Category Archives: Social Equality Educators
By Jesse Hagopian
First published by The Progressive magazine.
From disproportionate discipline rates to its hyper-segregated schools, Seattle is a tough place to be for students of color. The city has an alarming pattern of segregation both between and within schools, and when the district was investigated by the Department of Education, it was found to suspend black students at four times the rate for white students for the same infractions.
In response, the NAACP, in collaboration with numerous education and social justice organizations, has launched a new ethnic studies campaign. “We have to get rid of this white supremacy,” Seattle NAACP Education Chair Rita Green told the Seattle Times in January. “Ethnic studies is learning about the other cultures within your building.”
The benefits of ethnic studies programs are numerous.
A recent study of San Francisco students conducted by researchers in the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that attendance increased by twenty-one percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by twenty-three. There were positive effects across male, female, Asian and Hispanic groups of students, and especially for boys and Hispanic students. The study also found significant effects on GPA specific to math and science.
As Jon Greenberg, Seattle social studies teacher, member of Social Equality Educators, and a leading organizer in the ethnic studies campaign recently told NPR, “The level of engagement goes up astronomically when you’re talking about issues that affect a lot of students’ lives.”
And benefits of ethnic studies go far beyond academics. Many of the discipline problems in the classroom stem from students who are disengaged with the curriculum and don’t see a connection to their lives. These students often act out and are quickly labeled disobedient—but maybe that disobedience is better understood as resistance to a whitewashed curriculum that doesn’t speak to the problems and issues those students face. As one student testified at a recent school board meeting, “Europeans did not ‘discover’ the land, they stole it from the indigenous natives that were enslaved and killed by white settlers.” When basic truths like these are disguised in a curriculum, students learn to not trust their education.
Ethnic studies programs, coupled with restorative justice approaches to discipline, can reduce suspension rates and help students realize their potential. By teaching students about the history of systemic oppression and the struggles against it, such programs can empower students to become change agents in their schools and broader society.
The social and academic benefits of ethnic studies were on full display in the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program at Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, which boasted the highest graduation rates and college acceptance rates for Latino students in the district. It was shut down in 2010 by anti-immigrant Republicans who sought to deny Latino students access to information about their heritage. The educators and students of the MAS program launched an inspiring campaign to defend their community and curriculum—as documented in the excellent film “Precious Knowledge”—resulting, ironically in a blossoming of Mexican American studies programs in high schools across the country.
After a major campaign, a bill was signed into law in California in September 2016 ordering the creation of a model ethnic studies course for state high schools. The Portland school board voted in May 2016 to require high schools in that city to offer ethnic studies classes by 2018. In the 2014-15 school year, a group of teacher librarians in the San Francisco Unified School District created a Black Lives Matter online resource page for teachers to use in the classroom. This collection includes grand jury documents, poetry, videos and graphics, readings, and lesson plans and activities for students of all ages.
The push in Seattle to combat institutional racism in the schools erupted in Seattle with the unprecedented #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool day, organized by the Social Equality Educators and supported by the Seattle Education Association, on October 19th, 2016. Some 3,000 educators wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school and many taught lessons about structural racism, the history of struggles against white supremacy, and other ethnic studies curriculum. Since Seattle’s mass action, the Black Lives Matter At School movement has gone national with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, New York, taking up similar actions to publicly declare the value of their black students.
At a Seattle School board meeting on March 15, dozens of educators, parents, students, and community members rallied to support ethnic studies, with signs reading, “Tell the Youth the Truth,” and “White Privilege is Your History Being Part of the Core Curriculum and Mine Being Taught as an Elective.”
One young Asian American woman recounted a program she participated in called “Seattle to Selma,” designed to augment the standard curriculum to give students a deeper understanding of the black freedom struggle. “One of the critical questions students kept asking,” she told the school board, “is why aren’t we learning this in school?” Raising her voice she continued,
All students—if given the chance—can benefit socially and academically if their scope of racial and civil rights history is expanded. When research has proven ethnic studies increases achievement, attendance, the number of credits students of color take, why wait to close Seattle’s unacceptable racial disparities? With ethnic studies, students at all levels learn not to blame individuals, but understand societal structures. Students learn to effectively navigate difference and understand the diverse cultures of our district. Seattle Schools can fundamentally affirm and empower more students to become agents of change.
