Monthly Archives: June, 2015

JAMES BIBLE LAW GROUP FILES FEDERAL LAWSUIT AGAINST SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT ON BEHALF OF JESSE HAGOPIAN: “I was the victim of this pepper spray attack”

On January 19th of this year–Martin Luther King, Jr. Day–I was pepper sprayed in the face by an officer of the Seattle Police department. Now, we are filing a lawsuit in a federal court to seek justice.

At this year’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, I was deeply honored to be asked to deliver the final address to the largest assembly of the year of social justice seekers. Little did I know that my rally cry at the microphone for police accountability would have such an immediate application, as it was only a short time later that a Seattle Police officer released a hot blast of mace directly into my ear and eyes, scalding my face.

pepper_spray_HagopianAs you can clearly see in the video footage that was captured by an onlooker, I was on the sidewalk at the time I was the victim of this pepper spray attack. I was also on the phone with my mom because she was coming to pick me up to take me to my son’s 2-year-old birthday party.   As I wrote for The Nation magazine soon after the event,

My mom soon arrived and took me back to the house. I tried to be calm when I entered so as not to scare my children, but the sight of me with a rag over my swollen eyes upset the party. I spent much of the occasion at the bathtub, with my sister pouring milk on my eyes, ears, nose and face to quell the burning. My heart began to pound, and I could feel a rising panic when my older son asked me what happened and why I was pouring milk on myself. I didn’t want him to have to learn, at the age of 6, to be afraid of the police on our own city’s streets. I still don’t know how to talk to my kids about what happened.JesseCover

Here now is the press release from my attorney James Bible, the past president of the Seattle/King County NAACP:

JAMES BIBLE LAW GROUP

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monday, June 29, 2015

JAMES BIBLE LAW GROUP FILES FEDERAL LAWSUIT AGAINST SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT ON BEHALF OF JESSE HAGOPIAN

On January 19, 2015, Jesse Hagopian was a participant in Seattle’s annual MLK Jr. Day March.   Mr. Hagopian, a local human rights advocate and teacher, was a featured speaker at the event. After giving his speech he began to head home. While heading home he was on the phone with his mother. They were attempting to coordinate where she would pick him up and take him to his two-year-old child’s birthday. Mr. Hagopian was pepper sprayed by a Seattle Police officer while he was walking on the sidewalk and talking to his mom. There is video documentation of Mr. Hagopian being pepper sprayed by a Seattle Police Officer.   Mr. Hagopian spent the rest of the day treating his injuries.

As a direct result of being pepper sprayed, Mr. Hagopians eyes were burning and he had difficulty breathing. His eyes were red, watery and swollen. Mr. Hagopian’s injuries had a severe impact on his ability to participate in and enjoy his son’s birthday party.   The injuries that Mr. Hagopian received as a result of this incident have had a significant impact on his physical and emotional health.

We are concerned that the Seattle Police Department continues to maintain a pattern and practice of using unwarranted and excessive force against law-abiding people.   This has to stop.

The Education of Zachary and the Soulful Struggle for “The Infinite Potential of All Children”

Zachary_Graduation

Zachary’s 5th grade graduation, with Kelly, Jackson, Zachary, Joshua Bock (left to right).

During the last days of the school year I wrote an essay for my website, I Am An Educator.com, about my kindergarten son opting out of the MAP test. I received an overwhelming number of positive responses to that piece, but none more powerful than from a mother from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Kelly Pylkas-Bock expressed her appreciation for the story of my son opting out, and sent me a truly moving description of her son–and why he cannot be reduced to a score–that she intends to deliver to his councilor when he starts middle school next year. I asked if I could publish her letter to the councilor and she replied,

Thank you for your encouraging response, Jesse. I have already shared my letter with [my son] Zachary because, as early as kindergarten standardized tests impacted his school experience. Zachary, Joshua (his dad), and I have had many honest conversations about how he has gifts that could never be measured by a test. When I told him the story about your son and about your request to re-post my letter, I was excited. I was also very cautious because I wanted to give him the option to protect his tender, 11-year-old identity. I should not have been surprised when he stated, emphatically, that he wanted his name included in the re-post. He was proud, as am I, to be included in your opt-out movement. We would proudly support the re-posting of Zachary’s important letter to his future middle school counselor and hope it might empower parents and students to be as brave as Zachary has been.

In appreciation and humility,

Kelly and Zachary

I hope the letter below will inspire other parents to reflect on what makes their own children more than a score–and to write that description down to share with your school and with this website. Here then is Kelly’s correspondence with me, followed by most wonderful description of her son Zachary.

