Letters to the Editor, May 7, part 2
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Kudos to farmers market
I’d like to commend the managers of the Montclair Farmers’ Market for the fantastic way they reorganized the market to make shopping there safe under the new social-distancing ground rules. The lines are orderly and well-marked; only the sellers handle the produce, and many have shopping baskets that make handling your purchases easier while you wait on line to pay. Job well done! And many thanks to the farmers and boutique sellers who continue to safely bring us fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats all year long.
Our missing mayor
Where oh where has our mayor gone? Even though Mayor Jackson has little time left in the remainder of his term, I have been wondering where he is. And why he has offered no visible leadership during this horrible pandemic that has hit Montclair so hard.
I have been expecting an article about what efforts he has made to keep us safe. Perhaps a statement on Channel 34. Some condolences that those of us who are still healthy could participate in. An interview on NJ News? An effort to enforce wearing masks in public? I see daily strollers on Claremont Avenue walking by with no masks. A report as to what efforts he has made to pull us all together. What preparations are being made for next fall, when the virus is likely to come back? An email? A text?
Mayor Jackson, something!
It's likely we will be facing hardship for a number of months to come. I hope whoever succeeds the mayor will be more communicative, compassionate, and present.
Release ICE detainees
2018. It was the best of times at the Essex County Jail (so said Joe D); it was the worst of times at the Essex County Jail (so said the inmates and their spouses). For years, county Executive Joe DiVincenzo told anyone who would listen that his jail was the best-run jail in the land.
In the summer of 2018 the DHS Inspector General’s staff came and said “not true.” Suddenly the kitchen manager was fired, and the county set off on a quick project to fix a leaking roof, leaking cells, moldy and mildewed showers, and more.
Fast-forward 18 months to a COVID world. Jails are Petri dishes; self-distancing is impossible, and the medical care is completely outsourced. Joe D is again saying all is well. There is soap, hand sanitizer, and masks for all. Testing is available for anyone who needs it. Should we believe him this time? Inmates and spouses say “no.”
ICE is holding people in our jail who are “civil detainees,” i.e., not charged with any crime. They do not need to be in jail ever, certainly not during a pandemic when it could become a death sentence. Gov. Murphy has issued an executive order to allow jails to evaluate their populations and release prisoners who qualify. We understand that Joe D cannot release anyone on his own say-so, only ICE has the authority. But there is nothing stopping him or his freeholders from publicly calling on ICE to release the detainees.
Leaf blower use should cease
I am writing on behalf of many citizens of Montclair who have asked you in recent weeks to take action to stop the use of leaf blowers during the COVID-19 crisis, and I’m writing today to bring to your attention to new research from Harvard that concludes that the type of pollution generated by gas leaf blowers can increase your risk of complications or death from COVID.
According to a report issued today, a small increase (1 microgram) in the concentration of particulate air pollution means a big increase in COVID-19 deaths. This is extremely troubling since a single commercial gas leaf blower can produce 30 million micrograms every hour.
Quiet Communities, Inc., a national nonprofit, has analyzed the research and concluded that, given the health risks to the public and especially to landscape workers, an immediate moratorium on the use of gas blowers is warranted.
It is important to note that a moratorium will not affect the ability of landscapers to continue working during the pandemic. They are and should remain “essential workers.” The nonprofit’s report contains a longer-term plan to help everyone transition to greener and healthier alternatives.
I hope that you will read the study and act to protect our health during this health crisis. Although I understand that the council believes they do not have legal authority to take action, at the very least they could issue a proclamation publicizing this research and asking landscapers and citizens to refrain from leaf blower use as a public health measure, just as we are asked to keep social distance and wear masks.
The balance of watching the news
Have you seen the “Some Good News” weekly segments posted online by actor John Krasinski? If you haven’t, you may be the only one. They are a great escape from the rough news we have all been glued to since the pandemic started. Krasinski sets out to highlight the very best in people, and to offer a smile at a time when we all need it.
And he is not alone. The actor recruits some of the biggest names in entertainment to help spread the cheer. In this week’s episode, Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Jon Stewart, and Malala Yousafzai all took questions from graduating seniors, who are deprived of their graduation.
