By Jesse Hagopian, first published at The Progressive.
The Jocks.The marching band. The cheerleaders. The Black Student Union. The teachers. And the administration. These disparate high school groups rarely come together.
But at times of great peril and of great hope, barriers that once may have seemed permanent can collapse under a mighty solidarity. The crisis of police terror in black communities across the country is just such a peril—and the resistance to that terror, symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem—is just such a hope.
On September 16th, the entire football team of Garfield High School, the school I teach at in Seattle, joined the protest that Kaepernick set in motion by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. While the Garfield Bulldogs were among the first high schools to have an entire team protest the anthem, it has since spread to schools around the nation. Their bold action for justice made headlines around the country. Their photo appeared in the issue of Time Magazine that featured Kaepernick on the cover CBS news came to Garfield to do a special on the protest. And in the New York Times, Kaepernick himself commented on the Garfield football team saying, “I think it’s amazing.”
It was a rejection of the rarely recited third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which celebrates the killing of black people, the ongoing crisis of state violence against black people, and an affirmation that black lives matter. As the Garfield football team said in a statement they later released,
“We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.”
And those conversations led them to analyze the way racism is connected to other forms of oppression and the way those forms of oppression disfigure many aspects of their lives, including the media and the school system. Yes, football players publicly challenging homophobia may be rare, but the bulldog scholar athletes aren’t having it.
Here is the teams’s six-point program to confront injustice and oppression:
1. Equality for all regardless of race, gender, class, social standing and/or sexual orientation—both in and out of the classroom as well as the community.
2. Increase of unity within the community. Changing the way the media portrays crime. White people are typically given justification while other minorities are seen as thugs, etc.
3. Academic equality for students. Certain schools offer programs/tracks that are not available at all schools or to all students within that school. Better opportunities for students who don’t have parental or financial support are needed. For example, not everyone can afford Advanced Placement (AP) testing fees and those who are unable to pay those fees, are often not encouraged to enroll into those programs. Additionally, the academic investment doesn’t always stay within the community.
4. Lack of adequate training for teachers to interact effectively with all students. Example, “Why is my passion mistaken for aggression?” “Why when I get an A on a test, does the teacher tell me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could pull that off.’”
5. Segregation through classism.
6. Getting others to see that institutional racism does exist in our community, city, state, etc.
The rebellion didn’t stop with the Bulldog’s football team.
The Garfield High School girls’ volleyball team all took a knee. At the following football game, the marching band and the cheerleaders joined the players on bended knee for justice. At the homecoming game—a space that is more associated with mascots and rivalry then with protest and solidarity—Black Student Union members lifted a sign during the national anthem proclaiming,
“When we kneel you riot, but when we’re shot you’re quiet.”
The sign references death threats directed at Kaepernick as well as cowardly wishes of harm made against the Garfield football team for their actions. One Black Student Union officer told me:
“The anthem doesn’t represent what is currently happening in the U.S. and what has happened in the past—from slavery to police brutality and mass incarceration. Don’t be mad at us for protesting against these issues, be mad at the people who caused them.”
Our school has a long tradition of combating injustice. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s only visit to Seattle he delivered his speech at Garfield High School. One of the young students at that speech was Aaron Dixon, who would later see Stokely Carmichael go on to graduate from Garfield and help found the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Since my time returning to teach at my alma mater I have seen Garfield continue this tradition. In 2011, Garfield high school students lead a walkout against the state legislature’s plan to cut $2 billion from healthcare and education. In 2013, the teachers voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, helping to ignite a national revolt against high-stakes testing in what commentators have called the “Education Spring.”
When a grand jury failed to indict Darrin Wilson for the murder of unarmed African American Michael Brown, the Garfield BSU lead a walkout of some 1,000 students, joining with the NAACP rally, and help launch the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle. In January of 2015, Garfield High School’s Quincy Jones Auditorium (named after our celebrated musician alum) was packed with some 600 students, parents, and community members to hear from political sportswriter Dave Zirin and the legendary 1968 Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos—the Black track star who joined teammate Tommie Smith in raising his fist to the sky during the medal ceremony playing of the national anthem.