Dear Jesse,

Your post resonated with me in many ways. The opt out movement has always been personal to me as a teacher of young children, but in 2010 when my oldest son, Zachary, became a first grader,  I, like you, was faced with this decision.   As a Humanist, I believe in the infinite potential of all children.   This  became (and will continue to be) a spiritual matter. Standardized testing contradicted my beliefs in many ways.   I have been opting Zachary out of all standardized testing since 2009, including the MAP test.  It is a decision that my husband and I have to wrestle with each year as Zachary gets older.  We know the time may come when Zachary wants or needs to take a standardized test.  He has always been included in the decision-making process.  My profession as a second  grade public school teacher places me in a contradictory position three times each year when I am mandated to proctor the MAP test for my young students.  I see the destructive nature of standardized tests such as the MAP test.  In my experience the MAP  promotes a skewed and inflated view of development for parents and children.  As you know, Jesse, it is difficult to be a teacher with the current educational atmosphere of standardization but, as you also know,  it has been especially challenging to be a parent.  I believed that  instructional methods pursued by school districts as a result of standardized tests like the MAP could be harmful to Zachary.  I, like you, could not let Zachary be a participant in the process.

I soulfully know this struggle.

I want to share a letter I wrote to Zachary’s future middle school counselor in hope that it might provide other parents with the words or ideas to continue this fight for their children.

Dear Middle School Counselor,

Zachary at the plate!

I am writing about Zachary, an incoming 6th grader. He has many talents that are not traditionally honored in school. Up to this point we have worked hard to be partners to his teachers.  Zachary has had many outstanding teachers who worked hard to make his daily classroom experience  match his gifts.  Along with his teachers, we have tried to provide a supportive classroom environment where he has some opportunities to shine at school. This has helped maintain his emotional and intellectual investment throughout elementary school.

Zachary is a fantastic performer. He loves to be viewed as knowledgeable and capable. He has had these opportunities in elementary school during physical education, the school play and anytime he is asked to present information he is interested in. He feels great about himself and his learning when he is able to have these types of experiences.

Zach_Writing

Zachary at 6 years old

Zachary is a fantastic language learner. When Zachary was in third grade my husband, Joshua and I (both elementary teachers), took teaching positions at an American School in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Zachary attended this school for nine months while we were teaching. He very quickly learned Portuguese through interactions with children. He has not had much opportunity to practice. I believe, with an excellent Spanish teacher, he will see his ability to learn languages as a gift he possesses. He also enjoys children who have experienced other cultures or who speak other languages. He would like to return to Brazil some day.

Zachary is highly motivated to learn about social justice issues that are occurring currently or have occurred in history. He loves learning about the Civil Rights Movement but also enjoys discussing current events. He is quick to recognize social injustices that can occur in school and makes attempts (sometimes misguided but always pure of heart) to correct them. When he is misguided, he is generally principled and takes responsibility for fixing his mistake. He really wants to understand the social issues going on around him.

Zachary is a hard worker. He will work hard to learn what is required of him. He will work the hardest in math, but he will need support. He does not have a positive self-image of himself as a mathematical thinker. Joshua and I are working on praising the effort he puts into learning. He regularly asked his 5th grade teacher to stay after school for help. In our family we teach that education is a human right, and if you don’t understand something, you have a right to attain that knowledge. However, it can only be yours if you seek it out. A teacher who doesn’t know that you are confused cannot help you. Zachary will not ask for help from an intimidating teacher.

Zachary is a deep processor. He needs time to think about things and his understanding of new concepts tends to develop over time. He needs many repetitions of new concepts before he can apply them independently. This is especially common in math. A common experience we have had with teachers who do not understand Zachary is that he will bring homework home from school that he does not understand because the concept was newly taught during class. This causes him a great deal of frustration and stress. In elementary school he has been very sensitive to how quickly other children understand a concept while he is still processing. We try to stress the importance and value of the hard work he puts into understanding things and not the speed. Our fear in sharing this is that it will be misunderstood as a deficit or delay in Zachary’s development. This is not the case. Zachary is well within the normal limits of child development. He always has been.

Zachary is the victim of an over-standardized and over-academicized curriculum that has pressured him to achieve academic concepts that are not appropriate using methods that are not often suitable for his learning style.  Zachary had the misfortune of beginning his school career as the national and state educational agendas held a standardized approach to assessment in high-esteem, often relegating Zachary to tracking, or grouping, techniques that would easily deflate his developing self-image and motivation. For this reason, we have opted Zachary out of all standardized testing because we believe Zachary’s potential is limitless and cannot be condensed to a math and reading score. Any learning environment that stresses speed or quantity over quality will be a negative experience for Zachary.

