Be Careful What You Ask For -B.Keller

When I speak with young people who tell me they want to go to college , but they’re not your big on reading and writing essays, I tell them when you say you want to go to college you need to understand you are actually saying, “I want to do a lot of work.”

Analogously, when you want to be the president of the United States, ostensibly the leader of the free world, understand that you are asking to be scrutinized and put under a microscope.

When you repeatedly say you’re the smartest guy in the room and you know more than anybody else, and everyone who came before you was stupid or incompetent, you really can’t ask for “slack” or “a little time to get things up and running”’ you can’t ask people to “give you a chance because you just got started”, or because you don’t have experience in this field.

Growing up, we were told, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it”, and “Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach.” Both statements admonished us to be careful about what we said and not to put ourselves in situations where we wrote a check with our mouths that our butts couldn’t cash. If I told you I could beat Lebron James or Stephen Curry one on one, but when we played, they were beating me like a drum, I couldn’t say, “Yeah, they are beating me, but they’re great NBA players, they’re pros.” I can’t use that as my excuse or my defense since I was the one who called them out, I was the one who said I was better. I can’t ask people to “Give me a break because I am not a pro”, or “ To cut me a little slack”. I was the person who made the statement, the person who “asked for something and got what I asked for.” I can’t now ask people not to scrutinize the results of my contest, not to criticize me, evaluate me or even disparage me.

I like to tell students if you are man or woman enough to say something, you should be man enough or woman enough to repeat, and you should be man enough or woman enough to accept the challenges and responsibilities your words bring. Period.

For me, a big part of maturity, of being an adult, is not reaching a certain age- hell, there are seventy year olds who behave like spoiled five year olds behave when they don’t get their way. For me, the biggest part of maturity is being able to stand up and say,”Yes, I said that”, and if what you said turns out to be wrong, the ability or capacity to say, “I was wrong.”

When you make statements like, “I am smarter than everyone else” or “ the people who preceded me were stupid or incompetent”, you are putting one hell of a target on your back and you are placing yourself in the spotlight and under the microscope, you are inviting everyone to take his/her shot at you, to question you, to evaluate you, criticize you, disagree with you, prove you wrong, ( or at least try to prove you wrong), arm chair quarterback you, and when you say you want the job of president of the United States, the “leader of the free world,”- and you get the job- you have to know that everything will be ramped up exponentially.

As adults, it is our responsibility to model the behavior we want to see in young people as well as to pass on the wisdom our lives’ experiences have afforded us, and one piece of wisdom we would do well to pass on would be the admonition to ”Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.”

Irrational Fears vs Rational Compassion


This essay by Jon Meacham struck a chord in me as I have been pondering the history of our on again off again love hate affair with immigrants and immigration.

Let us count the off again – hatred times:

Note that there is only 1 anti-immigration law until 1882.

Between 1882 and 1952 there are 10!

  • Alien and Sedition Act: 1798
  • Rise of the 19th century Know Nothings (American Party): 1848 They sought to permit only native-born Americans ( not Native Americans) to run for office and try to raise the residency requirement to 25 years.
  • Chinese Exclusion Act: 1882
  •  Anarchist Exclusion Act: 1903  denies anarchists, other political extremists, beggars, and epileptics entry into the U.S.
  • The Immigration Act of 1907:  The list of excluded now adds “imbeciles,” “feeble-minded” people, those with physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from working, tuberculosis victims, children who enter the U.S. without parents, and those who committed crimes of “moral turpitude.”
  • Gentlemen’s Agreement barring Japanese: 1907
  • Immigration Act of 1917 (Asiatic Barred Zone Act): restricted immigration, particularly of people from a large swath of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The act also bars homosexuals, “idiots,” “feeble-minded persons,” “criminals,” “insane persons,” alcoholics, and other categories.
  • The Emergency Quota Law of 1921 limits the number of immigrants entering the U.S. each year to 350,000 and implements a nationality quota. Immigration from any country is capped at 3% of the population of that nationality based on the 1910 census. The law reduces immigration from eastern and southern Europe while favoring immigrants from Northern Europe.
  • The National Origins Act of 1924: reduces the number of immigrants entering the U.S. each year to 165,000 and the nationality quota set forth in the Quota Law of 1921 is cut to 2% of the population of that nationality based on the 1890 census. The quota system did not apply to immigrants from the western hemisphere.
  • The National Origins Act amended 1929: once again reduces the annual cap on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S., this time to 150,000. The 2% quota is linked to 1920 census data, thereby further limiting the number of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.
  • Internal Security Act 1950:  allows the deportation of any immigrants who were ever members of the Communist Party.
  • Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (the McCarran-Walter Act): race continues to be a factor because the quota system remains in place, except for immigrants from the western hemisphere. Immigration from any country is capped at 1/6th of 1% of the population of that nationality based on the 1920 census.

