumaane Williams

Sara Gonzalez announced that a total of 30 Council Members had signed on to her letter to the Mayor, calling for a restoration to the cut that threatens to eliminate city funding of adult literacy programs. More Council Members have signed on since then.

We won’t know where we stand until the Mayor and the City Council Speaker shake hands on the final budget—sometime at the very end of June. I know it's a tough budget year, but ELIMINATING one essential program to save others just does not seem like the way to go.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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MAY 25, 2010 BACK TO CITY HALL....
Members of the New York Coalition for Adult Literacy made a great showing at the New York City Council’s Budget Hearing this morning. It was a combined hearing of the Community Development and the Youth Services Committees (I think). The Finance Committee was there at the beginning too.

I started the day on the steps of City Hall. I got there really early this time. We've been having so many people show up that it can be hard to get it. So I was there at 8:45am. (Quite unusual for me to be early. It's much less stressful than being late.) It was good timing as I ran into Council Members Rosie Mendez and Sara M. Gonzalez in that little parking lot at City Hall.

By 9:15, hundreds or students from agencies all over the city had shown up to fight for the chance to learn English, improve their reading and writing skills, and/or prepare for the GED exam. Some want a job. Some want a better job. Some want to help their children in school. Others need a GED to get into college. There are many reasons for people to enroll in adult literacy programs, but all lead to a better life.

SOBRO, Chinatown Manpower Project, The College of Mount St. Vincent’s Institute for Immigrant Concerns, Queens Community House, and the Shorefront YM-YWHA were among the programs represented. Student and staff chanted and waved signed that said “Save Adult Literacy” as Council Members and Department of Youth and Community Development staff passed by on their way to the hearing. KC Williams led chants until her voice gave out.

Then we went inside, where we packed the hearing room and had the privilege of hearing several Council Members calling for restorations to adult literacy funding:

Council Member Al Vann expressed his concern over the elimination of all city tax levy funding (5.18 million), and asked what the impact would be. Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav said that 5,300 slots would be cut of the 10,000 students served. Over 4,600 would remain thanks to federal funds. (I think that 10,000 number is low, by the way. 13,000 were served in 2009. The final numbers for 2010 aren’t in yet, but stimulus funding created added slots in 2010. I would think that the 2010 number would be bigger than 2009, not smaller.)

Council Member Fernando Cabrera mentioned that he had been an ESOL student, knowing only two words of English: “Chess… and No” (Get it?) He was concerned about this cut for many reasons and cited the impact it would have on the workforce, noting that, over their lifetime, people with a GED pay 325,000 more in taxes than people without a GED.

Council Member Jumaane Williams acknowledged that we were facing hard times, but questioned why a program as essential as adult literacy would be zeroed out.
Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito said that we should not be accepting unreasonable cuts such as this one. She also made forceful statements, pointing out that next year’s budget might get worse and how the city needed to increase revenue.

Council Member Sara M. Gonzalez—acknowledged by Chair Lew Fidler for championing adult literacy—didn’t have to talk for that long, thanks to her colleagues commitment to restoration of essential literacy services. As always, she demonstrated her passion for and understanding of the issues.

I believed Commissioner Mullgrav when she said that it was with a “heavy heart” that the cuts to adult literacy were made. I hope that the City Council and the Mayor will work together and cheer her up a little bit.

SPECIAL SHOUT-OUT:
Alison Millan from Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House and Gina Vellani from Arab-American Family Support Center--accompa nied by dozens of students-- had a hard time getting into City Hall. This happens sometimes when so many people show up. There are limits to how many security will let in. I think they (whoever "they" is) notice and hear about it when so many people turn up. Thanks to those groups for showing up. You are part of some very important advocacy. Hope to see you and everyone else at the rally: June 3rd, 2010; 11am at City Hall Park.
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avatar Janice Tosto
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Hi Bruce,

Thanks for keeping us informed about the proposed cuts to Adult Literacy programs in NYC. I read your May 11th blog and signed the petition to save adult literacy. In addition, I passed the information along and asked my staff to sign as well, which they did.

I am very concerned about the proposed cuts to adult literacy, GED prep and testing and now, our libraries. I work with formerly incarecerated women with limited education backgrounds, and they need these resources to help them further their education and gain employment. Surely funding can be found to help maintain these programs and our libraries.

Janice Tosto

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avatar Bruce Carmel
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MAY 20, 2010 GED TESTING HEARING AT THE STATE ASSEMBLY
I spent yesterday in my new home away from home: Albany, New York. This time I was testifying at the State Assembly’s Education Committee hearing on GED Testing. I started the day bright and early. Chris Curran (from Fifth Avenue Committee) and Julie Quinton (from Make the Road New York) picked me up on the corner of 96th and Broadway at 6:40 am. I had gotten up early enough—around five—but it took me too long to get dressed. I thought I was in good shape because I had just bought two pairs of khaki pants at Brooks Brothers. I might not seem like a Brooks Brothers kind of guy to you (if you know me) but their clothes last forever—unlike the khaki pants of another large clothing company who will not be named because someone close to me works for them. But all my good grown-up shirts were dirty, so I had to iron an older one. The collar on the first one was too loose. The collar on the second one was way too tight. The only other likely suspect needed cuff links, but it was getting late so I had to go with it. All this ironing made me a couple of minutes late.

Being the people-please that I am, I’d baked some blueberry muffins the night before for the ride. These were not my best effort. When I bake for myself or friends I know well, things usually come out just fine. Sometimes when I am baking for an event or somebody sort of new, things come out weird. I think I better go back to baking powder. I was experimenting with giving it up and using baking soda instead. Baking soda costs half as much and you only use half as much if you are substituting it. So why use baking powder at all? I asked my sister who is a chef and she said that baking soda needs to be mixed with something acidic to rise and baking powder has its own acid in it already. The muffins were a little heavy.

The ride to Albany is pretty when everything is green. We drove past so many rivers and streams. I saw a big black bird that I think was a hawk. Of course it was cloudy and grey, but it was still a nice ride.

Oh yeah… the hearing.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan presided as Chair of the Education Committee. She has been fighting for adult literacy for a long time. Danny O’Donnell (MY Assembly Member!) was there. I had talked to his office the week before and sent some information about GED testing and other impending cuts to literacy. He showed up and stayed for almost the entire, very long, hearing. “Wow,” I thought. “Look at me, I am so effective.” I called his office the next day to thank the staff person I had talked to. He said he hadn’t spoken the Assembly Member about my call and email yet, but was glad it all worked out. Oh well. O'Donnell was smart and funny. He really held the Department of Education's feet to the fire about "push outs"--public schools discharging struggling students into GED programs to make their numbers look better.

