Author Archive: I AM AN EDUCATOR

The Power of declaring #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool

ghs_blmThe hallways of Seattle schools were packed as always on Wednesday, October 19, but the difference was that thousands of teachers, students and staff were wearing similar t-shirts affirming Black lives. The Black Lives Matter at School day originated among teachers committed to social justice and was ultimately endorsed by the teachers’ union, the NAACP, the Seattle Council PTSA, and event supported by school district.

Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle and editor of the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, answered questions from Brian Jones about how the day came about and what can come of it in the future.  This interview was first published at Socialistworker.org.

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Brian Jones: THE WEDNESDAY of Black Lives Matter at School was pretty special. How did your day start?

Jesse Hagopian: IT WAS an incredible day–like none I’ve ever experienced before. It started with getting dressed and putting on my own Black Lives Matter shirt, and my older son’s shirt, and then my 3-year-old’s shirt.

I began by taking my second grader to school. We get to school, and on the front door is a letter from the school’s PTA stating why it fully supports teachers wearing BLM shirts to school.

That put a smile on my face that only got bigger when I opened the door and saw all the faculty in the building wearing BLM shirts. And then the principal wearing a BLM shirt. And then the school counselor wearing the shirt.

I talked to my son’s teacher about the plans for the day, including showing the students a picture of Colin Kaepernick and asking them what they thought his “taking a knee” protest was about. So I knew right away that this was going to be much bigger than just wearing a T-shirt–that the lessons were going to be deeply meaningful to challenging injustice. It was really breathtaking from the beginning.

Then I went to drop off my younger son at pre-school, and all of his pre-school teachers were wearing the BLM shirts. It was just a celebration. We were all so thrilled that we could come out and say what we all believe, and not be afraid.

Brian Jones: YOU WROTE on your blog that this has never happened in an entire school district. How did the Black Lives Matters At School day spread to more than 2,000 teachers?

Jesse Hagopian: IT STARTED with a couple of brave elementary schools, Leschi and John Muir, which at the very beginning of the school year wanted to have a celebration of Black lives by having African American community members come to the schools and celebrate the students on their way in by giving them high-fives, and then holding dialogues during school.

At John Muir Elementary, a group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative helped organize the action, and teachers designed a Black Lives Matter shirt. The media got a hold of the design, and they freaked out, attacking these teachers for having the audacity to declare that their Black students’ lives are important.

Then some hateful individual made a violent threat against the school, and the school district announced it was going to cancel this celebration of Black lives at John Muir.

But to the teachers’ and the community’s great credit, they carried on–many of the teachers wore their shirts and many of the community members showed up anyway. It wasn’t as large as it would have been without the threat, but these teachers showed real bravery.

Those of us in the Social Equality Educators (SEE), a rank-and-file organization inside the Seattle Education Association, reached out right away to those teachers and invited them to our meeting to share their story.

People were so moved by their work that we decided we needed to show solidarity, and that the best way to do that wouldn’t be to just pass a resolution saying we support them, but to take it a step further and spread this action to every school.

When we brought it to the meeting of the union’s Representative Assembly, we weren’t sure what to expect. But we’ve been building SEE for a long time, and we’ve built up a lot of respect and credibility. So when my colleague Sarah Arvey, one of the leaders in SEE, put the resolution forward to spread the action to every school, a couple of us spoke to it, and it passed unanimously.

That was the first thing that caught me off guard. It was a sign that this was going to be a significant event.

blmshirt_2-jpgWe went to work on a couple designs for shirts teachers could order. The first was a version of the shirt that John Muir wore–it was designed by their art teacher, Julie Trout, and featured a tree and the words “Black Lives Matter. We Stand Together.” The second design also said “Black Lives Matter,” but featured the solidarity fist and added “#SayHerName,” the hashtag created in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death to highlight police violence against women.

After that, we moved on to figuring out how to organize a t-shirt distribution operation for an entire city–thousands of shirts of various sizes had to be ordered and distributed.

But over the course of the next few weeks, we ran out of our orders for more than 2,000 t-shirts. Plus many schools made their own t-shirts. So when you factor in the number of parents and students wearing their own shirts, many thousands of educators and public school families made this declaration to affirm Black lives.

Brian Jones: SEATTLE TEACHERS have been through a few struggles in the past few years, whether it’s the MAP test boycott or the strike at the start of school last year. I’ve heard you talk before about how these mass collective struggles are really the best teacher of all–about how people change in moments like this. Does that apply here?

Jesse Hagopian: IT REALLY does. It’s incredible to see the transformation that people go through when they take these bold steps and struggle collectively.

At Garfield High School, the faculty voted unanimously several years ago to refuse to administer the MAP test, and then we were threatened with suspension without pay, but the school district ultimately got rid of the test altogether. The lessons of that emboldened the staff over the course of the past two years in ways that I’ve only read about class struggle teaching people their own power.

When they threatened to get rid of a teacher at Garfield a couple years ago, the entire building emptied out to rally and say we need more teachers in the building to lower class size, we refuse to allow the district to remove a teacher. And we won that battle.

But you saw these lessons spill out across the whole Seattle School District in the strike last fall, when the union stood up to fight for an end to standardized testing in our evaluations, largely inspired by the actions of the MAP test boycott–but also more recess time for kids, and race and equity teams in every building.

lowellreaderboardI think it was social justice teachers in the union demanding that race and equity teams be part of the contract fight–introducing a discussion about the necessity of educators to confront institutional racism–that laid the groundwork for this incredible day we had of Black Lives Matter at School Day.

Brian Jones: I KNOW the SEE caucus has been putting out some specific ideas about further demands to make about changes in the schools. What were some of these?

Jesse Hagopian: WE’VE BEEN working for some time on issues of undoing institutional racism in our schools.

One issue where we would like to go further in this new moment is trying to end disproportionate discipline in Seattle public schools. The Department of Education came in and did a study that shows Black students are suspended at four times the rate of white students for the very same infractions in Seattle schools.

So we would like to fight for an end to zero-tolerance discipline and move toward restorative justice practices, which instead of pushing kids out of school actually try to solve the problems that they face.

We want an end to the rigid tracking system that has so deeply segregated our schools and classrooms, largely excluding Black students and other students of color from advanced classes.

We also think it’s vital that Black students be able to learn about their own history–their struggles and their successes. And we want to have a new fight for ethnic studies programs in our schools.

Those things were really validated when we had an evening rally as the culmination of Black Lives Matter at School Day. It was standing room only and packed to the rafters with families who came in their BLM shirts to hear from a wonderful lineup of performers and activists and organizers–and, most importantly, students.

We held a roundtable discussion with students from several high schools and middle schools, and they really laid out what the problems are–the way racism manifests in our schools, the steps they’ve taken to challenge this, and what they would like to see different in the schools. A lot of what they expressed were problems that SEE has been working on.

So I imagine we’re entering a new era in Seattle around education. Our city will never be the same, because we have an emboldened core of teachers and students and parents who I think will be more readily mobilized around these kinds of issues.

Brian Jones: I SAW that the Garfield High School football team was making headlines for kneeling during the national anthem, following the example of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and you mentioned that students spoke out at the forum at the end of Black Lives Matter at School Day. So there’s already a pattern of students in Seattle, and at Garfield in particular, taking a lead on these issues. What do you think comes next?

Jesse Hagopian: THE FIRST thing to say is that critics of our movement say “don’t politicize the school”–but the students are already talking about the BLM movement every day, in all of our school buildings. And they’re taking action, whether it’s on the football field or the volleyball court or at rallies.

They’re having deep discussions about the systemic inequalities, the realities of racism that they face every day–and then they get to school, and they’re supposed to stop talking about the issues that matter most to them.

That’s a bizarre disconnect. School is supposed to be a place to talk about the things that matter most, and now they’re being allowed to do that. So I think that a lot of what the teachers did in wearing that shirt was inspired by the actions of students who are protesting all around the city.

The most powerful experience of the day for me was the rally we had at Garfield. On the steps of our school at lunchtime, we had a speakout, with the coaches and the counselors and the teachers and many students on the steps. People were sharing why they wore the shirt, and I saw one of my colleagues, Janet DuBois, with tears streaming down her face.

She beckoned me over, and she asked me, “Should I tell everybody?” I knew exactly what she was referring to because she had revealed this secret to me a year ago, but hadn’t told anybody else.

So right there, in front of all the media assembled to document our rally, and in front of all the students and staff, she let everyone know about the pain she’d been carrying for years because the police had murdered her son in a city in the south of Washington state. She had to leave the teaching profession for many years until she could bring herself to come back. When she did, she got a job at Garfield, but nobody knew about that trauma she was dealing with.

If nothing else comes out of the Black Lives Matter at School Day, at least this wonderful educator won’t have to suffer with that pain by herself–now, she has the support and solidarity of her community.

I think it was one of the most incredible moments of my life to see somebody look around and have an entire faculty wearing BLM shirts–and feel like in that moment she could finally tell her truth.

I hope this action spreads across the country so other communities can experience the power of collectively declaring, “Black Lives Matter!”

Transcription by Sarah Levy

 

What We Don’t Learn About the Black Panther Party—but Should

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By Adam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian, first published at the Zinn Education Project

Fifty years ago this month, the Black Panther Party was born. Its history holds vital lessons for today’s movement to confront racism and police violence, yet textbooks either misrepresent or minimize the significance of the Black Panthers.

bpp_newspaper_collage-501x550The first issue of the Black Panther newspaper, which at its height had a weekly circulation of 140,000 copies, asked, “WHY WAS DENZIL DOWELL KILLED?” Helping Dowell’s family demand justice in Richmond, California, was one of the first major organizing campaigns of the Black Panther Party. Anyone reading the story of Denzil Dowell today can’t help but draw parallels to the unarmed Black men and women regularly murdered by the police. The disparity between the police’s story and the victim’s family’s, the police harassment Dowell endured before his murder, the jury letting off Dowell’s killer, even the reports that Dowell had his hands raised while he was gunned down, eerily echo the police killings today that have led to the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yet when we learn about the early years of the Panthers, the organizing they did in Richmond—conducting their own investigation into Dowell’s death, confronting police who harassed Dowell’s family, helping mothers in the community organize against abuse at the local school, organizing armed street rallies in which hundreds filled out applications to join the party—is almost always absent. Armed with a revolutionary socialist ideology, as the Panthers grew, so did what they organized around. They fought in Black communities across the nation for giving the poor access to decent housing, health care, education, and much more.

This local organizing that Panthers engaged in has been erased in the textbooks, yet it is precisely what won them such widespread support. By 1970, a Market Dynamics/ABC poll found that Black people judged the Panthers to be the organization “most likely” to increase the effectiveness of the Black liberation struggle, and two-thirds showed admiration for the party. Coming in the midst of an all-out assault on the Panthers from the white press and law enforcement, including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s claim that the Panthers were “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” this support is remarkable.

