Author Archive: I AM AN EDUCATOR

Trump, “Shitholes,” and White Supremacy: Building resistance on 8th Anniversary of the Haiti earthquake my family and I survived.

ShitholeTrumpEight years ago today, my family and I survived the earthquake in Haiti. I had been laid off from my teaching job that year in the wake of the great recession and so I had joined my wife, with our one-year-old son, on her work trip to Haiti where she was conducting trainings on HIV.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, our hotel became a makeshift clinic. One of the hotel guests, an emergency medical technician, quickly assembled a triage and treatment area in the circular driveway. Over the course of the evening and into the night, we mobilized our meager resources to attend to hundreds of badly injured Haitians. My wife and I were deputized as orderlies in his makeshift emergency room, although we had no medical training. We stripped the sheets off hotel beds for bandages, we broke chairs to use for splints, and we transformed the poolside deck chairs into hospital beds.

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Jesse Hagopian assists a badly injured Haitian woman in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake

In the ensuing days I worked on children who died in my arms and saw hundreds of dead bodies that lined the streets of Port-Au-Prince. Estimates of the death toll from the quake reach into the hundreds of thousands with as many injured. I witnessed this death on a mass scale. But I also witnessed the beauty and resilience of a people who had lost everything, but still found something to give to help save others.

Neighbors carried neighbors who were missing limbs on top of doors for miles to get medical aid. People took shallow sips from plastic bottles so the water would nourish life for more people. Hundreds gathered in newly forged communities to sing songs, collectively raising the spirit of hope.

To these people President Donald Trump has a message: You are a “shithole.”

According to the Washington Post, Trump referred to Haiti, Africa and El Salvador during an immigration meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, saying, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

There can be no doubt that Haiti has many severe challenges, and there can also be no doubt that the cesspool of U.S. power, and other dominant nations, are at the root of them. This urge to dominate Haiti dates back to it’s very founding in a mass slave revolt. In fact, the U.S. refused to recognize Haiti as a nation, from it’s independence in 1804 until1862, because of the worry that Black republic, run by former slaves, would send the wrong message to its own slave population. Then from 1915-1934, the US enforced a violent and bloody military occupation on Haiti. As historian Mary Renda wrote, “By official US estimates, more than 3,000 Haitians were killed during this period; a more thorough accounting reveals that the death toll may have reached 11,500.”

Since the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. and the international community’s record on Haiti reveals the same impulse to dominate rather than aid. As Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) Director Mark Weisbrot, said, in a January 2014 report, “The lasting legacy of the earthquake is the international community’s profound failure to set aside its own interests and respond to the most pressing needs of the Haitian people.”

Not much has changed since then, as CEPR’s 2018 report reveals that foreign aid to Haiti is still primarily being used to enrich U.S. corporations: Overall, just $48.6 million has gone directly to Haitian organizations or firms ― just over 2 percent. Comparatively, more than $1.2 billion has gone to firms located in DC, Maryland, or Virginia ― more than 56 percent…The difference is even starker when looking just at contracts: 65 percent went to Beltway firms, compared to 1.9 percent for Haitian firms.

Even more unforgivably, UN troops introduced cholera to post earthquake Haiti by dumping the waste from their portable toilets into a river tributary near their base in Haiti. Instead of Haiti bringing a hot mess to other countries, as Trump would have you believe, it was literally a shithole from the world’s most powerful governments that was dumped on Haiti—and it has resulted in a cholera epidemic that has killed over 10,000 people and sickened another one million.

This is why Trump’s decision to end the Temporary Protected Status for the Haitian refuges in the U.S. who fled after the earthquake isn’t only mean—it will actually be a death sentence for many.

With his analogy between Black people and feces, Trump has once again shown the world his commitment to wickedness, vulgarity, and racism. The people of Haiti are resilient and beautiful.  It is trump who is a living obscenity.  To drive home his disgusting anti-blackness, Trump commented at the same meeting on immigration that he wasn’t against more immigrants coming to the U.S. but that, “We should have people from places like Norway.” Right, white people.

My family was in Haiti for five days after the earthquake before we were evacuated back home to Seattle. Recovering from the experience emotionally and mentally has been very challenging. I still experience stressful situations with much more intensity and the time around the anniversary always raises my anxiety. Yet this anniversary will be a particularly difficult to mark for me, and all survivors of the earthquake, because of trumps impossibly putrid statements.