But the big concern is the proposed cuts to GED Testing and Adult Literacy Education. GED Test Centers will no longer be reimbursed for giving the exam unless something is restored. That means a huge reduction in GED testing which means a huge reduction in GED diplomas which means a huge reduction in people who can get into college, go to training programs, and get decent jobs. Adult Literacy Education is also facing a very big cut: 32%. I know times are hard, but these cuts are disproportionat e cuts to tiny bits of money that provide essential services. I don’t know what’s going to happen but we are not going down without a fight.

The Assembly Members who were there--Nolan, O’Donnell, Arroyo, Benjamin, and Schroeder—all seemed interested and concerned about this issue. I hope they can get something restored.

My quote of the day was from Mark Schroeder, the Assembly Member from Buffalo. He was talking to Jacque Cook—who is like the queen of adult literacy in New York City and has been for years.

“Are you aware of what is called ‘TABE testing’?” he asked Jacque.

If you work in adult literacy, you probably think this is pretty funny. The TABE is a standardized test we have been required to give in New York City for decades. I am sure Jacque Cook is well aware of it.

Julie, Chris and I testified near the end of the hearing with a couple other people on a panel. Julie and Chris did a great job. Others before us did really well too. I have to give special praise to Linda Avitabile who gave wonderful examples of the GED having impact on the lives two of her students. Elyse Barbell, Leslee Oppenheim, David Jones, Sierra Stoneman-Bell, and Jacque also represented New York City very well.

Later that night I looked at the State Assembly web site. They’d videotaped the hearing and it had been broadcast live. I wanted to see if I could watch us. We weren’t online, but there was a schedule of when we were on TV. I turned on channel 159 and audibly gasped when I saw the lovely Sierra offering her testimony. I have to say the camera and the lighting in the hearing room is pretty flattering. We all looked pretty good--and sounded good too. I hope we made a difference.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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people-pleaser*
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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MAY 11, 2010

PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION TO SAVE ADULT LITERACY IN NYC

Here is the link:

http://bit.ly/amG6Q0

This is SO easy. All you need to do is write in your name and an email address. We don't want your money. We don't want your your social security number. We don't want to know your date of birth. You don't need to set up an account. It will take you twenty-five seconds maximum.

There are nearly 13,000 people who stand to lose the opportunity to get a basic education so they can go to work, help their children in school, increase their health literacy, gain financial literacy, and have a better life. Now is not the time to stop investing in an educated workforce.

This petition calling for the restoration of this funding just went live yesterday. There were 316 signatures when I started writing this little entry. Now there's 332. Make that 334. Now it's 336. 337...341....

I better wrap this up for now. I would like nothing better than to spend the rest of my day hitting "refresh" and watching the number climb. But I've got to get this workscope and budget into DYCD. It's late already.

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avatar Aminah Carroll
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This is such an important initiative, Bruce and all. For New York City's dispossessed children, many of whom float from home to home or institution to institution, the GED is a motivator and a measure of their capacity to learn and to succeed. For many kids it is the most important test they will ever take. Pleased to sign,and very grateful for your heralding this.

SIGNED,SHARED
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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MAY 7, 2010DISASTER STRIKES ADULT LITERACY
The Mayor releases his budget (I think it's the "executive budget") yesterday. The adult literacy community was shocked and hurt to see adult literacy services cut to zero. That's what I said: ZERO.

About 13,000 people are served in these programs every year: displaced workers who want to upgrade their skills, low-wage workers who want better jobs, parents who want to be able to help their children in school, immigrants who want to learn English, out-of-school youth who want to get back on track, and range of others who want a second chance. (Most never really had a solid FIRST chance, so maybe "second chance" is the wrong phrase. Anyway, you know what I mean.)

These 13,000 students, and their teachers, friends and families need the City Council to get this back in the budget. The Council's Literacy Champion Sara Gonzalez has been carrying our message and I have great faith in her. Speaker Christine Quinn seems to have joined the fight and has demonstrated great understanding of the need and our services. I am counting on many other Council Members to avert this devastating and damaging proposal.

Here's some data on these essential programs from FY 2009:

Enrollment
12,843 students enrolled.
9,945 were in English classes.
2,648 were in basic education and pre-GED preparation classes
260 were in upper level GED preparation/college readiness classes.

Diplomas
200 of those students received a GED diploma

Jobs
1,000 students obtained a job due to their increased literacy levels and/or their obtaining of their diploma. Nearly half of the students were already working, and enrolled in a literacy program to keep their job or get a better job.

Youth
About 3,000 (2,945) students were “disconnected youth” between the ages of 16-24. Adult literacy programs serve three times as many youth as DYCD’s Out-of-School Youth programs.

There! I somehow managed to get through that without saying anything mean about anybody. Let's see how long that lasts.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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MAY 4, 2010 NYACCE
I spent yesterday and today at the New York Association for Continuing/Community Education’s (NYACCE) annual conference in Albany. Every time I go to Albany or upstate, it’s cloudy and/or rainy. I am usually among the grey concrete state office buildings so it’s grey-on-grey. I was pretty sure the sun shined some of the time in Albany, but I had never seen it. I mentioned this to the cab driver that took me from the train station to the Albany Marriot. He suggested that maybe it was my fault—that I brought the bad weather with me. I told him that was quite likely true.

I spent all of yesterday and most of today in the hotel. I am not sure if the sun was out yesterday. But today on the cab ride back to the train, it did, and Albany looked much, much prettier than I had ever seen it.

Oh yeah--a little about the conference itself:
The highlight of the conference was the presence of Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, the Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education for the United States of America. I think that means she's the "top" person for adult education in the country. I have no idea who her predecessor was. I asked a few other people—who are better connected than I—if they knew who Dr. Dann-Messier’s predecessor was. No one did.

Dr. Dann-Messier--(when someone addressed her as Dr. at her keynote speech, she interrupted, “Brenda,” she said)—so BRENDA appeared at two sessions I attended. The first was a somewhat informal session where program managers got to ask questions. I had met Dr.—Brenda once before, so I noticed her when she came in. Before the session officially started, she very quietly worked her way around the room, introducing herself and shaking hands with every single person--about forty people. When the session convened, BRENDA talked for a little bit about our country’s priorities for adult literacy education, but most of the session was questions and answers. I was happy hear her say that adult education is not going to be swallowed up by training programs. She also indicated that she was interested in getting the training programs to work more with the educators—perhaps using existing successful programs to provide trainees with the basic skills instruction they need. The question and answers were great, but it's the handshaking at the beginning that impressed me the most.

Dr. Dann-Messier (sorry but “Brenda” is just a little too casual for a keynote speaker) gave the conference's keynote address the next day. She said this is an exciting time for adult literacy. I think she said this is “our moment.” I hope she is right. There are many promising prospects on the horizon: the “Promise Neighborhoods,” Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization, Innovation Funds, and Immigration Reform that would could include adult education for immigrants. Dr. Dann-Messier/Brenda committed to making sure that adult literacy is included wherever it can be and should be.