The Textbook Version of the BPP

A few of the major textbooks don’t even mention the Black Panthers, while most give the organization only a sentence or two. Even the small number that do devote a few paragraphs to the party, give little context for their actions and distort their ideology.Textbooks often associate the Panthers bpp_sicklecellenemiatesting-335x224with violence and racial separatism. For example, Teacher Curriculum Institute’s History Alive! The United States reads,

Black Power groups formed that embraced militant strategies and the use of violence. Organizations such as the Black Panthers rejected all things white and talked of building a separate black nation.

While ignoring that the Panthers believed in using violence only in self-defense, this passage also attempts to divide the Panthers from “nonviolent” civil rights groups. The Panthers didn’t develop out of thin air, however, but evolved from their relationships with other civil rights organizations, especially the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The name and symbol of the Panthers were adopted from the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), an independent political organization SNCC helped organize in Alabama, also called the “Black Panther Party.” Furthermore, SNCC allied with the Panthers in 1968 and while the alliance only lasted five months, it was a crucial time for the growth of the Panthers.

The passage from History Alive! also incorrectly paints the Panthers as anti-white, erasing their important work building multiracial coalitions. Most famously, Chicago Panther leader Fred Hampton organized the Rainbow Coalition including the Puerto Rican Young Lords and the Young Patriots—a group of poor Southern white migrants. The Black Panthers helped the Patriots set up their own community service programs. In California, the Panthers made an important alliance with the mostly white Peace and Freedom Party. The Peace and Freedom Party ran Eldridge Cleaver for President in 1968 in an attempt to provide an antiwar, anti-racist alternative to the Democratic Party. An editorial in the Black Panther explained: “The increasing isolation of the black radical movement from the white radical movement was a dangerous thing, playing into the power structure’s game of divide and conquer.”

Some textbooks erase the socialist character of the Black Panther Party. Holt McDougal’s The Americans, reads, “Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded a political party known as the Black Panthers to fight police brutality in the ghetto.” While the textbook later acknowledges other things the Panthers advocated, by reducing the reason for their founding to fighting police brutality, The Americans profoundly diminishes the important ideological basis of the party. More clearly than any other national civil rights organization, the Panthers linked the fight against racism with the fight against capitalism. As Newton explained in The Black Panther, reprinted in The Black Panthers Speak, “We realize that this country became very rich upon slavery and that slavery is capitalism in the extreme. We have two evils to fight, capitalism and racism. We must destroy both.” The Panthers understood that Black people could not achieve socialism on their own and their work building multiracial anti-capitalist coalitions flowed from that analysis. In fact, the Panthers developed an education requirement for joining the party that consisted of reading 10 books relating to Black liberation and socialism.

Several textbooks also blame the Panthers for the end of the Civil Rights Movement, while ignoring or downplaying the role the FBI played in destroying the party. In a later section in The Americans, the authors write, “Public support for the civil rights movement declined because some whites were frightened by the urban riots and the Black Panthers.” What textbooks like this fail to mention, is the decline in public support was a result of the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) of the FBI. According to scholar Ward Churchill in Agents of Repression:

. . . the Black Panther Party was savaged by a campaign of political repression, which in terms of its sheer viciousness has few parallels in American history. Coordinated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation . . . and enlisting dozens of local police departments around the country, the assault left at least 30 Panthers dead, scores of others imprisoned after dubious convictions, and hundreds more suffering permanent physical or psychological damage. Simultaneously, the party was infiltrated at every level by agents provocateurs, all of them harnessed to the task of disrupting its internal functioning. Completing the package was a torrent of “disinformation” planted in the media to discredit the Panthers before the public, both personally and organizationally, thus isolating them from potential support.

With minimal and problematic coverage in the history textbooks, there is little curriculum for teachers hoping to provide students with the crucial history of the Black Panther Party.

Teaching the Panthers Through Role Play

To try to give students a fuller picture of the party’s history, we wrote a mixer activity in which each student takes on a role of someone who was in or connected to the Black Panthers. The roles give students a thumbnail sketch of that person’s biography along with details that help illuminate aspects of the party. We tried to emphasize why people joined the Black Panther Party. For example, the role of Kathleen Cleaver begins:

As a young Black woman growing up in Alabama in the 1950s, you wanted to challenge injustice. You were inspired by powerful women leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). . . . These women were creating a social revolution in the Deep South and all worked with SNCC. . . . In 1966, you went to organize in SNCC’s New York office and then to Atlanta. You had joined SNCC at the time it took up the slogan “Black Power,” and you saw the Black Panther Party as taking the positions SNCC was headed toward. . . . You decided to move to San Francisco and join the Panthers.

Students also meet Ruby Dowell, Denzil Dowell’s sister who joined the party after the organizing the Panthers did in Richmond.

We also tried to highlight the repression the Panthers faced along with some of the lesser known, but important stories of Panther community organizing. The role for Lumumba Shakur, founder of the New York Black Panther Party chapter, explains how the entire New York Panther leadership was arrested on flimsy evidence. The role continues:

. . . you spent two years in prison while the trial proceeded. You organized prisoners to fight for better living conditions and at one point took control of the jail from the prison guards. You demanded and received bail hearings for every prisoner. Hundreds of prisoners were released as a result of the new hearings.

Students also encounter Panther allies in the Young Patriots, the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, and the Young Lords. They also meet Panther “enemies” like FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Los Angeles police officer Pat McKinley.

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Children at the Intercommunal Youth Institute.

One of the most overlooked aspects of the Panthers we tried to highlight was their role in the struggle for anti-racist education. In Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, historian Donna Murch details how the Panthers had their origins in “Agitation for Black Studies courses and debates about the ‘relevance’ of education,” and describes the membership of Panthers as “Composed largely of Southern migrants under 25, including many students recruited from local high schools and community colleges. . . .” The Panthers were formed out of a study group at Oakland’s Merritt College. The Panthers’ belief in the need for an education beyond what was being taught in the school system led them to develop a network of liberation schools for youth.

We hope the mixer we wrote, Wayne Au’s lesson on the Panthers’ Ten Point Program, and Ursula Wolfe-Rocca’s lesson on COINTELPRO, can be starting points for educators who hope to arm a new generation with the story of the Panthers. As the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party draws new attention to the organization, these lessons should be just a few of many to come that help teachers and students explore this rich—and too often ignored—history.

Adam Sanchez, Zinn Education Project Organizer and Curriculum Writer | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryJesse Hagopian | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryAdam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian are editors of Rethinking Schools magazine. Sanchez teaches at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, and works as curriculum writer and organizer with the Zinn Education Project. Hagopian teaches at Garfield High School in Seattle, and is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing (Haymarket Books, 2014).

Editor’s note: The mixer role play will be posted on the Zinn Education Project later this school year.

Garfield High School Goes on Bended Knee for Black Lives

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Garfield High School’s football and volleyball team pictured with the faculty and administration.

By Jesse Hagopian, first published at The Progressive.

The Jocks.The marching band. The cheerleaders. The Black Student Union. The teachers. And the administration. These disparate high school groups rarely come together.

But at times of great peril and of great hope, barriers that once may have seemed permanent can collapse under a mighty solidarity. The crisis of police terror in black communities across the country is just such a peril—and the resistance to that terror, symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem—is just such a hope.

On September 16th, the entire football team of Garfield High School, the school I teach at in Seattle, joined the protest that Kaepernick set in motion by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. While the Garfield Bulldogs were among the first high schools to have an entire team protest the anthem, it has since spread to schools around the nation. Their bold action for justice made headlines around the country. Their photo appeared in the issue of Time Magazine that featured Kaepernick on the cover CBS news came to Garfield to do a special on the protest. And in the New York Times, Kaepernick himself commented on the Garfield football team saying, “I think it’s amazing.”

It was a rejection of the rarely recited third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which celebrates the killing of black people, the ongoing crisis of state violence against black people, and an affirmation that black lives matter. As the Garfield football team said in a statement they later released,

“We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.”

And those conversations led them to analyze the way racism is connected to other forms of oppression and the way those forms of oppression disfigure many aspects of their lives, including the media and the school system.  Yes, football players publicly challenging homophobia may be rare, but the bulldog scholar athletes aren’t having it.

Here is the teams’s six-point program to confront injustice and oppression:

1. Equality for all regardless of race, gender, class, social standing and/or sexual orientation—both in and out of the classroom as well as the community.

2. Increase of unity within the community. Changing the way the media portrays crime. White people are typically given justification while other minorities are seen as thugs, etc.

3. Academic equality for students. Certain schools offer programs/tracks that are not available at all schools or to all students within that school. Better opportunities for students who don’t have parental or financial support are needed. For example, not everyone can afford Advanced Placement (AP) testing fees and those who are unable to pay those fees, are often not encouraged to enroll into those programs. Additionally, the academic investment doesn’t always stay within the community.

4. Lack of adequate training for teachers to interact effectively with all students. Example, “Why is my passion mistaken for aggression?” “Why when I get an A on a test, does the teacher tell me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could pull that off.’”

5. Segregation through classism.

6. Getting others to see that institutional racism does exist in our community, city, state, etc.

The rebellion didn’t stop with the Bulldog’s football team.

The Garfield High School girls’ volleyball team all took a knee. At the following football game, the marching band and the cheerleaders joined the players on bended knee for justice. At the homecoming game—a space that is more associated with mascots and rivalry then with protest and solidarity—Black Student Union members lifted a sign during the national anthem proclaiming,

“When we kneel you riot, but when we’re shot you’re quiet.”

The sign references death threats directed at Kaepernick as well as cowardly wishes of harm made against the Garfield football team for their actions. One Black Student Union officer told me:

“The anthem doesn’t represent what is currently happening in the U.S. and what has happened in the past—from slavery to police brutality and mass incarceration. Don’t be mad at us for protesting against these issues, be mad at the people who caused them.”

Our school has a long tradition of combating injustice. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s only visit to Seattle he delivered his speech at Garfield High School. One of the young students at that speech was Aaron Dixon, who would later see Stokely Carmichael go on to graduate from Garfield and help found the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Since my time returning to teach at my alma mater I have seen Garfield continue this tradition. In 2011, Garfield high school students lead a walkout against the state legislature’s plan to cut $2 billion from healthcare and education.  In 2013, the teachers voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, helping to ignite a national revolt against high-stakes testing in what commentators have called the “Education Spring.”