In past episodes, the Jonas Brothers and Billie Eilish helped throw a virtual prom, David Ortiz treated medical first responders with lifetime Red Sox tickets, and the entire cast of “Hamilton,” including Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed a song for a young fan who’s trip to see the show was cancelled.
So why has this been such a success? Yes, the star power has a lot to do with it. It’s great to see celebrities helping others. But there is so much more than that. What Krasinski has accomplished is what all of us so need these days, an escape from the onslaught of day-to-day statistics, of just how horrible the past few months have been.
He does it in a way that is relatable and easy to follow. He jokes he is not a journalist and really has no idea what he is doing. I disagree. He is practicing a form of journalism that is desperately needed now more than ever, and he knows exactly what he is doing. He is telling stories that are not being told right now. Stories that show us the very best of people in the middle of the very worst of circumstances.
What you will not see are debates about who is to blame or exposes about mistakes being made by people in charge. You will not see political affiliation or attacks, and you will not see spin or a manipulation of facts. What you do see is a manipulation of our feelings in the best way possible.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be watching the traditional news. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. We need to watch the news now more than ever. We must be active viewers and try to get to the bottom of what is really happening in this country and around the world.
There is nothing more important than being well-informed. And it’s not easy. This news can be just horrible. We’re hearing about the loss of hundreds of thousands of people. Millions who are suffering from not only the virus, but also the efforts to keep it from spreading. We miss social contact with others. Our kids miss interacting with their friends. Understanding the facts is vital to surviving this crisis medically, economically, and emotionally.
It is “emotion” that makes Krasinski’s effort so successful. If you want an idea of what I mean, rewatch the “Hamilton” surprise performance. It will give you all the feels. You will smile, you will cry, and you will be able to escape, even just for a few moments, from all of this.
And the actor is not alone. Traditional news outlets are working to add positive news segments in their own way. But there is an honesty about Krasinski’s show that makes it so incredibly popular. It has become organic and personable. I look forward each week to not only see who he will be able to recruit for the next episode, but also look on the faces of the people he helps.
We need to take time and celebrate those who are making the effort to spread some cheer and joy however they can. We need that balance, to make us whole.
It is the reason we all could benefit from “Some Good News.”
Responses to ‘achievement gap skeptic,’ continued
Mark Haefeli’s racist and tone-deaf letter left me feeling frustrated and disturbed. I graduated from Montclair High School in 2013 and am now working on a master’s in education. The racial divide in Montclair High School is apparent and has nothing to with the lack of “intelligence” of students of color. To pin the source of the achievement gap on lack of interest or care from parents is not only ignorant, but it is harmful.
Your opinion that “school systems need to focus more on making the brightest even brighter” lacks insight into why it may be easier for your white children to succeed in a public school environment. It lacks the recognition of systemic economic and racial inequalities, and lacks a spirit of building up those in our community who have been historically pushed down. How sad that this racist vomit has even been published, particularly in this time when so many in our community are suffering. I encourage you, Mark, to broaden your privileged view of this community past the experiences of you and your children.
The Montclair Foundation for Educational Excellence started an initiative this spring called “America to Me Real Talk,” asking Montclair to come together, watch the program “America to Me,” and talk about race in small groups. It’s been different than envisioned given the current social-distancing requirements, but there will be a second session this fall, and I would like to encourage people to join a group, attend an event, or watch the show. A huge thank you to the MFEE for this effort.
Systemic racism plays an enormous role in our society and institutions. To suggest that we all have equal access and opportunity is simply incorrect. Racism is insidious, pervasive, and has shaped our country for the last 400 years. Because we may not experience the effects of racism personally does not mean that they are not there.
We as white people have to be willing to tolerate the discomfort around these conversations and recognize our inherent privilege. We must address the racism built into our institutions, recognizing that not all effort will be fruitful, but we must make the attempt nonetheless. There is much to learn and a lot of work to do, but it starts by having conversations like these, being open to some painful truths, and forgiving people who make well-meaning mistakes along the way.
I read with great interest a letter submitted by Scott White in the April 30 issue of the Local. I am trying to figure out how Mr. White can square his status as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” with his subsequent statement that although he is “not a fan of censorship,” he “fails to see how publishing this letter did anything to inform or improve the public good,” as if the editors at Montclair Local somehow were derelict in their duty as charter members of the Modern Left by allowing a reader to exercise the principle of free speech.
