4 Bernie Keller Poems: They speak for themselves.



It doesn’t begin

with the report of a gun,

or the rantings of a madman.

It doesn’t begin

with a hopeless dream.

It doesn’t begin

with a perhaps

or a maybe,

or with some meticulously, well thought out plan.

It doesn’t begin

with the wisdom of sages,

or the courage of a martyr.

It begins simply

with the word






is happening.


is boiling


Someone is

standing up

and call them


Someone is saying

it’s time to stop


and lying

and revising

and pretending.

Someone is saying

it’s time to stop acting

as if up is down

or old is new,

that it’s time

to stop recycling


and slogans

that didn’t work

the first time

they were trotted out

as “the great solution”,

(and certainly won’t work




You can’t turn back


you can you push

it back

or hold it off

for the moment,

but you can’t turn back


You can’t turn back


you can deny it,

you can hide it

or run from it,

but you can’t turn back


once it’s on it’s way,

it is coming

straight for you.


is happening,


is boiling



is standing up

to say

#This ends




You cannot wear


like some kind of

a badge,

any more than

wearing a flag

on your lapel

or a patch on

your shoulder

makes you patriotic.

You don’t put it on

or pretend it’s there

just because you can

say the word.


is the respect

for what is right,

beyond your interpretation

or myopic,




is not worn

like some kind of patch

on your shoulder

or like some kind of


or something to be waved

like some banner

or flag-


is the respect

for what is right.


Enough Already.


It has been one year, 3 months, and 13 days since Donald Trump was elected president. I shared very few posts about the matter and frankly have felt less compelled to write about much about education either since so many have said so much already. Most of what I read seems more like Truth or Consequences than truth or fake news. At any rate, I have just been disgusted at most of what I see on Face Book or Twitter even by some of those with whom I agree.

Posts are tagged, reposted, shared, liked, and spread like wildfire without any verification. Lies and, yes, fake news is spread by both sides…much to my chagrin. I have hoped that those who agree with me would not do that. I must admit even I have gotten caught up in the frenzy and passed along something that was a concoction. Of course, I have no idea whether the “concoctor” was a well-meaning person who didn’t get their facts straight or a Russian Bot. Either way it both saddens and horrifies me that our society has been duped by the social media hype and technology that now runs amuck and threatens the very fabric of our society.

Pick an issue. Guns? School shootings? Mass shootings? Immigration? Dark Money in politics? Tax cuts for whom? Gerrymandering? Presidential behavior? Congressional obstructionism by both sides? Race? Education? Russia, Russia, Russia? The list goes on.

And with each issue, any post or comment, among friends or foe, is likely to bring forth a slew of comments, many times without the commenter actually reading the entire post. Some of the comments are reasonable, but most…again from either side… seem to be reactionary with various degrees of provocation of anger.

Of course, we now know, thanks to the Mueller Investigation, that the Russians have infiltrated our social media by easily creating fake news through fake or stolen identities.

Trump was right. The Russians are laughing at us.

We are so easily led, like rats were led by the Pied Piper, to our demise. In fact, we are as easily led as Soviet citizens were during the Soviet regime. Advertisers have known that since Mad Men days. Corporations have led us through the nose for generations. The NRA has made a science of this. Oh yeah, Zuckerberg knows that too. So does Gates and all the other Silicon Valley manipulators. Of course the Russians are laughing. The only ones who haven’t seen how lemming like we are, are us.

Speaking of reeducation, who would have thought 25 years ago that corporate influence over public schools would become a “liberal rage?  This liberal rages against that. Once upon a time we fought the military industrial government complex…now most “liberals in government seek an education-industrial-government sponsored by the likes of Bill Gates and hedge funders and anyone who donates big bucks to their political campaigns. I am aghast.