When a grand jury failed to indict Darrin Wilson for the murder of unarmed African American Michael Brown, the Garfield BSU lead a walkout of some 1,000 students, joining with the NAACP rally, and help launch the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle.  In January of 2015, Garfield High School’s Quincy Jones Auditorium (named after our celebrated musician alum) was packed with some 600 students, parents, and community members to hear from political sportswriter Dave Zirin and the legendary 1968 Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos—the Black track star who joined teammate Tommie Smith in raising his fist to the sky during the medal ceremony playing of the national anthem.

All of these events have aided struggles for social justice and have made Garfield a truly fulfilling place to work. But the solidarity exhibited this fall has stirred the deepest emotion in me. This moment was made possible by remarkable support from coaches, educators, counselors, mentors, and administrators.As head football coach Joey Thomas said, “One thing we pride ourselves on is we have open and honest conversations about what is going on in this society.  It led kids to talk about the social injustice they experience.” Garfield High School principal Ted Howard also gave his support in a statement that read,

“The Garfield High School Football Team has taken a powerful, united stance with the hope of being a catalyst for positive dialogue and change. The youth and their coaches have put a great deal of thought and heart into their decision to take a knee at their games… I ask our community to support our young people, our team and our leaders.”

One teacher organized the Garfield High School staff for a photo to publicly demonstrate solidarity with the football and volleyball team.  As the players approached, the staff broke out in cheers and applause that sent my heart soaring.

And the work continues.

At Garfield this year, educators started a new initiative to combat racial segregation between honors and regular humanities classes by un-tracking 9th grade classes.  The Seattle Education Association recently resolved to endorse educators across Seattle wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school.

Great teachers are important.  Yet as history has shown, struggle is the greatest teacher of all. The lessons this movement has imparted on young people today have been truly revelatory.  As a member of the Garfield girls volleyball team recently expressed to her teachers:

“I was taking a knee for all of my fallen brothers’ and sisters’ lives who have been taken due to racial injustice and have been taken well before God called them home. I also took a knee because I don’t need to gloriously praise a flag that only seems to praise one class and race.”

Jesse Hagopian is the Seattle Fellow for the Progressive Magazine, a social studies teacher and Black Student Union advisor at Garfield High School, and the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

Thousands of Seattle teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. Here’s what it looked like.

The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool event in Seattle yesterday was breathtaking.

Never before in the country has an entire district of educators risen up to declare that Black lives matter. It’s hard to even put into words the power of this event. It has been reported that 2,000 teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school across the district–in fact, the number was much larger than that.  That is the number of shirts that were ordered from the Social Equality Educators, however, many schools made their own shirts. Families made buttons and distributed them to schools.  Some parents set up informational booths in front of their school with resources for teaching about racism. There was a joyous atmosphere around the city.  Many educators around the city took the day to teach students developmentally appropriate lessons about institutional racism and hold dialogues about Black lives matter.

There is so much work left to be done to make Black Lives truly matter at school. But at the rally for Black lives at lunchtime at my high school, Garfield, something happened that let everyone know that change is already happening.

One of our teachers, Janett Du Bois, revealed to everyone in the middle of our rally that the police had murdered her son a few years ago. No one at our school knew about this. It was in that moment of seeing everyone wearing  Black Lives Matter shirts that she found the strength to tell her story. Her bravery to go public with this has changed Garfield forever.  I am so glad that she no longer has to suffer alone with the pain. Here is a short news story that doesn’t do her full speech justice, but will give you a glimpse: http://www.king5.com/news/local/seattle/2000-seattle-teachers-to-wear-black-lives-matter-shirts/338419052

ABC provided national news coverage of our day and the amazing evening rally: http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/seattle-teachers-bring-black-lives-matter-school-42942387

Here is a link to some of the best photos taken of the day from a Seattle Public Schools parent, photographer, and author Sharon Chang: https://sharonhchang.com/blacklivesmatteratschool/

Below are just some of the photos of schools from around Seattle who participated in #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool:

“We’ve got your back”: These luminaries for social justice support the hundreds of Seattle educators wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Oct. 19th

jc_supportsblmatschoolWith over 2,000 Seattle educators now having ordered “Black Lives Matter” shirts to wear to school on Oct. 19th, #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool day is shaping up to be a historic demonstration. In addition to wearing the shirts, many educators will also use the day to lead discussions about institutional racism and what Black Lives Matter means. This action has been endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, the Seattle council PTSA board, the Social Equality Educators, and the Seattle NAACP. In addition, over 200 scholars from around the country have issued their support in a collective statement of solidarity.

Now some of the country’s preeminent activists, racial justice advocates, and authors, have added their voice to the calls of support for this unprecedented action!

Seattle teachers who choose to wear T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” and “We Stand Together” have our full support. In the United States today, we cannot do enough to affirm and support our black students. Seattle’s teachers are not only well within their right to exercise freedom of speech by wearing such T-shirts, they are making an important gesture of solidarity — one that gives us hope for the future.

Seattle teachers: we’ve got your back!

Signed,

John Carlos was was the bronze-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics and raised his fist on the podium with Tommie Smith, in what became an iconic protest of racism in the U.S. Today, he is an author, human rights activist, and speaker.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is Professor Emerita at Lesley University where she taught teachers for more than 30 years and was a founder of the University’s Center for Peaceable Schools. Nancy is the author of five books and numerous articles and op-eds on media and technology, conflict resolution, peaceable classrooms, and education reform. Her most recent book is called Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids.

Noam Chomsky is a Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media.

Melissa Harris-Perry hosted the television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” from 2012-2016 on MSNBC. She is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University. There she is the Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center.

Joyce E. King was voted president the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the leading organization of education scholarship in 2013. A visionary teacher and scholar, King is the author of several books and has served since 2004 as the Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership and Professor of Educational Policy Studies in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University.

Jonathan Kozol received the National Book Award for Death at an Early Age, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Rachel and Her Children, and countless other honors for Savage Inequalities, Amazing Grace, The Shame of the Nation, and Fire in the Ashes.

Etan Thomas, has made his mark far beyond the boundaries of his 11 years in the NBA. In 2005, Thomas released his first book, a collection of poems called More Than An Athlete (Haymarket Books) that set Thomas apart as “this generation’s athlete with a moral conscious and a voice.”

Opal Tometi is a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter and is credited with creating the online platforms and initiating the social media strategy during the project’s early days. She serves as the executive director for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).

Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker, and media publisher whose work centers on the changing American identity. He is the founder of Define American. In June 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant.

Dave Zirin was named one of UTNE Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World,” he writes about the politics of sports for the Nation Magazine. Author of eight books on the politics of sports, he has been called “the best sportswriter in the United States,” by Robert Lipsyte.

Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool: Hundreds of professors across the country support Seattle educators in their day of action

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Over 200 scholars and professors nationwide sign statement in support of the Seattle teachers’ October 19,, 2016 action to make Black Students’ Lives Matter in the district. The support for making Black Lives Matter in our classrooms has been widespread, yet some around the nation have also responded with messages of hate and fear.  Dr. Wayne Au, Associate Professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell and an editor for the social justice teaching publication, Rethinking Schools, put out a call to professors and scholars to publicly tell the Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle School Board that many experts in the field of education and beyond support Seattle teachers. Below is the statement and the list of 212 names and affiliations as of October 17, 2016.

We, the undersigned professors and scholars, publicly express our support for and solidarity with teachers of Seattle Public Schools and their October 19, 2016 action in recognition of making Black Student Lives Matter in our schools. We hope that these teachers are continually supported by the district, the school board, their union, and parents in their struggle for racial justice in Seattle schools.

Name & Affiliation (for informational purposes only)