The thing I will remember most about the keynote speak was off script. About halfway through, DD-M/B paused and addressed some latecomers who were standing at the back of the banquet hall. She told them there were seats in the front and that they didn’t have to stand. She urged them to take seats, that she would stop her speech and wait for them so they wouldn’t be interrupting.

I can be overly optimistic, but I am hopeful that the respect, sensitivity, grace and humility demonstrated by Dr. Dann-Messier at NYACCE will be further and frequently demonstrated as she serves as Assistant Secretary. I sure hope so.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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APRIL 30, 2010 PRESS CONFERENCE AT CITY HALL

The New York Coalition for Adult Literacy held a press conference at City Hall yesterday. We are asking for restorations to the city budget. There are about a million dollars worth of cuts being made to DYCD adult literacy programs. The City Council Immigration Opportunities and Adult Literacy Initiatives are not in the current budget. There’s nice coverage of the press conference in [url]www.nynp.biz[/url. I thought I’d share a more personal point of view on it. That’s what this blog is for, right?

We had the steps booked for 11:30am. There was another press conference that was going to follow us. The City Council Speaker, Senator Peralta, and a bunch of Council Members were speaking about immigration issues—I believe in response to the creepy new Arizona laws. Of course, there was more press there for that. Over two million people who can’t read and/or speak English is just not news. The Arizona immigration situation is. That's just how it is.

There was (were?) some press for our conference. Not a lot. Some cameraman from PIX sets up his camera right in front of the big crowd of human beings screaming and chanting for the right to an education. Then somebody tells him that it’s for adult education. Then he gets all rude with us, saying he’s not going to film us. I am sure he was just doing his job, but did he have to be so nasty?

“You want my assignment editor’s number?” he says in a very belligerent tone.

The consummate professional Anthony Ng says nothing, but I’m ready to bring itfor adult literacy. The guy keeps dissing us. I forget what Anthony said to him, but it included the word “sir.”

“Yeah give me his number,” I said. I’m already to call his boss and complain about common courtesy. He didn’t hear me, and I quiet down. I guess I still have a few things to learn about diplomacy.

By the way, when Comptroller John Liu showed up and the PIX jerk decided we were news. That’s how it works I guess.

Other NICER moments:
Sara Gonzalez continued to champion adult literacy. She’d prepared very astute and informed remarks for the occasion.

New Council Members Chin, Williams, and Rodriquez spoke eloquently about the need for adult literacy services. Great to have their enthusiastic support.

John Liu was there to show support and speak about the importance of adult literacy.

Robert Jackson didn’t speak at the press conference, but he took a long time to talk to Turning Point students about working hard to achieve there goals. He really engaged and inspired.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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April 1, 2010 STRESSFUL TIMES
I think the stress of my job—among other things—is getting to me. Now is a hard time to be a senior manager at a nonprofit. There’s a lot of cuts we have to fight.

This evening, I was riding my bike in Riverside Park and a kid—a boy about ten or eleven years old—riding pretty slowly, made a sharp u-turn right into me. He was going slow and I wasn’t going too fast. I came to a stop in time for us to just touch each other’s bikes but not really crash.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said in a voice full of fear and panic. I can’t quite name it, but I think I recognized it as a terror I felt as a child making a mistake, not knowing what would happen next, not knowing what the consequences would be, not knowing how the adult involved would act.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” I said gently and rode off.

A few yards later, I admitted an impulse I’d had to correct or berate him.

“You need to watch where you’re going. Think about the world around you,” I might have said.

I was glad I hadn’t. I starting thinking about the things I could have said that would have been nicer:

“It’s okay. Are you okay?”

“It’s okay. It’s crowded, huh? First nice day.”

“Don’t worry about it. Are you okay?”

I wish I would have been nicer, but I am glad I wasn’t meaner. I started to think about being nicer all the time. I was on the subway earlier that day, and a woman’s cell phone rang at the 72nd Street stop. I guess it’s not that far underground. She dug down into her bag as we pulled out of the station.

“Hello? Hello?” she said. The connection was lost as we went into the tunnel.

“Yeah right,” I said under my breath, sneering really. I was resenting her for having a phone that rang and for answering it. Why was I like that?

I am going to try and be nicer from now on. I think I can do it.
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avatar nadine
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I thimk it happens to all of us. Sometimes emotions rears their head for no logical reasons. I think it may come from a basic instinct/nature ,which we no longer have a release for.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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FEBRUARY 26, 2010 TAGGING CONTEST
When Turning Point moved into our new Educational Center on 39th Street (in Brooklyn), we had some concerns about graffiti. We didn’t want the nice, new space covered with tags.
(What are “tags”? you might asking if you are a nerd like Joe Z. Here’s a definition from the “Urban Dictionary” “Tag; a personal signature, usually vandalism with spraypaint, but can be any graffitti.”
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tag )" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tag ) for more info and pictures too!
Our youth leadership program came up with a great solution. Here’s what it says on their flyer:
Turning Point’s Youth Leadership Program is sponsoring a TAGGING CONTEST. Want to get your name up and be known for having a sick style? You think you’ve got the skills and your up to the challenge?
We’re judging your tags in 4 different categories
Location: Who can get up in the best spot?
Numbers: How many tags can you get up?
Style: Who has the most creative, artistic and exciting tag?
The Message: Say something important!
Tags can only be done on paper and must be taped to the wall. Any other form of tagging and you will be DISQUALIFIED.
Keep it clean and respectful
No buffing anyone else” [“buff” means “remove”]

So ours walls are sprinkled with lovely TAGS with offering messages such as
Read 2 Books
GED GET 1
Get ur GED
Let’s Learn
Go Green
U can do it
Pizza is good
Have fun in class
Make Love Not War
Live Life
Move Forward
Safe Sex
I “heart” TP
Have Fun in Class

I am really proud of our Youth Leadership Participants for coming up with a creative way to keep the new space in good shape, while teaching so many lessons about respect, boundaries, channeling impulses in a positive direction, and working with the system instead of damaging it.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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FEBRUARY 6, 2010: ON A LIGHTER NOTE, "WE ARE NEW YORK"
I’m trying for some time to write something about “We Are New York,” the new TV show for people learning English, created by the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education and the City University of New York, Office of Academic Affairs. I blogged about it a year ago (January 30, 2009) so I figured it was time to hit it again.

It’s been hard for me to avoid tangents. I used to work for an educational television series for adults and it was one of the most exciting and DAMAGING experiences of my life. I kept having to delete rants about how mean, stubborn, and self-absorbed my old boss was. (This one is staying and boy does it feel good to say it out loud! :-)) Then I started trying to write about the difference between educational TV for kids and for adults. I ended up spending last night reading all about the history of “Sesame Street”: how it got started, the impact it has had, and how they handled the death of Mr. Hooper. Interesting stuff, but too much to weave in here.