A white supremacist is in the White House. We need nothing less than a new Haitian revolution that connects with the movement for Black lives in the U.S. and brings down structures of racism across the African diaspora.


Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies in Seattle and is an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse is the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog,  www.IAmAnEducator.com.

 

Seattle Teacher: Dear Betsy DeVos, You’re Not Welcome Here

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This article was first published at The Progressive.

Dear Betsy DeVos,

My name is Jesse Hagopian and I teach ethnic studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School. I hope you didn’t just stop reading this letter after you heard the subject I am teaching—I urge you to keep reading.

I am writing in regards to the Washington Policy Center’s $350-a-person fundraising dinner you will be addressing on October 13 at the Hyatt Regency in the nearby city of Bellevue. Thousands of my colleagues and I will surround the building to make sure the world knows your message of division is not welcome here.

Given the recent protests of your speeches at Harvard, at historically black Bethune-Cookman University, and many other places, you must be getting used to this by now. But just so there are no surprises, let me tell you what to expect.

There will be bull horns, signs, speeches, and I bet some of the more creative teachers—perhaps the few art teachers your proposed budget hasn’t cut yet—will show up in grizzly bear costumes, referencing the asinine comment you made defending the use of guns in schools to “protect from potential grizzlies.”


There will be students there questioning your qualifications to serve as Secretary of Education, given that they have more experience with the public schools than you. They might point out that you never attended public schools and neither did any of your four children.

There will be black people and civil rights organizations because you refused to say if the federal government would bar funding for private schools that discriminate. These anti-racist activists will protest your claim that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are “pioneers of school choice” as a way to promote privatizing public education—as if the segregation that forced African Americans to start their own colleges was a magnificent choice.

There will be feminists protesting your outrageous dismantling of title IX protections aimed at reducing sexual assault on campuses. Your decision to meet with sexist so-called “men’s rights” groups to decide on your approach to Title IX policy shows just how little regard you have for protecting victims of sexual assault. As Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said recently, “She’s meeting with groups and individuals today who believe that sexual assault is some sort of feminist plot to hurt men.”

There will be transgender people and others in the LGBTQ community protesting your decision, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to pull back public school guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms for the gender they identify with. And while you have stated you don’t support gay conversation therapy, according to the Washington Post, you served from 2001 to 2013 as vice president of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation (founded by your mother) which donated to anti-LGBTQ groups that do.

College students will join us because of your attempt to stop debt collection regulations meant to protect students from predatory colleges. The “borrower defense to repayment” rules implemented under President Obama make it easier for defrauded student loan borrowers to obtain debt forgiveness.

In addition, union educators and members will join the rally because of your unrelenting attack on organized labor. As Mother Jones magazine wrote of your plan to push the anti-union “right-to-work” legislation, “These laws outlaw contracts that require all employees in unionized workplaces to pay dues for union representation. Back in 2007, such a proposal in the union-heavy state of Michigan was considered a ‘right-wing fantasy,’ but thanks to the DeVoses’ aggressive strategy and funding, the bill became law by 2012.”


To be fair, I want to acknowledge that the destruction of public education didn’t begin with you. When your predecessor Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to town, we protested him as well. Like you, he was also committed to privatizing education; he just didn’t have your zeal for the voucher approach. But Duncan was even more motivated than you to reduce an individual student’s intellectual and emotional learning to a single number on a test that could be used to punish a child, a teacher, or a school.

To truly transform our public education system so it empowers students to be critical thinkers and changemakers, we must go far beyond removing you from office. To achieve the schools our children deserve it will require a mass grassroots uprising of educators, students, parents, unions, working people, the poor, LGBTQ folks, women, people of color, and human rights organizations who are ultimately empowered to democratically run their own school systems. Thankfully, all these constituents will be at the rally. And hopefully, we can start talking about our vision for remaking schools without billionaires and corporate reformers who see dollar signs where they should see children.

See you in a few days.

Sincerely,

Jesse Hagopian

“When Bennett and Kaep are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”

Video of Jesse Hagopian addressing the rally for Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick
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Nikkita Oliver addresses the rally for Michael Bennett, Colin Kaepernick, and Black lives.