  1. Curtis Acosta, Education for Liberation Network & University of Arizona South
  2. Alma Flor Ada, Ph. D., Professor Emerita, School of Education, University of San Francisco
  3. Annie Adamian, Assistant Professor, California State University, Chico
  4. Jennifer D. Adams, Associate Professor Science Ed and Earth and Environmental Sciences, CUNY
  5. Tara L. Affolter, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College
  6. Jean Aguilar-Valdez, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
  7. Lauren Anderson, Associate Professor of Education, Connecticut College
  8. Subini Annamma, Assistant Professor, Special Education, University of Kansas
  9. Zandrea Ambrose, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
  10. Nancy Ares, Associate Professor, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
  11. Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  12. Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, Teacher Educator–Montclair State University; EdD student at Rutgers Graduate School of Education
  13. Rick Ayers, Asst. Prof of Education, U of San Francisco.
  14. William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education (retired), University of Illinois Chicago
  15. Wayne Au, Associate Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington Bothell
  16. Jeff Bale, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
  17. Megan Bang, Associate Professor, learning Sciences and Human Development, Secondary Teacher Education
  18. Lesley Bartlett, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  19. Teddi Beam-Conroy, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, University of Washington
  20. Lee Anne Bell, Professor Emerita, Barnard College
  21. John Benner PhC, University of Washington, College of Education
  22. Jeremy Benson, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Rhode Island College
  23. Dr Berta Rosa Berriz, Arts in Learning Division,Lesley University
  24. Dan Berger, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
  25. Margarita Bianco, associate professor, School of Education and Human Development, University of Colorado Denver
  26. Anne Blanchard, PhD, Senior Instructor, Western Washington University.
  27. Whitney G. Blankenship, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies & History, Rhode Island College.
  28. Aaron Bodle, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, James Madison University
  29. Joshua Bornstein, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Felician University.
  30. Samuel Brower, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston
  31. Anthony Brown, Associate Professor, University of Texas Austin
  32. Kristen Buras, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
  33. Dolores Calderon, Associate Professor, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington university
  34. Timothy G. Cashman Associate professor, social studies education, University of Texas at El Paso
  35. Keith C. Catone, Principal Associate, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
  36. Charusheela, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
  37. Minerva S. Chávez, Ph. D., Director, Single Subject Credential Program, Associate Professor, Department of Secondary Education, California State University, Fullerton
  38. Linda Christensen, Director Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark College.
  39. Christian W. Chun, Assistant Professor of Culture, Identity and Language Learning, University of Massachusetts Boston
  40. Carrie Cifka-Herrera Ph.D. University California Santa Cruz
  41. Donna-Marie Cole-Malott, PhD candidate, Pennsylvania State University
  42. Ross Collin, Associate Professor of English Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
  43. Rebekah Cordova, PhD, College of Education, University of Florida
  44. Chris Crowley, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Wayne State University
  45. Cindy Cruz, Associate Professor of Education, UC Santa Cruz
  46. Mary Jane Curry, University of Rochester
  47. Karam Dana, Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
  48. Chela Delgado, adjunct faculty in San Francisco State University Educational Leadership graduate program
  49. Robert L. Dahlgren, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, SUNY Fredonia
  50. Noah De Lissovoy, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas at Austin
  51. Betsy DeMulder, Professor, College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University
  52. Robin DiAngelo, Adjunct Faculty, University of Washington School of Social Work.
  53. Maurice E. Dolberry, PhD. Lecturer, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington-Bothell
  54. Michael J. Dumas, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.
  55. Jody Early, Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Washington Bothell
  56. Kimberly Early, adjunct faculty, Education department at Highline College & Applied Behavioral Science department at Seattle Central
  57. Education for Liberation
  58. Kathy Emery, PhD, Lecturer at San Francisco State University
  59. Joseph J Ferrare, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
  60. Michelle Fine, Professor, City University of New York Graduate Center
  61. Liza Finkel, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Lewis & Clark College Graduate School of Education and Counseling
  62. Kara S. Finnigan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education Policy, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester
  63. Ryan Flessner, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Butler University
  64. Susana Flores, PhD Assistant Professor, Curriculum, Supervision and Educational Leadership at Central Washington University
  65. Kristen B. French, Associate Professor & Director, Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, Woodring College of Education, Western Washington University
  66. Victoria Frye, Associate Medical Professor, City University of New York School of Medicine
  67. Derek R. Ford, Assistant Professor of Education Studies, DePauw University
  68. Jill Freidberg, part time lecturer, Media and Communication Studies, University of Washington Bothell.
  69. James A. Gambrell, Assistant Professor of Practice, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
  70. Arline García, Spanish Instructor, Highline College
  71. Mónica G. GarcíaAssistant Professor Secondary Education, California State University Northridge
  72. Brian Gibbs Assistant Professor of Education University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  73. David Goldstein, Senior Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell.
  74. Julie Gorlewski, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University
  75. Alexandro Jose Gradilla, Associate Professor, Chicana/o Studies, CSU Fullerton.
  76. Sandy Grande, Professor of Education and Director of the center for the comparative study of race and ethnicity, Connecticut College
  77. Allison Green, English Department, Highline College
  78. Kiersten Greene, Assistant Professor of Literacy Education, State University of New York at New Paltz
  79. Susan Gregson, Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Cincinnati
  80. Martha Groom, Professor, IAS, University of Washington Bothell
  81. Rico Gutstein, University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
  82. Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Michigan State University
  83. Amy Hagopian at University of Washington School of Public Health.
  84. Jessica James Hale, Doctoral Research Fellow, Mathematics Education, Georgia State University Elizabeth Hanson, ESL Professor, Shoreline Community
  85. May Hara, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Framingham State University
  86. Nicholas Hartlep, Assistant Professor of Urban Education, Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN
  87. Jill Heiney-Smith, Instructor in Teacher Education, Director of Field Placements, Seattle Pacific University
  88. Mark Helmsing, Coordinator of Social Studies Education, University of Wyoming
  89. Kevin Lawrence Henry, Jr., Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies & Practice, College of Education, University of Arizona.
  90. Erica Hernandez-Scott, Master in Teaching Faculty, Evergreen State College
  91. Josh Iddings, Assistant Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies, Virginia Military Institute
  92. Ann M. Ishimaru, Assistant Professor, University of Washington
  93. Dimpal Jain, Assistant Professor, California State University, Northridge
  94. Brian Jones, City University of New York, Graduate Center
  95. Denisha Jones, Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, Trinity Washington University
  96. Beth Kalikoff, Associate Professor, Univ. of Washington Seattle
  97. Richard Kahn, Core Faculty in Education, Antioch University Los Angeles
  98. Daniel Katz, Chair, Department of Educational Studies, Seton Hall University
  99. Mary Klehr, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education
  100. Courtney Koestler, Director of the OHIO Center for Equity in Math and Science, Ohio University
  101. Jill Koyama, Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies and Practice, University of Arizona
  102. Chris Knaus, Associate Professor, University of Washington Tacoma
  103. Matthew Knoester, Associate Professor, University of Evansville
  104. Rita Kohli, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Riverside
  105. Ron Krabill, Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
  106. Patricia Krueger-Henney, Assistant Professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of Massachusetts Boston.
  107. Saili Kulkarni College of Education Assistant Professor Cal State Dominguez Hills
  108. Scott Kurashige, Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
  109. Gloria Ladson-Billings Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education UW-Madison
  110. Carrie Lanza, MSW and PhD, adjunct faculty, University of Washington Bothell
  111. Douglas Larkin, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
  112. Alyson L. Lavigne, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt university
  113. Clifford Lee, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
  114. Kari Lerum, Associate Professor, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Washington
  115. Pauline Lipman, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois-Chicago
  116. Katrina Liu, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, University of Nevada Las Vegas
  117. Lisa W. Loutzenheiser, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
  118. David Low, Assistant professor of literacy education, California State University Fresno
  119. John Lupinacci, Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching & Learning, Washington State University
  120. Wendy Luttrell, Professor, Urban Education & Critical Social Psychology, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
  121. Aurolyn Luykx, Assoc. Professor of Anthropology & Education, University of Texas at El Paso.
  122. Sheila Macrine, Professor, Umass Dartmouth
  123. Tomás Alberto Madrigal, Ph.D., Tacoma Pierce County Health Department
  124. Jan Maher, Senior Scholar, Institute for Ethics in Public Life, State University of NY at Plattsburgh
  125. Curry Malott, Associate Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
  126. Gerardo Mancilla, Ph.D., Director of Education Administration and Leadership, School of Education Faculty, Edgewood College
  127. Roxana Marachi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, San Jose State University
  128. Fernando Marhuenda, PhD, Professor in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Valencia, in Spain
  129. Tyson Marsh, Associate Professor, Seattle University
  130. Carlos Martínez-Cano, PhD Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
  131. Edwin Mayorga, Assistant Professor, Educational Studies, Swarthmore College
  132. Kate McCoy, Associate Professor of Educational Foundations, SUNY New Paltz
  133. Cynthia McDermott.EdD., Professor and Regional Director, Antioch University Los Angeles
  134. Jacqueline T. McDonnough, Ph.D., Associate Professor Science Education, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
  135. Kathleen McInerney, Professor, School of Education, Saint Xavier University
  136. Deborah Meier, MacArthur fellow, NYU fellow
  137. José Alfredo Menjivar, Doctoral Student, CUNY, Graduate Center and Humanities Alliance Fellow, LaGuardia Community College
  138. Paul Chamness Miller, Professor of International Liberal Arts, Akita International University
  139. Jed Murr, Full-Time Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
  140. Bill Muth, Associate Professor, Adult Learning and Literacy, Virginia Commonwealth University
  141. Kate Napolitan, Teaching Associate, University of Washington Seattle
  142. Jason M. Naranjo Assistant Professor, Special Education University of Washington Bothell
  143. Pedro E. Nava, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Mills College
  144. Network for Public Education
  145. Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  146. Tammy Oberg De La Garza, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt University
  147. Gilda L. Ochoa, Professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, Pomona College
  148. Margo Okazawa-Rey Professor Emerita, San Francisco State University
  149. Susan Opotow, PhD Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
  150. Rachel Oppenheim, Director and Core Faculty, School of Education, Antioch University Seattle
  151. Joy Oslund, Coordinator of directed teaching, assistant professor, Madonna University, Livonia, MI
  152. Sandra L. Osorio, Assistant Professor, School of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University
  153. Callie Palmer, WSU doctoral student/adjunct faculty at Linn Benton Community College
  154. Django Paris, associate professor, department of teacher education, Michigan State University
  155. Hillary Parkhouse, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
  156. Leigh Patel, Associate Professor, Boston College.
  157. Summer Pennell, Assistant Professor of English Education, Truman State University
  158. Patricia Perez, Professor, California State University Fullerton
  159. Emery Petchauer, Associate Professor. College of Ed. Michigan State University
  160. Bree Picower Associate Professor Montclair State University
  161. Farima Pour-Khorshid, Teacher Educator, University of San Francisco and PhD Candidate at University of California, Santa Cruz
  162. Shameka Powell, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies, Department of Education, Tufts University
  163. Rebecca M Price, Associate Professor, UW Bothell
  164. Sarah A. Robert, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo (SUNY)
  165. Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education, Michigan State University
  166. Rosalie M. Romano, Associate Professor Emerita, Western Washington University
  167. Ricardo D. Rosa, PhD., Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies,, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth
  168. Wayne Ross, Professor, University of British Columbia
  169. Dennis L. Rudnick, Associate Director of Multicultural Education and Research, IUPUI
  170. Lilliana Patricia Saldaña, Associate Professor, Mexican American Studies, University of Texas San Antonio
  171. Jen Sandler, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  172. Jeff Sapp, professor of education, California State University Dominguez Hills
  173. Alexandra Schindel, Asst Professor, University at Buffalo
  174. Ann Schulte, Professor of Education, CSU Chico
  175. Simone Schweber, Goodman Professor of Education, UW-Madison
  176. Déana Scipio, Postdoctoral fellow, ERC & Chèche Konnen Center at TERC
  177. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
  178. Doug Selwyn, Professor of Education, State University of New York
  179. Julie Shayne, Senior Lecturer, University of Washington Bothell
  180. Sarah Shear, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, Penn State Altoona
  181. Mira Shimabukuro, Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Bothell
  182. Janelle Silva, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
  183. Carol Simmons. Retired educator, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle University Professor, Seattle Community College, Western State University, City University Professor.
  184. Dana Simone, Instructor, Foundational Studies in Education, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
  185. George Sirrakos, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
  186. Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita, California State University Monterey Bay
  187. Timothy D. Slekar, Dean, College of Education, Edgewood College, Madison, WI
  188. Beth Sondel, Assistant Professor, Department of Instruction and Learning, University of Pittsburgh
  189. Debbie Sonu, Associate Professor of Education, City University of New York
  190. Mariana Souto-Manning, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Teaching, Teachers College Columbia
  191. Jeremy Stoddard, Associate Professor, College of William & Mary
  192. David Stovall, Professor, University of Illinois Chicago
  193. Rolf Straubhaar, Assistant Research Scientist, University of Georgia.
  194. Katie Strom, Assistant Prof Educational Leadership, Cal State Univ East Bay
  195. Katy Swalwell, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Iowa State University
  196. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor, Dept of African American Studies, Princeton University
  197. Monica Taylor, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
  198. Cathryn Teasley, Assistant Professor, University of A Coruña (Spain)
  199. Adai Tefera, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
  200. Clarens La Mont Terry, Associate Professor, Occidental College
  201. Amoshaun Toft, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
  202. Sara Tolbert, Assistant professor, College of Education, University of Arizona
  203. Maria Torre, the City University of New York Graduate Center
  204. Diane Torres-Velasquez, Associate Professor, University of New Mexico
  205. Victoria Trinder, Clinical Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
  206. Eve Tuck, Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies in Education, OISE, University of Toronto
  207. Carrie Tzou, Associate Professor, University of Washington Bothell
  208. Angela Valenzuela, professor of Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin
  209. Manka Varghese, Associate Professor, University of Washington College of Education
  210. Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Professor, California State University Sacramento
  211. Michael Vavrus, Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies (Education, Political Economy, History), The Evergreen State College
  212. Verónica Vélez, Assistant Professor and Director, Education and Social Justice Minor and Program, Western Washington University
  213. Maiyoua Vang, Associate Professor, College of Education, California State University, Sacramento
  214. Michael Viola, Assistant Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
  215. Donna Vukelich Selva, Edgewood College, Madison WI
  216. Catherine C. Wadbrook, MA, Med, Assistant Professor, Department of English and Journalism, Austin Community College
  217. Mimi Wallace, Assistant Professor, Secondary Education, McNeese State University
  218. Camille Walsh, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington Bothell
  219. Lois Weiner, Professor, Director, Urban Education and Teacher Unionism Policy Project New Jersey City University
  220. Melissa Weiner, Associate Professor of Sociology, College of the Holy Cross
  221. Michael Wickert, Professor of English an Education, Southwestern College, Chula Vista, CA
  222. Gabe Winer, English/ESOL Department Co-chairBerkeley City College
  223. Min Yu, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University
  224. Ken Zeichner Boeing Professor of Teacher Education, University of Washington Seattle
  225. Shelley Zion, Professor, Urban Education, Rowan University

