Category Archives: School-to-prison-pipeline

Philly Educators Launch Black Lives Matter At School Week

Philly Educators Launch Black Lives Matter At School Week

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Today, educators in Philadelphia are launching the Black Lives Matter week of action, continuing to build the Black Lives Matter At School movement that has now reached school districts across the country. During this week-long campaign, teachers will dedicate more instructional time to issues of racial and social justice, diversity, and community building.

The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool movement erupted in Seattle on October 19th of this school year when thousands of educators wore Black Lives Matter Shirts and many held discussions and taught lessons about institutional racism.   Now the Philly Caucus of Working Educators Racial Justice Committee has organized a powerful week of action to address the many intersectional identities within the Black community.

Here’s a list of the week’s activities and themes:

Jan. 23: Restorative Justice, Empathy, and Loving Engagement
A city-wide event starting in the classrooms, where all schools and educators are encouraged to allocate at least an hour of their school day/lesson plan for educating and empowering students on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jan. 24: Diversity and Globalism (#EthnicStudiesPHL)
This first official meeting will create a work plan for educators and encourage the exploration and expansion of ethnic studies in the Philadelphia area. It will be held at 5 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Green, 1701 Green St.

Jan. 25: Transgender-Affirming, Queer-Affirming, and Collective Value
This event – titled “How to Bridge the Gap Between Parents/Families and Schools” – will be held as a town meeting at City Hall. Organizers say it will be a community conversation about the present disconnect and growing gap between parents and school staff.

Jan. 26: Intergenerational, Black Families, and Black Villages – screening of the movie 13th
The movie focuses on how the U.S. criminal justice system has unjustifiably and unequally imprisoned African Americans through the 13th Amendment, which made slavery and involuntary servitude illegal “except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” After the movie screening, there will be a talkback discussion regarding intergenerational communities and the disruption of the Western nuclear family.  This event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at Edward T. Steel Elementary, 4301 Wayne Ave.

Jan. 27: Black Women and Unapologetically Black
A panel will discuss “Beauty, Society, & More” and the effects on Black girls and women. This event will start at 5 p.m. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, 3700 Walnut St., Room 203.

Jan. 28: Conversation & Closing Panel Discussion
After screening clips from the movies Pariah and Moonlight, there will be a conversation about LGBTQ people’s lives as they relate to the film and the Black Lives Matter movement. This event will be held from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Ritter Annex at Temple University

The closing panel will discuss “Next Steps: How Does the Work Continue Beyond Black Lives Matter Week?” from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Temple, Tuttleman Learning Center, 1809 North 13th St. 

Black Lives Matter Week is co-sponsored by the Teacher Action Group Philadelphia and is also endorsed by many education organizations, including Parents United for Public Education, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Children’s March, Philly Socialists, Teachers Lead Philly, Youth United for Change, and United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators (UCORE). Organizations that support these invaluable school and community dialogues can sign up to endorse here.

In addition, dozes of scholars and professors have signed on to a statement of support for the Philly Black Lives Matter At School action. You can read the statement below and if you are a professor you can add your name by visiting their website.

Academics Sign Statement of Support for Black Lives Matter Week

We, the undersigned professors and scholars, publicly express our support for and solidarity with teachers and community members and their January 23-28 action in recognition of making Black Student Lives Matter in our schools.

We believe that these goals are vital for educators, parents, students, and all communities in order to…

  • create a space for introspection and dialogue around the 13 guiding principles;
  • build deeper connections between educators, parents, students, and community organizations;
  • stand in support of national organizing supporting Black Lives Matter;
  • empower students and student groups to play a leading role in this week and moving forward.

As this work continues beyond January 28, we support the Racial Justice Statement written by the Caucus of Working Educators, which asserts that “purposeful action needs to be taken in order to eliminate the adverse outcomes derived from perpetual structural racism evident in public education.”

This ongoing work will promote equality; the value of human life; and educational, political, and social justice.  It requires us to develop the knowledge and actions necessary to eliminate the barriers that structural prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and bias create in Philadelphia and beyond.  We are committed to teaching, learning, and culture in our classrooms that reflect these missions and goals, and to our role in building the leadership of our students to live by them.  The survival and empowerment of all communities demands this.

Signed,

Rhiannon Maton, Ph.D., Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Mark Stern, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Amy Brown, Ph.D., Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Sonia M. Rosen, Ph.D., Arcadia University School of Education

Camika Royal, Ph.D., Loyola University Maryland School of Education

Imani Perry, Ph.D., J.D. Princeton University Department of African American Studies

Kathleen Riley, Ph.D., Department of Literacy, West Chester University

Casey Bohrman, PhD, MSW Undergraduate Social Work, West Chester University

Seth Kahn, PhD, Department of English, West Chester University

Katie Solic, Ph.D., Department of Literacy, West Chester University

Kristen B.Crossney, PhD, Department of Public Policy and Administration, West Chester University

Gabriel A. Piser, PhD, Ohio State University

Tabitha Dell’Angelo, PhD, The College of New Jersey

Jill Hermann-Wilmarth, PhD, Western Michigan University

David I. Backer, PhD, West Chester University

Laura A. Roy, Ph.D., Penn State Harrisburg

Erin Hurt, PhD, Department of English, West Chester University

Craig Stutman, PhD., Department of Liberal Arts,

Delaware Valley University

Timothy R. Dougherty, Ph.D., Department of English, West Chester University

Edwin Mayorga, Ph.D. Dept. of Educational Studies and Program in Latin American & Latinx Studies, Swarthmore College

Miriam Fife, Ed.D.

Kira J. Baker-Doyle, Ph.D. Arcadia University School of Education

Jessica A. Solyom, Ph.D., Center for Indian Education, Arizona State University

Benjamin J. Muller, Ph.D., King’s University College at Western University (Canada)

Chonika Coleman-King, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Bruce Campbell Jr., Ph.D. Arcadia University School of Education

Erin Whitney, Ed.D., School of Education, California State University, Chico

Susan Bickerstaff, Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University

Katie Clonan-Roy, Ph.D., Colby College

Jerusha Conner, Ph.D., Villanova University

Jill E. Schwarz, Ph.D., The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)

Anita Chikkatur, Ph.D., Carleton College, Minnesota

Kim Dean, Ph.D., Arcadia University

Rick Eckstein, Ph.D., Villanova University

Ali MIchael, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Kelly Welch, Ph.D., Villanova University

Shivaani Selvaraj, D.Ed., Penn State Center for Engaged Scholarship, Philadelphia

Amy Stornaiuolo, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Sukey Blanc, Ph.D., Creative Research & Evaluation LCC

Vicki McGinley, PhD, Department of Special Education, West Chester University

Rob Connor, PhD, CSA

Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, Ph.D., Professor and Former Founding Dean, School of Education, Arcadia University

Brian Lozenski, Ph.D., Educational Studies Department, Macalester College

Kathy Schultz, Ph.D. Dean and Professor, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder

Jonathan Shandell, Arcadia University

Dean J. Johnson, Ph.D., Peace and Conflict Studies Program, West Chester University
Dean Rachael Murphey-Brown, PhD, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University

Lan Ngo, PhD, Critical Writing Program and Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Jessica Whitelaw, PhD, University of Pennsylvania

Ashon Crawley, PhD, University of California, Riverside

Shaleigh Kwok, PhD, Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Rochelle Peterson, School of Education, Arcadia University

Keely McCarthy Ph.D.,  Chestnut Hill College

Kathy Hall, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Marc Meola, MA, MLS, Community College of Philadelphia

Jamie A. Thomas, PhD, Dept. of Linguistics, Program in Black Studies, Swarthmore College

Steven Davis, PhD, Dept. of English, Community College of Philadelphia

Anna (Anne) Ríos-Rojas, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Encarna Rodríguez, Ph.D., Saint Joseph’s University

Monica L. Mercado, Ph.D., Department of History, Colgate University

Debora Broderick, EdD., Chester County Intermediate Unit

Chandra Russo, PhD, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Colgate University

Ali Stefanik, SERVE 101 Coordinator, Office of Student Engagement, Philadelphia University

Sally Wesley Bonet, Ph.D., Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Emily A. Greytak, PhD.

Danny M. Barreto, Ph.D., Colgate University

Rosemary A. Barbera, Ph.D., MSS, Lasalle University

Rachel Throop, Ph.D., Education Studies, Barnard College

Caitlin J. Taylor, Ph.D., La Salle University

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Ph.D., African American studies department, Princeton University

Cheryl A. Hyde, PhD, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Jessie M. Timmons, LCSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Mansura Karim, LSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Emeka  Nwadiora, LLM., MED[c]., MSW., PhD., JD., PhD/DSW, College of Public Health, Temple University

Adam Miyashiro, Ph.D., Stockton University

Susan Thomas, PhD, International Studies, American University

Miguel Muñoz-Laboy, DrPH, MPH, School of Social Work and College of Public Health, Temple University

Debora Kodish, Ph.D., Philadelphia Folklore Project, retired

Dana Morrison Simone, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Delaware and West Chester University

Lauren Ware Stark, MA, PhD Candidate, University of Virginia

Richard Liuzzi, Ed.D. student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Martha Carey, PhD, Urban Education, Temple University

Jen Bradley, Ph.D., Educational Studies, Swarthmore College

Susan L. DeJarnatt, Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Ryan Villagran, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Katie Pak, Ed.D student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Jody Cohen, Bryn Mawr College

Anne Pomerantz, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Len Rieser, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Sherisse L. Laud-Hammond, MSW, School of Social Work, Temple University

Ryan M. Good, Ph.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor, Temple University

Monica L. Clark, M.S., Ph.D. Student & Undergrad Gen Ed Instructor, College of Ed, Temple University

Maia Cucchiara, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Urban Education, Temple University

Stephen Danley, DPhil, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Rutgers-Camden University

Juliet Curci, PhD, Temple University College of Education

Elaine Leigh, Ph.D. Student, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Lynnette Mawhinney, Ph.D., Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey

 

#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

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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.

 

“It’s about collective struggle”: Interview with Jesse Hagopian on education & the movement for Black Lives

SW_Hagopian

Teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian. Photo by Jose Trujillo.

As the one-year anniversary of a Seattle police officer pepper spraying me on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, I sat down with the Seattle Weekly reporter, Casey Jaywork, to discuss ongoing struggles for social justice. Here are my reflections on police brutality, the intersection of race and class, and disrupting the school-to-prison-pipeline.

Teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian. Photo by Jose Trujillo.

You Don’t Have to Be a Klan Member to Be Racist

A conversation with Jesse Hagopian.

By Casey Jaywork Tue., Jan 12 2016 at 06:07PM

Last year, teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian broke the Internet—but not in a good way. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Hagopian was randomly pepper sprayed by a panicked cop. Video of the incident went viral, adding yet another chapter to the Seattle Police Department’s long history of excessive force. Hagopian is currently suing the city.

Teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian. Photo by Jose Trujillo.

But there’s more to this teacher than his receipt of SPD’s favored less-than-lethal weapon. With another MLK Day approaching, Seattle Weekly sat down with Hagopian to talk about race and justice in Seattle.

SW: You’re a teacher and advocate, but you may be best known for getting pepper sprayed during last year’s MLK march.

JH: It’s rough to be known for your worst day of your life. It’s hard that random people come up and say, ‘Oh, you were the guy who got pepper sprayed.’ To be known for such a low moment in my life can be difficult, but I think it’s also important that that moment serve as a lesson to our city: that nobody’s safe when we have unaccountable police.

You still feel like that officer and SPD have not been held accountable.

Absolutely…[Prior to getting pepper sprayed, I gave a speech about how] those who claim to honor [MLK] and degrade the Black Lives Matter movement are fraudulent. The words I spoke that day were about how King would be in the streets with the Black Lives Matter activists demanding justice. Many people today disparage Black Lives Matter activists–sometimes calling them thugs–but yet they like to give hollow remembrance to Martin Luther King.

He’s kind of become a teddy bear.

Right? Like a tame icon. And I wanted to call out that contradiction. I just think that it’s ironic that only a few minutes after I spoke those words, I was preparing to leave the demonstration to go to my son’s two year old birthday party, on the phone with my mother coordinating the ride, and an officer just–clearly without provocation, out of the blue–sprays me in the face and turns what was one of my most proud and joyous days into a deeply painful experience…The physical pain was one matter, but what was truly painful was trying to explain this to my kids at the birthday party.

When a citizen has definitive evidence of police misconduct and wrongdoing, there has to be accountability for that officer. I had every possible advantage to be able to prove my case, advantages that most people will never have–when they take stands for justice, or when they just live their lives and encounter police. I had video documentation. I had many eyewitnesses. I have a lot of supporters in the community. And I had the [Office of Professional Accountability] rule in my favor. What more do I need to lay out a case that there’s a clear misconduct and wrongdoing? And yet the chief of police intervenes in my case and downgrades the discipline to the lowest possible form, overruling the [OPA]. I think that’s a real shame, and something that has to be corrected if there’s going to be justice.

How have you seen the Black Lives Matter movement change over time?

I think that we’ve seen an ebb and flow as different high profile cases go, but I would say that beyond the media representation of the movement, there’s been ongoing organizing of people committed to making black lives matter that might not be as visible but is definitely important organizing that’s deepening people’s understanding of the roots of institutional racism, and is also laying the basis for future, bigger collective struggle for police accountability, and also to broaden the Black Lives Matter movement beyond police accountability–to say that if we really want black lives to matter, then there has to be housing for African Americans. There has to be job programs, there has to be education that empowers our youth to solve real problems like racism in their community, and not just to score high on a test or be ready for a low-wage job in the economy.