On Sunday, September 17th, before the Seattle Seahawks first home game against the San Francisco ‘49ers, organizers from the NAACP and the Social Equality Educators (SEE) sponsored a rally in support of ex ‘49er Colin Kaeprnick and Seahawk Michael Bennett. The rally was coordinated with a national call to support Kaeprnick and featured Reshaud Bennett, Michael Bennett’s younger brother; Katrina Johnson, Cousin of Charleena Lyles who was killed by Seattle police;  Nikkita Oliver, teaching artist, attorney, organizer and former mayoral candidate. Gerald Hankerson, Seattle/King County NAACP president; Jesse Hagopian, teacher, author, and editor for Rethinking Schools; and Dave Zirin, The Nation sports editor and co-author of Michael Bennett’s forthcoming book, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.” 12sBlackLivesRally

Kaepernick and Bennett have been at the forefront of the rebellion for Black lives that has erupted in the NFL. It started last season when Kaepernick made the courageous decision to draw attention to police brutality and oppression by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Because of his willingness to speak truth to power, Kaepernick is actively being blackballed from playing in the NFL and no team will sign him.

Seattle Seahawks’ Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Michael Bennett has been one of the biggest supporters of Kaepernick and one of the most prominent NFL players supporting the movement for Black lives. Bennett sat during the national anthem during the entire preseason, and vowed to continue for the entire season, in an effort to highlight the unjust murder of Black people by police and the rising white supremacy that was on display in Charlottesville, Virginia.

On the morning of August 27th, Michael Bennett experienced police injustice first hand when a Los Vegas police officer put him on the ground and threatened his life. The incident occurred when a reported shooting on the Vegas strip led to many people running for cover, including Bennett. Instead of the police helping Bennett, video and photographic evidence shows that Las Vegas police targeted Bennett, put him on the ground in handcuffs while the primary officer took out a weapon and placed it near the back of his head. According to Bennett, the officer said that if Bennett moved, he would “blow [his] fucking head off.” Bennett was then put in a police car, and after a period of time let go without charges.   After threatening his life, the Vegas police decided they would then attempt to assassinate his character by accusing him of lying about the events of that evening.  But thankfully people are rising up to support Bennett.  Dave Zirin recently published a letter of solidarity for Bennett that was signed by a couple dozen leading athletes, authors, artists, activist, and academics.  The signatories included, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, Colin Kaepernick, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Opal Tometi (Co-founders, Black Lives Matter), actor Jesse Williams.  In addition, Seattle athletes and artists, Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and Macklemore, signed the letter. The September 17th rally for Kaepernick and Bennett swelled to some two hundred protesters who wanted to show their support because of all these two activist athletes have done to give back to their communities—and the people of Seattle have seen Michael’s efforts up close. Bennett supported and publicly endorsed the victorious movement for ethnic studies in the Seattle Public Schools. He supported the “Black Lives Matter at School” day initiative on October 19, 2016, showing up to speak about issues of race and education at the evening rally. Bennett has backed the Freedom School program at Rainer Beach High School, contributing financially and inviting the program to his training camp to speak with them about social issues and education. Bennett commitment to food justice has led him to start a community garden initiative at a Seattle Interagency school and the current youth jail.  And Bennett helped organize a powerful solidarity rally with the family of Charleena Lyles to demand accountability for her death at the hands of Seattle police. It is because of Bennett’s unyielding contributions to the struggles for justice that the many protesters stepped into the street and marched to the Seahawks Century Link Field chanting, “When Bennett and Kaep are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”BennettBanner_12sBlackLivesRally.jpg_large

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle educators demand justice for Charleena Lyles; pledge to rally and wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Tuesday

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, text and outdoor

For Immediate Release: Monday, June 19th, 2017
Contact:  Social Equality Educators, or
Jesse Hagopian:

Seattle educators demand justice for Charleena Lyles; pledge to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Tuesday, join 5pm rally

  • Charleena, a pregnant mother of four, was shot and killed by Seattle police in front of her kids
  • Educators say a Seattle Public Schools parent was killed & they will stand by her family
  • Some 3,000 teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts on Oct. 19th—now they will wear them to school for Charleena.

What/Where: Seattle teachers and educators will wear Black Lives Matter shirts to A vigil for Charleena Lyles, who was shot and killed Sunday.school, hold lunchtime speak-outs, and rally at 5pm at Magnuson Park.  Then Educators will march to a 6pm press conference at the Brettler Family Place apartments where Charleena lived: 6850 62nd Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

When: Tuesday June 20th, 5:00pm educator rally, march to 6pm press conference with Charleena’s family.