A brief history lesson for Mr. White (and others who aren’t fans of opinions that do not dovetail with their own): In 1978 the ACLU took a somewhat unpopular stand for free speech by advocating for the right for a neo-Nazi group to march in Skokie, Ill. (home to many Holocaust survivors). To be sure, this stance was controversial, but the point that the ACLU made at the time was the laws that it cited to defend the group were the same laws they had invoked during the civil rights era, when Southern cities tried to shut down civil rights marches in the 1960s.
It is not the province of any one person to decide what speech is permissible in a democracy and what isn’t. The First Amendment is what separates America from many of the other banana republics that comprise much of the world to this day. It is about tolerance for all points of view. I commend Montclair Local for adhering to that principle.
As a well-informed citizen who values education, Mr. Haefeli must surely have learned that complex, intractable social problems are not solved with simple fixes such as “attend your kids activities” or “read to your kids more.” The work of educators, policy makers, economists and a variety of advocates is to address the many complex facets of life for those who have been historically marginalized in our communities.
While race certainly plays a role (see the Montclair History Center for information about redlining, a system of race-based housing discrimination in our community), there are many other factors that contribute to gaps in educational achievement, including wealth (and the corresponding access to resources), physical and mental health, housing or food insecurity, skills gaps, and perhaps even one’s own sense of shame, regret or embarrassment in the face of public ridicule by people like the original letter writer.
One of the problems in seeing the world as a reflection of your own experience is that it shuts out the reality of other people’s lives. Many families whose children are struggling in school may be cared for by family members who rarely have the luxury of adjusting their schedules to attend after-school activities. And it is truly a luxury to be able to attend those activities.
Working two jobs may not sound like a significant barrier to participation in the letter writer’s mind. Yet, I wonder if he’s aware that people who work multiple jobs are not usually doing so in clean, quiet offices where they are treated respectfully by clients and colleagues, where they have snack bars and retreats and the ability to take a walk when they’re feeling stressed.
In fact, many of them work in jobs where people either ignore them or are outwardly nasty to them. They work in jobs where they have to stay on their feet for hours on end, or where they serve as caretakers to other people’s children or parents. They often work in jobs that are unfulfilling and under-stimulating to the point of numbness.
These jobs are physically and emotionally taxing. They’re exhausting. And while they’re working, they rarely have the luxury of nannies or babysitters or tutors at home making sure that their children are studying, eating healthy snacks, and generally receiving one-on-one attention and care. Those are luxuries that benefit the children who live in relative privilege, watching their parents go to satisfying, well-paying jobs where they are treated with respect and have the time and energy to take them to all of the activities they love.
These aren’t just pragmatic differences, they are differences in the mental models young people develop to inform what kind of life, what kind of future, what kind of opportunities are available to them.
By the time children are in high school, they have found themselves in one of three categories in terms of access and opportunity: 1) they are in households that have always been able to afford luxuries like extracurricular activities, including tutoring, with parents or nannies who could transport them to and from those activities, and the financial independence to pay for all of the equipment and extras required for participation; 2) they are in households that can afford some of those activities with the help of external funding sources like school scholarships, and they have friends and family who help them with transportation and equipment costs, which allows them access but often a sense of shame or stigma for having to struggle where other families are clearly more privileged; or 3) they simply can’t afford to participate because of the fragile infrastructure of their lives, even when scholarship money is available. This part of the achievement gap is very real, and many families find themselves falling further and further behind because their kids are excluded not just from those activities, but from the social networks that develop as a result.
But I’d like to give another side to this equation that perhaps the original letter writer didn’t consider. As an educator in higher education for over a decade, I have often been confronted by a truth that more recently came to public light in the form of the college-entrance bribery scheme perpetrated by a number of wealthy parents on behalf of their children.
What my colleagues and I have noticed over these many years is the number of students who arrive in our undergraduate and graduate programs based on their ability to perform, but not practice, real academic achievement. What I mean by that is the children of privilege who have managed to get through school by performing the rituals of education, but who when you ask them to engage in critical thinking, to read a complex text, to demonstrate curiosity or initiative, fall short.