May her words signal a new ethnic studies uprising to help combat misunderstanding, fear, and hate in our schools and in our society.
Jesse Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. He serves as the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog, www.IAmAnEducator.com.
The hallways of Seattle schools were packed as always on Wednesday, October 19, but the difference was that thousands of teachers, students and staff were wearing similar t-shirts affirming Black lives. The Black Lives Matter at School day originated among teachers committed to social justice and was ultimately endorsed by the teachers’ union, the NAACP, the Seattle Council PTSA, and event supported by school district.
Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle and editor of the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, answered questions from Brian Jones about how the day came about and what can come of it in the future. This interview was first published at Socialistworker.org.
Brian Jones: THE WEDNESDAY of Black Lives Matter at School was pretty special. How did your day start?
Jesse Hagopian: IT WAS an incredible day–like none I’ve ever experienced before. It started with getting dressed and putting on my own Black Lives Matter shirt, and my older son’s shirt, and then my 3-year-old’s shirt.
I began by taking my second grader to school. We get to school, and on the front door is a letter from the school’s PTA stating why it fully supports teachers wearing BLM shirts to school.
That put a smile on my face that only got bigger when I opened the door and saw all the faculty in the building wearing BLM shirts. And then the principal wearing a BLM shirt. And then the school counselor wearing the shirt.
I talked to my son’s teacher about the plans for the day, including showing the students a picture of Colin Kaepernick and asking them what they thought his “taking a knee” protest was about. So I knew right away that this was going to be much bigger than just wearing a T-shirt–that the lessons were going to be deeply meaningful to challenging injustice. It was really breathtaking from the beginning.
Then I went to drop off my younger son at pre-school, and all of his pre-school teachers were wearing the BLM shirts. It was just a celebration. We were all so thrilled that we could come out and say what we all believe, and not be afraid.
Brian Jones: YOU WROTE on your blog that this has never happened in an entire school district. How did the Black Lives Matters At School day spread to more than 2,000 teachers?
Jesse Hagopian: IT STARTED with a couple of brave elementary schools, Leschi and John Muir, which at the very beginning of the school year wanted to have a celebration of Black lives by having African American community members come to the schools and celebrate the students on their way in by giving them high-fives, and then holding dialogues during school.
At John Muir Elementary, a group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative helped organize the action, and teachers designed a Black Lives Matter shirt. The media got a hold of the design, and they freaked out, attacking these teachers for having the audacity to declare that their Black students’ lives are important.
Then some hateful individual made a violent threat against the school, and the school district announced it was going to cancel this celebration of Black lives at John Muir.
But to the teachers’ and the community’s great credit, they carried on–many of the teachers wore their shirts and many of the community members showed up anyway. It wasn’t as large as it would have been without the threat, but these teachers showed real bravery.
Those of us in the Social Equality Educators (SEE), a rank-and-file organization inside the Seattle Education Association, reached out right away to those teachers and invited them to our meeting to share their story.
People were so moved by their work that we decided we needed to show solidarity, and that the best way to do that wouldn’t be to just pass a resolution saying we support them, but to take it a step further and spread this action to every school.
When we brought it to the meeting of the union’s Representative Assembly, we weren’t sure what to expect. But we’ve been building SEE for a long time, and we’ve built up a lot of respect and credibility. So when my colleague Sarah Arvey, one of the leaders in SEE, put the resolution forward to spread the action to every school, a couple of us spoke to it, and it passed unanimously.
That was the first thing that caught me off guard. It was a sign that this was going to be a significant event.
We went to work on a couple designs for shirts teachers could order. The first was a version of the shirt that John Muir wore–it was designed by their art teacher, Julie Trout, and featured a tree and the words “Black Lives Matter. We Stand Together.” The second design also said “Black Lives Matter,” but featured the solidarity fist and added “#SayHerName,” the hashtag created in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death to highlight police violence against women.