Who: All Seattle teachers, educators, and families are being encouraged to wear the Black Lives Matter shirts on Tuesday in solidarity with Charleena’s children and family.

RSVP on the Facebook event page now!

Related imageSeattle, WAOn Sunday, June 18th, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was killed by Seattle police after she called them to her home for help.  Police alleged she had a knife.  She was killed in front of her kids, who had to be carried over her body to leave the apartment.  Chrleena had children who attended two different Seattle Public Elementary Schools.  Educators from those schools have been contacted.

“As a Seattle Public Schools parent, Charleena Lyles was part of our education family,” said Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian.  “We are wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Tuesday to show her children and her family that we grieve with them, we support them, and we will stand with them in Solidarity.”

Earlier this school year on October 19th, some 3,000 educators wore shirts to school that said, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds is families and students did too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the often invisible state violence and assault of  women in our country.

On Tuesday, June 20th we are calling on all educators throughout Seattle to put those Black Lives Matter t-shirts back on, have a lunch time photo and speak out in every school, and then join an after school rally.   Hamilton Middle School teacher Sarah Arvey, one of the organizers of the October Black Lives Matter At School event, said, “Charleena’s death impacts the entire Seattle Public Schools community. We wore the Black Lives Matter shirts in October that read, ‘We Stand together.’ Well, now it’s time to stand to stand together for a Black family that has been torn apart.”

The educator rally for justice for Image result for black lives matter at schoolCharleena Lyles will start at 5pm in Magnuson park and then march to the 6pm press conference being held by Charleena’s family.

Turning Pain Into Power: 2017 Black Education Matters Student Activist Award winners

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Black Education Matters Student Activist Award winners, with Michael and Martellus Bennett, Jesse Hagopian, and NAACP education chair Rita Green. (Photo by Sara Bernard)

It was one of the most triumphant days of my life.

Thursday, June 15th was a day when I took the most painful moment in my life and used it to produce one of the most joyous days of my life. This was the day I had the honor to present the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award to four incredible young changemakers in the Seattle Public Schools. The Student Activist Award fund offers a cash scholarship and community support to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice and against institutional racism. Our winners this year were Jelani Howard, Baily Adams, Precious Manning-Isabell, and Mahala Provost—young activists who you will undoubtedly hear much more about in the future as they continue to challenge racism and transform every institution they encounter.

Each student received $1,000 from the fund I started after winning a settlement when I was assaulted by a Seattle police officer. I won this settlement by launching a federal lawsuit against the City and the Seattle Police Department after being pepper sprayed without provocation at the 2015 Martin Luther King Day rally in Seattle. While the officer who doused me with pepper spray, officer Sandra DeLaFuente, didn’t even receive a one-day suspension for assaulting me on the sidewalk, I was at least able to win some compensation that I could put to good use. I then partnered with leaders in the Seattle NAACP–education chair Rita Green and youth outreach coordinator Rachael DeCruz–to form a committee for finding and selecting leading student activists.

bennettBrosJoining us for the award ceremony were the Super Bowl champion Bennett brothers, Michael and Martellus–two of the greatest football players in the NFL and two of the greatest activist athletes in the world. Having these two celebrated athletes and powerful spokesmen for justice made the award ceremony deeply meaningful for all in attendance. Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett gave one of the awards in the name of his mother, Pennie Bennett, to Mahala Provost. Bennett said of this newly established award,

The Pennie Bennett Black Education Matters award is given in the name of my mother who, as an administrator and a teacher, has dedicated her life to changing the school system and her community. This award is presented to the most outstanding student changemaker for their work in the community and at school–and for believing that anything is possible and inspiring others to be different.

Provost_BEMawardProvost won this award for her dedication to showing the power of STEM fields (winning seven gold medals statewide in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) and her activism for food justice with the organization FEAST, where she worked to eliminate food deserts and teaches about nutrition in communities of color.

Student award winner Precious Manning-Isabell is the president of the Black Student Union at Chief Sealth International High School and has been a leader on and off the campus. She helped to lead the Black Lives Matter At School day action at her school, as a cheerleader she refused to stand for the national anthem to raise awareness about racism and police violence, and she helped produce an award winning documentary, “Riffing on the Dream,” about race relations at her high school.