 

#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool FAQ: Answering why hundreds of Seattle educators are wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school

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#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool press conference.  Teachers pictured (from left to right) Rogelio Rigor, Donte Felder, Sarah Arvey, and Jesse Hagopian. (Photo by Benice Buhain)

On October 19th, 2016 hundreds of Seattle teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, nurses, instructional assistants, librarians, and other educators will be wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school in an unprecedented action, “Black Lives Matter At School.”  Already, some 2,000 shirts have been ordered and many of these educators will also be teaching lessons that day about institutional racism.  Educators at Washington Middle School and other educators from the Social Equality Educators have compiled this list of answers to frequently asked questions about this unprecedented action.

 

October 19th—#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool FAQ

Q: How did the October 19th Black Lives Matter At School event get organized?

A: In mid-September, two Seattle elementary schools decided to have African-American men from their communities welcome students to school with greetings and high-fives. Teachers planned to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts. One school, John Muir, received a bomb threat from someone opposing the event. Although consideration was given to canceling due to safety concerns, the event was held anyway without any problems. In an act of solidarity, a few days later the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Representative Assembly passed a resolution unanimously supporting the schools and their actions, and encouraging all schools to participate in a day of solidarity on Wednesday, October 19:

Whereas the SEA promotes equity and supports anti-racist work in our schools; and,
Whereas we want to act in solidarity with our members and the community at John Muir who received threats based on their decision to wear Black Lives Matter t- shirts as part of an event with “Black Men United to Change the Narrative”; and,

Whereas the SEA and SPS promote Race and Equity teams to address institutionalized racism in our schools and offer a space for dialogue among school staff; and,

Therefore be it resolved that the SEA Representative Assembly endorse and participate in an action wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts on Wednesday, October 19,2016 with the intent of showing solidarity, promoting anti-racist practices in our schools, and creating dialogue in our schools and communities.

On October 8, the Seattle Public Schools noted the event on its website, and stated:

During our #CloseTheGaps kick-off week, Seattle Education Association is promoting October 19 as a day of solidarity to bring focus to racial equity and affirming the lives of our students – specifically our students of color.

In support of this focus, members are choosing to wear Black Lives Matter t- shirts, stickers or other symbols of their commitment to students in a coordinated effort. SEA is leading this effort and working to promote transformational conversations with staff, families and students on this issue.

We invite you to join us in our commitment to eliminate opportunity gaps and accelerate learning for each and every student.

Q: Who has endorsed this Black Lives Matter At School event?

A: This event been endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, Seattle PTSA Council board, The Seattle NAACP, Diane Ravitch (former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education), Dr. Wayne Au (editor at Rethinking Schools and professor at UW Bothell) Carol Burris (Executive Director of the Network for Public Education), and a growing list of academics, organizers and activists from around the country.

Q: Why are school teachers and staff participating?

A: When people know that something is wrong, they often try to change it through social movements. Black Lives Matter is a social movement for racial justice in 21st century United States. Every individual chooses how they show their support of the movement. Some teachers want to be publicly supportive, others would rather be private.

Q: Isn’t this a political action and do political actions belong at school? blmshirt_1-jpg

A: This is a consciousness-raising event. School is part of society, students and staff are part of society, and so what is happening within our society deserves and demands our attention. This is a “teachable moment” for the Seattle Public School community.

Q: How will this event help promote racial equity at our school?

A: Racial equity will never be a reality unless people are willing to talk about it. This event provides an opportunity for conversations that can help our school move toward racial justice.

Q: How can I show my support?

A: Students and families are welcome to participate at school on racial equity activities in these ways:

1) Wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt or sticker on Oct. 19th. Contact your school to find out what is happening there on the 19th.

2) Parents and educators, here is list of age appropriate resources you can use to teach about racial justice: http://socialequalityeducators.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/TeachingRacialJustice.pdf

3) Attend the Black Lives Matter At School rally/forum/show organized by Social Equality Educators on the evening of Oct. 19 at Washington Hall at 6:00 p.m.to 8:00 p.m.

Q: Why call attention to Black Lives when all lives matter and when there are other groups treated unjustly in our schools and country?

A: Over 50% of the Seattle Public Schools’ student population are non-white students. The call of All Lives Matter is often used to brush aside the concerns which led to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last two years. In some cases, it reflects the universal consciousness and awareness that many members of the younger generations have come to embrace. However, until the lives of people of color are treated with equal value by the society, the call for all lives to matter rings hollow. By all measures, African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos, are treated unequally by our society fifty years after the passage of major civil rights laws. This inequality can be found in incidences of police brutality and killings, imprisonment rates, repeated studies of job and housing bias, health care, and access to quality education resulting in the school to prison pipeline. Black students in the Seattle Public Schools are suspended at four times the rate of their white peers. Until we are treated equally, we must all raise our voices or be complicit in the racism.

Q: Isn’t the Black Lives Matter Movement only about police killings?

A: No. The origin of the the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” is in the killing of Trayvon Martin by a vigilante and the ensuing national protests that followed showed the potential a new social movement. Several years later, unarmed African American Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in the streets of Ferguson, MO. Then videotaped killing of Eric Garner in New York City helped ignite this movement nationally. Repeated cases preceded these, and have followed
them. Protest actions have been led by BLM activists in hundreds of U.S. cities. But this movement is not only focused on police accountability. This summer, a platform was written under the Movement for Black Lives, advocating economic justice, political empowerment, community control of policing, reparations to the Black community, and for education justice. The platform writers represented over 50 organizations. BLM activists have also joined with the thousands of Native people and their supporters in their stand for the environment at Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Q: Why do some educators’ t-shirts include the symbol of a raised fist? blmshirt_2-jpg

A: The raised fist has been used by organizers to symbolize solidarity in struggles for racial justice, social justice, labor rights, and human rights for a very long time. It has been used to support such diverse struggles as organizing for workers’ rights in 18th century France, organizing for labor rights internationally in the early 20th century, organizing against fascism during the Spanish Civil War, and – most relevantly – organizing for civil rights and racial equity in the United States since the 1960s. By wearing the raised fist, Seattle educators are demonstrating their solidarity with struggles for racial equity in Seattle schools and U.S. society as a whole. We are also acknowledging the ongoing legacy of struggles led by communities of color, in particular Black Lives Matter and other movements for racial justice in the United States.

Q: What does the hashtag #sayhername mean?

A: This hashtag was called for in May 2015 to call attention to the Black women and girls who have been killed by the police. This includes the case of Sandra Bland, an Illinois woman who was arrested over a traffic stop in Texas, and died in police custody, hanging in her cell. Black women are outnumbered by white women 5:1 in the United States, yet are killed by police in nearly the same numbers. The statement challenges us to recognize the intersectional nature of oppressive systems including racism and patriarchy and to value and make visible the lives and struggles of black girls and women.

 

#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool: Hundreds of educators across Seattle to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Oct. 19th

Educators in Seattle are starting off the school year dressed for success.

In the fist action of this scale, many hundreds of Seattle teachers, counselors, instructional assistants, paraprofessionals, custodians, nurses, and other educators, will wear shirts to school on Wednesday, October 19th, that read, “Black Lives Matter.” This action is part of a Seattle Education Association sponsored day to draw attention to the school-to-prison-pipeline and institutional racism our society. Already over 700 educators and supports have ordered their shirts!

Educators at Seattle’s John Muir Elementary first conceived of this action and announced they would wear shirts to school on September 16 that read, “Black Lives Matter. We Stand Together. John Muir Elementary.” This was to coincide with an event to celebrate Black students that was organized by Black Men United to Change the Narrative. As third grade teacher Marjorie Lamarre told King 5 News at the time, “To be silent would be almost unforgivable, and I think we have been silent for almost too long.” Yet the forces of hate tried their best to silence the John Muir community as a white supremacist issued a bomb threat on the school and the event was officially cancelled. However, in a truly stunning show of courage, dozens of Black community members heeded the call of Black Men United To Change the Narrative and showed up to high five the students that morning and the John Muir staff wore the shirts anyway!

This bold action prompted the Social Equality Educators (SEE) to introduce a resolution at the Seattle Education Association to support John Muir and make a call for educators across the city to also wear Black Lives Matter shirts. The resolution reads:

Whereas the SEA promotes equity and supports anti-racist work in our schools; and,

Whereas we want to act in solidarity with our members and the community at John Muir who received threats based on their decision to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts as part of an event with “Black Men United to Change the Narrative”; and,

Whereas the SEA and SPS promote Race and Equity teams to address institutionalized racism in our schools and offer a space for dialogue among school staff; 

Therefore be it resolved that the SEA Representative Assembly endorse and participate in an action wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 with the intent of showing solidarity, promoting anti-racist practices in our schools, and creating dialogue in our schools and communities.

Many educators will also use the day to teach about the ways institutional racism impacts education, our nation, and our world.  There are also teachers around the country working to build solidarity actions in their city.  Educators wearing the Black Lives Matter shirts on Oct. 19th are encouraged to gather together to take a photo and post at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1651069751869918/

Below is the press release for the press conference that will be held tomorrow to announce #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool

For Immediate Release: Monday, Oct. 10th, 2016

Social Equality Educators: http://socialequalityeducators.org/

What: Press Conference to announce unprecedented action by teachers in Seattle to affirm that Black Lives Matter in the public schools.  Hundreds of teachers across the district to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school next week!