After that, we moved on to figuring out how to organize a t-shirt distribution operation for an entire city–thousands of shirts of various sizes had to be ordered and distributed.
But over the course of the next few weeks, we ran out of our orders for more than 2,000 t-shirts. Plus many schools made their own t-shirts. So when you factor in the number of parents and students wearing their own shirts, many thousands of educators and public school families made this declaration to affirm Black lives.
Brian Jones: SEATTLE TEACHERS have been through a few struggles in the past few years, whether it’s the MAP test boycott or the strike at the start of school last year. I’ve heard you talk before about how these mass collective struggles are really the best teacher of all–about how people change in moments like this. Does that apply here?
Jesse Hagopian: IT REALLY does. It’s incredible to see the transformation that people go through when they take these bold steps and struggle collectively.
At Garfield High School, the faculty voted unanimously several years ago to refuse to administer the MAP test, and then we were threatened with suspension without pay, but the school district ultimately got rid of the test altogether. The lessons of that emboldened the staff over the course of the past two years in ways that I’ve only read about class struggle teaching people their own power.
When they threatened to get rid of a teacher at Garfield a couple years ago, the entire building emptied out to rally and say we need more teachers in the building to lower class size, we refuse to allow the district to remove a teacher. And we won that battle.
But you saw these lessons spill out across the whole Seattle School District in the strike last fall, when the union stood up to fight for an end to standardized testing in our evaluations, largely inspired by the actions of the MAP test boycott–but also more recess time for kids, and race and equity teams in every building.
I think it was social justice teachers in the union demanding that race and equity teams be part of the contract fight–introducing a discussion about the necessity of educators to confront institutional racism–that laid the groundwork for this incredible day we had of Black Lives Matter at School Day.
Brian Jones: I KNOW the SEE caucus has been putting out some specific ideas about further demands to make about changes in the schools. What were some of these?
Jesse Hagopian: WE’VE BEEN working for some time on issues of undoing institutional racism in our schools.
One issue where we would like to go further in this new moment is trying to end disproportionate discipline in Seattle public schools. The Department of Education came in and did a study that shows Black students are suspended at four times the rate of white students for the very same infractions in Seattle schools.
So we would like to fight for an end to zero-tolerance discipline and move toward restorative justice practices, which instead of pushing kids out of school actually try to solve the problems that they face.
We want an end to the rigid tracking system that has so deeply segregated our schools and classrooms, largely excluding Black students and other students of color from advanced classes.
We also think it’s vital that Black students be able to learn about their own history–their struggles and their successes. And we want to have a new fight for ethnic studies programs in our schools.
Those things were really validated when we had an evening rally as the culmination of Black Lives Matter at School Day. It was standing room only and packed to the rafters with families who came in their BLM shirts to hear from a wonderful lineup of performers and activists and organizers–and, most importantly, students.
We held a roundtable discussion with students from several high schools and middle schools, and they really laid out what the problems are–the way racism manifests in our schools, the steps they’ve taken to challenge this, and what they would like to see different in the schools. A lot of what they expressed were problems that SEE has been working on.
So I imagine we’re entering a new era in Seattle around education. Our city will never be the same, because we have an emboldened core of teachers and students and parents who I think will be more readily mobilized around these kinds of issues.
Brian Jones: I SAW that the Garfield High School football team was making headlines for kneeling during the national anthem, following the example of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and you mentioned that students spoke out at the forum at the end of Black Lives Matter at School Day. So there’s already a pattern of students in Seattle, and at Garfield in particular, taking a lead on these issues. What do you think comes next?
Jesse Hagopian: THE FIRST thing to say is that critics of our movement say “don’t politicize the school”–but the students are already talking about the BLM movement every day, in all of our school buildings. And they’re taking action, whether it’s on the football field or the volleyball court or at rallies.