In terms of racial justice, what have been the most notable events in Seattle over the past year?

The struggle against the youth jail has united a lot of important activists…I’ve brought that issue to the teachers’ union. That discussion is ongoing…

Garfield began working with some different trainers on [restorative justice programs], and we’re now this year working on peace circles with the staff so they can really gain a strong understanding of the power of being able to solve problems collectively. It is my hope that we can roll out a full pilot of restorative justice in the coming years, and try to move away from zero tolerance. The important thing is that it actually gets support from the school district, and resources and financial backing, because to make restorative justice more than just a box to check…I think it has to actually have full-time coordinators who are trained in restorative practices. There has to be training for students and faculty around those kinds of practices, that can actually help students solve their problems. Rather than just punish them for transgressions, let’s actually empower them to solve the problem.

What would that look like, compared to how things work now?

Seattle public schools suspend African American students at four times the rate of white students for the very same infractions. So we know that there’s dramatically disproportionate discipline, and many schools have zero tolerance policies where you’re immediately suspended for different infractions. And oftentimes, it’s very discretionary for the administrations to perceive student behavior and make a judgement that they should be excluded from school for a period of time. And then the students miss school, they fall behind in their work, they become more bitter because the problem hasn’t been solved, and they often come back more likely to engage in the very same behavior and more likely not to pass their class or graduate. We know that that is part of the school-to-prison pipeline, where students who don’t graduate then turn to survival crimes, sometimes, because they aren’t the most desirable to be employed without a diploma.

We want to sever the school-to-prison pipeline by putting restorative practices, which is bringing together the person that’s been injured and the person who’s been accused and actually make them do something much harder than stay home from school: make them face their problem with mentors and peers. Have them work through the issue, have them set goals, have them collectively figure out what a just resolution would be. That’s a much harder practice, but it demonstrates to our kids that our school actually cares about you. Not just when you’re scoring well on a test, not just when you’re doing well in school, but when you’ve made a mistake, when you’re down, when nobody else cares about you or people are angry at you–we care about you enough to help you solve this problem. That’s how we transform student lives and create better people through education. I’m excited to try to push for those kinds of practices. One of the triumphs of the strike this year was that the union pushed for race and equity teams and we won in the contract having thirty schools have race and equity teams. These teams can form with parents and students and teachers and community members to make recommendations about how to undo institutional racism at their school.

Just recommendations?

Yeah. I would hope that those recommendations would be taken seriously by the school district and by the administration, and I would hope that many schools look at moving toward restorative practices if those race and equity teams find that their school is part of the disproportionate suspension rate. I think that one of the functions of that equity team could be to begin to organize restorative justice practices in the school.

The strike and the fight for these race and equity teams should be seen through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement. I think one of the high points of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement was a letter that many of the leading Seattle Black Lives Matter activists put out in solidarity with the strike, saying, ‘Your fight for public education is our fight, and your struggle for these race and equity teams are a prerequisite for having a culturally competent education.’ I was very proud of the Seattle movement when that letter was released.

The restorative justice model sounds great, but it seems like political will and funding make it a longshot. Can this actually happen?

The exciting thing is that it is being rolled out in innovative school districts around the country. Just a few weeks ago, I had an incredible opportunity to speak at a forum with Fania Davis, who’s Angela Davis’ sister, and the young people that she has been working with in the Oakland public school system. They have had incredible results with the restorative justice movement there–in terms of dramatically reducing suspension rates in the district overall, and at some schools completely eliminating suspensions altogether.

One young man who spoke on the panel described how, in preschool, he had been suspended because he was having anxiety as a four year old when his mom would leave. And his mom left him with a bag of Skittles and said, ‘Every time you’re worried about where I am, pop one of these Skittles and then you’ll know that I’m thinking of you and I love you.’ The teacher caught him eating Skittles in class and confiscated them, and gave them to the principal who put them in [their] desk. He was crushed, but he had an idea: he saw the window open, so he crawled through the principal’s window and got his Skittles back.

He wasn’t just suspended–he was suspended for theft. For taking back his Skittles. And he said from that day on, he didn’t trust school, and he didn’t trust those in authority. He was often suspended, and in and out of school. It wasn’t until he landed in one of the schools that Fania Davis was working at–that had a restorative practice, that welcomed him in from day one, with a circle to find out who he was and what mattered to him–that he realized that school could be a community that’s about supporting you, even if you’re African American, instead of punishing you. That’s what we have to move toward. It’s being done in communities around the country. The fact that we’re not doing it right now [in Seattle] is because there isn’t the will amongst those in power.

You mean the superintendent and school board?

The superintendent, for sure. I’m happy that we have a new school board. We just had an election, and I actually expect that the new school board will take unprecedented action and try to [pursue] a dangerous course that our past school board and officials weren’t brave enough to tackle. We can’t have any more incentive than we’ve had. It’s time.

The students in the Black Student Unions around the city are ready for a move away from zero tolerance and have told many teachers across the city and other students that it’s time we move there. I think that they will definitely raise their voice on that issue and many others, to help the school board move as quickly as possible.

When you say “maintaining institutional racism,” do you think legislators are consciously trying to do that?

All the major, powerful institutions that run our society have replicated racism generation after generation. You can see that slavery was ended, but segregation continued. Not just in the Jim Crow south, but through the practice of redlining. Banks would exclude lending to African Americans outside of prescribed areas like the Central District. [Then] redlining ends, but you have mass incarceration…It doesn’t take Klan members to organize that type of racist practice. It just takes people continuing the status quo, putting the needs of communities of color last, not funding public programs…We have to have a conscious effort to undo institutional racism or it will be maintained.

So if I’m a legislator, I can do racism by just being a cog in the machine without being a racist in a subjective, personal sense?

Absolutely. It doesn’t take having overt racist ideas to continue to vote for a budget that primarily incarcerates African Americans and other people of color. We have to transform the institutions dramatically. That, to me, would look like fully-funding education, diverting the funds in King County toward housing programs and health care rather than toward mass incarceration.

Can white students join Black Student Unions?

Absolutely. And we usually have a mix of backgrounds that come to our weekly meetings. The [BSU] at Garfield has a mission of empowering black students and confronting racism. Anybody who’s interested in that mission is more than welcome to participate. We’ve seen some great collaboration between Muslim students and the Muslim Student Association and the BSU and students of all backgrounds supporting.

Have you seen big changes in the thinking of white students who’ve become involved in a BSU?

There was a really powerful moment when there was a non-indictment of [Officer] Darren Wilson [in 2014, for killing Michael Brown]. Over a thousand students walked out of Garfield, of all different backgrounds and races. And it wasn’t just Garfield that walked out: Roosevelt, which is overwhelmingly white, had a walkout, and several other schools around Seattle. It showed the potential for the Black Lives Matter movement and message to galvanize a wide spectrum of society and of young people. I think that that is a lesson that our movement should look at, and work on organizing all those people that knew that there had to be justice for Mike Brown.