ZachFishingZachary lives a full life. He is busy after school with sports, friends and playing outside. Homework can be extremely stressful or overwhelming to him. I fear this could become a reason for Zachary to dis-invest in school. He does not view homework as contributing towards his learning. We, as his parents, agree that homework has not helped Zachary to learn responsibility or study habits. It has caused significant tension in our family. Zachary needs teachers who understand that children his age need balance between home and school.

Zachary is extremely imaginative and, consequently, a fantastic writer. He is a contextual learner, so writing provides him with a rich opportunity to understand a topic and analyze it from whole to part. Since first grade he has become an expert in many topics because he wrote about them. Zachary loves to write and read comics.  Freedom to choose topics is motivating for him. The same is true for any reading he is asked to do. A teacher who is overly fixated on handwriting, spelling ability or punctuation will not help him grow as a writer or a reader. A teacher with a broad definition of reading and writing who provides meaningful choices will positively impact his growth as a reader and a writer.

Zach_Family

Kelly, Porter, Jackson, Joshua Bock, and Zachary.

Zachary deserves time to learn and mature at the pace his mind and body determine. Despite the impatient efforts of some adults to speed Zachary’s development, he has always learned at his own pace. He will be 12 in January. He will take time to mature and develop cognitively, but he always does. He can learn and there is nothing that impedes his learning except for his self-belief and his perceptions of the beliefs of those around him. He needs teachers who understand the development of children his age and have realistic expectations of them. He will get there in his own time. He just needs adults who convey their belief in him on a regular basis and especially when he is struggling to understand new concepts.

Thank you for taking the time to read about Zachary. We realize that educators are human beings and that there is no such thing as a perfect educational experience. We also know that Zachary, like all children, will struggle some, but hopefully, with our support, will also find reasons to shine at school.

Kelly is a mother to Zachary (11), Jackson (9) and Porter (1). She is married to Joshua Bock, a fellow second grade teacher. Kelly has been teaching elementary school since 1998.  She has authored one book, Reading Superheroes, and just finished her doctorate in education this spring.

Her websites are:

http://kellyandjoshuabock.weebly.com/

http://www.readingsuperherobook.com/

Scrap the MAP Test: My Kindergartener Joins the Opt Out Movement!

Jesse_MTAS_eventLast week the Seattle School District told my kindergarten son to take the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

Given my intense relationship with this specific standardized test–an exam that has forever altered the course of my life–this was a particularly unsettling moment for me. As an authentic assessment activist, I had helped organize a boycott of this test at Seattle’s Garfield High School, I edited the book More Than a Score to tell the story of this movement against the MAP and the subsequent uprising against high-stakes testing, and I speak regularly around the country to share the lessons of the movement to “Scrap the MAP.”

I had long been committed to a fight for public education, but now it just got personal. Now they were trying confine my own boundlessly vibrant son into a test score bubble.

I had felt a great sense of accomplishment in our 2013 MAP test boycott, which resulted in a decisive victory when the superintendent ended the school year by announcing an end to the MAP test requirement for the high schools.  Now, however, the announcement that it was MAP test week for my son felt a cruel irony. It was hard to have to face the fact that, despite how powerful our movement had become, we hadn’t defeated the test altogether and elementary school students were still being subjected to it.

The idea that our school system implements standardized testing in the early grades to make students “career and college ready” (in the language of the Common Core standards) is an utter absurdity–especially when you consider that one of the most popular career choices for a 5-year-old is being Spider Man.  And yet high-stakes are attached to the the MAP test–already in kindergarten!–using it as an arbitrator of who will be placed on the advanced track.  In schools around the nation, there is an astonishing proliferation of the use of standardized testing in the early grades, which is having a frightening impact our our children. Children are increasingly experiencing severe stress from these tests, to the point where administrators now have a protocol for what to do when a child throws up on a test booklet–something that comedian John Oliver highlighted on his program Last Week Tonight when he said, “Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of students will vomit.” As a recent report from Defending the Early Years points out kindergarten literacy standard will simply crush the spirits of the late bloomers, linking school with “feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and confusion.”scrapmapsea

The new Common Core standards, and the tests meant to measure student’s progress toward them of them, are dramatically developmentally inappropriate and punish the students for developing in different ways and at different rates. As Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emeritus of early-childhood education at Lesley University and a senior adviser for Defending the Early Years, wrote in the book, More Than a Score,

When the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) came out, many of us in early childhood were alarmed. There had not been one K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional on the committees that wrote and reviewed the CCSS. We could see that the standards conflicted with the research in cognitive science, neuroscience and child development that tell us what and how young children learn and how best to teach them. The pressure on young children to learn specific facts or skills increased, even though these expectations are unrealistic, inappropriate, and not based in research or principles of child development.

