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Milwaukee young people at last weekend's Youth Peace Rally. (MPS photo)
Milwaukee young people at last weekend's Youth Peace Rally. (MPS photo)

MPS' call to end violence

The Maasai people of East Africa use a greeting when meeting people. They say "And how are the children? " The expected response is "All the children are well." But all is not well with our children in 2012.

On Feb. 28, over 400 people assembled in the Milwaukee Public Schools central office auditorium in response to a call to action following the recent shooting deaths of four young men, along with other acts of violence witnessed in Milwaukee.

City and county officials were present. The mayor sent a representative. The school board was on hand. But the speakers represented the front lines in the battle for the hearts and minds of our children.

Students, community, parents, teachers and administrators came forward with an array of ideas to begin to solve this overwhelming problem.

Students from Pulaski, Bradley Tech, Vincent, Groppi and other schools spoke of the need for adults to listen and to connect with young people and their problems.

They spoke of the value of the Violence Free Zone (VFZ) initiative employed in many of the high schools. The VFZ program brings groups like Running Rebels into schools during the school day to assist with addressing behavioral and other needs of students. Students asked for the expansion of the VFZ program including middle schools.

Students also called for expansion of the restorative justice work that is being done in schools and supported by the office of the District Attorney. A key practice in the restorative justice work is to hold "peace circles" where students talk through their problems, with adult supervision.

A long list of suggestions was made including holding peace rallies, increasing parent involvement in schools, a north and south side suspension center for chronic disruptors, Saturday suspension requirements, mentoring programs, volunteer programs, the return of music, art and gym, training for staff in cultural diversity and classroom management.

One speaker talked about special education students with s…

Fifty Marquette college students do after school tutoring four nights a week at King.
Fifty Marquette college students do after school tutoring four nights a week at King. (Photo: Bobby Tanzilo)

A visit to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School

There are many educators in Milwaukee who wake up every morning and ask themselves, "how can I best serve my students today?"

Recently I had a chance to observe some of these teachers at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Unannounced, I accompanied the principal into seven classrooms.

Students were engaged, teachers were teaching and the rooms were filled with encouragement. I saw many students enthusiastic and confident in their interaction with their teacher and other students.

One of the things that became very clear to me in visiting these classrooms was that the ratio of students to teacher was reasonable and manageable. But an increase in class size, I fear, would change what I saw.

Throughout the visit the principal talked about the success they were having in reading and math that has been evident on their district internal assessments.

Accompanying us was a college student who has recently organized a cadre of 50 Marquette college students to do after school tutoring four nights a week at King.

While many critics of MPS stand on the sideline or even work to destroy public education, here is someone who believes in educating all
students, with the goal of giving each of them the chance to fulfill their potential.

I say hats off to teachers that are putting their students first, even though you may not feel appreciated. I say hats off to community members, like the student from Marquette, who believes in kids and asks everyone else to do the same.

Living History: Why is Booker T. Washington's philosophy being resurrected?

I recently heard a lecture in Milwaukee in which the speaker stated "Booker T. Washington was right." While suggesting valuable proposals for economic development for Milwaukee's devastated communities, the speaker went on to say he had been a disciple of Cornell West and W.E.B. Du Bois, but converted.

The comment about Booker T. Washington caused concern. So I went back to look at the philosophy and work of Booker T. Washington and the controversies that surrounded him.

Following is some historical analysis and some of my thoughts concerning the work of Booker T. Washington and its meaning today.

Washington entered Hampton Institute in 1872 at the age of 16. In 1881 he took charge of a small school in Tuskegee Alabama and began to put his theories into practice. The school became the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

He concentrated first on teaching farming and handicrafts like bricklaying, carpentry and blacksmithing. He played down the importance of history, mathematics and science and emphasized practical skills and the virtues of hard work, patience and perseverance. Later in his career he began to emphasize the importance of entrepreneurship.

Washington organized the National Negro Business League in 1900 and became its first president. W.E.B. Du Bois was also active in the League's formation. A major component of Washington's philosophy was the complete playing down of political action. The general idea was that the black community should make no serious demands upon existing political injustices.

He thought the black community could get more from the ruling landowners and industrialists by catering to them as opposed to fighting them. Consequently, he discouraged all political activity and made no sustained fight against the evils of Jim Crow segregation, disenfranchisement and lynching. In his speeches he only occasionally mentioned these outrages.

Washington had a philosophy that in all things social African Americans "can be a separate as …