If I’m not a student, what’s a concrete way that I can help dismantle institutional racism?

The campaign against the youth jail. We need our hundreds of millions of dollars set up for tutoring programs and job programs, not more incarceration. So joining with campaigns that are being waged around that would be really important.

Participating in struggles around school funding and looking at restorative justice programs with the school district would be campaigns that I would highly recommend. I think the groups doing those campaigns are continuing to organize, and it’s my hope that those kinds of campaigns become bigger and more visible and begin more outreach to wider sections of Seattle.

How can white people talk about racism? It sometimes seems–at least for me, as a white person–that I face a dilemma where if I say anything, then I’m worried that I’ll say the wrong thing, and if I say nothing then I’m complicit. Any advice?

The key is the work. It’s not so much the exact way that you phrase your opposition or exactly what you say. To me, it’s: What actions are you taking to help us challenge institutions that continue to replicate racism year after year? As a white parent, can you go into the school and help work on forming a race and equity team at your kid’s school? You might not have the expertise, but you can work together with people who have more and help to implement something that could transform the lives of students of color in that school who are able to graduate instead of being pushed out [under] zero tolerance. You can join the campaign against the youth jail. You can do the work. As you do the work, you’ll learn more about theories and history that is important to help guide our struggles. [Don’t] let your uncomfortableness stop you from rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in the work.

I’m inspired by many struggles in our nation’s history, when white people joined in the struggle for racial justice. We need to be reminded of that, and we need to continue to push white people to hold up the best of that legacy of the Freedom Rides, of multiracial dockworker strikes [that occurred] all up and down the West Coast in the Thirties. There’s many important examples of the abolitionist movement: William Lloyd Garrison, a white man starting an abolitionist newspaper and helping to train Frederick Douglass as a journalist, building a multiracial partnership that proved historically important when Abraham Lincoln was waffling on what the Civil War was going to be about. Was it going to just put the South down and reintegrate it into the United States but continue their practice of slavery, or was it going to abolish slavery altogether? I’m thankful that a mass coalition of multiracial people in this country was able to convince him that the war should be about ending slavery. And eventually he came to that position.

I’ve just seen the importance of multiracial mass movements all throughout history. And I think that we’re desperate for another one today, when you look at Tamir Rice’s killer being let off, when you look at Sandra Bland–the officer who intimidated, and in my mind wrongfully arrested, Sandra Bland getting a slap on the wrist. Every day it seems there’s another example of gross injustice and deep racist practice of our country. We’re in desperate need of another mass uprising in this country that is about challenging the institutions of racism and redistributing power and wealth.

What’s the relationship between class and race?

They’re inextricably linked. Originally, the creation of racial categories was about maintaining the power of a wealthy, white elite. We’ve been studying this, actually, in school. Race was actually a modern invention that hasn’t existed very long.

You can actually look at the first racial laws that were written, shortly after Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia. That was multiracial mass uprising of white and black indentured servants and slaves that took over the Virginia colony for eight months. They burned the capital to the ground. And that mass multiracial power was terrifying to slaveowners and plantation owners, and they did what they had to do to maintain their power, which was what Frederick Douglass said: “They divided both to conquer each.” They wrote the first laws separating blacks and whites. They gave the vast majority of poor white people a little bit of wages, a little bit of benefits, so that they would separate themselves from African Americans and no longer work in solidarity. Which maintains the vast majority of both white and black people at the bottom, and a tiny white ruling minority at the top controlling all the wealth.

I look at that, and I look at our society today, and I don’t see a whole lot of difference, when you look at the fact that there are 85 people that have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people on our planet, you can see how they have hoarded the resources in the hands of a very few, and then they point to immigrants as being the problem. Racists like Donald Trump say, ‘We’re gonna build a border to keep out Mexicans, or we’re going to stop all Muslim immigrants from coming in, or it’s the black thugs that are the problem and you should worry about their crime and violence.’

All of that is rhetoric to deflect attention away from the fact that they have robbed us all, most blatantly when the banks sabotaged the global economy and then just pillaged taxpayer money to repay themselves. It’s an ongoing process that happens every day. They want us to fight amongst each other. They want us to blame immigrants or Muslims, rather than organizing a collective struggle to take back that wealth and to build a school system, a housing system, a healthcare system that meets the needs of all of us. I think that’s really the struggle that we have to engage in, and I think we’re at the very beginning of [it]. But I see great hope for the coming time as I see more and more young people getting active and raising their voice.

Are we going to see you run for office anytime soon?

[Laughs] No immediate plans on that. My work is so rewarding, to see young people getting active. And really, if there’s going to be a change in our society, it’s not going to be any shining knight coming in and fixing the problems. It’s not going to be any one politician.

Are you thinking of someone specific when you say that?

Not at all. I’m just saying that politicians aren’t going to be the source of fixing the problems in our society. I think what we’ve seen over and over again throughout US history is, when things get better for black people, when things get better for ordinary working people, it’s because they organize and make it happen. It’s because of the mass strikes in 1934 that won us social security and minimum wages and decent working conditions and the right to unionize. It’s because of the mass civil rights movement that brought down Jim Crow. A movement my dad was part of, the Black Student Union in his college, the University of Madison in Wisconsin, fighting for black studies so that we can learn about black history in colleges now.

It’s always about organized, collective struggle. There are important instances when politicians can be part of helping encourage those struggles, but I’m always focused on: How are more people going to be part of organizing to put a better vision forward of what our city or what our society can be?

What are you doing on MLK day?

I’ll be back at the rally…I’m really proud to say that my [BSU] students are going to be emceeing the event. To me, that’s much more important than me speaking…It would be a [victory] for the forces of unaccountability and police brutality if I didn’t show up. So I’ll be there.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This is a longer, but still edited, version of the interview which appeared in the January 13th, 2015 edition of Seattle Weekly.

 

Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education: A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”

Twelve national civil rights organizations released a statement today in opposition to parents and students who opt out of high-stakes standardized testing–what has now become a truly mass direct action campaign against the multi-billion dollar testing industry.  I believe that their statement titled, “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts,” misses the key role that standardized testing has played throughout American history in reproducing institutional racism and inequality.  I wrote the below statement, with the aid of the board of the Network for Public Education, to outline the racist history of standardized testing and to highlight leadership from people of color in the movement against high-stakes testing. I sincerely hope for a response from the civil rights organizations who authored the statement and I hope that this dialogue leads to deeper discussion about how to make Black Lives Matter in our school system and how to remake American public education on foundation of social justice.

Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”

Authored by Jesse Hagopian and the NPE Board of Directors NPE

Today several important civil rights organizations released a statement that is critical of the decision by many parents and students to opt out of high stakes standardized tests. Though we understand the concerns expressed in this statement, we believe high stakes tests are doing more harm than good to the interests of students of color, and for that reason, we respectfully disagree.