When: Press conference–Wednesday, Oct. 12th, at 4:30 pm. Day of Action Oct. 19th.

Where: Garfield Community Center, 2323 East Cherry St, Seattle, WA 98122

Speakers:

DeShawn Jackson: Instructional Assistant, John Muir Elementary

Sarah Arvey: Teacher Hamilton International Middle School, advisor for Hamilton Against Racism

Jesse Hagopian: Teacher, Garfield High School, editor for Rethinking School magazine

Rita Green: Seattle NAACP education chair

Donte Felder: Mentor teacher, Orca K-8

Kshama Sawant: Seattle City Council Member

Jon Greenberg: Teacher, Center School High, antiracist educator who was reprimanded for his courageous conversation curriculum.

And other community organizers and Black Lives Matter activists

Seattle, WA

In the first action of its kind in the country, hundreds of teachers, counselor, instructional assistants, office staff, and other educators, will wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Wednesday, October 19th.  At the time of this release, already over 700 shirts have been ordered by educators in Seattle.

This unprecedented action by educators in Seattle has been organized to let the community know that Black Lives Matter in Seattle Public Schools. On October 19, 2016, educators have planned a major action in response to the racist threats that John Muir Elementary School received on September 16.  The staff of John Muir planned an event with Black Men United to Change the Narrative, teachers, administration, custodians and other faculty to wear Black Lives Matter shirts to schools that day.  The building and district received threats of violence in an attempt to intimidate the educators, parents and students into not wearing the Black Lives Matter shirts or supporting their Black youth.  Many of the staff and community members continued with the event anyway.   Seattle educators want to ensure that these type of threats are not welcome or tolerated in our community.

Sarah Arvey, a teacher at Hamilton International Middle School, was inspired to begin organizing an action after students asked her if teachers at Hamilton would ever wear Black Lives Matter shirts. Arvey began to organize Hamilton’s staff and then went to present the idea to the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Representative Assembly.  SEA unanimously voted to endorse a district wide demonstration of solidarity and affirmation that Black Lives Matter in Seattle Public Schools to be held on October 19.

It is urgent for educators to stand up against racism in our society, city and schools.  The Seattle school district has grappled with institutionalized racism and remains a district that is segregated, has disproportionate discipline rates for students of color, and struggles to close the opportunity gap. It is imperative to see that educators continue to fight for the rights of all students and communities, especially those that have a long history disenfranchisement. “For Black lives to matter, they also have to matter at school,” says Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School teacher and community organizer.  “I’m proud of my educator colleagues across Seattle who voted unanimously at the union meeting to affirm our Black students who are confronted with a school-to-prison-pipeline, disproportionate discipline, a dearth of culturally relevant curriculum, and state violence.”

“We must be bold in addressing racism. If we meter our responses in catering to white fragility, we will always heel towards the status quo of white supremacy,” says Ian Golash, Chief Sealth High School teacher.

As Mark Lilly, Instructional Assistant and leader of Bembe Olele Afro-Cuban Dance Company, states, “This is our opportunity to leverage the power of public education showing the world community that when faced with oppression, social justice, right action and compassion are the chosen response.”

The message is more than words on a shirt.  In addition to wearing the Black Lives Matter t-shirts, educators are doing teach-ins, presenting Black Lives Matter Curriculum, supporting student activism and leadership, and organizing with community members.

The “Black Lives Matter to Educators” event will culminate with a rally on October 19th at Washington Hall (153 14th Avenue Seattle, Washington 98122) from 6-8pm.  This event will feature educators, parents, students, and activists discussing their vision for supporting Black lives at school.  The event will also feature, musicians, poets, and Grammy award winning artist, Kimya Dawson.

Black to School: The Rising Struggle to Make Black Education Matter

blacktschools

Tonya Ray, center, a math teacher at the Academy of Public Leadership, talking with students in Detroit, May 11, 2016. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times) Originally published by Truthout, Jesse Hagopian| Op-Ed


The struggle for equitable education went to summer school, and the new school year is getting underway with leading Black organizations bolstering the movement against the central components of the corporate education reform agenda.

In an earthmoving decision for the education landscape, the NAACP — the nation’s oldest civil rights organization — voted at its July national gathering to call for “a moratorium on privately managed charter schools,” saying charter schools:

do not represent the public yet make decisions about how public funds are spent [and have] contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system…. Researchers have warned that charter school expansions in low-income communities mirror predatory lending practices that led to the sub-prime mortgage disaster, putting schools and communities impacted by these practices at great risk of loss and harm.

A moratorium would halt the granting of any more licenses to open new charter schools — that is, schools funded by the public but privately run and not accountable to democratically elected school boards. The NAACP announcement has corporate education reformers reeling. Rick Hess, director of education policy at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, said that if local governments adopt the NAACP’s proposed moratorium, “It would give a permanent black eye to the sector.”

If the NAACP’s stance on charters would bruise the corporate agenda, then the declaration from the Movement for Black Lives — the newest civil rights coalition, comprised of dozens of grassroots organizations around the country — would flatline it altogether. The coalition released a policy platform at the beginning of August that called for, among other things, a moratorium on all out-of-school suspensions and the removal of police from schools, replacing them with positive alternatives to discipline and safety. It also called for a moratorium on charter schools and school closures, and full funding formulas that adequately weigh the needs of all districts in the state. The Movement for Black Lives wrote:

Sixty years since Brown v. Board of Education, the school-to-prison pipeline continues to play a role in denying Black people their human right to an education, and privatization strips Black people of the right to self-determine the kind of education their children receive. This systematic attack is coordinated by an international education privatization agenda, bankrolled by billionaire philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family, and Eli and Edythe Broad, and aided by the departments of Education at the federal, state, and local level…. Their aims are to undermine Black democracy and self-determination, destroy organized labor, and decolor education curriculum, while they simultaneously overemphasize standardized testing, and use school closures to disproportionately disrupt access to education in Black communities.

Indeed, billionaire philanthrocapitalists have upended education over the past 15 years by backing a series of major policy changes — codified in the No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top initiative and the Common Core State Standards. These policies have badly damaged education for all kids and have had particularly harmful effects on Black and Brown communities. Today, increasing numbers of people have discovered that these reforms are in reality efforts to turn the schoolhouse into an ATM for corporate America.

While their program for corporate reform is being eroded by research and rising grassroots movements, the corporate reformers are clinging to one last glossy brochure in the public relations portfolio — the one with photos of Black youth on the cover and promises that all of these reforms are really about civil rights and defending kids of color.

The president of the pro-corporate reform group Democrats for Education Reform, Shavar Jeffries, scolded the NAACP for its opposition to charters: “It’s a divide between families who are served by charters and see the tangible effects that high-quality charters are having, and some who don’t live in the inner-city communities, where it becomes more of an ideological question versus an urgent life-and-death issue for their kids.”

What these neoliberal reformers know, but don’t want you to know, are the findings of a recent study on charter school discipline practices. This comprehensive analysis found:

  • Black students at charter schools were suspended 6.4 percent more often than white students at the primary level and an astounding 16.4 percent more at the secondary level.
  • 374 charter schools suspended 25 percent of their enrolled student body at least once.
  • Nearly half of all Black secondary charter school students attended one of the 270 schools that was hyper-segregated (meaning at least 80 percent of the student body was Black) and where the aggregate Black suspension rate was 25 percent.
  • 235 charter schools suspended more than 50 percent of their enrolled students with disabilities.

Also of great concern for neoliberal reformers is the Movement for Black Lives’ opposition to the abuses of standardized testing. With the rise of a mass movement of teachers, parents and students opting out of standardized testing, the multibillion-dollar testing industry has been scrambling for talking points to maintain its legitimacy. The industry’s latest strategy for containing the movement against test-and-punish education policy is to pretend it is aligned with the civil rights movement. Take this sophistry on behalf of the testocracy from the Education Post, a website funded in part by the Walmart-funded Walton Foundation:

Spreading misinformation about testing threatens one of the primary data points that can be used by parents, teachers and lawyers to fight for the civil rights of children who have been under-taught…. Every time someone opts their middle-class kid out of an exam, they are impacting the validity of data that could be used in a court case to prove that students’ civil rights are being violated in their schools. Every time someone spreads the lie that teachers can’t do their jobs because of standardized testing, they give credence to forces who don’t believe that teachers should be accountable at all.

Forget the fact that the nation’s largest public school systems have more cops than counselors. Forget the criminal underfunding of our schools. Forget the racist corporate textbooks rampant in our schools. The testocracy would have you believe that the primary problem in education — indeed the real obstacle to civil rights — is the parent who opts their kids out of a standardized test, or the teacher who explains how the curriculum is being warped by having to teach to the test.

What the testocracy doesn’t want you to know is that standardized testing is a multibillion dollar industry, with the average student in the American public school system taking an outlandish 112 standardized tests during their k-12 career. They don’t want you to know that many schools that serve Black and Brown students have become test-prep factories rather than incubators of creativity and critical thinking, with testing saturating education at even higher concentrations in schools serving low-income students and students of color. They don’t want you to understand the way high-stakes tests are being used around the country in service of the school-to-prison-pipeline. A review by the National Research Council concluded that high school graduation tests have done nothing to lift student achievement, but they have raised the dropout rate. When one test score can deny students graduation — even when they have met every other graduation requirement — it can have devastating consequences. 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.

While it may be true that the students opting out today are disproportionately white, to portray the movement against standardized testing as a white movement is to make invisible the important leadership role that people of color have played around the country. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, a Black woman, is one of the most important leaders in the national movement against corporate education reform, and she led the union in the “Let Us Teach!” campaign against high-stakes testing. The Black opt-out rate reached 10 percent in Chicago last year. In Ohio, a recent study shows that communities of color and low-income communities opt out at nearly the same rates as whiter and wealthier ones. This past school year in Baltimore, the predominantly Black students in the Baltimore Algebra Project produced a brilliant music video against standardized testing — and then led a walkout during the PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers] test, coinciding with the anniversary of the murder of Freddie Gray by the police, in an effort to highlight the school-to-prison-pipeline. And some of the biggest student walkouts in US history against standardized testing occurred in New Mexico at schools serving a student population that is roughly 90 percent Latino and Latina.

Nationally, the NAACP has yet to join the opt-out movement and advocate for civil disobedience in the struggle for authentic assessment and education justice. However, an increasing number of local NAACP chapters are raising opposition to the punitive nature of high-stakes testing and preparing for a struggle at the national level. In Seattle, the local NAACP hosted a press conference to encourage parents to opt out of the Common Core tests. As Seattle NAACP president Gerald Hankerson put it, “The opt-out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to label black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country.”