They’re having deep discussions about the systemic inequalities, the realities of racism that they face every day–and then they get to school, and they’re supposed to stop talking about the issues that matter most to them.
That’s a bizarre disconnect. School is supposed to be a place to talk about the things that matter most, and now they’re being allowed to do that. So I think that a lot of what the teachers did in wearing that shirt was inspired by the actions of students who are protesting all around the city.
The most powerful experience of the day for me was the rally we had at Garfield. On the steps of our school at lunchtime, we had a speakout, with the coaches and the counselors and the teachers and many students on the steps. People were sharing why they wore the shirt, and I saw one of my colleagues, Janet DuBois, with tears streaming down her face.
She beckoned me over, and she asked me, “Should I tell everybody?” I knew exactly what she was referring to because she had revealed this secret to me a year ago, but hadn’t told anybody else.
So right there, in front of all the media assembled to document our rally, and in front of all the students and staff, she let everyone know about the pain she’d been carrying for years because the police had murdered her son in a city in the south of Washington state. She had to leave the teaching profession for many years until she could bring herself to come back. When she did, she got a job at Garfield, but nobody knew about that trauma she was dealing with.
If nothing else comes out of the Black Lives Matter at School Day, at least this wonderful educator won’t have to suffer with that pain by herself–now, she has the support and solidarity of her community.
I think it was one of the most incredible moments of my life to see somebody look around and have an entire faculty wearing BLM shirts–and feel like in that moment she could finally tell her truth.
I hope this action spreads across the country so other communities can experience the power of collectively declaring, “Black Lives Matter!”
Transcription by Sarah Levy
“We’ve got your back”: These luminaries for social justice support the hundreds of Seattle educators wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Oct. 19th
With over 2,000 Seattle educators now having ordered “Black Lives Matter” shirts to wear to school on Oct. 19th, #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool day is shaping up to be a historic demonstration. In addition to wearing the shirts, many educators will also use the day to lead discussions about institutional racism and what Black Lives Matter means. This action has been endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, the Seattle council PTSA board, the Social Equality Educators, and the Seattle NAACP. In addition, over 200 scholars from around the country have issued their support in a collective statement of solidarity.
Now some of the country’s preeminent activists, racial justice advocates, and authors, have added their voice to the calls of support for this unprecedented action!
Seattle teachers who choose to wear T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” and “We Stand Together” have our full support. In the United States today, we cannot do enough to affirm and support our black students. Seattle’s teachers are not only well within their right to exercise freedom of speech by wearing such T-shirts, they are making an important gesture of solidarity — one that gives us hope for the future.
Seattle teachers: we’ve got your back!
John Carlos was was the bronze-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics and raised his fist on the podium with Tommie Smith, in what became an iconic protest of racism in the U.S. Today, he is an author, human rights activist, and speaker.
Nancy Carlsson-Paige is Professor Emerita at Lesley University where she taught teachers for more than 30 years and was a founder of the University’s Center for Peaceable Schools. Nancy is the author of five books and numerous articles and op-eds on media and technology, conflict resolution, peaceable classrooms, and education reform. Her most recent book is called Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids.
Noam Chomsky is a Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media.
Melissa Harris-Perry hosted the television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” from 2012-2016 on MSNBC. She is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University. There she is the Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center.
Joyce E. King was voted president the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the leading organization of education scholarship in 2013. A visionary teacher and scholar, King is the author of several books and has served since 2004 as the Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership and Professor of Educational Policy Studies in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University.
Jonathan Kozol received the National Book Award for Death at an Early Age, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Rachel and Her Children, and countless other honors for Savage Inequalities, Amazing Grace, The Shame of the Nation, and Fire in the Ashes.
Etan Thomas, has made his mark far beyond the boundaries of his 11 years in the NBA. In 2005, Thomas released his first book, a collection of poems called More Than An Athlete (Haymarket Books) that set Thomas apart as “this generation’s athlete with a moral conscious and a voice.”
Opal Tometi is a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter and is credited with creating the online platforms and initiating the social media strategy during the project’s early days. She serves as the executive director for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).
Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker, and media publisher whose work centers on the changing American identity. He is the founder of Define American. In June 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant.
Dave Zirin was named one of UTNE Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World,” he writes about the politics of sports for the Nation Magazine. Author of eight books on the politics of sports, he has been called “the best sportswriter in the United States,” by Robert Lipsyte.
#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool FAQ: Answering why hundreds of Seattle educators are wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school
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?
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?
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
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
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.
The Seattle Educators’ Strike for Social Justice: Groundbreaking victories and so much more to fight for
On Sunday evening, thousands of Seattle Education Association members gathered in a general membership meeting and voted to approve a new contract with the Seattle Public Schools. This vote officially ended the strike by Seattle educators, which began on September 10, 2015, and interrupted the first five days of school.
This new contract contains many hard fought wins for social justice that the school district said it would never grant. These groundbreaking victories are against the abuses of high-stakes standardized testing, for more recess, and for race and equity teams in the schools are a dramatic departure from our previous broken model of collective bargaining and hold the potential to transform educator unionism in the nation. Yet the contract also contained some needless concessions to corporate style reforms—including succumbing to the district’s disrespectful pay raise offer, raising caseloads for some special education teachers, extending the school day and reducing teacher planning time—that could have been avoided if the union had kept the picket lines up for a few days longer and organized mass mobilizations.
But the most important outcome of this contract negotiation won’t be found in the fine print of the agreement. The true triumph of this contract battle was the achievement of solidarity—between teachers, office professionals, nurses, school librarians, instructional assistants, parents, and community organizations—in the struggle for the public schools.
Thousands of parents joined in solidarity with the teachers, including the celebrated “Soup for Teachers” group that formed to bring sustenance and solidarity to picket lines at every school in the district. The Coalition for the Schools Seattle Deserves united community organizations and joined the great Kimya Dawson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for the striking teachers. The Seattle City Council, led by councilmember Kshama Sawant, passed a unanimous resolution in support of the strike. Marching band students used their pep-band anthems to root on striking educators, and local businesses donated to the picket lines. Even the mainstream media regularly reported that parents were in support of the strike and that the educators were winning. There can be no doubt that this strike was overwhelmingly supported by the people in the Seattle area–except, perhaps, for the regions’ wealthiest resident, Bill Gates, who has invested his fortune in schemes to privatize education and reduce our schools to test prep centers.
So many of the union’s social justice demands were advanced in the current strike and negotiations–creating a compelling model for educators around the country who believe in social justice unionism.
We won an end to the use of standardized tests scores being used in teacher evaluations, the so-called “student growth rating”—a huge blow to the testocracy in Seattle and across the country. This victory clearly comes out of the years long struggle of educators, students, and parents in Seattle who have taken bold action to oppose these tests. In 2013, the teachers at Garfield voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress test and the boycott spread to some six other schools. Last year in Seattle, every single 11th grader at both Nathan Hale and Center school opted out of the SBAC common core test—joining some 60,000 other opt out across the state.
Our victory for a guaranteed minimum of 30 minutes recess in every elementary school is perhaps the first of its kind in the country. A story from a local NPR station in the spring of 2014 exposed the vanishing recess time in the Seattle Public Schools and showed how schools that served low-income students and students of color were particularly recess deficient. All last year I worked with a city-wide organization called “Lunch and Recess Matter,” that organized, petitioned, and rallied for the right to eat and play. This is a concrete victory for a research driven reform that has been shown to be vital for the social and emotional development of children.
We also won enforceable caseload caps for our Educational Support Associates (ESAs), such as school psychologists and speech language pathologists—a victory for vital services to support some of our most vulnerable students.
One of the most important gains for public education in this contract was the creation of race and equity teams. The Seattle Education Association advocated for every one of the Seattle Public Schools to have such a team to tackle issues of institutional racism–and in so doing won the support of many Black Lives Matter activists, including Seattle NAACP members, who issued a statement supporting the strike. The Seattle school district originally said they would only agree to having these teams in six schools. However, the power of the strike pushed the district to agree to allow thirty schools to have these anti-racist committees. Given that the Seattle schools have been found to suspend African American students at four times the rate of white students for the same infractions, it is clear that every school in the city needs to organize actively against inequality and racism.