The United States is currently experiencing the largest uprising against high-stakes standardized testing in the nation’s history. Never before have more parents, students, and educators participated in acts of defiance against these tests than they are today.  In New York State some 200,000 families have decided to opt their children out of the state test.  The largest walkout against standardized tests in U.S. history occurred in Colorado earlier this school year when thousands refused to take the end of course exams.  In cities from Seattle, to Chicago, to Toledo, to New York City, teachers have organized boycotts of the exam and have refused to administer particularly flawed and punitive exams.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attempted to dismiss this uprising by saying that opposition to the Common Core tests has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Secretary Duncan’s comment is offensive for many reasons. To begin, suburban white moms have a right not to have their child over tested and the curriculum narrowed to what’s on the test without being ridiculed. But the truth is his comment serves to hide the fact that increasing numbers of people from communities of color are leading this movement around the nation, including:

You would expect the multi-billion dollar testing industry not to celebrate this resistance. Conglomerates such as Pearson, the over 9 billion dollar per year corporation that produces the PARCC test, could stand to lose market share and profits if the protests continue to intensify. But it is unfortunate that more civil rights groups have not come to the aid of communities resisting the test-and-punish model of education. In a recent statement issued by the national leadership of some of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations, they wrote:

Data obtained through some standardized tests are particularly important to the civil rights community because they are the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes even while vigilance is always required to ensure tests are not misused.

We agree that it is vital to understand the disparities that exist in education and to detail the opportunity gap that exists between students of color and white students, between lower income students and students from more affluent families. There is a long and troubling history of schools serving children of color not receiving equitable access to resources and not providing these students with culturally competent empowering curriculum. Moreover, the schools are more segregated today than they were in the 1960s—a fact that must be particular troubling to the NAACP that fought and won the Brown vs Board of Education desegregation decision. For these reasons, we understand why national civil rights organizations are committed to exposing the neglect of students of color.

Yet we know that high-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.  This fact has been amply demonstrated through the experience of the past thirteen years of NCLB’s mandate of national testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. The outcomes of the NCLB policy shows that test score achievement gaps between African American and white students have only increased, not decreased. If the point of the testing is to highlight inequality and fix it, so far it has only increased inequality. Further, the focus on test score data has allowed policy makers to rationalize the demonization of schools and educators, while simultaneously avoiding the more critically necessary structural changes that need to be made in our education system and the broader society.

We also know that standardized testing is not the only, or the most important, method to know that students of color are being underserved; student graduation rates, college attendance rates, studies showing that wealthier and predominantly white schools receiving a disproportionate amount of funding are all important measures of the opportunity gap that don’t require the use of high-stakes standardized tests.

The civil rights organizations go on to write in their recent statement on assessment,

That’s why we’re troubled by the rhetoric that some opponents of testing have appropriated from our movement. The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation. They’ve raised the specter of White supremacists who employed biased tests to ‘prove’ that people of color were inferior to Whites.

There are some legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed. But instead of stimulating worthy discussions about over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and the misuse of test data, these activists would rather claim a false mantle of civil rights activism.

To begin, we agree with these civil rights organizations when they write that over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and misuse of test data are “legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed”—and in fact we hope to hear more from these civil rights organizations about these very real and destructive aspects of high-stakes standardized testing.  Moreover, we believe that when these civil rights organizations fully confront just how pervasive over-testing, cultural bias and misuse of data is in the public education system, these facts alone will be enough to convince them join the mass civil rights opt out uprising that is happening around the nation. Let us take each one of these points in turn.

  • Over testing

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT, the second largest teacher’s union in the nation) conducted a 2013 study based on a analysis of two mid-size urban school districts that found the time students spent taking tests claimed up to 50 hours per year. In addition, the study found that students spent from between 60 to more than 110 hours per year directly engaged in test preparation activities. The immense amount of time devoted to testing has resulted in students in a constant state of preparation for the next high-stakes exam rather than learning the many skills that aren’t measured by standardized tests such as critical thinking, collaboration, civic courage, creativity, empathy, and leadership. The new Common Core tests are only in math and language arts and thus have served to skew the curriculum away from the arts, physical education, civics, social studies, science, music, and a myriad of other subjects that students of color are too often denied access to.

  • Cultural bias

Standardized tests have repeatedly been found to contain cultural biases. The process by which test questions are “normed” tends to eliminate questions that non-white students answer correctly in higher numbers. In New York, the number of Black students rated “below standard” jumped from 15.5% to 50% with the introduction of new Common Core tests. English learners did even worse – 84% tested “below standard” on the new tests. This sort of failure has devastating effects on students, and does not reflect their true abilities.

  • Violations of student privacy

Common Core tests are associated with the collection of unprecedented levels of data from individual students, with few safeguards for student privacy. These systems allow for-profit testing companies, and third party companies, access to information that could be used against the interests of students in the future.

However, if those problems weren’t enough there are a myriad of other ways that these high-stakes standardized tests are being used to perpetuate institutional racism.  Perhaps the most curious omission from their letter is the fact that they assert that, “The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation,” yet they offer no rebuttal of the assertion that the standardized tests today share many of the characteristics of the discriminatory exams of the past.  As a recent editorial by the social justice periodical Rethinking Schools asserted:

The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.

This is why some of the most prominent early voices of opposition to standardized testing in schools came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. Du Bois, one of the most important Black intellectuals in the history of the United States and a founding member of the NAACP, recalled in 1940, “It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [first] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.”

The great educator and historian Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote this statement that so clearly reveals one of the primary flaws of standardized testing that persist to this day:

But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.

Bond was expressing then what is today know as the “Zip Code Effect,”—the fact that what standardized tests really measure is a student’s proximity to wealth and the dominant culture, resulting in wealthier, and predominately whiter, districts scoring better on tests. Their scores do not reflect the intelligence of wealthier, mostly white students when compared to those of lower-income students and students of color, but do reflect the advantages that wealthier children have—books in the home, parents with more time to read with them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, high-quality health care, and access to good food, to name a few. This is why attaching high-stakes to these exams only serves to exacerbate racial and class inequality.

Image result for school to prison pipeline rallyThis point was recently driven home by Boston University economics professors Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed.” In this peer-reviewed study they reveal that the increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams are linked to higher incarceration rates. This landmark study should be a clarion call to everyone interested in ending mass incarceration to end the practice of high-stakes exit exams in high school and work towards authentic assessments.

A July, 2010 statement authored by many of the same civil rights organizations that penned the aforementioned letter titled, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” stated:

The practice of tracking students by perceived ability is a major civil rights obstacle…Ideally, we must provide opportunities for all students to prepare for college and careers without creating systems that lead to racially and regionally identifiable tracks, which offer unequal access to high-quality.