For years spoon fed, money soaked political leaders have ignored far too many of our citizens who cannot literally contribute to their power and authority. African Americans and Latinos have known this. The poor have known this. And over the past several years, especially after the recession of 2009, more and more working and middle class white Americans have noticed it. So, when, in 2016, many felt that the only answers to their worries and anxieties would be provided by Bernie Sanders on one end of the spectrum, and Donald Trump, on whatever end of the spectrum he actually is and not the mainstream Democratic or Republican candidates…. well, here we are!

I taught history for almost 4 decades. One thing a student of history knows is that it repeats itself…not exactly…but that certain trends and counter trends appear and reappear over time.  We have had this divisiveness many times. It appeared during the Colonial, Revolutionary, Federal, Anti-bellum, Civil War, Reconstruction, Industrial, Progressive, Roaring Twenties, Great Depression, pre-WW 2, post-WW 2, Civil Rights, and especially Vietnam and Watergate eras.

Should I go on? Iraq War 1? Iraq War 2? Afghanistan? Electing an African American president?

I will end this rant with this.  We wonder why @ 40% of Americans still support President Trump? Many of his followers either ignore, or don’t believe, that the Russian meddling in our elections happened…whether or not President Trump and his people were duped, colluded, or covered up. It reminds me of how the lyrics of one of my favorite songs bothers me. I love Lynyrd Skynyrd’s great guitar licks in Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama, but when a lyric says,

In Birmingham they love the Gov’nor, boo-hoo-hoo
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you, tell the truth…”

I have a rather negative reaction. That 1974 song reminds me that we have been this divided before.

That Governor? George Wallace! Best remembered for his segregationist policies, he was the guy who stood in front of the University of Alabama doors to block African Americans and in an inaugural address said, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”.  And oh yeah…He was running for President in 1972 until he was shot.

Speaking of 1972, President Nixon supporting Alabamans, Hard Hats, and the Silent Majority felt that way. To many then, Watergate was a liberal plot. Nixon was being railroaded. It was all “fake news”.

Sound familiar? Enough Already. Can we get past this? Can I? The optimist in me says yes and I keep trying to help others do the same. Then I get frustrated and yet I try again. I already know that for some reason this will anger some. I do hope though, that they read the last paragraph.

But if we, as a society don’t start to listen to each other, read various points of view, understand the difference between opinion and fact, then actually VOTE for what benefits Americans from all walks of life, not just the rich and famous… my optimism will die out like a candle…slowly flickering in the darkness of eternity.



Just stop! You are making it terrible for the rest of us. Why do we feel like we will be spending the rest of our lives wincing at your actions? From the President to Alabama Senate candidates, to celebrity pricks, internet idiots, cable cocks, and street stupid guys, there is no hiding from beef-jerkiness. What are the rest of us to do? Not all of us are jerks.

Americans still stereotype.  Many racially profile, objectify women, are homophobic and nativist. This is beef-jerky activity, yet as we try to back off those stereotypes we have increased stere-bro-typing because it has become well deserved. Examples abound. Start at the top. Nary a week goes by without reading presidential tweets and quotes that make us wince.

The “Brommander in chief” routinely is quoted saying things like “I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most.”

And then there is this:

“Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes.Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.”

“So, they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”

What do you say to that? What a braggart?  What an egomaniac? What a Jerk? Or what a guy…?

Why are we still dealing with how jerks treat women and African Americans? It’s been 50 years since the women’s movement of the 60’s. It’s been over 60 since Rosa Parks and MLK.

Who leads the continued assault on them? Jerks. Wealthy powerful ones as well as general jerks on the street. Trump. Weinstein. O’ Reilly. NFL owners. The list goes on forever.

In 1968 women protested the Miss America Pageant condemning objectification of women. It still goes on. In 2016 more women in Pussy Hats marched against the Jerk-in-Chief than there were people at his inauguration.

In 1968 Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised fists at the Olympics. They were suspended and only academically accepted as civil rights heroes 2 decades later and 2 decades before Colin Kaepernick took a knee and was blackballed from playing.