Passions were high, and the president of the United States was eager to act. In 1798, John Adams, amid talk of war with France, signed the Alien and Sedition Acts to, in his view, protect the national interest against internal dissent and outside agitation. Passed by a Federalist-controlled Congress, the laws, among other things, increased the number of years applicants for citizenship had to wait and authorized the President to deport any foreigner he deemed dangerous to the country. “The Alien bill proposed in the Senate is a monster that must forever disgrace its parents,” James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson that same year. Madison was right: in the long run, Adams’ historical legacy has been tarnished by this decidedly unrepublican grab for power. And in the short term, the acts had the unintended consequence of giving new force to Adams’ opposition, led by Jefferson and Madison, who went on to defeat the Federalists in the 1800 election.

Anxiety about refugees and immigrants and the related desire of Presidents to quell that unease are nearly as old as the Republic. Americans have often limited immigration in moments of fear, only to have their fears dissipate amid cooling emotions and a reinvigorated opposition. It happened, as we’ve seen, in 1798. It happened in the mid–19th century, when the Know-Nothings sprang up in reaction to a wave of European immigration in the wake of the revolutions of 1848. It happened with the Chinese Exclusion Act under Chester Arthur, and with anarchists under Teddy Roosevelt, and with punitive immigration quotas after the Bolshevik Revolution on through the 1920s and ’30s (a period of “America first”), and with refugees from the communist bloc in the early 1950s.

One sad thing about President Trump’s attempted immigration ban–to choose an adjective with which the President is comfortable–is that Presidents before him have also used a sledgehammer blow when a pinprick would do. It’s totally reasonable to worry about infiltration, but fighting infiltration is a subtle business. And Trump has been anything but. He has also now put himself on an unhappy historical trajectory to join other Presidents–many of them otherwise good and even great men–who must forever face posterity’s judgment for clenching their fists when they might have opened their arms.

That Trump is not alone in attempting to shut America’s gates to particular groups was largely lost in the backlash against his Executive Order suspending admission of all refugees as well as immigrants and visitors from seven majority-Muslim nations. From John Winthrop to Emma Lazarus to Ronald Reagan, who spoke of welcoming “all the pilgrims from all the lost places” in his farewell address nearly 30 years ago, Americans prefer to think of themselves in a warm and generous light when it comes to the nation’s open door.

The truth is both more complicated and less attractive. George Washington articulated what we like to think of as the American creed, writing in 1783, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions.” Yet fears about indiscriminate immigration are coeval with the nation’s founding and the early Republic. In 1802, even the now sainted Alexander Hamilton–himself an immigrant and, in the 21st century, an emblem of American mobility–had reservations: “The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities.” We’ve never been as open as we’d like to think, but at our best we have managed to remain truer to the spirit Washington expressed than to the one Hamilton did.

It’s an American paradox, one that continues unabated. An example from the Cold War–another moment of rising international tensions and domestic fears–is worth commending to Trump’s attention. In 1952, President Harry Truman vetoed a bill–Congress overrode him and passed it anyway–that perpetuated the quota system from the isolationist 1920s. “Today, we are ‘protecting’ ourselves, as we were in 1924, against being flooded by immigrants,” Truman wrote to Congress. “This is fantastic. The countries of Eastern Europe have fallen under the communist yoke–they are silenced, fenced off by barbed wire and minefields–no one passes their borders but at the risk of his life. We do not need to be protected against immigrants from these countries–on the contrary we want to stretch out a helping hand … to succor those who are brave enough to escape from barbarism.” Truman was calling on our better selves. We didn’t listen then, but one of the great things about America is that redemption is always possible. At least thus far.

So what are we to learn from this history of ours? Fear restricts access. Compassion expands it . Which of these American sets of values do we want to exude?


imagesWe have come to a fork in the road, and like Yogi Berra, we have to make a decision. As he said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The question we need to decide is where does the fork lead us.