Television has sometimes been looked at a possible way to reach the millions of adults who need to improve their literacy, but who are not enrolled in classes. I don’t think it has shown much promise in being able to do that. My understanding of the research is that TV shows designed to teach adults basic literacy—either to read and write or to speak English—have been useful as classroom tools. They have enhanced instruction for people already in classes. They have not been very successful in reaching people who and not enrolled. But we can't give up, can we?

So here’s what I’ve been doing: I’ve been showing “We Are New York” to the homeless people who come to Turning Point. We have set up a sort of “lounge” area where anyone from the community can come to take a shower, get something to eat, be warm and be safe. It’s mostly homeless people who don’t speak English. Most are men. Most speak Spanish.

These guys are pretty much just hanging out, watching TV all day long. I’ve been showing "WANY," observing them, and gathering feedback. They are not our students so we don’t have pre-test data on them, but most don’t understand English much at all. Most speak Spanish, but here was one man who was Polish and his English was pretty good. We had a conversation in English about how he could get enrolled in a class. He also taught me how to say “thank you” in Polish: dzienkuje (which I had to write as “jenn-koi-yah” so I would remember).

I’ve noticed some that interest me: The show keeps people engaged, for the most part. The music and the fast images catch their attention at the beginning. People look engaged most of the time. I noticed some patterns about when people tune out. Sometimes the acting is really bad—like the theater director in the “Stop Domestic Violence” episode. I’ve noticed this in educational tv for adults. There can be some really bad acting. In “We Are New York” it’s often pretty good, but there are a few clunkers that make it seem like bad children’s television or something. And the actors speak deliberately slowly. That makes the bad acting even more obvious.

Another things is people rarely laugh at the jokes. This is another thing I have noticed about adult educational television. What passes for humor is sometimes really lame. I personally find a lot of the jokes in “We Are New York” annoying and sort of bad. To make it even more annoying, the actors then laugh at the each other’s bad jokes. For example when a character named Renata is told that she will be playing the role of a police officer in the community theater play, she says “Don’t worry everyone. I’ll protect you.” The actors chuckle at each other. The viewers did not. Humor is hard in translation and that’s just not really very funny, is it?

People sometimes tune out when things get intensely emotional. The men I have been observing often tuned out when the characters were all female. This happened a lot in the “Hospital” episode which has very few male characters.

I’ve conducted a few short focus groups. People say they like the show. They can tell me what happened in the episodes. They say they would like to see more. They say they think it could help them learn English. When I ask them "how?" they say that listening to people speak slowly makes it easier to understand and that they can learn from that. Some people say they would like to watch it more. They also like the close captioning.

The biggest indicator of people liking “We Are New York” is that they say our clients want to see more when an episode is over. On occasion, people have even requested it when there are other things playing on the tv. I have started handing out some of the study guide materials that are available online. A lot of it is too hard for them. Some people didn’t want the worksheets or the pages that present pieces of the episodes like graphic/photo novels, but they took the vocabulary words page.

I’m going to keep showing the series, keep handing out the study guides, and we are hoping to get a volunteer trained by the Mayor’s Office to come out and help. I’m also going to look at the impact the show might have on the viewers: what they are learning. I’m not exactly sure how I will know for sure, but I think I’ll start by asking people if watching the show has helped and how. So…more later.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JANUARY 25, 2010 CONNECTING THE SAD GAY DOTS
Last Thursday I found out that a friend of mine was murdered. He was found underneath his bed with his throat slashed, a big gash in his head and cuts that are called “defensive wounds”--injuries that show there was a fight. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story from mutual friends, read about it on the internet, and heard about it on TV. It went something like this: my friend met a guy at his gym. The guy said he needed a place to stay for a little while. My friend let him move in. This guy turned out to be bad news. He and my friend fought and the guy threatened him a few times. My friend wanted him out, but the guy stalled and protested. He was supposed to move out Monday but he said he needed a couple more days. He killed my friend on Tuesday and stayed in the apartment for another two days. Thursday morning, he was seen on the steps outside the building where my friend lived, smoking a cigarette. He fled the scene with my friend’s credit card and was caught in Vermont on Saturday. He confessed.

I never met this guy who killed my friend. There is a picture of him in one of the articles online. He doesn’t look familiar. He does look drug-addicted, mean, scary, and crazy. Maybe I wouldn’t have picked up on that if I didn't know that he was mean, scary, crazy, and maybe drug-addicted. But I think I would have. He is wearing an orange tee shirt in the picture that reminds me of a prison jumpsuit. Various news articles refer to my friend as the guy's boyfriend, gay lover, partner, and/or roommate.

John was not really a close friend of mine at the time of his death. I had known him for eight years. There were times when we were closer. I had actually meant to call him the week before he died, but his number wasn’t in my new phone and I was too lazy to track him down.

The weekend before all this, I saw “A Single Man,” [spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it] Tom Ford’s movie where Colin Firth mourns his long-term lover’s death, and is pursued by a handsome sailor, a stunning hustler, a freakishly beautiful male student, and a gorgeous woman. In the end, he dies.

I left this movie feeling really sad. I felt better when I realized this was not the story of a real person, but the fantasy of a self-hating, narcissistic gay man. He is pursued by outrageously good-looking people. He suffers terrible injustices. He is happy for a while, but that gets taken away. Why does happiness get taken away? Is it chance or a punishment? After that, he is miserable (although somehow very appealing to beautiful people) and he has to die. He must die.

A number of years ago, I worked with a nice woman named Maryam. One day we were sitting in the lunch room together and she looked at me and asked if I was gay. Actually, she said, “You’re a homosexual, aren’t you?” There was wonderment in her. The way she said it made me think she’d been practicing, wanting to ask me for a while. “Yes,” I said. "I’m gay.” She nodded. She said she had never known a gay person before. “Uh-huh,” I thought. I believe she was working hard to reconcile the facts that she liked me and I was gay.

This all fits together somehow. You figure it out.
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avatar Spence Halperin
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Very sad indeed. Thanks for sharing.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JANUARY 9, 2010 AN UNSUNG HERO
I worked at the Queens Library from 1999 until 2003. I was in charge of the Adult Learner Program. One of the best things about that job was Anita--the Center Director of the Central Adult Learning Center on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica.

From the very start, Anita was warm, welcoming, and fun. What was it she did on my first day? I can’t remember, but she did something. Maybe it was a card. Or maybe it was a hug. No, I don’t think it was a hug. That was Florence who gave me a hug on my first day at Turning Point. I can’t remember what it was, but she did something to extend herself. “Effusive.” That’s a good word to describe her.

Anita had been at the library for about ten years (I think) when I got there. She had just recently been promoted from Assistant Center Director to Director. That surprised me. I never would have known she was the “new” one. After ten years, she was one of the most knowledgeable staff members we had. She was a real leader in that program.