The increasing involvement of the Black Lives Matter movement in struggles to democratize education may come as a surprise to the obscenely wealthy, who are using their money to control public education and often fancy themselves civil rights crusaders. But it shouldn’t surprise the rest of us.

The struggle for education has been a part of every major uprising for racial justice that Black people have engaged in throughout US history. This includes resistance to the “compulsory ignorance” laws during slavery, the establishment of the Freedman’s Bureau and public schools during Reconstruction, the debates between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois on the purpose of education during Jim Crow, the Brown V. Board Supreme Court lawsuit, the Freedom Schools of the civil rights movement, and the fight for Black studies programs during the Black Power era. The struggle for Black education has always been central to the fight for Black liberation.

Today, a new Black rebellion has erupted — from the sit-down protests on NFL fields, to the urban rebellions in the streets — galvanized by extrajudicial executions of Black people by the police and racist vigilantes. While the movement to defend Black folks from unaccountable, racist police has been the most prominent aspect this new movement, Black Lives Matter doesn’t end with the demand that Black people not be shot down in the streets. While there are certainly many prerequisites to achieving a society where Black lives truly matter, one of them, certainly, is confronting the long legacy of racist schooling and replacing it with an a consciously anti-racist education system.

A world where Black lives matter and Black education is empowering will not come easily. It won’t be funded by benevolent philanthropists. It won’t be promoted by corporate lobbyists or legislated by the politicians they own. It will only happen with an uprising beyond even the scale and militancy of the last century’s civil rights and Black Power movements. The contradictions of unhinged police murder of Black people in the “land of the free,” coupled with corporate education reformers’ racist schooling policies enacted in the name of “closing the achievement gap,” are already producing large-scale, renewed social unrest. The question of how powerful this movement grows is up to us.

Time to hit the books and take our struggle for public education Black to school.


Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian is an associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse teaches history and is the Black Student Union adviser at Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP standardized test.  He is the editor and contributing author to More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing (Haymarket Books, 2014) and recipient of the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of the Year” award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. A survivor of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Jesse is an advocate for Haitian human rights. Visit his blog: iamaneducator.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jessedhagopian.

 

“The reforms are introduced with blood”–A Oaxaca teacher on the life and death struggle against the testocracy

The teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico have been setting the international standard for social movement unionism and the defense of public education for many years.

In her 2005 release of Granito de Arena, my friend, award-winning Seattle filmmaker Jill Freidberg, captured the story of hundreds of thousands of public schoolteachers in Oaxaca who have built a powerful grassroots movement, endured brutal repression over some 25-years of struggle for social and economic justice in Mexico’s public schools.

In 2013, when teachers at my school refused to administer the MAP test as an act of defiance to the corporate education reform test-and-punish agenda, I was worried about the consequences that such an action could have. I also remember talking with other teachers about the fact that if the teachers in Oaxaca could build barricades in the streets to defend their schools from corporate takeover, we could manage to organize the MAP boycott. And, in fact, teachers from Oaxaca came to our aid, writing the Seattle boycotting teachers a letter of solidarity.

Today, the struggle to stop the abuses of standardized testing of teachers and other corporate reforms in Oaxaca has literally become a life and death struggle with police officers brutally gunning downing at least eight protesters, including community members and teachers (for information about sending letters of protest, please visit the NPE site).

My good friend Shane Dillingham recently moved to Oaxaca, Mexico where he is working on a book about the history of indigenous struggle in the region.   Shane conducted this remarkable interview for Jacobin magazine with René González Pizarro, a Oaxacan teacher and union member, to discuss the impact of corporate education reform, union democracy and this history of his local 22 in the struggle for social justice.

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"The reforms are introduced with blood," mural in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2016. A. S. Dillingham

“The reforms are introduced with blood,” mural in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2016. A. S. Dillingham

Ten years ago, as a group of striking teachers slept in their encampment during the early hours of June 14 in the state capital of Oaxaca, Mexico, government forces launched an attack to remove them from the zócalo, or town square. Riot police cleared the plaza while helicopters dropped tear gas from above.

The striking teachers were beaten, arrested, and pushed out of the city center. But not for long; the teachers and their supporters quickly regrouped, fighting back, block by block, and took the plaza back by midday.

The violent repression of striking teachers in 2006, ordered by the state governor, launched a social movement — called the “Oaxaca Commune” by supporters — that grew to encompass much more than the local teachers’ union.

The movement mobilized large swathes of Oaxacan society against the repressive governor. Aggressive federal intervention hobbled the movement, but failed to wipe it out. Today the dissident teachers’ movement is in the streets again, this time in opposition to the federal government’s “education reform” program.

The teacher’s movement is also more widespread than in 2006. Militarized attacks on striking teachers have occurred in Mexico City and throughout the country’s southern states. In the last month, the state of Chiapas has seen pitched battles between teachers and police forces, and the Zapatistas have spoken out in favor of the striking teachers.

Last week the Mexican attorney general’s office arrested two of the leaders of the Oaxacan section of the teachers’ union, Local 22, on corruption charges. Then on June 19, federal and state police attacked protesters in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, a town on the highway between the state capital and Mexico City, resulting in the death of at least eight protesters.

The blatant attack on outspoken government opponents unleashed a wave of protests in the state capital in response.

2006–2016. Street graffiti in Oaxaca City, commemorating the ongoing teachers’ struggle. Shane Dillingham / Jacobin

It’s become somewhat of a cliché to describe the situation in Mexico as a “crisis.” Indeed, la crisis is frequently satirized in Mexican film and popular culture, with Mexicans unsure when the last crisis ended and the next began.

Yet it’s true that in Mexico has experienced a wave of tragedies since 2006. Over one hundred thousand thousand people have died, over twenty-five thousand have been disappeared, and more than one hundred journalists have been killed in the decade since former president Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels.

Some of the crisis’s numbers are unforgettable. The forty-nine children burned to death in a government-outsourced daycare center without safety protections in the northern state of Sonora in 2009; the seventy-two migrants found in a collective grave in the state of Tamaulipas in 2010; and most recently the 2014 disappearance of forty-three Ayotzinapa Normal School students in the southern state of Guerrero. Tragedy’s numbers are a defining part of daily life and conversation in Mexico.

Enrique Peña Nieto’s election in 2012, coming after years of drug-war-related violence, was seen by many as a possible reprieve, a return to the nostalgic days of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule when governance was at least stable, if not democratic or transparent.

Yet President Peña Nieto’s sexenio (six-year term) has been marked by continued mass violence, corruption, and impunity at seemingly all levels of government. From shady government contracts in Mexico City, to his wife’s extravagant home paid for by dubious means, to the flagrant and repeated government lies over the forty-three missing students, Peña Nieto’s popularity has plummeted.

Recent state-level elections saw the PRI lose power in a number of its former strongholds. Mayors in Mexico are targeted by cartels, in a way that suggests they are siphoning funds directly from the state, in addition to drug and human trafficking.

The multiple captures and escapes of “El Chapo” Guzman, the infamous drug trafficker, lent credence to the popular belief among many Mexicans that the line between the traffickers and the state is blurry, at best.

Peña Nieto’s 2013 education reform plan — the piece of legislation under contention today — is just one component of a broader set of structural reforms pushed through by the president and the PRI.

While other reforms — such as the partial privatization of the state-run oil company, PEMEX, and corporate tax reform — have been relatively successful (on their own terms), the education initiative has proven the most difficult to implement, sparking opposition by not only the dissident section of the teachers’ union, the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), but also broader sectors of the national teachers’ union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE).

This opposition and the militarized approach of the government employed to implement the reforms, with thousands of federal police securing teacher testing sites, has led the international press, much of which until recently was supportive of Peña Nieto, to declare him a failure.

The education reform is better understood as an attack on labor. Much like the discourse of recent education reform movements in the United States, the Mexican reformers invoke notions of “accountability” and “quality” instruction.

But the reform itself contains numerous measures aimed at undermining the power of teachers’ unions including measures that weaken the union’s control of the hiring process at normal schools (which they historically controlled), eliminate teachers’ ability to pass down a position to their children, make it easier to fire teachers who miss work, and limit the number of union positions paid by the state.

These measures are all directly aimed at undermining the union’s power, but the central point of contention has been the evaluation of teachers through state-administered standardized tests.

At the end of last year, teachers across Mexico sat down for new nationwide teacher evaluations. In Oaxaca, the scene outside the testing site resembled a military exercise.

Ten thousand federal police were deployed to facilitate the administration of the evaluations, reflecting both the federal government’s desire to see their reform implemented as well as the widespread opposition to the new law.

Oaxaca is home to one of the most outspoken union locals in Mexico, Local 22, a member of the dissident CNTE movement — a movement that emerged in the late 1970s in opposition to the authoritarian, PRI-aligned SNTE.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the CNTE struggled against entrenched PRI control of union locals, with newly minted indigenous teachers playing a key role in southern states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas. The CNTE has remained a powerful force and controls, in addition to Local 22, sections of union locals in Michoacán, Guerrero, Chiapas, and the Federal District (Mexico City).

Given Local 22’s historic militancy, the state’s response was not surprising. Yet similar scenes of police coercion played out across the country, alongside a massive media campaign denouncing the dissident teachers’ union as self-interested and corrupt.

Historian A. S. Dillingham sat down with René González Pizarro, a Oaxacan teacher and member of Local 22, as well as a former delegate to its assembly, to discuss the nature of the reforms, the government’s strategy, and the history and culture of Local 22.


Can you first tell us a little about your own experience as a teacher? Why did you choose the teaching profession?

My professional training was originally in graphic design, but I’ve been immersed in the education world ever since I can remember. Actually, as a baby I was part of the teachers’ demonstrations of the 1980s and I remember that as a six- or seven-year-old I’d chant along with the slogans of the teachers.

After eight years teaching in private schools, I entered Local 22 thanks to my father. One of the benefits of the union members (eliminated by the recent reform) was the ability to inherit the position of one’s parents upon their retirement, as long as one had initiated their teacher training.

My father was in the indigenous education system, so I started there, with lowest category of promotor bilingüe or bilingual promoter. These positions were created in the 1970s and it is the category I continue to hold.

I started work in an indigenous boarding school in Coixtlahuaca, a rural, mountainous region in the western half of the state.

Let’s begin with the June 19 attacks on the teachers’ blockade in Nochixtán.

The federal and state police’s recent violence merely demonstrates the total obstinacy and refusal to negotiate on the government’s part. The teachers’ movement and much of the public generally have spoken out against the structural reforms, not just the against the education program.

