- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

2 American masters topics for seminar

Two American masters — self-exiled intellectual and author James Baldwin and “Record Man” Ahmet Ertegun — will be the topics of discussion at Georgetown University on Oct. 5 when Magdalena J. Zaborowska of the University of Michigan and Georgetown history professor Maurice Jackson, a jazz specialist, lead a seminar titled “African American-Turkish Connections Through the Arts.”

The seminar — set for 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Copley Formal Lounge and co-sponsored by the Turkish Coalition of America, the Institute of Turkish Studies, Howard University and Georgetown — will look at the lives of two arts masters who were born as their homelands emerged from World War I and reborn as post-World War II America grappled with the meaning of civil rights and civil liberties.

Mr. Baldwin, a native New Yorker who lived in Istanbul and elsewhere in Europe for decades, once proclaimed that Turkey “saved my life” because of the freedoms he lived and breathed there but was denied as a black man in America. In the meantime, Mr. Ertegun, who grew up in Washington and whose ambassador father opened the family home to blacks who entered through the front door, was becoming a prolific arts entrepreneur whose love of music eventually lead to the formation of Atlantic Records. The label’s hit artists included Ray Charles and the Clovers.

“TCA is proud to sponsor this program that highlights the shared history of Turkish Americans and the African-American community in D.C.,” TCA President Lincoln McCurdy told The Washington Times. “The legacy of Ahmet Ertegun of breaking down racial barriers through music should inspire all Americans. Additionally, James Baldwin’s works and his courageous stance on gender, race and sexual equality should remind us that local activism and the arts have always been close together in African-American communities, that they have always had a transnational and global dimension.”

Said Ms. Zaborowska, author of “James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile,” “Baldwin’s claim, [that] Turkey ‘saved my life,’ referred to the freedom he felt in Istanbul from racial and sexual oppression, the freedom that transformed him and his writing as a black writer, novelist, playwright and civil rights movement activist.”

Special education gaps in Alexandria

Alexandria’s special education students have lower pass rates than other students, according to state testing data released last month.

Sixty-seven percent of special-education students passed the English test and 58 percent passed the math portion, according to the Virginia Department of Education. In both instances, the numbers are below the statewide average and the federal No Child Left Behind benchmark.

School officials have recognized the achievement gaps and are considering such remedial actions as hiring literacy coaches and developing individual action plans for students.

The news comes as a study, also released last month, shows that the number of public school youths diagnosed with the mildest form of learning disability, called specific learning disability, or SLD, has grown substantially.

Between 1977 and 2006, the proportion of public school students diagnosed with SLD grew from 1.8 percent to 5.6 percent, and by the end of that period nearly 41 percent of all special-education students had been labeled with SLD, according to researchers Jay P. Greene and Marcus Winters at the Manhattan Institute.

D.C. voucher update

For the sixth straight year, the U.S. Department of Education has chosen the Washington Scholarship Fund to administer the popular voucher program called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The agency recently denied scholarships for 216 eligible students. The scholarships, which are for children from low-income families, are for the 2009-10 school year.

More than 90 percent of the students who were denied vouchers have been assigned to a public school that is in need of improvement, corrective action or restructuring, a spokesman for the fund said.

Independent studies have shown that children in the program have improved test scores and that parents are more involved in their children’s education.

“The Opportunity Scholarship Program has demonstrated that it improves the education of the low-income students who participate. It is a blessing for the current families in the program that they can continue to be served by the Washington Scholarship Fund,” said Joseph E. Robert Jr., chairman of the Washington Scholarship Fund. “But it is hypocrisy and purely politics that the benefits of the program are being limited to current children and that WSF has to turn away families who are desperate for their children to benefit from a scholarship. Having said that, we are pleased that the Department of Education recognizes both the continuing value of Opportunity Scholarships to the children of the District, as well as WSF’s prudent stewardship of this program.”

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