Anita had such a positive impact on the Central Adult Learning Center. She made the place comfortable and welcoming. She made sure she knew every student and every volunteer. She was also a great teacher and an excellent volunteer supervisor.

And what a difference that made! That learning center worked mainly with English-speakin g adults who could not read. There aren’t a lot of programs like that around. Most adult literacy programs work with people who are literate in their own language but need to learn English and/or people who can read and write, but need to improve their literacy skills, usually with the goal of a GED. That’s not who we worked with. People at the library could not read. Most can write their names. Some can make most of the letters. A few can't hold a pencil.

This is an extremely challenging population with which to work. Progress can be slow. Even when progress is fast, there is so much to learn, it can take a long time for somebody to learn how to read.

Volunteers do most of the direct service in the Adult Learner Program. They give the students a lot of individual attention. But without someone like Anita, someone who's an expert in how to help beginning readers, they can't succeed.

Student retention is a big issue. People who don’t know how to read often lack confidence in their ability to learn how to read. Learning disabilities are prevalent. Outside issues such as health problems, childcare, changing work schedules, and poverty can interfere with schooling. Having Anita at the center, someone who knew you, you welcomed you, who missed you when you weren’t there, who asked about your kids and your wife, who was sometimes kind of nosy…that’s what kept many people coming back. So very many people had the chance to learn to read and write thanks to her dedication, caring, and commitment.

I was Anita’s boss for four years. She was also my pal. Anita brought so much fun and life to my days there. We talked a lot. Sometimes we talked about adult learning and teaching techniques. Sometimes we talked about Broadway musicals and who I was dating. We went to see “Hairspray” together. And cats! How could I forget them? We talked a lot cats.

I had tentative plans to visit Anita today. She is sick. I should have gone two months ago, damn it, but the day she suggested was not possible. Then I went out of town for a week and then I procrastinated. Today's plan was I would call and see if she had the strength to have a visitor. Even if she did, I was only going to be able to stay for a half hour or so. Her husband answered the phone and asked her. No, not today. I said I would check in later and maybe come another time. It was made pretty clear that that might not be possible. So today is a sad day for me.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JANUARY 8, 2010
I am glad I decided to date my entries here. Otherwise it would just be a big mess. It also calls me out if I haven't made an entry in a long time.





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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JANUARY 7, 2010 TURNING POINT EDUCATIONAL CENTER IS MOVING
We are moving from 50th Street and 7th Avenue to 39th Street and 4th. In Brooklyn. We pretty much had to move. The old center was in an old house. It wasn’t built for this kind of use. We have grown. More classes. More support services. We’ve added case management, transportation assistance, academic tutoring, a youth leadership program, a food station. Our entire ESOL program has been renting rooms from different churches and temples for the past couple of years. Plus we have worked hard to improve the quality of instruction. Retention has improved. Classrooms used to be half empty or worse. So there were just too many people in the building. There wasn't an inch to spare. One counselor didn't have a desk. It was hard to find a place to have a meeting. And then there was the plumbing. It got bad. That was probably the last straw.

So we are moving. The building is about twice as bit. It's a new building-- bigger and better. We even have an elevator.

Everything is out of the old center and out of the rented spaces. We are just starting to unpack. Most of our classes will meet in the new space. Case management, employment assistance, youth leadership, GED testing, and the Sunset Park Literacy Zone will be housed there too. Classes start on Tuesday January 19th. I can't wait to see it happen.

We had our first staff meeting in the new space today. It was sort of impromptu, but Susan (the Program Director) thought we should say a few words, clear up some vagaries, and give folks a chance to ask questions and raise concerns. I blathered on for a few minutes about how we had grown and what a great accomplishment this was. Then I mentioned that we didn’t have much money for anything besides walls, heat, and lights. I should have sounded more positive. I should have been happier. I’ll work on that. Susan said something too. We asked if there were any concerns or questions.

J____ said that where was a lot of shooting nearby.

I think he said “A lot of people get killed here. A lot of gangs.”

At few people didn’t seem to know what to do with that comment. I think there were a couple of snickers.

"I was there when somebody got shot. I was just a minute away from it."

I think somebody said, “No, he’s serious. There is a lot of gang activity in this area”

“We should be aware of that,” someone else said.

And of course I started to worry.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 31, 2009 NEW YEAR'S TO-DO LIST
I don't really like New Year's Resolutions. There's something about the dynamic that doesn't work for me. I'm not really into guilt, obligation, and framing myself as lazy. Let's face it: I am going to keep on doing what I am doing and MAYBE one or two other things. A list of ten new directions is bound to fail. So I'll go with a "To-Do List." It's a lot of stuff I would have done anyway, but maybe it will help to write it down. These are not in order of priority.

1. Keep my desk clean. (I had forgotten that it was made of wood--been so long since I'd seen what was under all the papers.
2. Write a really good proposal to the Booth Ferris Foundation.
3. Get the Robin Hood report in just a little early.
4. Do something exciting with the homeless people who come to Turning Point and the "We Are New York" DVDs.
5. Ask Senators Montgomery and Savino to support Turning Point at the right time. (It's not too late, is it?)
6. Thank Assembly Member Ortiz some more and ask for a renewal.
7. Try to help the CEPS project to keep going.
8. Get a little more involved in WIA reauthorization.
9. Learn more Spanish.
10. Learn how to say "thank you" in more languages. (I have about 15 now).
11. Go to Richie's gym every once in a while.
12. Get through to that dude at the Verizon Foundation.
13. Keep visiting Turning Point's Runaway and Homeless Youth Shelter and cooking healthy food for them.
14. Write an occasional blog entry.
15. Lose 7.5 pounds.

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avatar terrance
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this is a terrific list of things to take care of for 2010!!!
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 25, 2009 POETRY ON CHRISTMAS DAY
I had the privilege to spend Christmas Day with some really great young people who write poetry. Here is a sample of some of their work:


Untitled
When you think life is getting better
It starts to get worse
And through the ones you love
Your heart will erupt or just burst
For a minute wonder why
God put you through hurt
Then I found out
That hurt just comes along with dirt
And your dirt just gives you the motive to get clean
So much filth like it is a brand name
But Gucci fresh is where we must stand

- Thomas Jennings


Title: When I’m Stressing
When I’m stressing
I sit down and count my blessings
Destined to investing
My anger
Trying hard not 2 let my head linger
But vapor
I sit and let my thoughts condensate with the paper
Just 2 stay calm
So I won’t bomb
And go off like an alarm
With happiness I bond
This is something I hold long
If not I’ll be wrong
I write poems and songs
2 answer the questions
Why am I stressin’
By Camilo

Alone
Alone is were I stand
I came to this realization when I called out for help
and there was no one reaching for my hand
They say God puts you through hell so you will appreciate heaven
But I say to myself GOT DAMN I’ve been wait for him
since I hit age eleven
As I sit here I’ve little to no understanding
Even with that I’m not going to stop my planning
The Planning for when my life turns around
So for now, I keep my head in the clouds
and my heart on my faith
Not everyone can do that
And to me that’s the saddest to say
Alone is where I am, but its not were I will continue to Stand
Alone
By Ariel C. Rueda



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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 22, 2009 ARTS IN EDUCATION

We are always trying to bring more of the arts into the work with we with youth and adults. I mean it's great to have people working hard on reading, writing, and math. It's great to have counseling and other supportive services. But it's also important to have positive, exciting, creative activities in one's life. So much of what we do at Turning Point is responding to problems. We want to be proactive as well--enhancing and inspiring, not just removing obstacles.

