Finland is the #1 country in the world in terms of education, and 98% of their teachers
are unionized, and their students dont take standardized tests at all. What they do have
is an average class size of just 14 students, with 2 teachers in each classroom.
Books by Cornel West
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America’s Next Chapter
Kam Williams Interviews Cornel West
Dr. Cornel West is a prominent and provocative public intellectual dedicated to democracy. Currently the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University, he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton.
Since then, he has taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard and the University of Paris. He has written 19 books and edited 13 other. He is best known for his classic Race Matters, as well as Democracy Matters, and his recent memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.
He appears frequently on the Bill Maher Show, Colbert Report, CNN and C-Span as well as on Tavis Smileys PBS-TV Show. And since last fall, he can be heard regularly on The Smiley and West radio program.
He has also appeared in over 25 documentaries and recorded 3 spoken word albums. In short, Cornel West has a passion to communicate in order to keep alive the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.
Here, he discusses his participation in Americas Next Chapter, a forum hosted by Tavis Smiley where a panel of luminaries will wrestle with the question, How do we make America as good as its promise? The event is set to take place on Thursday, January 13th at George Washington Universitys Lisner Auditorium, and will air live on C-SPAN from 6-9 PM ET/3-6 PM PT, and will be rebroadcast on PBS on the Tavis Smiley Show on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday January 18th, 19th and 20th (Check Local Listings)
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Kam Williams: Hey, Dr. West, thanks for the time.
Cornel West: Its a blessing! Happy New Year to you, brother!
Kam Williams: Thanks! And the same to you. By the way, a mutual friend of ours, Rhea Kinnard, asked me to say hello to you for her.
Cornel West: Yes, a lovely sister, indeed.
Kam Williams: I have so many questions for you from my readers that I want to get right to them. FSU Grad Laz Lyles says: I love that “Americas Next Chapter” is a multi-ethnic forum. Why aren’t there more forums of this type?
Cornel West: I think it has to do with the vision of my dear brother, Tavis Smiley. There ought to be more forums like this which are concerned with informing folks about some of the painful realities of our country. It would be wonderful for them to be multi-cultural and multi-racial but, most importantly, they have to be willing to speak to those truths.
Kam Williams: Lazs follow-up is: Given our cultural history, is there more of an onus on African-Americans to be more inclusive with social and national discourse?
Cornel West: I think thats certainly the case, because theres no doubt that many of the mainstream white institutions tend to be cosmetic and symbolic when it comes to including African-Americans, whereas we black folk tend to be much more sensitive about embracing others, and we have a long history of that.
Kam Williams: Sister Patrice Muhammad says: After the “State of the Black Union,” some people said it was just a bunch of talk. Then The Covenant with Black America was published. Haven’t heard much about that lately. Where does “The Covenant” stand today? Any work being done in our communities based on that document? Has The Covenant” been upheld in your opinion? What do you hope this conversation will produce?
Cornel West: I dont think talk is just talk. I firmly believe that talk can change peoples lives. Each life is precious. Talk cant change a whole society, but it is not to be degraded or devalued. Talk is very important and not to be trashed. As for The Covenant, we had volume two, The Covenant in Action, which built on volume one in conjunction with local activists all across the country. And volume three, Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise, was a call to keep track of all the promises that President Obama made. So, I think that what was originated by “The Covenant” is still ongoing. But unfortunately, when you look at the Obama administration, it hasnt done that good a job at all in terms of poor and working people. It has been much more beholden to Wall Street oligarchs, and to pharmaceutical and private insurance companies.
Kam Williams: Teri Emerson asks: At the point where President Obama is now, what would be your view on what he would need to do to improve his chances for reelection? And would focusing more on the African-American community’s problems help or hinder his reelection?
Cornel West: Reelection ought not to be the primary preoccupation of any politician. It ought to be standing up for truth and justice. If he is to be a statesman, he would act like Lincoln, and stand up for something that might be unpopular but not allow the right-wing to dictate the agenda, meaning Fox News, the Tea Party, and others.
Kam Williams: Ilene Proctor wants to know whether, given the bleak economic outlook due to corporate malfeasance, global outsourcing, and a decline of empire, and with the U.S. facing challenges that were never as pervasive, is there any cause for optimism that American ingenuity and can-do spirit will help turn the country around?
