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.
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:
Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool: Hundreds of professors across the country support Seattle educators in their day of action
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)
- Curtis Acosta, Education for Liberation Network & University of Arizona South
- Alma Flor Ada, Ph. D., Professor Emerita, School of Education, University of San Francisco
- Annie Adamian, Assistant Professor, California State University, Chico
- Jennifer D. Adams, Associate Professor Science Ed and Earth and Environmental Sciences, CUNY
- Tara L. Affolter, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College
- Jean Aguilar-Valdez, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
- Lauren Anderson, Associate Professor of Education, Connecticut College
- Subini Annamma, Assistant Professor, Special Education, University of Kansas
- Zandrea Ambrose, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
- Nancy Ares, Associate Professor, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
- Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, Teacher Educator–Montclair State University; EdD student at Rutgers Graduate School of Education
- Rick Ayers, Asst. Prof of Education, U of San Francisco.
- William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education (retired), University of Illinois Chicago
- Wayne Au, Associate Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington Bothell
- Jeff Bale, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
- Megan Bang, Associate Professor, learning Sciences and Human Development, Secondary Teacher Education
- Lesley Bartlett, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Teddi Beam-Conroy, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, University of Washington
- Lee Anne Bell, Professor Emerita, Barnard College
- John Benner PhC, University of Washington, College of Education
- Jeremy Benson, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Rhode Island College
- Dr Berta Rosa Berriz, Arts in Learning Division,Lesley University
- Dan Berger, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Margarita Bianco, associate professor, School of Education and Human Development, University of Colorado Denver
- Anne Blanchard, PhD, Senior Instructor, Western Washington University.
- Whitney G. Blankenship, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies & History, Rhode Island College.
- Aaron Bodle, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, James Madison University
- Joshua Bornstein, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Felician University.
- Samuel Brower, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston
- Anthony Brown, Associate Professor, University of Texas Austin
- Kristen Buras, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
- Dolores Calderon, Associate Professor, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington university
- Timothy G. Cashman Associate professor, social studies education, University of Texas at El Paso
- Keith C. Catone, Principal Associate, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
- Charusheela, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Minerva S. Chávez, Ph. D., Director, Single Subject Credential Program, Associate Professor, Department of Secondary Education, California State University, Fullerton
- Linda Christensen, Director Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark College.
- Christian W. Chun, Assistant Professor of Culture, Identity and Language Learning, University of Massachusetts Boston
- Carrie Cifka-Herrera Ph.D. University California Santa Cruz
- Donna-Marie Cole-Malott, PhD candidate, Pennsylvania State University
- Ross Collin, Associate Professor of English Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Rebekah Cordova, PhD, College of Education, University of Florida
- Chris Crowley, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Wayne State University
- Cindy Cruz, Associate Professor of Education, UC Santa Cruz
- Mary Jane Curry, University of Rochester
- Karam Dana, Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Chela Delgado, adjunct faculty in San Francisco State University Educational Leadership graduate program
- Robert L. Dahlgren, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, SUNY Fredonia
- Noah De Lissovoy, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas at Austin
- Betsy DeMulder, Professor, College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University
- Robin DiAngelo, Adjunct Faculty, University of Washington School of Social Work.
- Maurice E. Dolberry, PhD. Lecturer, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington-Bothell
- Michael J. Dumas, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.
- Jody Early, Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Washington Bothell
- Kimberly Early, adjunct faculty, Education department at Highline College & Applied Behavioral Science department at Seattle Central
- Education for Liberation
- Kathy Emery, PhD, Lecturer at San Francisco State University
- Joseph J Ferrare, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
- Michelle Fine, Professor, City University of New York Graduate Center
- Liza Finkel, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Lewis & Clark College Graduate School of Education and Counseling
- Kara S. Finnigan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education Policy, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester
- Ryan Flessner, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Butler University
- Susana Flores, PhD Assistant Professor, Curriculum, Supervision and Educational Leadership at Central Washington University
- Kristen B. French, Associate Professor & Director, Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, Woodring College of Education, Western Washington University
- Victoria Frye, Associate Medical Professor, City University of New York School of Medicine
- Derek R. Ford, Assistant Professor of Education Studies, DePauw University
- Jill Freidberg, part time lecturer, Media and Communication Studies, University of Washington Bothell.
- James A. Gambrell, Assistant Professor of Practice, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
- Arline García, Spanish Instructor, Highline College
- Mónica G. GarcíaAssistant Professor Secondary Education, California State University Northridge
- Brian Gibbs Assistant Professor of Education University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- David Goldstein, Senior Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell.
- Julie Gorlewski, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Alexandro Jose Gradilla, Associate Professor, Chicana/o Studies, CSU Fullerton.