We agree with this statement and thank these civil rights organizations for raising concerns about the terrible effects of tracking on the public schools and the detriment that tracking has been to Black students, other students of color, and low-income students.  We only want to emphasize that the standardized exams they are now defending are one of the most significant contributing factors to the tracking and racial segregation of students into separate and unequal programs and schools.

In that same “Framework” document the civil rights groups write:

Because public schools are critical community institutions especially in urban and rural areas, they should be closed only as a measure of last resort. And where a school district deems school closure necessary solely for budgetary or population reasons, the burdens cannot be allowed to fall disproportionately on our most vulnerable communities.

Again, we agree, but we want to point out that it is the use of test scores in labeling schools as “failing” that have contributed to clear cutting of schools that serve students of color in cities around the nation—most notably the closing of 50 schools in Chicago last year all in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Left, front: Seattle/King County NAACP President Gerald Hankerson. Right, front: Seattle/King County NAACP education Chair, Rita Green.

We call on the civil rights community to support the work of educators around the nation who are working to develop authentic forms of assessment that can be used to help support students to develop critical thinking. Innovative programs like New York City Consortium Schools have a wavier from state standardized tests and instead use performance based assessments that have produced dramatically better outcomes for all students, even though they have more special needs students than the general population—and have demonstrated higher graduation rates, better college attendance rates, and smaller racial divides in achievement than the rest of New York’s public schools.

Finally, we ask that you consider the rousing call to action against the new Common Core tests that was recently issued by the Seattle/King County NAACP chapter in the following statement:

It is the position of the Seattle King County Branch of the NAACP to come out against the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests, commonly referred to as SBAC. Seattle and Washington State public schools are not supplied with proper resources and a lack of equity within our schools continue to exist.

The State of Washington cannot hold teachers responsible for the outcome of students test results; when these very students are attending schools in a State that ranks 47th out of 50 States in the Nation when it comes to funding education. Furthermore, Washington State cannot expect the majority of students to perform well on increased targeted performance assessments while the State continues to underfund education in direct violation of a Washington State Supreme Court Order. We also know that our students of color are disproportionately underfunded and will disproportionately be labeled failing by the new SBAC test.

For this reason, we view the opt out movement as a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice.  Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history.

It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians be accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. The costs tied to the test this year will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement, instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.

We urge families to opt out of the SBAC test and to contact their local and state officials to advise them to abide by the State Supreme Court McCleary decision to fully fund education.

–Rita Green, MBA; Seattle King County NAACP Education Chair

We join the Seattle NAACP in calling for true accountability for educational opportunities. For too long, our nation has labored under the illusion that “shining a light” on inequities is an adequate remedy. Inequitable opportunities are manifestly evident to anyone who cares to look. The use of tests for this purpose has become part of the problem, rather than a solution. We reiterate our support for parents and students who make the difficult choice to opt out of high stakes tests, and call on our nation’s leaders to shift policies away from these tests.

Hands Up, Don’t Test: Police brutality and the repurposing of education

While in Boston speaking about my recently released edited book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the great EduShyster, who asked me important questions about the connection between the recent rise in student protests against police brutality and high-stakes, standardized testing. Here’s what I told her:

Season of Protest

Jesse Hagopian says protests against police and high-stakes testing have more in common than you think… EduShyster: You happened to be in Boston recently giving a talk about the new uprising against high-stakes testing on the same night that thousands of people here were protesting police violence and institutional racism. Here’s the people’s mic—explain how the two causes are related. Jesse Hagopian: If I could have, I would have moved the talk to the protest to connect the issues. I would have said that the purpose of education is to empower young people to help solve problems in their community and their society. The purpose of standardized testing is to learn how to eliminate wrong answer choices rather than how to critically think or organize with people around you or collaborate on issues you care about. These tests are disempowering kids from the skills they really need to solve the big problems that our society and kids themselves are facing—like rampant police brutality and police terror. What’s the point of making our kids college and career ready if they can be shot down in the street and there’s no justice? You look at how testing and the preparation for testing now monopolizes class time—that is the American school system. If our schools emphasized rote memorization and dumbing down, that would be unfortunate. But the problem goes so far beyond that. We face huge problems as a society: mass incarceration, endless wars, income inequality. Our education system has to be about empowering students to solve those problems.  EduShyster: I can think of one key difference between the two movements. All of the people who are protesting testing are white suburban moms who are unhappy that their kids aren’t as brilliant as they thought. Hagopian: That comment is offensive for lots of reasons but one of the biggest is that it dismisses the parents and teachers of color who are leaders of this movement.  Look at Castle Bridge Elementary in New York where more than 80% of the parents opted their kids out of the test. The PTA leaders who helped spearhead that movement are both parents of color. Look at Karen Lewis in Chicago, who has led a civil rights struggle for the schools Chicago’s students deserve, which includes a fight against high-stakes testing. In Seattle we organized a multi-racial coalition, and some of the most vocal opponents of the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test were Black teachers, myself included. We were able to partner with the NAACP and it was a really powerful coalition. At one point the NAACP held a press conference and said *Look: the MAP test is the tool that’s used to decide who is in AP classes which are overwhelmingly white. This is a tool of institutional racism and tracking and the MAP tests have long played that role. If this is the metric that we use to decide who is advanced and who isn’t, and only white children end up being identified as advanced, then something clearly isn’t working.* Jesse-Hagopian_holding-book_More-than-a-score-1EduShyster: In your new book, More than a Score, you argue that the movement against high-stakes testing actually started with civil rights activists. Explain. Hagopian: The first major test resisters were Black intellectuals. Horace Mann Bond has a beautiful passage where he describes how these tests are used to rank and sort our children and how, when you test the kids in the rich neighborhoods who have access to all of the resources and of course they do better. It has nothing to do with intelligence—it has to do with access to resources. What he wrote in the 1930’s is exactly what we see happening in our schools today. Or W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the NAACP, who spoke out against early standardized tests because they were grafted onto the public schools via the eugenics movement, the idea being that it was possible to prove white supremacy through *scientific* methods. He knew from the very beginning that these tests were designed to show Black failure, and they’re still showing that. The fact that there’s been such a stability of test scores—that rich white students score the best—shows that these are a tool for ranking and sorting. And increasingly these tests are being used to shut down schools in poor neighborhoods and which serve predominantly students of color. EduShyster: Here’s where I have to channel one of my favorite critics. Let’s call him Math Teacher, because that’s the name he uses when we tangle on my blog. He teaches at a Boston charter school, and as he’ll be quick to ask, if those schools are failing to teach kids at the most basic level, should they be kept open? broken pencilsHagopian: That’s a great question. I think we have acknowledge that, as much as I vehemently defend our public schools against corporatization and what I call the testocracy, our schools have long played the role of ranking and sorting students into different strata of society and have long sorted students of color in particular into the bottom. There’s a tension in public schools because on the one hand they play that ranking and sorting function, but on the other hand they hold radical democratic possibilities to empower people with the knowledge that they need to transform society. That’s why schools are contested spaces and why every civil rights movement in our history has been focused on the schools in some way. We need to transform our school system. The question is *who are the best people to do that?* And the best people to do that are teachers and parents—not billionaires or the one percent. That sorting process worked out just fine for them. EduShyster: What if the billionaires suddenly decided to transform the public schools into the sorts of schools where they send their own kids? Hagopian: I’ve often said that the MAP boycott didn’t start at Garfield High School, but Lakeside High School, where Bill Gates went and where his kids go. The private schools for the elites never administer the MAP tests and all of these other tests because for their children they want the performing arts, creativity, time to develop their children into leaders, libraries with tens of thousands of volumes, study abroad programs, Olympic swimming pools. But they want for our kids rote memorization and that’s getting *career and college ready.* We say *what’s good enough for your child is good enough for ours.* EduShyster: Garfield High is associated with rabble-rousing teachers because of the successful MAP boycott, but students there are really active too. I follow you on Twitter, so I know that in addition to walking out to protest the Ferguson decision, students also walked out over budget cuts. Are all of these walkouts getting in the way of their test prep? BSU signsHagopian: Garfield High is going through an incredible season of student activism. I’m the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School, whose members were recently recognized by the Seattle Human Rights Commission for being rising human rights leaders. After the Darren Wilson decision, they called a meeting in the cafeteria, held a speakout, then 1,000 students marched out of Garfield and to a rally at the NAACP. I happened to be driving down the road and had to pull over because all of a sudden here come 1,000 students chanting *hands up, don’t shoot.* The students will tell you that the problem isn’t just in Ferguson or on Staten Island, but with institutional racism. They look around and it’s there in the Seattle Public Schools with, for example, disproportionate suspension rates for minority students. They feel like it’s their responsibility to highlight these issues and to act on their own behalf. They’ve become the teachers. They’re teaching a whole city about the depths of racism in our society and what it means to stand up for what you believe in. That’s exactly what education should be about. These students didn’t just become activists overnight, by the way. The last few years, students protested against budget cuts at Garfield High, followed by the successful MAP boycott that galvanized our whole community, and really demonstrated to students and teachers the power of standing up. I think what I’m most proud of is that we’re actually showing what the alternative to rote memorization and standardized curriculum looks like. Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the co-advisor of the Black Student Union at Seattle’s Garfield High School. He is the editor of More than a Score: the New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.  His website is: http://www.IAmAnEducator.com Send comments to tips@edushyster.com.