Moreover, young kids often struggle with the basic mechanics of answering questions on the new computer administered tests.  As one Seattle elementary teacher wrote about Common Core testing this year,

Our school does not have a technology teacher and not all students have computer access at home, so many students have not learned computer or keyboarding skills. I watched more than one student hitting the space bar over and over because they did not know how to go down to the next line to start a new paragraph.

These tests have led to drastic cuts in recess, arts, music, physical education, and other critical components to a robust education of the whole child–and this is especially true in schools the serve predominantly low income and students of color, as our education system has become singularly obsessed with “raising achievement.”  Again, Professor Carlsson-Paige:

Young children learn actively through hands-on experiences in the real world. They need to engage in active, playful learning, to explore and question and solve real problems. As children do this, they build concepts that create the foundation for later academic success. And perhaps even more importantly, through active, play-based, experiential learning, children develop a whole range of capabilities that will contribute to success in school and life: problem solving skills, thinking for themselves, using imagination, inventing new ideas, learning social, emotional, and self regulation skills. None of these capabilities can be tested but they are life-shaping attributes that are ready to develop in the early years.

And as the Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner pointed out in a Boston Globe Globe article titled, “Is the Common Core Killing Kindergarten”, “Overuse of didactic instruction and testing cuts off children’s initiative, curiosity, and imagination, limiting their engagement in school.”

For these reasons, and due to the bitter struggle we waged during the 2013 boycott, the MAP test is practically a cuss word in my household.  So when I asked my son if he wanted to take the MAP, it should be no surprise that he told me he was against taking it.  He had obviously been paying close attention to this mass uprising against standardized testing, because he replied,  “I take the tests my teachers makes, but not one that someone who doesn’t know me makes.”

With that, we wrote him an opt out letter, and my son joined the movement. Several other families opted their kids out of the test as well, and the parents took turns helping to provide alternative activities for the kids during the the test.

My son was especially thrilled to go to school the day he was going to help teach a lesson to his fellow five and six-year-old dissidents during the opt out period.  His idea for the lesson was for a parent to read a book to the students about Satchel Paige, the legendary Negro League pitcher, and then they would make baseball cards of their own, complete with the stats on the back. Miles brought the sports page in, as well, to help them with the stats and to show them how to read a box score. My son opened the lesson by telling everyone about the Negro Leagues, a league started by Black people when the Major Leagues wouldn’t let them play, and then the parent read the book. However, before they could get to the baseball card activity, the rest of the class returned from MAP testing early, unable to actually take the test because of a glitch in the computer program. His class had lost the morning of instruction.

IMG_2180On the day the test was rescheduled, the students who opted out helped to make hats for the end of the year promotion ceremony to mark their passage to first grade.  I asked my son what he thought of his experience opting out of the test.  He said, “It was fun.  I got to teach my friends about something, and we got to make our graduation hats…I didn’t have to worry if I was going to fail.”

I can tell you kindergarteners never looked better in mortarboard caps then when they wore them at their joyous promotion ceremony this week.  Maybe next time they will decorate them with the slogan, “Scrap the MAP!”?

“Stop Blaming Teachers, Start Funding Schools”: 30,000 Teachers Walk Out in Protest of Big Class Sizes in Washington State

FundSchools_Strike

Educators, students, and parents rally in down town Seattle during the one day strike on May 19th, 2015. [photo taken by Jesse Hagopian]

The economic justice periodical In These Times recently ran this important article on the mass rolling strike wave of teachers and educators across Washington State--including now some 65 different union locals–who are standing up to a lawless state legislature that refuses to obey a court order to fully fund education.  As I point out in the article, Washington State has the most unequal tax structure and it is time we taxed the rich to fund our schools.  And as In These Times points out,

…the state’s top 1% contributes 2.4 percent of family income in state and local taxes while the poorest 20 percent contribute 16.8 percent, making Washington the “highest-tax state in the country for poor people.”

Meanwhile, the state’s largest corporations have received eye-popping tax breaks in recent years: In 2014, Boeing was awarded the single largest tax break a state has ever given a company: an $8.7 billion cut. Microsoft reportedly avoided $528 million in state taxes between 1997 and 2008 due to lax legislative oversight concerning the company reporting its revenue through its licensing office in Nevada, despite basing its software production in Washington….WEA members say that if legislators don’t resolve funding issues by the end of the second special legislative session, rolling strike waves will begin again when school begins in September.

Let the Washington State Legislature know that they must come up with the money for our schools by emailing them here.  As a popular sign carried by striking Washington educators reads, “On strike against legislature – stop blaming teachers – start funding schools.”

 

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