- Sandy Grande, Professor of Education and Director of the center for the comparative study of race and ethnicity, Connecticut College
- Allison Green, English Department, Highline College
- Kiersten Greene, Assistant Professor of Literacy Education, State University of New York at New Paltz
- Susan Gregson, Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Cincinnati
- Martha Groom, Professor, IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Rico Gutstein, University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
- Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Michigan State University
- Amy Hagopian at University of Washington School of Public Health.
- Jessica James Hale, Doctoral Research Fellow, Mathematics Education, Georgia State University Elizabeth Hanson, ESL Professor, Shoreline Community
- May Hara, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Framingham State University
- Nicholas Hartlep, Assistant Professor of Urban Education, Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN
- Jill Heiney-Smith, Instructor in Teacher Education, Director of Field Placements, Seattle Pacific University
- Mark Helmsing, Coordinator of Social Studies Education, University of Wyoming
- Kevin Lawrence Henry, Jr., Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies & Practice, College of Education, University of Arizona.
- Erica Hernandez-Scott, Master in Teaching Faculty, Evergreen State College
- Josh Iddings, Assistant Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies, Virginia Military Institute
- Ann M. Ishimaru, Assistant Professor, University of Washington
- Dimpal Jain, Assistant Professor, California State University, Northridge
- Brian Jones, City University of New York, Graduate Center
- Denisha Jones, Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, Trinity Washington University
- Beth Kalikoff, Associate Professor, Univ. of Washington Seattle
- Richard Kahn, Core Faculty in Education, Antioch University Los Angeles
- Daniel Katz, Chair, Department of Educational Studies, Seton Hall University
- Mary Klehr, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education
- Courtney Koestler, Director of the OHIO Center for Equity in Math and Science, Ohio University
- Jill Koyama, Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies and Practice, University of Arizona
- Chris Knaus, Associate Professor, University of Washington Tacoma
- Matthew Knoester, Associate Professor, University of Evansville
- Rita Kohli, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Riverside
- Ron Krabill, Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Patricia Krueger-Henney, Assistant Professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of Massachusetts Boston.
- Saili Kulkarni College of Education Assistant Professor Cal State Dominguez Hills
- Scott Kurashige, Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Gloria Ladson-Billings Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education UW-Madison
- Carrie Lanza, MSW and PhD, adjunct faculty, University of Washington Bothell
- Douglas Larkin, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
- Alyson L. Lavigne, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt university
- Clifford Lee, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
- Kari Lerum, Associate Professor, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Washington
- Pauline Lipman, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois-Chicago
- Katrina Liu, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, University of Nevada Las Vegas
- Lisa W. Loutzenheiser, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
- David Low, Assistant professor of literacy education, California State University Fresno
- John Lupinacci, Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching & Learning, Washington State University
- Wendy Luttrell, Professor, Urban Education & Critical Social Psychology, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
- Aurolyn Luykx, Assoc. Professor of Anthropology & Education, University of Texas at El Paso.
- Sheila Macrine, Professor, Umass Dartmouth
- Tomás Alberto Madrigal, Ph.D., Tacoma Pierce County Health Department
- Jan Maher, Senior Scholar, Institute for Ethics in Public Life, State University of NY at Plattsburgh
- Curry Malott, Associate Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- Gerardo Mancilla, Ph.D., Director of Education Administration and Leadership, School of Education Faculty, Edgewood College
- Roxana Marachi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, San Jose State University
- Fernando Marhuenda, PhD, Professor in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Valencia, in Spain
- Tyson Marsh, Associate Professor, Seattle University
- Carlos Martínez-Cano, PhD Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
- Edwin Mayorga, Assistant Professor, Educational Studies, Swarthmore College
- Kate McCoy, Associate Professor of Educational Foundations, SUNY New Paltz
- Cynthia McDermott.EdD., Professor and Regional Director, Antioch University Los Angeles
- Jacqueline T. McDonnough, Ph.D., Associate Professor Science Education, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Kathleen McInerney, Professor, School of Education, Saint Xavier University
- Deborah Meier, MacArthur fellow, NYU fellow
- José Alfredo Menjivar, Doctoral Student, CUNY, Graduate Center and Humanities Alliance Fellow, LaGuardia Community College
- Paul Chamness Miller, Professor of International Liberal Arts, Akita International University
- Jed Murr, Full-Time Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Bill Muth, Associate Professor, Adult Learning and Literacy, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Kate Napolitan, Teaching Associate, University of Washington Seattle
- Jason M. Naranjo Assistant Professor, Special Education University of Washington Bothell
- Pedro E. Nava, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Mills College
- Network for Public Education
- Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Tammy Oberg De La Garza, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt University
- Gilda L. Ochoa, Professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, Pomona College
- Margo Okazawa-Rey Professor Emerita, San Francisco State University
- Susan Opotow, PhD Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
- Rachel Oppenheim, Director and Core Faculty, School of Education, Antioch University Seattle
- Joy Oslund, Coordinator of directed teaching, assistant professor, Madonna University, Livonia, MI
- Sandra L. Osorio, Assistant Professor, School of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University
- Callie Palmer, WSU doctoral student/adjunct faculty at Linn Benton Community College
- Django Paris, associate professor, department of teacher education, Michigan State University
- Hillary Parkhouse, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Leigh Patel, Associate Professor, Boston College.