On Sunday, the federal police first denied their use of live ammunition against demonstrators. Then later, after the confirmation of the first two dead, the secretary of government claimed it wasn’t police who fired, and said the photographs of police firing assault rifles were from another date and time.

But the media reaction was quick and the Associated Press confirmed the photographs of police firing on crowds were indeed from that Sunday and not manipulated.

Finally, at a press conference late that afternoon, the police admitted to their use of live ammunition.

Protesters carry a banner featuring "The Virgin of the Barricades" on June 14, 2016 to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the Oaxacan social movement. Shane Dillingham / Jacobin

The key from the government’s point of view has been the implementation of last year’s teacher evaluations. More than ten thousand federal police arrived in Oaxaca to facilitate the new evaluations.

The state government and Ministry of Education claimed it was a success. How do you view what took place with the evaluations?

The new state education ministry (IEEPO), which was legally reconstituted during the summer of 2015 to weaken the union’s control, has been trying to legitimize itself since its restructuring last July.

They’ve begun a series of actions, particularly on social media, to try to show that the Oaxacan teachers wanted to get rid of the “yoke” of the union.

On social media they have bombarded Oaxacans with messages like, “The new IEEPO is better, nothing remains in the union’s hands, now union coercion is no longer needed to access labor rights, the evaluation isn’t meant to take peoples’ jobs, now children will have all their classes.”

But the message is funny, if not ironic, in the face of the deployment of federal forces, not just in Oaxaca but in other states where the CNTE hasn’t had much presence.

Two or three years ago, before the reforms began in earnest, many non-CNTE teachers in the rest of the country viewed the evaluations as a good thing. (Actually some Oaxacan teachers did, as well.)

But with the full implementation of the reform there has been an upturn in the scale of opposition to it. Even in places where one hasn’t seen teacher protests before, one sees them now; the state of Jalisco and the state of Mexico are clear examples of this.

You mentioned the “new IEEPO” and what took place last July when the state government legally abolished — with the support of the federal police — the previous education ministry, in order to facilitate President Peña Nieto’s reforms.

How do you view that action? Does this constitute a death blow to Local 22’s power?

The government’s actions last July were a major blow to Local 22. But they weren’t a death blow. It wasn’t enough to merely freeze the union’s bank accounts, prosecute them financially, invent connections to organized crime, or try to do something from the financial side.

Nor has it been sufficient to detain the leaders. Actually, the detainment of four leaders and recently three members of Local 22’s executive committee sparked more desire to resist within the union.

Now the new state education ministry, supported by the reforms and federal education authorities, says that there will be no more marches and no missed class days. Three absences will mean the loss of one’s job, one absence will mean your pay would be docked.

The same happened with the federal ministry, after the first three days of the strike that began on May 15, 2016 the federal education ministry announced the firing of over four thousand teachers in Oaxaca, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Chiapas.

Do the authorities have the power to do that? To fire the teachers? That seems to be something new, given the union’s previous control over hiring.

According to the new reforms, yes they do have the power. The IEEPO asked the teachers to either go to class or have a day of pay deducted, because that is what the new law stipulates. Many teachers took to the streets. Some, out of fear or because they didn’t want their pay to be docked, stayed in the classrooms. Yet the threat of firing hasn’t stopped collective action. In fact, since May 15, the start of the strike, the movement has only grown.

The reform has allowed the state authorities to change how the IEEPO functions, right?

The new IEEPO is a mess. Within the actual office building, they have no idea what they are doing and they dismantled the apparatus, which, even if it was overly bureaucratic, knew how to function.

That is why they have turned to their massive publicity and social media campaigns, to improve the image of the new IEEPO.

In your opinion, what is the worst part of the education reforms?

That it’s not about education. That is the part that bothers me the most. From reading Peña Nieto’s reforms, the laws, and the auxiliary laws, it isn’t at all clear — and I’m not the only one that says this — that it’s about education reform.

It’s about yet another neoliberal government attack on trade unions that demonstrate any type of opposition. When one looks at the structural reforms in this country (and globally) one notices these reforms are directed at eliminating trade unions.

The strong unions have either been co-opted or eliminated. This happened in Mexico first with the railway workers, then the telecommunications workers’ union, the Luz y Fuerza union, the Federal Electricity Commission, and PEMEX. All that’s left are the teachers and public health workers.

With each reform, there is a direct attack on trade unions or civil society organizations.

You mentioned that you attended teachers’ marches as a baby with your parents. Not just in Oaxaca, but also in many other states, the democratic teachers’ movement emerged around that time. Local 22 and the CNTE nationally have their origins in that period. Is that history important for those in the movement today?

Yes. That generation from the 1980s just retired a few years ago (my father is one of them) and now there is a whole new generation of teachers. I know the history of that struggle because I lived through it but I’m not sure other comrades do because even those whose parents were also teachers in the 1980s don’t always seem very interested today.

There are two factors that might explain this dynamic. One is the distance that has developed recently between the union leadership and its bases, and the other is social pressure, particularly in the media, that casts the union in a negative light.

So the new comrades are often not interested in, nor committed to, the idea of struggle, either because they don’t feel represented by their leadership — because of corruption or poor management of the union — or because the media accuse the movement of being lazy and something bad for the country.

Yes, and many teachers say the relationship between the union leadership and the rank-and-file has changed dramatically since the 1980s.

Among the comrades that do participate, one major difference between today and the 1980s is the mandatory participation in union activities.

Today (although the state education ministry says the restructuring has taken this power away from the union), los puntos sindicales, the union point system, determines whether teachers can change their job category, school, or school zone, move between levels, and it also determines benefits, such as union-sponsored personal loans.

How do you see the Oaxacan struggle relating to the national context in Mexico? After Ayotzinapa, and the struggle for the missing forty-three students, have things changed in Oaxaca?

Unfortunately, Local 22 didn’t immediately join the movement for the missing forty-three students. The lack of solidarity among resistance and left movements in Oaxaca and Mexico generally is symptomatic.

After 2006, it has been virtually impossible to organize and unite the Left in Oaxaca. Many of us teachers have watched and followed the Ayotzinapa issue, and we are part of that movement, but not formally as Local 22.

It was only during the one-year anniversary of the disappearances that Local 22 made official statements of solidarity. I remember the first national teachers’ action in Mexico City after the disappearances; there was nothing in the official accords or assembly demands about Ayotzinapa.

The march was full of signs and banners addressing what had happened but it wasn’t even discussed, let alone made an official demand, by the organized union movement.

And why do you think the union leaders haven’t focused on supporting Ayotizinapa?

I’m not sure. Since I joined the union I’ve noticed a lack of interest in other movements and a basic lack of solidarity.

And that dynamic, of not taking up demands of other movements, contributes to the notion that the union is only concerned about its own interests. You can’t ask for support if you’re not supporting other struggles.

Exactly.

This brings me to a longstanding frustration with the reporting on teachers’ struggles in Mexico that leaves out important conflicts and problems within the union. As Benjamin Smith points out, there are problems within the dissident union movement itself, like the ability of teachers to pass their job on to their children, corrupt internal arbitration practices, and pay scales that benefit the union hierarchy.

What we shouldn’t lose sight of is that, even with the problems within the CNTE leadership, we cannot blame teachers themselves entirely for the education situation in Oaxaca or Mexico.

And there are real fights within Local 22 for internal union reform and alternative education reform. For example, Local 22 has developed a counter-proposal to the government’s so-called reform over the last few years.

Our counter-proposal is an effort from the union and the base-level membership, organized around two important points. First, it proposes a curriculum based in the local culture and context of Oaxaca, which is diverse, indigenous, and multicultural. Secondly, it is based in the theories of critical pedagogy.

Of the most important changes it proposes, in my view, regards the system of teacher evaluation. The union’s proposal eliminates standardized testing (there will be exams but the use of standardized exams will be abolished) to evaluate either students or teachers. It focuses entirely on the qualitative aspect of education.

I served as advisor for a process in which indigenous teachers from all over the state of Oaxaca discussed and debated methods of evaluation that fit indigenous education and what we aim to accomplish as indigenous teachers.

“No to the Education Reform! Only Books will Bring this country out of Barbarism.” Street graffiti stenciled on offices of Banamex, a Mexican bank. “No to the Education Reform! Only Books will Bring this country out of Barbarism.” Street graffiti stenciled on offices of Banamex, a Mexican bank. Shane Dillingham / Jacobin

With the imposition of the new law, our proposal has lost steam. Now there is no openness on the part of the government or education authorities to even listen to our proposals.

In terms of the crisis of participation and distancing between the base and the leadership within Local 22, that is something far too complex to be solved with one or two actions but I would venture two reforms that, to me, would be fundamental in shifting toward a more democratic and militant unionism.

Within the union, one important change would be to eliminate the mechanisms of coerced participation. The teachers’ movement of the 1980s had a genuine interest from the bases in fighting against union corruption and in favor of the people and their right to a public and quality education.

Teachers participated with conviction. They slept on sidewalks waiting for the results of the state union assembly and valued the actions decided there.

Over time, that same leadership promoted a system of coerced participation, in which, through the point system, gave benefits or transfers, even salary raises, to those with the highest points.

This has meant that in the last few years union activities continued to have large levels of participation but not necessarily due to political conviction.

The other important change would be for us teachers to regain the parents and general public as allies in our struggle. In many communities the teachers left to participate in union actions without explaining to the parents why they did so or convincing them of the importance of their activities.

In the recent struggles it’s encouraging that more parents seem to be upset about how the reform will affect public education and are joining us in the streets.

It’s important that the school becomes once again part of the community and that the community itself becomes part of the education system.

For example, since June 19 of this year many NGOS, be it local, national, or international, have shown their solidarity with the movement and rejected the government’s use of police repression.

As I mentioned, the support of the communities and parents’ groups is decisive to reinvigorating the movement and one has begun to see that in the recent highway blockades, maintained for many days by parents and community members.

That popular participation is what held back the federal police across the state. The state violence over the weekend has only released a bigger wave of support from local communities.

What you raised at the beginning, that one cannot isolate the teachers from the broader social context in Mexico, seems crucial. Even the OECD, whose statistics are trotted out frequently to describe the poor quality of education in Mexico, notes the statistical correlation between poverty and education outcomes in southern Mexico.

The notion that poorly administered teacher evaluations will solve this problem is laughable and that teachers are primarily to blame for poor education conditions in their communities absurd.

Precisely. One has to keep in mind the structural poverty in this country.

The education reform doesn’t address the physical conditions of public schools, classroom technology, continuous teacher training, nor the distinct pedagogies that might fit particular regional contexts throughout the country. For me poverty is the principle problem affecting the education system.

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