Cornel West: Thats a deep question. I dont think there are any grounds for any sentimental optimism. But black folks have never really been optimists. Weve been prisoners of hope, and hope is qualitatively different from optimism in the way that theres a difference between The Blues and Lawrence Welk. The Blues and Jazz have to do with hope while the other is sugarcoated music which has to do with sentimental optimism.
Kam Williams: Childrens book author Irene Smalls asks: What does America’s Return to Greatness mean? Has America been great to and for all groups in this country? Is greatness domination or collaboration? Can American greatness permeate the class structure and have a multi-ethnic approach?
Cornel West: So much hangs on your definition of greatness. Im a Christian. I believe that greatness has to do with the quality of love shown to the least of thy brethren and the quality of service to those who are catching hell. When you look at it in that sense, Id say America has had great moments, but I wouldnt call it a great nation. I dont think there have been any great nations in the history of the world, because in every nation you find poor people being subjugated. So I see the term great nation as a contradiction, as an oxymoron.
Kam Williams: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you think that an increase in grassroots activism by the political left will counter the activities of those on the right? It seems that the Tea Party and their ilk have had an impact, based on the last election.
Cornel West: Thats a very good question. Sister Bernadettes absolutely right. The most important assets we have are our bodies and our energy which can be put to good use as resources in political activism for poor and working people.
Kam Williams: Filmmaker/Author/Professor Hisani Dubose says: Id like to know what you think of the movement to pay teachers based on merit. Children, urban children specifically, come to school with a lot of issues that prevent them from learning or even being in the frame of mind to learn. Do you think merit pay might simply push troubled kids further behind?
Cornel West: For one, I feel that the recent demonizing of teachers and the teachers union is nothing but scapegoating. Therefore, all the talk of merit pay is part of that kind of mentality that wants to view the teachers as somehow the culprit, especially in our urban centers and rural pockets of poverty. Finland is the #1 country in the world in terms of education, and 98% of their teachers are unionized, and their students dont take standardized tests at all. What they do have is an average class size of just 14 students, with 2 teachers in each classroom. Thats what exclusive prep schools like Andover, Exeter, Lawrenceville and the school that Barack Obamas kids go to do. Until we reach the point that we treat our precious poor children the same as we treat our rich children, all this scapegoating of teachers is just an excuse to not confront the real issue.
Kam Williams: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: Since “America Matters,” how can we re-define ourselves as a nation if as the 20th Century belonged to the United States, the 21st Century might belong to China? In other words, perhaps the greatest legacy we can leave future generations is a reframing of our national consciousness. How can we learn to still take pride in ourselves knowing that, in the 21st Century, America must be an eminent nation among other eminent nations and not the dominant, pre-eminent nation?
Cornel West: I think that every empire suffers from hubris, arrogance and condescension, and therefore a moral blindness. Thats true of the American empire, it was true of the British Empire in the 19th Century, and it will certainly be true of the Chinese Empire in the 21st Century. When we talk about America mattering, I take very seriously what the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel had to say in 1965 when he said that the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. will serve as the major means by which the best of America can be preserved. If that legacy wanes, America wanes. And thats what weve seen since the death of Martin.
Kam Williams: Harriet also asks: How can the panel discuss ‘The Next Chapter on the Smiley show if we continue to be stuck in this chapter, economically, socially, politically and internationally? It sounds discouraging, but maybe we can’t leave as glorious a future to the next generation.
Cornel West: Thats a wonderful question. For one, when Brother Tavis and others talk about The Next Chapter, theyre really talking about dealing with the present chapter, because there will be no next chapter unless you deal with the present chapter. And if you dont deal with the present chapter in the way that one ought, the next chapter might very well be the last chapter.
Kam Williams: Legist/editor Patricia Turnier says: During segregation, the U.S. had signs reading: ”No Colored and Whites Only.” Now we hear: ”You’re not a good fit for the organization.” What can be done to help African-Americans enter the job market and break the glass ceiling?
