In an act of mass civil disobedience, tens of thousands of parents in New York state had their children boycott the annual English Language Arts exam this week. At some Long Island and upstate school districts, abstention levels reached 80 percent. Protest organizers say at least 155,000 pupils opted out — and that is with only half of school districts tallied so far. The action is seen as a significant challenge to the education agenda of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to standardized testing nationwide. More than a decade after the passage of No Child Left Behind, educators, parents and students nationwide are protesting the preponderant reliance on high-stakes standardized testing, saying it gives undue importance to ambiguous data and compromises learning in favor of test prep. We speak to Jack Bierwirth, superintendent of Herricks Public Schools in Long Island, and parent Toni Smith-Thompson, who led the boycott against standardized testing at Central Park East 1 Elementary School in East Harlem.
NBC News is at the center of a new controversy, this time focused on its chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Back in 2012 he and five other members of an NBC News team were kidnapped by armed gunmen in Syria. They were held for five days. Just after his release Engel spoke on NBC News and said this about his captors: "This is a government militia. These are people who are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. They are Shiite." Well, earlier this week, a New York Times investigation prompted Engel to revise his story and reveal he was actually captured by Sunni militants affiliated with the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army. In an article published on Wednesday, Engel said the kidnappers had "put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite shabiha militiamen." According to the Times investigation, NBC knew more than it let on about the kidnappers. We speak to As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He runs the Angry Arab News Service blog. He expressed serious doubts about the circumstances surrounding Engel’s captivity and release when the story first broke in December 2012.
We speak with New Orleans-based artist Jackie Sumell about her collaboration with former prisoner and Black Panther, Herman Wallace. As Democracy Now! reported in October of 2013, Wallace died just days after his conviction was overturned and he was released from nearly 42 years in solitary confinement. He was a member of the Angola 3, who was convicted for the 1972 murder of a prison guard, but long maintained his innocence and said they were framed for their political activism. The project Wallace worked on with Sumell began when she asked him, "What sort of house does a man who has lived in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?" You can see his response in the exhibit called "#76759: Featuring the House That Herman Built." The exhibit opened this week at the Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch and includes a life-sized replica of Wallace’s prison cell, selections from his correspondence with Sumell, books from his reading list, and, in the library’s main lobby, a model of the dream house that he designed.
In Louisiana, former prosecutor Marty Stroud has met with former death row prisoner Glenn Ford to apologize to him for wrongfully charging him with murder. After 30 years in prison, Ford was released from death row last year after the state admitted new evidence proves he was not the killer. Stroud recently wrote a three-page letter in the Shreveport Times calling on the state to stop refusing to compensate Ford, who now has stage 4 lung cancer. We get an update on Ford’s case from his friend Jackie Sumell.
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