- Summer Pennell, Assistant Professor of English Education, Truman State University
- Patricia Perez, Professor, California State University Fullerton
- Emery Petchauer, Associate Professor. College of Ed. Michigan State University
- Bree Picower Associate Professor Montclair State University
- Farima Pour-Khorshid, Teacher Educator, University of San Francisco and PhD Candidate at University of California, Santa Cruz
- Shameka Powell, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies, Department of Education, Tufts University
- Rebecca M Price, Associate Professor, UW Bothell
- Sarah A. Robert, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo (SUNY)
- Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education, Michigan State University
- Rosalie M. Romano, Associate Professor Emerita, Western Washington University
- Ricardo D. Rosa, PhD., Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies,, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth
- Wayne Ross, Professor, University of British Columbia
- Dennis L. Rudnick, Associate Director of Multicultural Education and Research, IUPUI
- Lilliana Patricia Saldaña, Associate Professor, Mexican American Studies, University of Texas San Antonio
- Jen Sandler, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
- Jeff Sapp, professor of education, California State University Dominguez Hills
- Alexandra Schindel, Asst Professor, University at Buffalo
- Ann Schulte, Professor of Education, CSU Chico
- Simone Schweber, Goodman Professor of Education, UW-Madison
- Déana Scipio, Postdoctoral fellow, ERC & Chèche Konnen Center at TERC
- Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
- Doug Selwyn, Professor of Education, State University of New York
- Julie Shayne, Senior Lecturer, University of Washington Bothell
- Sarah Shear, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, Penn State Altoona
- Mira Shimabukuro, Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Bothell
- Janelle Silva, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Carol Simmons. Retired educator, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle University Professor, Seattle Community College, Western State University, City University Professor.
- Dana Simone, Instructor, Foundational Studies in Education, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- George Sirrakos, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
- Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita, California State University Monterey Bay
- Timothy D. Slekar, Dean, College of Education, Edgewood College, Madison, WI
- Beth Sondel, Assistant Professor, Department of Instruction and Learning, University of Pittsburgh
- Debbie Sonu, Associate Professor of Education, City University of New York
- Mariana Souto-Manning, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Teaching, Teachers College Columbia
- Jeremy Stoddard, Associate Professor, College of William & Mary
- David Stovall, Professor, University of Illinois Chicago
- Rolf Straubhaar, Assistant Research Scientist, University of Georgia.
- Katie Strom, Assistant Prof Educational Leadership, Cal State Univ East Bay
- Katy Swalwell, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Iowa State University
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor, Dept of African American Studies, Princeton University
- Monica Taylor, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
- Cathryn Teasley, Assistant Professor, University of A Coruña (Spain)
- Adai Tefera, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Clarens La Mont Terry, Associate Professor, Occidental College
- Amoshaun Toft, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Sara Tolbert, Assistant professor, College of Education, University of Arizona
- Maria Torre, the City University of New York Graduate Center
- Diane Torres-Velasquez, Associate Professor, University of New Mexico
- Victoria Trinder, Clinical Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
- Eve Tuck, Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies in Education, OISE, University of Toronto
- Carrie Tzou, Associate Professor, University of Washington Bothell
- Angela Valenzuela, professor of Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin
- Manka Varghese, Associate Professor, University of Washington College of Education
- Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Professor, California State University Sacramento
- Michael Vavrus, Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies (Education, Political Economy, History), The Evergreen State College
- Verónica Vélez, Assistant Professor and Director, Education and Social Justice Minor and Program, Western Washington University
- Maiyoua Vang, Associate Professor, College of Education, California State University, Sacramento
- Michael Viola, Assistant Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
- Donna Vukelich Selva, Edgewood College, Madison WI
- Catherine C. Wadbrook, MA, Med, Assistant Professor, Department of English and Journalism, Austin Community College
- Mimi Wallace, Assistant Professor, Secondary Education, McNeese State University
- Camille Walsh, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington Bothell
- Lois Weiner, Professor, Director, Urban Education and Teacher Unionism Policy Project New Jersey City University
- Melissa Weiner, Associate Professor of Sociology, College of the Holy Cross
- Michael Wickert, Professor of English an Education, Southwestern College, Chula Vista, CA
- Gabe Winer, English/ESOL Department Co-chairBerkeley City College
- Min Yu, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University
- Ken Zeichner Boeing Professor of Teacher Education, University of Washington Seattle
- Shelley Zion, Professor, Urban Education, Rowan University
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 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.