We must examine our strategies and have our tactics fit them. Random protests cannot be just random. They must be pointed to goals. That forces us to understand another basic concept. Goals set must be goals obtainable. Boycotts and electronic petitions are worse than meaningless unless thy succeed. Tactics must be planned that can achieve victories, however small. Anything else is a victory for them.

To succeed we must know what we can accomplish within the next TWO years. Why? Because we must look at what a Republican controlled Congress will NOT DO. And so far that is listen to reason, even if it is their own. They are so consumed with power they will fall into step behind the Trumpsters.

So the strategic plan must fall into the smaller box that the present government make up gives us. We must succeed within that box first. We must make it the strategic goal to win back political power in the states and in congress in 2018. ALL Tactics must be designed to that end. Then we focus on winning the elections in 2020. Otherwise we are to succumb to another 2 years or more of the same crap we have seen the first two weeks of the Trump Dictatorship. After all this Revolution of theirs took 36 years to develop.

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)

That acronym has been a mantra for successful coaches and teachers for decades. When things down work, we force ourselves to look in the mirror and remind OURSELVES too follow that “simple” rule. My friend Bernie Keller reflects.


“My brothers and sisters and I were pretty lucky growing up because we had the opportunity to be raised by two people who were good at keeping things simple. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Basically that means there is more than one way to do anything. This sage piece of wisdom is especially applicable to education reformers who insist their way is the only way to “fix” education. The truth is there is more than one way to make education work, but interestingly enough, for all the different ways to make education work, each of the different ways contain similar, if not the exact same elements

   Recently, Augusta Uwanmanzu-Nne made news when she was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools. In point of fact, this was the second student in two years to do this as a young man named Harold Ekeh from the same school accomplished that feat in 2015. According to the article written about her, Augusta was not a genius, nor did the school have only “great teachers”, or Rhodes Scholars or Ph.D. candidates. It appears they were simply committed, compassionate teachers, much like many of the people I had the opportunity to work with throughout my 40 year career. In fact, according to the young lady, her success can be credited to supportive parents, her persistence and hard work, and dedicated teachers. I daresay you’d have to add to that list a supportive administrative team that provided whatever assistance and support the committed teachers needed in order to successfully complete their jobs, (as opposed to simply being “managers” or CEO’s).

   The more I listen to the “experts” and “reformers” talking about what needs to happen in order to fix education, it strikes me that what they are saying seems to be so complicated and convoluted, and I keep thinking about those simple people I was privileged to have as parents, people who tried to keep things as simple as possible.

What is necessary to make education work has always been necessary, and wherever there has been success, those elements have been present. Until and unless all of the elements necessary- parents, students, teachers, administration, community and government- do their parts and contribute their efforts, no re-configuration, no change in design, no change in curriculum or testing or evaluation, or giving schools names like academies or charters will work or change anything.

   The experts talk about “best practices” and tested and “proven” techniques. Well, consider this- education in New York specifically and the United States in general, has produced the likes of President Obama, Michelle Obama, General Colin Powell, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, President Bill Clinton, Dr. Hakim Lucas, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former chancellors Harold Levy and Joel Klein, and millions of others. This means we already possess the knowledge and the answers to fix education.

   While I may not have the numbers at my fingertips, (as I am not a big sabermetrics guy), I’ll tell you what I’m willing to do. I’m willing to bet you any amount of money that if you look at the people who have succeeded in education, whether we are talking about New York particularly or the United States in general, or whether we are talking about 100 years ago, 40 years ago or last week, for every 100 of them , 99 of them would have at least three, if not all four, of the elements of supportive parents, persistency and hard work, dedicated and committed teachers and a supportive administration.

Any takers?”

1/19/17 (On the eve of the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States)…B. Keller


The world

didn’t end

in Y2K

and it won’t end



there will still be

questions that must be


and wrongs that must be


there will still be

injustices to stand


lies we must repel

with truth.


There will still be


and slogans

and “isms”

and haves

and have nots

and insults

and fact free, truth free



but the world didn’t end

in Y2K

and it ain’t gonna end


History of Trump: Nixon Reagan, and G.H.W. Bush

140707-nixonreagan-editorialIf you want to make more sense of Trump’s victory in 2016, look back at the Nixon campaign, his southern strategy and his war on crime and drugs, look at what John Ehrlichman says about their strategy.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum .”

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

 The Nixon southern strategy using those tactics and crime as a code word for race appealed to southern poor and middle class whites to switch from being traditional democratic voters to angry Republican ones to first elect Nixon, then Reagan. And then look at what Reagan advisor Atwater said in the 1980s reinforcing that southern strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

 Then the “Willie Horton” ad for George H.W. Bush. on top of that..