With this visionary set of demands and the overwhelming support of the parents, students, community, and even city officials, it is truly disappointing that the union ended the strike before we achieved all we could at the bargaining table. Seattle has the fastest rising cost of rent and is among the top ten in highest cost of living in the nation. Educators have not had a cost of living increase in six years, and are increasingly unable to live in the city where we teach. It was a mistake to agree to 3% raise the first year, a 2% raise the second, and a 4.5 % raise the third, which won’t do much to even off set our rising cost of healthcare. With this contract, nurses in the Seattle Public schools will still have to split their time between several schools and can’t possibly provide the care that our students deserve. We achieved lower student to teacher ratios in some preschool and Distinct special education programs, but increased the special education “Access” programs caseload by 30%, going from 10:1:3 to 13:1:3 (student:teacher:instructional assistant). With the current ratios the Access students are able to participate in the general education curriculum and setting with support, however the new ratios put that inclusion model in jeopardy and will overwhelm Access case managers. We also submitted to the district’s demand to lengthen the school day by 20 minutes, which will reduce teacher planning time. There is no definitive evidence that a longer day produces better student outcomes, but we do know it will increase the burden on educators.
The fact that the union never organized a mass rally to bring the maximum pressure on the district was really disappointing. I know that if the union had organized a demonstration with all of our 5,000 members, many thousands of parents would have joined us and the pressure would have been enough to get us big gains on all the major issues we were fighting for. This reality reveals that the key to building the power we need to achieve the schools our children deserve will be in combining social justice demands with a social movement unionism approach that seeks the full mobilization of the membership and the community in pursuit of those demands.
All that said, I also know our strike has already gone a long way in transforming our union, city politics, and the labor movement for the better. So many educators, parents, students, and community members, in Seattle and around the nation, understand the issues that we face in education so much better as a result of this struggle. With so many more parents made aware of the dangers of over-testing by this strike, the opt out movement in Seattle will be truly massive this spring. The issue of disproportionate discipline as a component of the school-to-prison-pipeline has now been exposed in our city and I believe this will help embolden the Black Lives Matter movement in the coming months. So many in our city have been made aware of the need to fully fund our schools at the state level and I believe teachers, parents, and students will collaborate more than ever in challenging the state legislature to live up to its constitutional duty to amply provide the resources needed to run our schools.
As the Social Equality Educators—a rank and file organization of educators in Seattle—recently wrote, “The sleeping giant of our union has awoken from its slumber and begun to stretch its muscles. SEA members showed a tremendous amount of creativity and courage on the picket lines.” When our union fully commits to using this newfound strength, the corporate reform bullies will be once and for all chased out of the schoolyard.
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School–the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013–and is an associate editor for the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.
Seattle Educators Vote to Strike for “Much more than pay”: Interview with Jesse Hagopian on social justice unionism
On Thursday, September 3rd, I joined thousands of Seattle educators in a packed downtown concert hall for a general membership meeting to decide whether or not to go on strike. After all the updates and debate, the meeting chair called for a voice vote on the matter at hand. An awesome cry of “aye” reverberated throughout the hall. Yet that thunderous roar of rejection for disrespect, the testocracy, and corporate education reform was belittled by the breathtaking silence that followed when the “no” vote was called for. In that blissful moment of peace, not a single educator in Seattle made a sound—and then pandemonium. An incredible jubilation resounded through the hall as it sunk in that we had just voted unanimously to strike for the schools that our students deserve.
It didn’t have to come to this, but the Seattle School District waited until the last days of summer to respond to any of the proposals put forward by educators, or to put forward any serious proposals of their own. When the district finally responded to the union, they rejected every one of the union’s innovative initiatives, and only offered teachers the opportunity to work 30 minuets a day for no extra pay.
Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network, interviewed me about the issues at stake in this contract battle—including the union’s demand for a 6 percent raise for each of the three years of the contract, a race and equity team in every school, expanded recess for elementary school students, an end to using test scores in teacher evaluations, caseload caps for counselors and school psychologists, and more. As I told Jaisal Noor,
The issues that we’re taking up are much more than pay. Teachers and educational support staff deserve a living wage in a city where the costs are skyrocketing, where teachers can no longer afford to live in the city where they teach. So we’re definitely fighting for fair compensation. [However] We’re fighting for an incredible list of educational reforms that will truly improve the lives of children in Seattle…I’m really proud of the work that my social justice educator colleagues have done over the years to help move the union in a direction that takes up the political demands that will help us achieve the contract that will improve public education.
Here then is the video of the interview on Seattle educators’ strike:
Teacher Jesse Hagopian says Seattle educators will walk the picket lines beginning Wednesday, September 9 if their demands are not met.
RESPECT is on the Rise: I lost my bid for SEA union president by 45 votes, but the Social Equality Educators have never been stronger!
Thanks to everyone for your support for the Social Equality Educator’s (SEE) RESPECT campaign in the recent Seattle Education Association (SEA) union election! Our campaign generated more excitement than ever before–both inside the union and among social justice and education thought leaders who supported my run for president of the union. In the end, I came up just 45 votes short of becoming the next president of the SEA, in the biggest voter turnout in our union’s history. Given that no one I have spoken to can remember an incumbent being unseated in SEA history, and that I received more votes than were cast in the entire last election, it is clear that there is a new upsurge occurring in our union. I gave this interview to KUOW, Seattle’s local NPR affiliate the day after the election summing up the results and laying out SEE’s vision for schools.
While it’s tough to lose by such a close margin, I am thrilled by the many accomplishments of this campaign.
SEE RESPECT candidates swept the high school Executive Board positions in the SEA, split the middle school seats, and won 6 seats overall! Dan Troccoli, the SEE candidate for treasurer, is in a special runoff election, the outcome of which we find out on June 4th. (Please support our efforts by donating to Dan’s campaign!).
Yet our campaign for RESPECT accomplished much more than just getting candidates elected.
SEE set out with a goal of getting over 50% of the members to participate in the election–and we surpassed our goal, with over 53% of members voting! We said from the beginning that the most important element of a strong union is an active membership, regardless of who is running the union. The SEA is becoming more active than ever and SEE is proud to have helped sparked discussions and debates that have greatly aided in members’ taking a greater interest in how to best organize our union. While there certainly have been some initiatives that the current SEA leadership have undertaken that have helped engage members (such as one-on-on listening sessions with members), there is no doubt that SEE is playing a vital role in activating the rank-and-file of the union around the key eduction issues of the day such as standardized testing, racial justice and the opportunity gap, and teacher evaluations.
In building after building across Seattle, candidates from the SEE’s RESPECT slate explained our vision to hundreds of SEA members: The contract educators deserve, the schools our children deserve, and the city our families deserve.
We said that the contract we deserve would set caseload caps for our counselors and other Education Support Associates (ESAs)—something the district has repeatedly promised would happen at some future date and something our union has continually backed down on. We said that the contract we deserve would have fair and sustainable teacher evaluations that were not dependent on unreliable, curriculum-narrowing standardized tests. Unfortunately, in contract negotiations SEA allowed Seattle to became the only city in the entire state to allow two measures of student growth in educators’ evaluations, including the use of state standardized tests scores.
The RESPECT campaign argued that the schools our children deserve would replace zero tolerance disciplinary procedures, which have resulted in African American students being suspended at five times the rate of their white peers, with restorative justice models designed to help students solve their problems collectively. We asserted that the schools students deserve would provide a holistic education that supports educators in promoting a multicultural education that is explicitly anti-racist, challenges gender bias, and undermines homophobia. And we said that our union has partner with parents to make a public campaign during contract negotiations around lowering class size to achieve the individual attention our students deserve.