Perhaps the biggest example of male beef-jerkiness is Congress. Stubborn? Yes. Know it all? Yes? My way or the highway? Yes. Paternalist? Certainly. Yes, there are obviously female members but the overriding mentality and behavior is male boorishness.

Americans say they want better health care? “So what”, says Congress. Americans don’t want the Ryan-McConnell tax cut plan? “We do.” Congress says. “We know what’s for your own good.” What Jerks!

I can go on, but so can you all. I am tired of it all. I am an older white guy, and I am angry. My anger is NOT against Women, Latinos, African Americans, or Immigrants. It is NOT against activists and protestors truly trying to create change. In fact, I am one. I am angry at those who rush to judge ALL men as jerks.

Mostly though, I am MOST ANGRY at those men whose actions lead people to think of us all as jerks.

So, to them I say ….




Written and decided

in dark, secluded,

locked rooms-

no inclusion

no debate

no discussion

no dissent-

only lock step,



liberally peppered

with empty talking

points and claims

embracing and asserting

“the championship” of

“the least of these”

– autocracy is at work.

Bernie Keller Speaks : 2 new poems



There was an America

before he ever decided

to dibble and dabble

into politics.


There was an America

before he decided

to bluster

and rage

and castigate

and lambaste

and fingerpoint

and name call.


There was an America

before he decided

to throw out catchy


and schoolyard



There was an America

Before his division



and denial.


There was an America

before he ever took

a seat in the big chair-


and there’ll be

an America

when he leaves.




Remember when we were


playing hide and seek

and how we could run

to home base and yell





bkie paths,

baseball fields,








seems like there

is no home


no place to yell




Dear fellow Westchester Democrats and moderate Republicans seeking to oust Rob Astorino. (With help from today’s NY Times) and vote for George Latimer, presently a State Senator from Rye.

Turnout on November 7th will be critical to our success. In off election years like this one, without a presidential or gubernatorial race to draw people to the ballot, We Democrats tend to stay home. On primary night Democratic turnout was less than 8%.

Astorino is relying on this.

“Donald Trump is not running in November,” said Mr. Astorino, 50, whom some political observers predict will again challenge Mr. Cuomo next year.



“Certainly there are people who are motivated by the national scene and the Trump effect could lure them to the polls,” said George Latimer, the Democrat who will oppose Mr. Astorino.

“But many of the Democrats — they really don’t focus on the small towns,” he added. “They commute to the city and come back at night.”


Westchester have the dubious honor of competing for the No. 1 and 2 spots on national lists of counties with the highest property taxes in the nation.


The county portion of a homeowner’s tax bill is relatively small — around 15 to 20 percent — while school taxes make up the lion’s share.



About 80 percent of the county property tax pays for expenses that are mandated by the state, giving the county discretion over a small fraction of the tax bill.

“So when you say you are not raising taxes, you are saving a taxpayer who pays 10,000 a year in property taxes $20 a month.” “And what are you doing to save that? You are cutting social services and co-opting the ability of the county to function financially.” (Ron Edelman, friend of Astorino and former Republican Consultant)

Mr. Latimer, a former county legislator, faulted Mr. Astorino for his fiscal stewardship of Westchester, saying he relied too heavily on borrowing and dipping into reserves.

He also criticized Mr. Astorino’s stance on social issues, citing immigration policies and his decision to allow the county’s exhibition center in White Plains to be used for a gun show.

“If you are a in an upstate county, where 85 percent of the people have guns, that’s different,” Mr. Latimer, 63, said. “In Westchester, far more people have no guns than own guns. So my attitude is don’t have a show like that; it’s not our lifestyle.”




The Bottom Line: A Keller-Greene Joint


Good teachers are both process and bottom line people. They think about how to get students to walk away with what the lesson was about that day. What will they know, what will they understand, what will they be able to do that they didn’t know, understand, or could not do before that class? When they create lesson plans they think about the process they will use get to the bottom line – student  critical thought.