Everyone should watch the documentary, “13th”.


Betsy DeVos Must Not Be Confirmed

IMG_0268Bernard Keller

Dave Greene

  Warren Buffet said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” This statement has powerful implications because it clearly speaks against the “only today matters” philosophy making the rounds in education today. Today, the emphasis is on the twenty-first century, its technology, creating new “shiny” things that will turn everything around.

The Buffet quote makes the point clearly and powerfully that there can be no today without a yesterday. The shade being provided to the person in the quote wasn’t planted by the person in the quote- it was planted in the past- the past that today’s education reformers claim is outdated and lacking in its ability to educate students in the twenty -first century. Much like the tree providing shade, a tree that was planted before now, yet is providing shade now, education is not just about now- it is cumulative- it didn’t just arrive today! Like that tree, it was “planted” by someone in the past so people would be able to take advantage of it today.

In our careers as teachers, we did not start by “planting trees.” We enjoyed the “shade”, the knowledge, the wisdom, the “trees”, others had already planted in order to get our careers started, to have some idea of what to do and how to do it right. As time went by, we learned more, gained more wisdom, and “planted some trees “of our own, so those who came along after us might have some “shade” to enjoy.

As educators, it troubles us greatly that the past is being treated by the education reformers like some sort of nuclear wasteland in which everything old is radioactive waste with no value.

It troubles us that they see no importance in knowing what came before or why. We get it when students see the world this way, after all, they believe they are the creators of slang “new” dance moves, and “new” music when the truth is there has always been slang, dance moves and music. Those things have always existed- all they have done is add on to them. In fact, in some cases, some of their dance moves and slang are actually “recycled” (even though the young people do not know it!)

We get it when kids, with a limited understanding or perspective of the world discount or deny the past’s significance or existence, however it is simply unacceptable and the height of irresponsibility when people claiming to be the answers to “fixing” education, the people who are “preparing students for the 21st century” and providing them with a “world class” education, see the world exactly the same way.

That is why Betsy DeVos must not be confirmed.


For John Lewis: Hero and Champion (With gratitude and honor) 1/15/17


by. B. Keller

He has never

stopped standing,

never stopped



He has never stopped

rising up before


or walking through

Red Seas.


He has never stopped

seeking truth,

never stopped finding

a way

to get in the way,

never stopped doing

whatever he could do

to help bend the moral

arc of the universe

towards justice.

Find The Good and Praise It…. B.Keller

Alex Haley wrote, “In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good and praise it.” As I look around at the contentious relationships making the rounds in our government and in the education arena, it strikes me that we‘d solve a whole lot of problems by simply applying Haley’s statement. When I listen to the vitriolic, vituperative exchanges taking place daily between the members of the legislature and the president and the conversations between the mayor of New York City teacher’s union, it is clear they’ve never ever heard this quote, (and even if they have, they have no intention of applying it!).

A great quote asserts that the reason people do what is wrong, rather than doing what is right is because the wrong thing seems so much easier. Maybe that’s the way it is with applying Haley’s statement. Maybe the problem with “finding the good and praising it” is that it is so much easier to condemn, defame, belittle, denigrate and insult than it is to say, “It’s not perfect, but your effort is good. Let’s build on that!” When you listen to the mayor, from the time he entered the office of the mayor, he said teachers were inept, incompetent, unconcerned with the education of their students, and only concerned with keeping their jobs. This despite the fact that he’d never once spoken to any teachers, never sat in any teacher’s classroom, this despite the fact that before he became the mayor and was granted total control of New York City schools had produced students who became authors, doctors, teachers, principals, assistant principals, lawyers school chancellors, CEO’s, Wall Street workers, musicians, professional athletes and a whole lot more. Did this happen for every single student and every single school? Of course not, any more than it happens or will happen at every charter school and/or small school the mayor has or will create or endorse! Truth to tell every student doesn’t graduate from Harvard, or Yale, or Bronx Science, or Stuyvesant, or Hunter High School, either. The fact that something good did come out of public schools means something and somebody was working and that means there is something that was worthy of praise, that there was something good he should have found to praise.