Now, I don’t think there’s a simple answer as to why this happens. In fact, I think the reasons are just as complex as those facing children from underprivileged families. If you were to talk to many of my colleagues, you might hear us arguing about the reverse achievement gap, one in which the privileges of children who received tutoring, whose parents attended all of their after-school functions, the ones who understood how to manipulate the levers of success actually disadvantaged them intellectually.
I would like to think that we’re all doing our best to apply an equitable approach to teaching and learning in our schools. A grading accommodation for this year does not disadvantage children who are able to keep working during this difficult period. Those who know how to perform the acts of learning will continue to succeed. There is no evidence that receiving a passing grade (in place of a standard letter grade) harms children. Why should the fact that an additional accommodation is being made to offer a small, equitable advantage to children who are struggling, for any number of reasons (including, by the way, lack of access to hardware, software, and network access), serve as a source of distress for families who are not struggling? Equity asks that we consider the differing needs of individuals, not that we apply the rules that benefit the most privileged to all.
As president, vice president, and key members of Montclair High School’s Civics and Government Institute (CGI), we are writing in response to the opinion letter titled “Achievement Gap Skeptic.” We are extremely disturbed by the contents of this letter, as we know all too well that the achievement gap is an issue that has been prevalent in our nation and our high school for decades. As seen in Montclair High School’s 2014 Grade 11 HSPA for ELA there is less than a 5 percent gap in the proficiency scores over all ethnicities.
In AP classes in the same school year, however, 73 percent of the AP students were white and only 11 percent were black, which is not representative of the high school population. Some of us, Ali and Kiera, have experienced this first hand. As students of color who are enrolled in multiple AP classes, the achievement gap is blatantly clear when we step into one of these classes and see no one who looks like ourselves. To think this is anything short of the clear systematic oppression within our society is to ignore every issue that has led to this result. In an educational culture that rewards students with tutors and disregards students without, it is clear that those with money will be more successful.
Further, in response to statements made regarding CGI, we would like to both acknowledge and refute them. Upon its formation, with the goal of stopping white flight, CGI selectively chose students based on their GPAs, resulting in a predominantly white student body. Regardless of this, neither the students nor the teachers can control the past. CGI abolished this system over a decade ago and has since worked toward balancing the color spectrum of the students within. In recent years, the institute has worked on both political and social activism through a (primarily) political lens. To call the institute racist, however, is to call Gandhi a bigot. As students, our administrators and faculty guide us towards becoming more politically literate and use this literacy to help us enact change on both a local and national level.
As a minority, Ali was told that he shouldn’t join CGI as it is only for white kids. This is the exact behavior that has kept CGI predominantly white. Recently, we have taken multiple initiatives to help diversify CGI through outreach programs in order to rehabilitate our image in the Montclair community.
We, the students of CGI, believe that when we see ignorance we should combat it, that it is our civic duty to combat anything that threatens the nation's democracy. Ignorance is one of these threats.
KIERA HASAN, ALI KHAWAJA, JACOB SCHMELTZ, and AIDAN WARD
I’m a former resident of Montclair, a former subscriber, and I still check in on the local news pretty regularly. We left last August, and there is still much about the town we miss, diversity being high on the list. A couple of days ago, I came across a letter printed in your April 23 issue (Achievement Gap Skeptic). It was written by an angry parent, and I believe it stemmed from the pandemic educational issues that are forcing many institutions to opt for pass/fail evaluations for the balance of the year. I’m sure he’s not alone in his frustration, and obviously the above-average students and their parents are justifiably concerned. However, he went on, using this issue as an excuse to spew out his racist beliefs regarding race vs. intelligence over the course of several paragraphs (that needed proof-reading, by the way, since a key word’s spelling was butchered), and I’m sure the result was to anger many people, polarize the readership in a town that needs no further polarization, and to expose him. My question to you is what were you thinking when you printed the letter? It served no good purpose other than to fan flames of a fire already blazing out of control. These times are difficult enough, don’t you think? And for the record, just in case my last name isn’t a giveaway, I’m white. I’ll understand if you don’t want this printed, but I couldn’t believe you gave this letter the light of day.