Award winner Baily Adams is the president of the Black Student Union at Garfield High School and has helped organize teach-ins, die-ins, know your rights trainings, and was leader in the Black Lives Matter At School event this year. When Donald Trump was elected president, Adams was one of the students who lead a walkout of hundreds of students out of the school, joining thousands of other students from all around the city in one of the biggest walkouts in Seattle’s history.

GarfieldFootBall_kneeJelani Howard is a member of the Garfield High School football team and helped lead the team in discussions about taking a knee during the national anthem, building on the example of Colin Kaepernick, to raise awareness around racism and police violence against people of color. The entire team agreed and their action–all season long–garnered national news headlines and inspired teams all around the city, state, and nation to follow suit.

Seeing the joy in the faces of the student activist award winners and their families that evening made me certain that pain I endured from being assaulted by the police was not in vain.  As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.”  These students represent a new generation of young Black rebels who are expanding our understanding of the purpose education, refuse to accept a system that does respect their humanity, and are becoming truly powerful agents of change.

Graduation Not Incarceration: No to exit exams in Washington!

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Professor Wayne Au has the most terrifying Halloween costume of all: The exit exam!

Some 6,000 high school seniors in Washington are at risk of not graduating because they haven’t passed one of the myriad of high-stakes tests, including the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core aligned language arts and math exams, as well as a biology end-of-course exam. These students could have met all the other requirements, excelled social and academically in school, and yet be denied a diploma from a test-and-punish political system that is completely out of control.

However, because of the massive uprising of the opt-out movement in Seattle, Washington State, and around the country, politicians are being forced to reconsider the testing graduation requirements. There are currently two bills in the Washington State legislature that could help alleviate the pain.

House Bill 1046 would complete eliminate the requirement to pass any of the high-stakes exit exams for graduation. Proponents of corporate education reform, such as Stand for Children and the Business Roundtable, opposed the House bill and the Senate then drafted Bill 5891, which would only eliminate the biology end-of-course exam as a requirement for graduation—until the year 2021.

On Thursday, the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, announced he is asking the legislature to reach a compromise that would suspend all of the graduation test requirements until 2019. Then students who don’t pass one of the exams would have six alternative ways to graduate, including reaching a minimum score on college-entrance exams or taking a college-level course.

Let’s be clear: Requiring exit exams to graduate has nothing to with what expert educators know about best practices for assessing students. In fact, Boston University economics professor Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” links increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams to increased incarceration rates.

Let’s be clear about another thing: none of these proposals to lessen the cruelty of the testocracy would have been possible without rebellion from parents, students, educators, and community members who have demanded an end to over-testing. From the student walkouts of high-stakes tests, to the teacher boycotts, to the parent opt-outs, it has been the grassroots struggle that has proven most important in changing the narrative about abuses of standardized testing and the authentic assessment alternative.

One of the champions of this movement is Rita Green, the NAACP Education Chair for  Seattle (and a three state region). Below is the testimony she gave before the Washington State Legislature on March 20, 2017 to demand they stop using high-stakes exams as graduation requirements.   Read her story and then contact a Washington State Legislator to let them know our children are more than a score.

Hi my name is Rita Green, I am the Education Chair for the NAACP, representing the State of Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

I am here today to speak in support of removing and delinking the passage of SBAC as a graduation requirement.

First, These exam do not show, prove or measure the entire character or capabilities of students. These exams do not measure discrepancies for the students whose families pay for test prep classes to artificially drive up their test scores. [These tests measure]:

1) Working memory-how well your child can hold information in their mind & execute upon it.

2) Processing speed-how quickly your child can solve problems

3) Nonverbal reasoning- how well your child can solve problems for which they received no previous education all 3 of these are universal skills.

4) What is measured in these exams are verbal comprehension skills. This measures the cultural knowledge – words, Ideas and concepts that white people use.  These are foreign to people of color because they have nothing to do with their experience and thereby makes these exams discriminatory.

Proficiency can be measured through Course Finals, and demonstration.

Second, my daughter Brittany never passed the Math [standardized test] WASL, because she missed a passing score by 6 points. In 2009 she graduated from High School. In 2013, Brittany graduated from Lincoln University with a BS in Criminal Justice and a Law Certificate. She worked one year for City Year at a school in Baton Rouge, LA. In 2014, she went back to school and graduated in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Justice and Security Administration. Brittany plans to go back to school to get a PHD in 2018. This is a student who would not have graduated under the current WA State Graduation requirements.

How many other Brittany’s could our current law potentially hurt, harm or hinder?