“This is a test”: Educating to End the School-to-Grave-Pipeline in Ferguson and Beyond

“We were at graduation, me and him, and we were talking. He said he wasn’t going to end up like some people on the streets. He was going to get an education.”

Hershel Johnson, a friend Michael Brown’s since middle school.

MikeBrown_CapGown

Graduation portrait of Michael Brown from Normandy High School in Ferguson County, Missouri.

In the wake of the police murder of the unarmed 18-year-old African American high school graduate Michael Brown, and the ensuing uprising of the people of Ferguson, the Ferguson-Florissant School District announced classes would not resume for the school year on Aug. 14 as planned, and as of today, school is still not in session.

The unrest between police and protesters prompted Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to declare a state of emergency in Ferguson and then impose a curfew. Comedian John Oliver described Gov. Nixon’s curfew announcement as “patronizing,” and charged him with speaking in the tone of a “pissed-off vice principal” attempting to further restrict the freedom of the people of Ferguson. Oliver’s school analogy may have been prompted by Nixon’s statement that,

“…to protect the people and property of Ferguson today, I signed an order declaring a state of emergency and ordering implementation of a curfew in the impacted area of Ferguson… But if we’re going to achieve justice, we must first have and maintain peace. This is a test.”

For all of his authoritarian scolding, Gov. Nixon is correct about one thing: This is a test. But it isn’t one that will be scored accurately by a police force or a political class that sees itself as above the law.

Ferguson, like cities around the nation, has plenty of problems of race, class, and education to choose from. The schools in Ferguson—like to many districts across the nation—are still separate and unequal. 77.1 percent of the students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District are black, and some 68 percent of white students who live in the district attend schools outside of the district. Black students make up a disproportionate 87.1 percent of students without disabilities who receive an out-of-school suspensions, according to 2011-12 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. And the black youth continue to be targets when they leave the schoolhouse and enter the streets.  Last year, black residents accounted for 86 percent of the vehicle stops made by Ferguson police and nearly 93 percent of the arrests made from those stops, according to the state attorney general. FBI statistics show that 85 percent of the people arrested by Ferguson police are black, and that 92% of people arrested specifically for disorderly conduct are black.

The city of Ferguson is 67.4 percent black and 28.7 percent white, yet five of the six city councilmembers are white and six of seven school board members are white.   The first African American Superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, Dr. McCoy, was forced out of his position in March by the then all white school board. Normandy High School, the alma mater of Mike Brown, has a poverty rate of 92 percent. As Daily Kos related,

“The grinding poverty in Mike’s world only allowed Normandy High School to acquire two graduation gowns to be shared by the entire class. The students passed a gown from one to the other. Each put the gown on, in turn, and sat before the camera to have their graduation photographs taken. Until it was Mike’s turn.”

“Career and college ready” are the new buzzwords in the education reform world and every teacher certainly hopes their students achieve these personal successes. Yet to limit education to only these puny goals is to extinguish the true power of education. Education must also be in service of transforming our very troubled society.

Mike Brown was to have started attending Vatterott College on August 11, two days after he was killed, exposing the fact that the work of educators to help students achieve a diploma means little if our society succumbs to lawless police who gun down our unarmed children in the street. Many black youth have had their caps and gowns snatched from them and replaced with orange jumpsuits, as students are funneled into what is commonly called the “school-to-prison-pipeline”—a series of interlocking policies such as zero tolerance discipline and high suspension rates, overbearing police presence in schools, and high-stakes exit exams required for graduation. But increasingly it appears police are intent on constructing what I guess we now must term the “school-to-grave-pipeline”— a series of interlocking policies such as giving police weapons designed for war zones, the disproportionate policing of areas frequented by black youth, and incentivizing police to shoot black people by not arresting them and giving them paid leave when they do. The school-to-grave-pipeline is not only a problem in Ferguson.  Nationally, a study revealed that a black person is killed by police somewhere in the United States every 36 hours. When there are witnesses, or when onlookers are able to capture these murders on a cellphone camera, we get to hear about their case; people such as Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and many others. Yet too often, black people are shot down by police and discarded with little attention.