As education policy makers far removed from classrooms rethink everything in education we can’t forget that bottom line. In rethinking high school specifically, the bottom line is not to prepare students to fill job openings or to navigate technology. Those are ancillary goals of education. Employment needs and technology are too fluid. They change overnight.

However, what never goes out of style or becomes obsolete is simple… thinking critically. Every human invention, discovery or advance has been the product of thinking critically. Thinking critically lends itself to curiosity, to analysis, synthesis, and ultimately, to solutions.

How is critical thought achieved? The best teachers teach students to ask  significant, probing questions. They also teach students to ask those questions.

“Why?” Students ask why in order to better understand the topic or issue better and find a better solution to a problem. In doing so students are able to explain why their answer was the right answer because, “ If you don’t know why, you still don’t know.”

“So what?” is another question students must learn to answer. So what if we tried it this way? So what makes that an important decision? So what makes that action important? By asking that question, students learn to critique as well as reason. It is essential to the arts of questioning and thinking critically.

Thinking critically must be at the center of any change. Teaching students to think critically will in turn encourage them to be curious, to ask why, to ask, as Robert Kennedy did, why not? It will allow them to challenge the limits of what they find in books or the visions of the future they are being handed or told to accept.

Teachers also need to be free to “think out of the box” to be able to create their own materials or methods that can become “best practices” and shared with others who find them both useful and helpful to students. Currently, more often than not, they are not allowed to do either.

Most teachers don’t have a PhD in education, but we know what works. We know that no matter how much things change, the one quality that separates man from animals is and has always been the ability to think critically. Thus only we have the ability to create and adapt to the world around us. No matter what changes are made to education, the bottom line is, and will always be, if you are not teaching students to think critically and challenging them to do it, you’re not educating them.

Why can’t our teachers do this right things? Policies created by non teachers and corporate/government run agencies.

So what will  happen as a result? We already see  the loss of our best teachers. We see the loss of critical thinking as a result of standardized tests and the huge amount of time dedicated to that effort. We see the loss of best practices and sharing. We see the demise of the best American education had to offer as nations like Finland succeed by taking those very processes we developed decades ago.


In 2009 the NYCDOE officially closed Adlai  Stevenson High School in the  Bronx, New York as part of its “revamping policy regarding large “failing” high schools they deemed unsuccessful. I taught and coached there from its opening in 1970 through 1986. I still have relationships with many of my former students. To me it was not failure. Policies were failures. The author of the speech, my friend Bernie Keller, taught English there for 35 years. He gave the last graduation speech.



One of the best and most important lessons my parents taught me, (and the rest of my siblings), was never to allow others to define me, or to write my story. A more urbane epithet for this statement would be, “Let no man write my epitaph.” People will say Stevenson failed, that the teachers and the supervisors and the students who learned there failed. That is their perception, that is their definition, that is their story. An African proverb states, “The lion never gets to tell the story of the hunt.” This is because the lion always dies, so only the hunter, the survivor, is left to tell the story, or at least, his version of it. Each of you sitting in the audience today as graduates, along with your brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins who graduated form Stevenson High School must tell the story. The story must be told through the colleges you attend, the professions you enter, the lives you lead and the contributions you make to your communities, this city, this state and this country.

Those who see Stevenson High School as a failure, see something I do not see, because that is not what I lived or experienced throughout my three decades of teaching here. While Stevenson wasn’t perfect, (and no place on earth is), Stevenson was a living, breathing community. The people I was privileged to work with and the students I had the opportunity to teach throughout my tenure there were special people. The teachers I admired and respected were hardworking, with a sense of loyalty and commitment. They understood that a teacher “touches eternity,” and they took that responsibility seriously. They helped their students to stretch for their dreams and gave them the means to reach those dreams.