Last year we worked with Risa Jaroslow and Dancers. http://hightidedance.com/home.html" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://hightidedance.com/home.html. Risa and her company worked with a couple of groups here. Young people who were hip-hop dancers wanted to learn how to teach dancing. So they worked with the company, breaking down the moves and learning how to teach others. Independence Community Foundation funding Risa and Turning Point found other money to support this important project. We have proposals in to a couple of foundations (I was going to name them, but not sure that would be right!) to support this kind of work in 2010. Nothing has come through yet, but we are hopeful. Here's a sample of one of the young people--Raul--d emonstrating his skills:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIXZ6-8dJGY&feature=related" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIXZ6-8dJGY&feature=related

The dancing was good, but the thing that has really taken off has been painting murals. Our Youth Leadership Program--guided by the dynamic and talented Jill Siegel--decided they wanted to paint a mural on the blank brick wall that abutted our Educational Center's backyard. The group did an amazing job. They created a design, put it on a grid and enlarged it to fit on the wall. They brought in local community members who were graffitti artists. In April 2009, they organized a community gallery. Sunset Park residents brought in their artwork for display and the mural was officially unveiled. I posted this link a few months ago, but I'm putting it up again in the context of the bigger movement:
http://bit.ly/bhCR1H

The young people moved on to paint a second mural in an abandoned lot in Bushwick, Brooklyn:
http://www.youtube.com/user/inmare#p/a/u/2/2EjyOKsTNvU" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/user/inmare#p/a/u/2/2EjyOKsTNvU

They are now working on a THIRD mural in Staten Island. They are getting very serious about this. Volunteer art teachers have come in and are teaching drawing. There's a plastic skeleton in the Program Director's office that they are using to study anatomy and proportions.

This series of projects has been such a success. The young people are really in charge. How great it is that graffitti--something that they were sometimes getting arrested for--is being honored and respected?!
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 21st, 2009 THE SHORTEST DAY OF THE YEAR

This is the shortest day of the year, right? I think maybe this is the day when eggs will stand up without falling over, you know what I mean? I am glad it's finally here. Now the days will start getting longer. I am also getting over a cold. I am feeling better and the days are getting longer. Plus I firmly assert that the recession if over. Maybe I am over the winter hump!

I don't want to sound like I am whining. Really I am not. Please do not ascribe a whiny tone to this entry. It's just that I work at a community-based organization. Sometimes it's just hard. I have been trying to write about this for a long time, but I can't seem to get very far. I start with "Sometimes working at a community-based organization is hard" and then I get stuck. So I am going to try and write through it.

What is it I want to say? It's just that sometimes it seems like we could so easily be forgotten and I don't think we should be. There's not much money to help the people we help. And sometimes when a little money does become available, it goes to some big institution. I am not against the big institutions. We need libraries, the Department of Education, and the City University of New York. But we need community-base organizations too. CBOS are flexible. We know our communities. We provide a range of services. People who won't walk into a big instituation will come to us. We need to be at the table too.

Lots of times I have to remind people who work for me that we can't just increase the services we offer just because there is a great need for them. I hate saying that, but it's the truth. Funding is so precarious. We are always, always scrambling. And even when we get more funding, it never seems to be enough.

Having a cold made things seem much worse. I didn't feel like doing much of anything. It was hard to get out of bed. I certainly didn't feel like I had the strength to convince th Center for Economic Opportunities to stop giving most of the money for disconnected youth to the libraries--wher e they don't have any case managers to support them, they don't offer GED preparation classes, and they don't give the GED exam. (There! I said it and I am not taking it back.)

Okay that's enough of that. I think this is my worst entry ever. Maybe now I'll go try and find an egg to balance or call David Berman....before it's too late.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 14, 2009

You know, I really wish I had a lot more money to do what we do at Turning Point. We've done a real good job of bringing in funding during these tough times, and I am grateful for that. But there are still some really big needs. Part of the problem is the tremendous need. It's very frustrating when the community you serve has such huge needs--so many people who need so much--and you don't have the money to respond as they deserve.

Here's an example:

Almost a year ago, we started working with the Mexican Consulate at Turning Point. They moved in and set up shop for a week here and there, trying to respond to crises, providing some legal help, and referring people to services. We knew there was a great need, but having the consulate there got some new people in our doors. Some were homeless and hungry.

We set up a simple project to respond to the need. We turned a bathroom into a shower room and started giving away a little bit of food. Our reception area is now packed full of people who need to take a shower, get something to eat, get some clean clothes, and keep warm. We are experimenting a little with showing "We Are New York"--the educational television series to teach people English. People can watch it while they are waiting for a shower.

So our once fairly quiet reception area is now packed full of people in great need, many but not all of them homeless. Some people come every day. It's a great way to bring forgotten under-served folks into our agency. Somebody might start off just taking a shower, but after a while can get some of the other services they need: housing, health care, etc.

Nobody is funding this. I have started calling foundations, but that's a long process at any time. (I would have thought the Hearst folks could return a phone call, you know?) There aren't many funders who are looking for new projects in this economy. But we'll keep doing it. What we really need is a couple hundred thousand dollars a year to provide rich services to these people in great need, but I'd settle for ,000. Is anybody reading this, by the way?

One more random thing: I am on an airplane right now. They were giving out promotional Wi-Fi sessions. How cool is that? Another hour and a half to New York City and, man, does my butt hurt. I wonder if I'm allowed to say "butt" in the New York Nonprofit Press....