We were also able to make an argument during this election for the role our schools play in the overall health of our city, and lay out a strategy for our union to play a more proactive role in the issues—such as a $15 minimum wage, affordable transportation, and affordable housing—that impact the families we serve.
Most importantly, in this election the Social Equality Educators helped to popularize a program which asserted that our union is strongest when we partner with parents and community organizations in a common struggle to defend public education from corporate education reformers. This idea was put into practice during last year’s boycott of the MAP test, when we built a broad-based coalition that included the Garfield PTSA, the Seattle/King County NAACP, Parents Across America, the Garfield Student Body Government, hundreds of educators, and many others in the community. The overwhelmingly positive response we received from teachers around the district to this strategy of coalition building shows the great potential for joining public education stakeholders in a common struggle.
The Social Equality Educators have only just begun in our quest for social movement unionism to achieve social justice inside and outside the classroom.
Front Page Seattle Times Article on SEA election: “Politics plays role in teachers union vote for president”
The Seattle Times ran an important front page article today on the current election in the Seattle Education Association (SEA), “Politics plays role in teachers union vote for president”. I am running for President of SEA on the RESPECT ticket, a slate of social justice educators.
The main criticism of our campaign cited in the article is that we have too many endorsements from outside the union–which only highlights how much support we have in the community and among social justice advocates. It should also be noted that we have scores of endorsements from leading educators in schools across Seattle. The most important part of the article is the end where the difference between our two campaigns is driven home when it is revealed that the incumbent leadership is endorsed by the pro-charter school/pro-standardized testing, Gates Foundation-backed reformer organization, Teachers United. Of course, Teachers United has a right to express their ideas in a fair and open debate. However, if the vast majority of the union membership believes that corporate reform policies of privatizing education and reducing teaching and learning to a test scores is harmful to public education–as we have expressed in numerous votes in the SEA–then we need a union that more rigorously opposes these harmful policies.
I would have liked to see more information in the article about our entire slate of candidates on the RESPECT ticket–including the great Marian Wagner, running for Vice President, and Dan Troccoli, running for Treasurer. I would have also liked to have seen a more substantive discussion of the political points that are being debated in this election. Most notably absent from the article was our criticism of the contract that SEA negotiated with the District that made far too many concessions for educators–such as not getting caseload caps for our counselors and allowing Seattle to become the only city in Washington state to allow two measures of “student growth” (including state test scores) in teacher evaluations. Finally, I would have liked to have seen some of the points of the SEE RESPECT platform highlighted, such as our dedication to combating institutional racism by advocating for a restorative justice approach to discipline replacing zero tolerance polices that have resulted in dramatically disproportion discipline used to punishing African American students.
Still, the article raises the important issues of school closures and the over use of standardized testing–and pointed out that these are movements I have been a part of for many years. Because these are issues that educators in Seattle care deeply about, this article should help to increase voter turnout in the election–a prerequisite to a an engaged and activated membership, one of the primary objectives of ours in the campaign.
Those of us on the SEE RESPECT ticket in the election know that our union needs to become more powerful in its defense of public education.
You can support our efforts to revive social justice unionism to defend public education by:
1) Sharing our campaign with every educator you know–on Facebook, Twitter, email, and beyond.
Thanks to everyone for all your support!
Voting has begun!
I am running for president of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) with a dozen other educators on the RESPECT ticket. We want to transform our union to become a powerful force to defend public education from corporate education reformers. Many of us were leaders in the MAP test boycott and we all believe that a union that builds partnerships with parents and community organizations can achieve the contract educators deserve, the schools our children deserve, and the city our families deserve. If you believe in our vision, please donate to support our campaign here. In this video we explain our vision for what RESPECT means and how to achieve it:
Please share this video widely and ask any educator you know in Seattle to consider voting for our slate of candidates. Seattle educators can cast–or change–their vote unit voting closes on Wednesday, May 7th. Information on the candidates and instructions for SEA members on how to vote are here.
It is time to Elect RESPECT!