Every year, a new group of ninth graders walked into Stevenson, wide-eyed and overwhelmed, and four years later, more often than not, they left with their heads in the clouds, but their feet on the ground, with a vision for their lives hewn from the dreams, doubts, uncertainties, questions and wishes they possessed when they began as a result of the classes they took and the people who taught them. They learned you do not measure greatness or success with some number on a test paper or graduating in four years. They learned that you measure success, not by where you end up, but that the true measure of success and greatness is what you have to overcome in order to have that success. The diamond, the hardest substance known to man, is nothing more than common coal, until the weight of the earth crushes the coal and transforms a worthless lump of coal into a valuable gem. Like that diamond, it is the adversity and the challenges one must face in order to get where one wants to go to create the person one wants to be that produces the diamonds of our lives.

There were no shortcuts, no easy ways out. There was no magic, no miracles. While every student was given the opportunity to meet their challenges and adversities, not every one was willing to fight for what they wanted. For them, the battle was too hard, or it took too much work. They did not succeed, but those who were willing to do the work, to face down the struggles and the problems, those who were willing to persevere, those people are sitting here today, and they have sat in these chairs for the past thirty-five years.

Thirty five times, purple and white robed graduates have walked down these aisles and across this stage to begin a new chapter in their lives. Thirty five times, they have stood and walked forward in the faces of the doubters, the empty promises and the failed fads. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound anything like failure to me.

Remember that contrary to the experts who believe that one size does fit all and that what makes one person a success can be duplicated in exactly the same way in others to make others succeed, success cannot be measured or doled out in a certain number of years or by achieving a certain grade. No matter how long it takes or how much work is required to do it, I charge you all this day to continue your battle to succeed

On that note, allow me to leave you with two thoughts. The first thought is a definition of success. It states that, “Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is in the doing, not the getting, in the trying, not the triumph. Success is a personal standard – reaching for the highest that is in us – becoming all that we can be. If we do our best, we have had success.”

The second thought is a poem I write in every yearbook I sign. It says,

Reach for a star-

if you miss

there’ll be a cloud

for you to hang onto.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak with you today, congratulations Stevenson High School graduates of 2009, and always remember to keep a good thought.

What’s your good thought?


Unknown“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys a community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”

How dare #racists and #nazis claim they are equivalent to MLK when he used free speech and non-violence to fight for Civil Rights!

We know that the 1960’s Civil Rights and anti Vietnam movements splintered and that there were groups like the Weather Underground, the Black Muslims, and Black Panthers who were not afraid to use violence to fight violence. We cannot deny that the “Martin vs Malcolm” dichotomy existed.

However, in today’s battle for Civil Rights, I believe we have to be more MLK-like in dealing with the new versions of Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and Richard Nixon.

Free speech is a right to cherish and honor. We must decide how to fairly enforce it. We must also understand the tactics used by these right wing fanatics to exploit it.

In 1978, the ACLU took a controversial stand for free speech by defending a Neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie , where many Holocaust survivors lived. The notoriety of the case caused some ACLU members to resign, but to many others the case has come to represent the ACLU’s unwavering commitment to principle. In fact, many of the laws the ACLU cited to defend the group’s right to free speech and assembly were the same laws it had invoked during the Civil Rights era, when Southern cities tried to shut down civil rights marches with similar claims about the violence and disruption the protests would cause.

They, by the way, decided not to march.

To not allow them to march was and still would be unconstitutional. But how we allow them to march can be closely regulated and monitored. To do this we need our leaders to set the proper examples and NOT INCITE marchers or protesters to RIOT or threaten everyone by carrying weapons even where the laws allow. We need our leaders (both national and local) to lower the tone of the rhetoric. We need law enforcement to make sure free speech doesn’t turn violent. Hey #45…We also know that it is the Neo-Nazi, KKK, white supremacist militia folks who are far more likely to do that.

We cannot allow this generation of segregationists to steal the language of the Civil Rights Movement.

So what do we do? It is a quandary. Free speech should never be taken for granted.