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avatar Stacie Sanchez
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I think it's amazing that Turning Point is piloting this "simple project" that is undoubtedly giving lots of folks an opportunity to take a shower, have something to eat and pick up some English in the waiting room. Getting people in the door is often the hardest challenge -- by addressing people's basic needs, you open the door to accessing additional services and a path to empowerment. Bravo!
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 11, 2009: DISCONNECTED YOUTH WITH LOW LITERACY

Last month, The Youth Development Institute presented a forum on their Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS) project http://www.ydinstitute.org/initiatives/pathways/ceps_work.html" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.ydinstitute.org/initiatives/pathways/ceps_work.html. CEPS combines supportive services and quality literacy instruction for low-literate disconnected youth. The supportive services include "primary persons"-- case managers/mentors/caring adults providing extra support to young people. The quality literacy instruction is based in America's Choice Ramp-Up Literacy (TM) system. Yup, that's what they call it--a "system." I was skeptical at first, and something about their PR still rubs me the wrong way http://www.americaschoice.org/literacy?gclid=CIXDxMLgzp4CFRgbawodZGVUqw" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.americaschoice.org/literacy?gclid=CIXDxMLgzp4CFRgbawodZGVUqw. But it's been really good for us. Ramp-Up is a structured approach that empasizes real reading, as opposed to structured approaches like Orton-Gillingha m that fragment the reading process.

Turning Point has been part of the CEPS program for three years now. It took us a while to make this work. We had to raise money to hire case managers (thanks to the Robin Hood and Pinkerton foundations). Then it took a while to figure out how to make that work. Our teachers needed to be trained in the Ramp-Up approach and we needed to figure out how to integrate those approaches into our learner-centere d classes. It's really made a difference. Young people are connected to case managers who encourage and guide them. We are finding out about so many obstacles that young people are facing--and working to eliminate them. Also, the instruction for youth in our basic education classes is much more solid, better preparing young people for GED preparation classes.

The YDI forum presented the good results of CEPS. Young people are making significant gains in their literacy levels (over a year's gain in six months is about the average) and are being better retained. It's especially impressive if you take a minute to remember who these young people are. Some of our students have been out of school for a long time. We have 18-year-olds who have never been to high school. Most of our students have some of issue that made it hard for them to function in "regular" school: learning disabilities, social anxiety, mental health problems, or maybe just learning styles that are not a good match for the NYC Department of Education. A year's growth in 6 months would be impressive with any group, but it's especially impressive with the disconnected youth population.

I am not exactly sure what YDI has in mind for the future of CEPS. But that's a question for Peter Kleinbard and Vivian Vasquez, not this blog.

Earlier this month, JobsFirst NYC convened a work group to look at issues of low-literate disconnected youth. It was an exciting meeting and I look forward to that groups continuation.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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DECEMBER 10, 2009
I am not sure. Either there is a lot going on right now in New York City's GED/Disconnected Youth/Adult Literacy world or I am just getting more connected.

Here's one effort I am involved with: The Literacy Assistance Center is working with the State Education Department to follow up on the recommendations made by Jacqueline Cook's research on New York's really bad GED testing situation. (Department of Youth and Community Development and New York Community Trust made that report happen. See report here http://bit.ly/a8elpe

New York City's City Council is supporting these efforts as well. CUNY, the Department of Education, and some other agencies (including Turning Pointwww.tpdomi.org) are involved in a pilot project that is trying to make some positive changes.

The whole situation is pretty interesting. First of all, there is the surface mess that is GED testing. Applicants can book seats in as many places as they want at the same time. There is no coordination. That is one of the reason there are so many empty seats during actual testing session. But at the same time, there are long waiting lists to get a seat at a test session.

At Turning Point, we overbook to allow for no-shows, but you never know how many people are going to show. We have had test dates where 40 people have booked a seat and less than 10 show up. Other times, we book 40 people and 30 show up. Superficial messes like this are going to be addressed in this new project.

There are deeper issues too. There are so many people out there who don't have a diploma--easily over a million in New York City. It's hard to know what is going on out there, but GED Test Centers have some indications. The most interesting scenario (to me) is when people walk in off the street and want to take the test. Many centers suggest that these applicants take the Official Practice Test (OPT) first. The OPT is shorter. It can be scored right away--not sent away to the State Education Department. Agencies can just give the test without the complicated application process the GED Exam requires. But some people will say, "I don't want to take that predictor test. I failed that. I just want to take the test." If people fail the OPT, they usually don't want instruction to improve their skills. The exception to that is people who fail the math portion only. It seems easier to get people to enroll in a math class than a GED prepartion class.

What's at the root of responses such as those? I can hypothesize a few things.
* people don't have a good sense of their own basic skills and what it takes to pass the GED exam
* some people might have a weird idea of what it takes to pass the test. Do they think they can pass if they get lucky? If they have a NICE person scoring their exam? If they get easier quesitons this time? We are trying to learn more.
* maybe some people don't believe they can improve their reading, writing, and math skills. If you think you can't learn, you might as well just take the test again and again.
* there is less shame about not knowing math than having general low literacy skills.

This GED Project--being led by Nell Eckersley at the LAC--is looking holds a lot of promise for creating some badly needed changes.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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October 4, 2009
If there's one thing I really can't stand, it's a blog entry apologizing for not having made any recent blog entries.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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COMMUNITY SERVICE

I can't believe I never posted this! Here's a video that showcases the wonderful work done by Turning Point's Youth Leadership Program. You can see the HUGE mural they painted on the back wall of a building that is next to our Educational Center. It tooks months of designing, community outreach, and painting to complete. Lots of people worked on it: Jill, Jerardo, Gerardo, Osvaldo (again?! He is everywhere), Raul. Chris, Paola, and many others.

The mural was "unveiled" at a community art show. Community members brought art, we displayed it, and had a big party. You can see lots of the art in the video. Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez and a representative from Assembly Member Felix Ortiz showed up. The Councilwoman gave out citations to everyone who worked on the mural. It was a big and joyous day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsjqKaaE538
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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JULY 6, 2009 ADULT LITERACY BASICS, PLUS SOMETHING ABOUT EDDIE

Just what is “adult literacy” anyway? The term can mean slightly different things to different people in different places. To me, “adult literacy” means the ability of people over the age of 16 to read and write. And just what does that mean? James Moffett said the goals of literacy are to be “sound out with normal intonation any text one could understand if heard” and to write down with correct spelling and punctuation anything one could say.” If I extrapolate from there, I would say that a literate person is anyone who can sound out with normal intonation most texts they could understand if heard and can also write down with mostly correct spelling and punctuation anything he/she might say. However...

That is not exactly what we are talking about when we say “Adult Literacy” in New York City. In New York City, adult literacy programs include basic education programs for people who can’t make meaning out of basic texts that they would understand if heard, but there is much more. In New York City, adult literacy students include other populations in addition:
* English classes that include some people who might be highly literate and educated in their native language, but can’t speak, understand, read, or write English very well.
* GED instruction for people at many different levels of literacy including people who have high levels of literacy, but no high school diploma.

About half of New York City's adult literacy students are in English classes. These people are assessed based on their abilities to speak and understand English. There is no native language assessment conducted in most programs, and none of the native language literacy assessments that might be out there gets collected by any central agency. In my experience, there is a broad range of native-language literacy levels in English classes for adults. Most people can do some basic read and write in their native languages. Some students in English classes cannot read and write in any language. Some don't know how to hold a pencil. Some have graduate degrees in other languages. There are doctors and journalists in some adult literacy English classes.