 

We stand in solidarity with Sarah Chambers and the education justice movement

SarahChambers_micCelebrate national teacher appreciation day today by supporting one of the true champions of social justice education in the country! Below is a statement of solidarity by leading educators around the nation in defense of Sarah Chambers from the trumped up charges levied against her. Help Sarah today by sharing the below statement on social media and by signing the online petition.

We stand in solidarity with Sarah Chambers and the education justice movement

Sarah Chambers is an award winning special education teacher in Chicago’s Saucedo Academy. Sarah is a local leader a national figure in the fight to defend and transform public education against the corporate education reform attack. She is a relentless advocate for special education students and LGBTQ students. Sarah is a published author, organizer, and speaker on issues of education reform and social justice.

Now Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has accused her of encouraging students to opt out of the PARCC Test, a wholly unsubstantiated charge.  While Sarah has long been a proponent of promoting critical thinking over drill-and-kill standardized testing, her advocacy has always been directed at consciousness raising among her colleagues to help change policy, not telling kids what to do about the tests. It is clear that CPS has suspended her and is moving to fire her for her courageous advocacy on behalf of her students.

Moreover, this attack on Sarah Chambers is an attack on the entire movement for education justice, the movement for authentic assessment over standardized testing, and an attack on union organizers generally.

We the undersigned demand that the Chicago Public Schools drop their erroneous charges against Sarah Chambers and instead use their resources to better support the social, emotional, and academic development of Chicago students.

Wayne Au
Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington
Editor, Rethinking Schools

Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor, Rethinking Schools
Co-Director, Zinn Education Project

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Professor Emerita Lesley University

Michelle Fine
Distinguished Professor of Critical Psychology, American Studies and Urban Education, The Graduate Center CUNY

Jesse Hagopian
Editor of the book, More Than a Score Editor, Rethinking Schools
Editor, Rethinking Schools

Julian Vasquez Heilig
Professor of Educational Leadership, Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership, California State University Sacramento. California NAACP Education Chair.

Brian Jones
Educator and activist, New York City
Doctoral candidate in Urban Education, City University of New York Graduate Center

Journey for Justice (J4J)
An alliance of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations in 24 cities across the country

Kevin Kumashiro
Former Dean, University of San Francisco School of Education

Jia Lee
Elementary School teacher, Earth School, NYC
Organizer, Movement of Rank-and-file Educators

Jose Luis Vilson
Author, This is Not a Test
Executive Director of EduColor

Lois Weiner
Professor, New Jersey City University
Director, Urban Education and Teacher Unionism Police Project

The story behind the meme mocking Pepsi’s attempts to brand rebellion

On April 5, I woke up to find out I was a meme gone viral.

The hilarious meme by @ignant_ was in reference to the shameful ad that Pepsi produced—and quickly took down—depicting model Kendall Jenner diffusing tensions between protestors and cops by handing one officer a refreshing can of Pepsi. When the officer cracks open the can, the protestors are overjoyed and the officer gives an approving grin. Peace on earth prevails because of commercialism and sugar water.pepsi-ad_cop

PepsiAdProtestersHundreds of thousands of people have liked and shared the hilarious meme that mocks the ignorance of the Pepsi ad that was made from an image taken of me at the 2015 Martin Luther King Day rally in Seattle.

But here’s what folks who shared the meme might not know about that photo: The image is a still taken from a video that shows me on the phone, walking on the sidewalk, when Seattle police officer Sandra Delafuente, totally unprovoked, opens up a can of pepper spray in my face. If only Kendall had been there with a cold can of Pepsi!

pepper_spray_HagopianMany people asked if the photo was real or photo shopped. It’s real. Too real. I wasn’t on the phone with Kendall, but I was on the phone with my mom giving her directions to come pick me up because it was my son’s 2-year-old birthday party later that day. That’s when a searing pain shot through my ear, nostrils and eyes, and spread across my face.

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.FacePeperSpray

In the aftermath, I filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department—which is under a federal consent decree by the Department of Justice because of its demonstrated excessive use of force—and I helped organize rallies and press conferences with other victims of police brutality.   This pressure helped Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability rule in my favor and recommend a one-day suspension without pay for officer Delafuente. Not much of a reprimand, but at least it was an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. However, Seattle’s chief of police, Kathleen O’Toole, directly intervened to erase that punishment. Maybe I should have tried handing her a can of Pepsi before I asked for justice?