I received the letter written to Montclair Local that appeared in the April 23 issue from a woman near and dear to my heart, who has been a resident of Montclair for most of her life. I tried to shrug it off but couldn’t. This is my town, and I need to respond.
I’m a Montclair kid. I went to Watchung Elementary and Renaissance Middle School before matriculating to Montclair Kimberley Academy (I know, I know). There is nothing like growing up in my hometown; a child is exposed to myriad different cultures, experiences, religions, and beliefs. For the longest time, I believed some of the same things you believed. That no matter what their background, every kid has an equal opportunity to achieve greatness and succeed. I believed that hard work always equaled results and prosperity. I believed there was no need for affirmative action because others would see your hard work and reward you accordingly. I believed a lot; I was a kid. But now I’m 30.
You’ve seemed to have taken into consideration a lot as it pertains to your opinions on the achievement and “intelligence gap.” The question I have for you is have you considered the alternatives?
Have you REALLY considered the single parent who works multiple jobs and has to choose between a PTA meeting or getting the bare minimum of sleep so they can show up to work, and as you put it “achieve and succeed” so they can provide a better life for their kid? That Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” and Madeline L’ Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” (both required reading when I was in school) might not be pertinent reading to the lives of those students of color you mentioned? Therefore affecting their ability to relate and perform in a graded capacity the same way you seem unable to relate to their experiences? Have you considered the dignity of these parents, whose attendance you require at these events when other parents are talking about where in Europe they took their kids over the summer and the question of where they vacationed quickly turns to them?
I am not attacking you. While I may not agree with most of what you have to say, I still respect your opinion. I only wanted to offer a differing outlook so that those who side with you, and those who side with me can see both sides articulated and have an honest discussion. This is what is missing from our country currently and is what leaves us so polarized.
We both agree that the parent/family play an important role in an adolescent’s success, both inside and outside the classroom. But let us ask ourselves, what is OUR role as members of the community? Is it to chastise them and worry about making the “best better,” or should we focus on making MONTCLAIR better? That is the last question I leave you with.
ERIC A. OSBORNE
As a lifelong member of the ACLU, I applaud “Montclair Local’s” publication of Mark Haefeli’s letter, which expresses the racism that those of us, white privileged people, may be unaware of in ourselves.
As is often stated, a problem cannot be repaired until it is recognized. Mr. Haefeli’s letter puts a spotlight on the racism, both personal and institutional, that our country persists in.
It has provided an opportunity for a needed dialogue in the pages of our newspaper. Thank you.
We were initially dismayed and hurt by Mark Haefeli’s racist views on the intelligence gap (4/23/20). On reflection, however, we want to thank Montclair Local for publishing his letter. If we do not expose and acknowledge racism in our community, we cannot, individually or as a community, confront the underlying racist structure that thwarts the development of talent and intelligence in almost half of our student population.
Mr. Haefeli’s assumption — that we all share a level playing field — is proven wrong daily in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis: Those who have less access to health care, food, child care, and employment options fall in greater numbers to illness and death. Similarly, our students with limited access to computers, internet, quiet spaces to study, food and housing security, and adults (or tutors) who have the time to provide support are bound to fall further behind in school.
Let’s not forget that the freedom, wealth, and power we have as a nation were historically built on the backs of slaves (as were many of the colleges and universities our children compete to enter). Whether or not we, personally, benefit from the legacy of slavery depends greatly on the color of our skin and the possession of assets that have, largely, been handed down to us directly or indirectly, as privileges that accrue to those of us with lighter skin. Contrast this to the enormous economic, social, and educational deficits of slavery born by African-Americans.
The racism inscribed in our more recent economic and social history — voter suppression, redlining, discriminatory practices in admissions, hiring, and healt care provision, to name just a few examples — has not been redressed by a half-century of halfway efforts to make our society more just and fair. Our schools are as damaged by racism as every other aspect of our society.
The implicit and sometimes unconscious racism that affects nearly every daily encounter between people of different skin colors still molds and shapes our expectations of who and what we can become. This is a simple fact, proven relentlessly in research studies and played out in the Montclair school classrooms, as it is everywhere.
Thank you for acknowledging racism. Perhaps your letter will help more Montclairians understand the need for change.
KAREN VROTSOS and MONA JHA