If education is not dedicated to empowering our youth to solve the problems they face in their communities, in our nation, and in our world, then it isn’t really an education at all—it is an indoctrination designed to reproduce oppression. As Richard Shaull explains in the forward to Paulo Freire’s masterwork, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

The way you know that those who control the education system—the many corporate style education reformers who push high-stakes testing and standardized curriculum—are not actually interested in nurturing black youth, closing the achievement gap, or supporting education that undermines oppression, is that you won’t hear any of them publicly defending Michael Brown or calling for the arrest of his murderer, Darren Wilson. (Or maybe Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Michelle Rhee carpooled and got lost on their way to the rally in Ferguson?). On the issues that most deeply affect the lives of African Americans—mass incarceration, police terror, unemployment, housing discrimination—these education reformers and officials have nothing to say, content to prattle on with the exhortations about “accountability,” “career ready,” “21st century education,” and other hollow pronouncements devoid of the social supports that would make them a reality.

Thankfully, educators in Ferguson and around the nation are rising to the challenge of redefining the purpose of education with the intent of building a more just society in wake of the killing of Michael Brown. On August 17, Dr. Marcia Chatelain tweeted a call for resources for parents and educators to talk to young people heading back to school with the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.  People from around the nation began collecting and retweeting articles, books, videos, and photos to aid educators in lesson ideas that engage students in a critical dialogue about the meaning of Michael Brown’s death and the mass uprising it has inspired.

Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D (@JackieGerstein) tweeting with #FergusonSyllabus, wrote:

 

And Caryn Riswold (‏@feminismxianity) tweeted:

Some of the best lessons ideas shared on #FergusonSyllabus include a link to the video, “Race the House We Live in”, about redlining and housing discrimination, a Rethinking Schools lesson on teaching about The Murder of Sean Bell (a young African American killed by New York City Police), Christopher Emdin’s essay, “5 Ways to Teach About Michael Brown and Ferguson in the New School Year,” and Teaching for Change’s, “Teaching About Ferguson.” Any teacher of American history or civics would do well to discuss Amy Goodman’s essay, “The ghost of Dred Scott haunts the streets of Ferguson,” outlining the case of the slave (buried just down the street from where Mike Brown was killed) who took his case for freedom to the Supreme Court, which subsequently ruled that African Americans had, “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

National Public Radio ran a story on August 19th, “Ferguson Teachers Use Day off As Opportunity for Civics Lesson” where they reported, “So this morning, instead of being in the classroom, 150 area teachers took part in some unusual professional development: picking up broken glass, water bottles and tear gas canisters from the street. “It says ‘Defense Technology’ on it,” says social studies teacher Arthur Vambaketes, showing off a busted canister from his trash bag.”

When the schools reopen in Ferguson, teachers would do well to close up the jingoistic textbooks, discard the bubble tests, and ask students what they think about the fact that our nation spends more on “defense technology,” militarized policing and mass incarceration than on education. It might not be on the new Common Core exams, but the killing of Michael Brown is a test for our nation’s schools nonetheless.

As I prepare to head back to the classroom, I pledge to Michael Brown and his family that I will do my best to foster a classroom that allows for the emotional intensity and critical dialogue vital to achieving a world that puts institutional racism in its final resting place and gives our black children a bright future.

—-

Jesse Hagopian is the editor and contributing author to the forthcoming book (available for per-ordering), More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. Jesse teaches history and is the co-advisor for the Black Student Union at Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP standardized test.  Jesse an associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine, a founding member of Social Equality Educators (SEE), and recipient of the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of Year” award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. Follow Jesse on his blog at www.iamaneducator.com or on Twitter: @jessedhagopian

ColorLines magazine: MAP test boycott among “10 Racial Justice Wins for 2013”!

Video: 10 Racial Justice Wins For 2013

ColorLines magazine just released their list of  “10 Racial Justice Wins for 2013”—and it is impressive.

In a year when George Zimmerman was permitted to legally lynch Trayvon Martin, it can be all too easy to overlook the hard work of racial justice activists around the nation who have scored important victories.  Wins for racial justice include activist campaigns that compelled the Associated Press to drop the use the term “illegal immigrant” in its style guide, grassroots efforts that resulted in the FCC forcing private companies who run phone services in prisons to stop charging families a dollar per minuet to speak to incarcerated loved ones, the activism of the Dream Defenders occupying the Florida Governor’s office to demand an end to “stand your ground” laws, and…the victory of the MAP test boycott for high schools in Seattle!

It is a tremendous honor for the educators, students, and parents who joined the MAP test boycott to have our struggle listed among the major victories for racial justice in 2013.

Why was ending this egregious standardized test a victory for racial justice?

As Garfield High School teachers pointed out in our original statement detailing the reasons for the MAP boycott, this test does not respect the linguistic or cultural diversity of English Language Learners.  As well, the test was used a gatekeeper for the Advanced Placement Program, an overwhelmingly white program in the Seattle Public Schools.  Moreover, we pointed out that the millions of dollars that were being spent on the MAP test would be better spent providing direct services to students in an effort to close the opportunity gap in education.

What ColorLines also no doubt realizes is that high-stakes standardized testing is fueling the school-to-prison pipeline.  A recent study by Boston University professor Kevin Lang, “The effect of high school exit exams on graduation, employment, wages, and incarceration,” reveals that the biggest impact of the increased use of high-stakes exams in the public schools has been increased incarceration rates.

Today, there are more African Americans behind bars than were slaves on plantations in 1850.  It’s time we used our nation’s resources not to test and punish; not to endless rank and sort our youth; but provide them with small class sizes, tutors, authentic forms of assessment, cultural relevant curriculum, and other supports they need to succeed.

The MAP test boycott demonstrated that educators can insert their voice into the debate about education reform and rally and entire community to a better vision for the public schools.
It’s your turn to make history in 2014!

 

Jesse Hagopian’s Testimony On Testing: Educators provide first-hand account to the Congressional Black Caucus of how destructive ed reforms hurt students

Source: Education Votes/edvotes.org

Photo: Seattle educator Jesse Hagopian at CBC Foundation 43rd Annual Legislative Conference

Sign up to follow Jesse’s blog at: http://www.IAmAnEducator.com & Follow Jesse on twitter at: https://twitter.com/JessedHagopian

Educators provide first-hand account of how destructive ed reforms hurt students

by Brian Washington

Jesse Hagopian spent the first three years of his teaching career in the District of Columbia—working with fifth-graders at an elementary school in the Southeast. He recently returned to the nation’s capital to, once again, put his knowledge as an educator to good use—this time giving members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and those attending its Annual Legislative Conference, a lesson about the impact of destructive education reform policies—like high-stakes testing—on children.

“There is a study that just came out that shows high-stakes testing is leading to higher incarceration rates,” said Hagopian, who now teaches World History and American Government at a high school in Seattle, Wash. “Policy makers are just pushing it more and more, and it’s having a destructive impact on our students.”

Hagopian, who recently joined forces with students, parents and other educators in Seattle to take a stand against harmful standardized tests, was one of the featured panelists in a discussion examining the negative impact of the tests and parent trigger laws and how school community partnerships can positively impact learning. ….

[Click here to read the entire article]

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