After more than a year of stressful litigation, I reached a $100,000 settlement. This was in no way justice. Justice would have been making the officer who assaulted me account for her crime. But I was determined to make sure some good came out of the pain and I decided to use settlement money to start the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award to honor Seattle youth in who pursue social justice and and organize against institutional racism. Nominations for this year’s award are currently open. I gave the first three awards out last year to some incredible young activists:

  • Ifrah Abshif, whose work founding the Transportation Justice Movement for Orca Cards—secured travel funding for all low-income Seattle Public School students who live more than a mile from their schools.
  • Ahlaam Ibraahim founded the “Global Islamophobia Awareness Day” event at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
  • Marci Owens has been a healthcare and Black lives matter activist and is transgender student who has become a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community

We need to support young changemakers like these because commercialism won’t save us. Corporations like Pepsi will always be in the business of trying to brand rebellion and profit from protest. But while they shamefully try to get their conglomerates “in the black” off of the image of the Black lives matter movement, we will be building that movement and fighting for a world where the wealth is used for the common good.

But for now I’m just glad that one of the most painful moments of my life has been turned into stinging satire that makes me laugh out loud.


Jesse Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine.  He serves as the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog,  www.IAmAnEducator.com.

Ethnic Studies Now!: Seattle students ask, “Why aren’t we learning this in school?”

By Jesse Hagopian

First published by The Progressive magazine.

From disproportionate discipline rates to its hyper-segregated schools, Seattle is a tough place to be for students of color. The city has an alarming pattern of segregation both between and within schools, and when the district was investigated by the Department of Education, it was found to suspend black students at four times the rate for white students for the same infractions.

In response, the NAACP, in collaboration with numerous education and social justice organizations, has launched a new ethnic studies campaign. “We have to get rid of this white supremacy,” Seattle NAACP Education Chair Rita Green told the Seattle Times in January. “Ethnic studies is learning about the other cultures within your building.”

The benefits of ethnic studies programs are numerous.


A recent study of San Francisco students conducted by researchers in the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that attendance increased by twenty-one percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by twenty-three. There were positive effects across male, female, Asian and Hispanic groups of students, and especially for boys and Hispanic students. The study also found significant effects on GPA specific to math and science.

As Jon Greenberg, Seattle social studies teacher, member of Social Equality Educators, and a leading organizer in the ethnic studies campaign recently told NPR, “The level of engagement goes up astronomically when you’re talking about issues that affect a lot of students’ lives.”

And benefits of ethnic studies go far beyond academics. Many of the discipline problems in the classroom stem from students who are disengaged with the curriculum and don’t see a connection to their lives. These students often act out and are quickly labeled disobedient—but maybe that disobedience is better understood as resistance to a whitewashed curriculum that doesn’t speak to the problems and issues those students face. As one student testified at a recent school board meeting, “Europeans did not ‘discover’ the land, they stole it from the indigenous natives that were enslaved and killed by white settlers.” When basic truths like these are disguised in a curriculum, students learn to not trust their education.

Ethnic studies programs, coupled with restorative justice approaches to discipline, can reduce suspension rates and help students realize their potential. By teaching students about the history of systemic oppression and the struggles against it, such programs can empower students to become change agents in their schools and broader society.


The social and academic benefits of ethnic studies were on full display in the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program at Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, which boasted the highest graduation rates and college acceptance rates for Latino students in the district. It was shut down in 2010 by anti-immigrant Republicans who sought to deny Latino students access to information about their heritage. The educators and students of the MAS program launched an inspiring campaign to defend their community and curriculum—as documented in the excellent film “Precious Knowledge”—resulting, ironically in a blossoming of Mexican American studies programs in high schools across the country.

After a major campaign, a bill was signed into law in California in September 2016 ordering the creation of a model ethnic studies course for state high schools. The Portland school board voted in May 2016 to require high schools in that city to offer ethnic studies classes by 2018. In the 2014-15 school year, a group of teacher librarians in the San Francisco Unified School District created a Black Lives Matter online resource page for teachers to use in the classroom. This collection includes grand jury documents, poetry, videos and graphics, readings, and lesson plans and activities for students of all ages.


The push in Seattle to combat institutional racism in the schools erupted in Seattle with the unprecedented #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool day, organized by the Social Equality Educators and supported by the Seattle Education Association, on October 19th, 2016. Some 3,000 educators wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school and many taught lessons about structural racism, the history of struggles against white supremacy, and other ethnic studies curriculum. Since Seattle’s mass action, the Black Lives Matter At School movement has gone national with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, New York, taking up similar actions to publicly declare the value of their black students.