Although today, I may be a poet some people regard as pretty good, when I started, I wasn’t really very good at it. A great teacher I had at Hunter College, Professor Fred Bornhauser, read my early efforts. Looking back now on my early work, even I would have to say there wasn’t a whole lot there. He could have said, “You need to find some other interest kid, ‘cause this ain’t makin’ it!”, instead, he looked for the good and praised it, telling me my writing was very “cinematic”. Today, my work has been published and featured in magazines such as Essence and anthologies like Beyond the Frontier. I doubt that any of that would have happened without Professor Bornhauser’s having been smart enough to see that while I may not have been Langston Hughes, or the next June Jordan, or Ethelbert Miller, or Sonia Sanchez, or Robert Frost, there was something good in what I wrote, and it was worthy of being praised.

Nothing is perfect and I guess we can make anything better, but even when things may not be as good as they could or should be, there is still something worth finding that is good, and praising it.



The Sunday, January 15th New York Times editorial is titled “The Optimism of Barack Obama”.

It begins by saying,

 Barack Obama is leaving the White House with polls showing him to be one of the most popular presidents in recent decades. This makes sense. His achievements, not least pulling the nation back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, have been remarkable — all the more so because they were bitterly opposed from the outset by Republicans who made it their top priority to ensure that his presidency would fail.”

It ends with his farewell quote,

“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace; you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”

We must be at least as optimistic as he. There is precedent. The Republican Party.

Several decades ago the Republicans were reeling. Nixon. Ugh! Ford? Eh! An economic crisis brought Ronald Reagan, a Republican visionary, into the White House followed by his VP. Republicans thought they were to be in power forever. Then Bill Clinton won and gained back power for the Democrats. The Republicans began to see a shift in the population of the US. The Democrats boasted about reaching the new younger and more multicultural demographic. Newt Gingrich and Congressional Republicans tried to revolt, but that flopped. However, optimistically, they hatched a plan…. That worked twice.

They realized they would have a very difficult time winning the popular vote, so they figured out how to use the Electoral College to win the presidency and did so in 2000 with Florida’s hanging chads, and in 2016, by turning the tables in Pennsylvania’s, Wisconsin’s, and Michigan’s rural and white working class election districts.

They knew, 20 years ago, that the key was to control state legislatures during Census years to ensure control of redistricting and gerrymandering. That they did in both 2000 and in 2010. Their optimism paid off. So did a smart plan.

So how do Democrats look at the future? Do we fold? Do we argue amongst ourselves? Or, do we learn about optimism from President Obama, and, yes, even from those nasty Republicans that optimism connected with a good plan works.

What will swing the pendulum back? Politics is always local and it is always the economy, stupid. The national democrats blew that. It is time to gain remember that to get power back.

Now, as for the Nay Sayers who are worried that Obama’s legacy will be lost? You cant undo what was done. You can repeal and replace but you can’t make believe it didn’t happen. He will gain his rightful place in the rankings of presidents just as others have.

Remember, John Adams followed Washington. Washington is still usually ranked number two.

Lincoln’s legacy as the number one ranked president survived despite being followed by quite a few awful presidents. Andrew Johnson tried to reverse Lincoln’s reconstruction plan and was also the first president to be impeached. U.S. Grant presided over a very corrupt administration that included it’s own Black Friday when speculators Jim Fisk and Jay Gould attempted to corner the nation’s gold market and enlisted the help of Grant’s brother-in-law, who had pledged to prevent the president from acting to ruin the scheme. Grant’s administration also saw The Whiskey Ring scandal when many of the nation’s distillers bribed officials in the Department of the Treasury. In the end, more than 100 officials were convicted. Grant, much to his discredit, successfully shielded his private secretary, Orville E. Babcock.

Warren Harding followed Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was ranked most recently in the top 10 out of 44, because even with his racist negatives, he was responsible for one of the most progressive eras in our history. Harding was a successful newspaper publisher and horrible senator before becoming president. He won that position because his supporters viciously attacked his opponent for being a Catholic intent on delivering Ohio to the pope.

During his campaign he promised to restore the U.S. to “normalcy”, ostensibly to “Make America Great Again.” President Harding often rewarded political allies and contributors with powerful positions with financial leverage. Scandals and corruption ran rampant under his administration. Scholars and historians consistently regard Harding as one of our worst Presidents.

So look up America. No one is perfect. I didn’t like Obama’s education policies and how he also is responsible for Trump’s triumph. He, as almost all other democrats did, forgot how important local economies are, especially jobs with good wages and benefits that include health care.

We will survive. So will President Obama’s legacy, not just because of his achievements, but also because of his character. You can’t fake character like you can fake news.