Cornel West: Again, so much has to do with going beyond treating black people as cosmetic and symbolic items, as opposed to genuine personalities and human beings. And that is a deep moral and spiritual issue, which can of course be backed up by Civil Rights Commissions which enforce the laws against any form of discrimination.
Kam Williams: Patricia also says: about 4.2% of all physicians are black, 3.8% of all lawyers are African-Americans, barely 5% of all college professors are black, and the majority of them are in HBCUs. Only 3.7% of all engineers are African-Americans. Given those statistics, do you think that Affirmative Action is effective enough? What can be done to correct this situation?
Cornel West: I think we need much more Affirmative Action across the board. Theres no doubt about that. But Affirmative Action is not the primary issue in and of itself. The primary issue is that we need for more young black people to fall in love with the life of the mind and to become voracious readers and writers. And we also need institutions of higher learning to be more receptive to black, brown, red and yellow talent.
Kam Williams: Felicia Haney wants to know your thoughts on Islamophobia. She asks: With nearly 7,000,000 Muslims living in the U.S. now, how do you see Islam fitting into America’s next chapter?
Cornel West: Islam has always been a crucial part of America, and it is becoming even more crucial to America as a whole as more Islamic brothers and sisters come here and as more citizens convert. Islam has a rich, prophetic tradition. We need more prophetic Islam figures like Malcolm X. If we could understand and try to grasp Malcolm after Mecca, wed have the greatest example of what it means to be a prophetic Muslim who loves the people, especially the poor and working people across color and across culture, and who has the courage to stand up.
Kam Williams: Ryan Davis asks: Do you still believe that President Obama is, as he said a year ago, “The friendly face of the American Empire?”
Cornel West: Oh yes, absolutely, although in some ways hes becoming less friendly.
Kam Williams: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
Cornel West: I just finished Griftopia by Mike Taibbi. That brother lays it out, man.
Kam Williams: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
Cornel West: Ummm . . . Probably just playing with my brother and spending time with mom and dad when I was about 2½.
Kam Williams: The Tavis Smiley question: What do you want your legacy to be?
Cornel West: I dont think about my legacy too much, Kam, because Im still very much alive. Every day has to do with how much love, how much decency, how much compassion, how much kindness, and how much tenderness one is able to enact vis-a-vis others. So any legacy, for me, has to do with: How deep was your love? What were you willing to sacrifice? What were you willing to give up? What price were you willing to pay for others?
Kam Williams: Is there a good question that reflects your consciousness that you could give me to ask everyone I interview?
Cornel West: Yes, what price are you willing to pay for a cause that is bigger than your own self interest?
Kam Williams: Much appreciated! Ill be sure to call it the Dr. West question. Thanks for another excellent interview.
Cornel West: Thank you so much, Kam. Stay strong, and Happy New Year!
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Cornel West to Take a Job in New YorkLaurie Goodstein16 November 2011Cornel West, the peripatetic public intellectual and political activist, plans to finish out a teaching career that has taken him from Yale to Harvard to Princeton by moving back this coming summer to Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, where he began as an assistant professor in 1977. Dr. West, the author of 19 books, including Race Matters, and a ubiquitous television and radio commentator, said he was taking a significant pay cut to become a professor of philosophy and Christian practices at Union.
The school, where the eminent theologian Reinhold Niebuhr taught, is also known as the birthplace of black theology. James H. Cone, a foremost scholar in that tradition, is still on the faculty.In an interview from Seattle, on his way to visit Occupy protesters there, Dr. West said that his liberal politics were formed in Progressive Baptist churches, and that Union was the institutional expression of my core identity as a prophetic Christian.NYTimes
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By Cornel West
Brother West is like its author: brilliant, unapologetic, full of passion yet cool. This poignant memoir traces Wests transformation from a schoolyard Robin Hood into a progressive cultural icon. From his youthful investigation of the death shudder to why he embraced his calling of teaching over preaching, from his three marriages and his two precious children to his near-fatal bout with prostate cancer, West illuminates what it means to live as an aspiring bluesman in a world of ideas and a jazzman in the life of the mind. Woven together with the fibers of his lifelong commitment to the prophetic Christian tradition that began in Sacramentos Shiloh Baptist Church, Brother West is a tale of a man courageous enough to be fully human, living and loving out loud.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
posted 11 January 2011