At a Seattle School board meeting on March 15, dozens of educators, parents, students, and community members rallied to support ethnic studies, with signs reading, “Tell the Youth the Truth,” and “White Privilege is Your History Being Part of the Core Curriculum and Mine Being Taught as an Elective.”

One young Asian American woman recounted a program she participated in called “Seattle to Selma,” designed to augment the standard curriculum to give students a deeper understanding of the black freedom struggle. “One of the critical questions students kept asking,” she told the school board, “is why aren’t we learning this in school?” Raising her voice she continued,

All students—if given the chance—can benefit socially and academically if their scope of racial and civil rights history is expanded. When research has proven ethnic studies increases achievement, attendance, the number of credits students of color take, why wait to close Seattle’s unacceptable racial disparities? With ethnic studies, students at all levels learn not to blame individuals, but understand societal structures. Students learn to effectively navigate difference and understand the diverse cultures of our district. Seattle Schools can fundamentally affirm and empower more students to become agents of change.

May her words signal a new ethnic studies uprising to help combat misunderstanding, fear, and hate in our schools and in our society.

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Jesse Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine.  He serves as the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog,  www.IAmAnEducator.com.

“Turning the Streets Into Our Classroom”: Vote for May Day Strike!

dearbornPublished by The South Seattle Emerald

by Jesse Hagopian 

By Wednesday this week every school in Seattle will have held a union vote to decided if our Seattle Education Association (SEA) should go out on strike on May Day—International Worker’s Day—to demand full funding for education, to support our immigrant students, and to defend union rights.

I am voting yes!—and I hope that the rest of the educators join me in authorizing this walkout for the schools our students deserve.

Here in Washington State, our state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that our state legislature was in violation of the state Constitution’s “Paramount Duty” to amply provide for education.  The court has fined the legislature and found them in contempt of court for failing to support public education.  And yet we have seen our legislature continue to funnel money to the wealthiest corporations in our state, giving away billions in tax breaks to Boeing and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich.  Washington State is one of only a few states without an income tax and ranks dead last with most regressive tax structure in the nation.  The year 2017 was the final year that the state Supreme Court gave the legislature to fix the funding problem and it is clear that the legislature has no plans to start following the law anytime soon. ft-teachers-washington

We have tried emailing, calling and asking nicely for the legislature to follow the law and fund education. That hasn’t worked.

Now it’s time to show the collective power of labor.  We held a one-day walkout two years ago as part of a rolling strike wave across the state to pressure the state legislature. That was an important action that raised awareness, brought families into the streets with teachers in a common struggle, and gave teachers a glimpse of their power.  But this one-day strike has the potential to have a much bigger impact than the last because the Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a resolution calling on all the locally affiliated unions to go out on May Day. As the Seattle Weekly reported,

SEA isn’t the only union flirting with a May Day strike. UAW Local 4121 is also voting on strike action, according to the op-ed. (We’ve got a line out to the union.) And the Martin Luther King County Labor Council voted last week in favor of a resolution supporting strikes and other direct actions (for instance, teach-ins) on May Day in cooperation with organizers of the labor and immigrant marches.

Many unions are looking to the SEA to see if we strike. If we do, others could follow and it could become a mass outpouring of labor solidarity that truly has the power to shake up the one percent and their political representatives in the legislature and make them heed our demands for education and union rights.

In addition to the urgency around education funding in our state, the May 1st Coalition in Seattle has called on workers to strike for immigrant rights on May Day, and there will be a massive outpouring of humanity at a rally that day to stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. All the anti-immigrant rhetoric and deportations are demoralizing our students, splitting them apart from their families, and leading to hate crimes. Moreover, there is a push by the Trump administration and within the federal government to ratify anti-union, so-called “right to work” legislation, that would gut union protections.

I am voting to strike because I believe we as educators should join the struggle for immigrant rights and I see that as a vital component to a better education system.

I’m not content to teach students about the mass strikes and boycotts of the past that won social programs and the right to unionize–I know we actually need to bring back that history and make it real for our students by demonstrating what it looks like in practice. I’m ready to make the streets my classroom on the first of May and teach a lesson about union power and collective struggle that the rich and powerful won’t soon forget.

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