The other half of adult literacy students are people who can't read and write, AND people don’t have a GED. Some are people who cannot read and write much at all—virtual non-readers—as well as people who are good readers and writers who just did not finish school. In my experience it is common to find people who are proficient readers who cannot write much and who can’t do much math.

I don’t want to assume that everybody knows all that. Why would you?

My friend Eddie McGill wanted to be mentioned in a blog. He is quite a good reader himself, so it’s not a TOTAL digression to include him here.
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avatar Bruc Carmel
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JUNE 25, 2009 WRAPPING UP FY09

Although 2009 is half over, most of us (nonprofit folk) operate in the time fiscal year time warp. So I spent 2009 submitted 2010 workscopes, budgets, and proposals. July 1st starts FY10. So where do Turning Point, Adult Literacy, Disconnected Youth, Sunset Park, the Sunset Park Alliance for Youth, Literacy Zones, and Bruce Carmel stand as we approach FY 2010?

Random thoughtss:

Turning Point is doing great considering these economic times. We have had a few cuts in some areas, but we have also expanded in others. Raymond Figueroa's leadership is priceless, btw.

Adult Literacy is suffering, but that's what we've been doing for quite some time. The good news was that the State Education Department and the Department of Youth and Community Development didn't cut our funding. DYCD fought to get stimulus money for adult literacy (thank you Richard Fish and Commissioner Mullgrav). The City Council did pretty well by us (especially Sara M. Gonzalez). Our new much better President is slightly increasing federal funding which has been greatly reduced over the last twenty years. There is hope that we might get even bigger increases.

Disconnected Youth are still forgotten, but not quite as much as before. There are some good things that might be sort of happening to help the 200,000 young people in New York City that have pretty much been ignored.

Sunset Parkis getting a high school in the fall. That's a triumph.

SPAY is happening and unique (as far as I know)

Literacy Zones are new and exciting. Let's see if I can make this one work.

Bruce Carmel got a mortgage modification (thank you, Mr. President), a good haircut (thank you Shaun), and went on a couple of dates. So FY 2010 is looking pretty good from here.
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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MAY 27, 2009. DOES THE WORKFORCE INVESTMENT ACT "BLAME THE POOR"?
I have been trying to write something about the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). It’s taking me a long time. I am writing a lot and around in circles sometimes. So let's just take advantage of the sloppiness that blogs allow and get SOMETHING up here.

The Workforce Investment Act is a federal law that provides money for adult literacy — and other things like job training. It replaced the Job Training Partnership Act in 1998 and was reauthorized in 2003.

I am trying to write about a disturbing subtext I see in the Workforce Investment Act and the National Reporting System (NRS) that was created to measure its effectiveness. WIA and the NRS ask adult literacy programs to be accountable in ways in which no other education programs are asked to be accountable. We have to report on educational gains and credentials. That is certainly not unreasonable. In this age of accountability we have to do a lot more measuring.

The Workforce Investment Act also asks that we report on employment outcomes. We have to report on how many people got jobs. We also have to report on whether or not those jobs are retained when people exit the program. This is a problem in practical terms. It’s a big drain on resources to have to track the employment of exited students. It also shifts the focus or literacy programs. The reporting system is so complicated now. Programs are considered “excellent” if they do a great job of reporting their data. An “excellent” program used to be a program that provided outstanding instruction.

But I think there is a deeper problem. I think the Workforce Investment Act devalues poor people, uneducated people, and immigrants. (That’s who the students in adult literacy programs are.) WIA takes a stand against literacy and a basic education being something that every American deserves. It’s not enough for students to learn how to read so they can have a better life. They have to get jobs so they can pay taxes and contribute to society. I think there also is a “blame the poor” implication.

I think the Workforce Investment Act supposes that everyone in America had a chance to get their education. I think there is an "Everyone deserves their first chance, but the second chance has to be earned" subtext. WIA clings to the belief that we all have pretty much the same opportunities in this country. Embedded in WIA is the belief that rich people end up rich because they are smarter and they worked harder.

WIA implicitly denies that many people in this country did not have much of an opportunity to get a good education. There can be many reasons for this. Poor neighborhoods have fewer education resources. Sunset Park Brooklyn, for example, is without a public high school and we have a very high dropout rate. Low-literate parents have a harder time supporting their children in school. Many are committed to their children getting an education, but the support just isn’t there if you can’t help with the homework and are not modeling literacy behaviors. Poverty also pressures many teenagers to drop out of school to help support their families....

There is more to say here. I think there is a conclusion I am working toward. But I want to get something posted about this.... So let’s just make this “Part I.”

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avatar Bruce Carmel
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May 11, 2009 ADULT LITERACY RALLY ROCKS THE HOUSE

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=94642&id=70826722469
Pictures from the Adult Literacy Rally. (Hope the link works.)

"It was 'bangin,'" as Osvaldo would say. We had at least 400 attendees, and simultaneous translation in Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish. The sound system actually worked. There was enough food for everyone. Elyse Barbell, Sara M Gonzalez, and Brad Lander were great speakers. The student speakers were the best though, offering many examples of the impact of adult literacy on people's lives.

Stacie Sanchez was an excellent emcee. I believe she used to be a cheerleader and that experience came in handy when it was time to lead the chants!

There are so many more people to thank. Instead of offering a big long list of people, I'll just say thanks to everyone who helped. You know who you are. But let me single out one person who is pretty much ALWAYS there to help the New York Coalition for Adult Literacy, the Sunset Park Alliance for Youth, and me: Christina (Chris) Curran, Director of Adult Literacy at the Fifth Avenue Committee. Thanks again, Chris! I can always count on you.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=94642&id=70826722469
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avatar Stacie Sanchez
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Actually, I was editor of the yearbook but I coach co-ed softball so I'm always playing the role of a "team cheerleader"!

GO ADULT LIT!!
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avatar Bruce Carmel
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April 15, 2009 ADULT LITERACY RALLY

Not to be outdone by the awesome rally the Queens adult literacy programs held in March (http://nynp.biz/index.php/breaking-news/534-advocates-rall y-against-cuts- to-adult-litera cy), Brooklyn programs are happy to announce a Brooklyn Adult Literacy Rally:

Date and Time: April 29, 2009; 12-2pm
Place: Widdi Hall (5602 6th Avenue, Sunset Park Brooklyn, 11220)

I spent some time talking to a Turning Point ESOL class about the rally. They wrote some terrific statements about why adult literacy is important in their lives. They are posted as responses to this entry....
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avatar Tracy
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Adult Literacy is important because I couldn't understand what people said to me. For example, I could not pass my first driving test because I could not understand what the person said to me. Now I passed my driving test because I understand what he said to me.
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