All of these events have aided struggles for social justice and have made Garfield a truly fulfilling place to work. But the solidarity exhibited this fall has stirred the deepest emotion in me. This moment was made possible by remarkable support from coaches, educators, counselors, mentors, and administrators.As head football coach Joey Thomas said, “One thing we pride ourselves on is we have open and honest conversations about what is going on in this society. It led kids to talk about the social injustice they experience.” Garfield High School principal Ted Howard also gave his support in a statement that read,
“The Garfield High School Football Team has taken a powerful, united stance with the hope of being a catalyst for positive dialogue and change. The youth and their coaches have put a great deal of thought and heart into their decision to take a knee at their games… I ask our community to support our young people, our team and our leaders.”
One teacher organized the Garfield High School staff for a photo to publicly demonstrate solidarity with the football and volleyball team. As the players approached, the staff broke out in cheers and applause that sent my heart soaring.
And the work continues.
At Garfield this year, educators started a new initiative to combat racial segregation between honors and regular humanities classes by un-tracking 9th grade classes. The Seattle Education Association recently resolved to endorse educators across Seattle wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school.
Great teachers are important. Yet as history has shown, struggle is the greatest teacher of all. The lessons this movement has imparted on young people today have been truly revelatory. As a member of the Garfield girls volleyball team recently expressed to her teachers:
“I was taking a knee for all of my fallen brothers’ and sisters’ lives who have been taken due to racial injustice and have been taken well before God called them home. I also took a knee because I don’t need to gloriously praise a flag that only seems to praise one class and race.”
Jesse Hagopian is the Seattle Fellow for the Progressive Magazine, a social studies teacher and Black Student Union advisor at Garfield High School, and the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.
The #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool event in Seattle yesterday was breathtaking.
Never before in the country has an entire district of educators risen up to declare that Black lives matter. It’s hard to even put into words the power of this event. It has been reported that 2,000 teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school across the district–in fact, the number was much larger than that. That is the number of shirts that were ordered from the Social Equality Educators, however, many schools made their own shirts. Families made buttons and distributed them to schools. Some parents set up informational booths in front of their school with resources for teaching about racism. There was a joyous atmosphere around the city. Many educators around the city took the day to teach students developmentally appropriate lessons about institutional racism and hold dialogues about Black lives matter.
There is so much work left to be done to make Black Lives truly matter at school. But at the rally for Black lives at lunchtime at my high school, Garfield, something happened that let everyone know that change is already happening.
One of our teachers, Janett Du Bois, revealed to everyone in the middle of our rally that the police had murdered her son a few years ago. No one at our school knew about this. It was in that moment of seeing everyone wearing Black Lives Matter shirts that she found the strength to tell her story. Her bravery to go public with this has changed Garfield forever. I am so glad that she no longer has to suffer alone with the pain. Here is a short news story that doesn’t do her full speech justice, but will give you a glimpse: http://www.king5.com/news/local/seattle/2000-seattle-teachers-to-wear-black-lives-matter-shirts/338419052
ABC provided national news coverage of our day and the amazing evening rally: http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/seattle-teachers-bring-black-lives-matter-school-42942387
Here is a link to some of the best photos taken of the day from a Seattle Public Schools parent, photographer, and author Sharon Chang: https://sharonhchang.com/blacklivesmatteratschool/
Below are just some of the photos of schools from around Seattle who participated in #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool:
Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool: Hundreds of professors across the country support Seattle educators in their day of action
Over 200 scholars and professors nationwide sign statement in support of the Seattle teachers’ October 19,, 2016 action to make Black Students’ Lives Matter in the district. The support for making Black Lives Matter in our classrooms has been widespread, yet some around the nation have also responded with messages of hate and fear. Dr. Wayne Au, Associate Professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell and an editor for the social justice teaching publication, Rethinking Schools, put out a call to professors and scholars to publicly tell the Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle School Board that many experts in the field of education and beyond support Seattle teachers. Below is the statement and the list of 212 names and affiliations as of October 17, 2016.
We, the undersigned professors and scholars, publicly express our support for and solidarity with teachers of Seattle Public Schools and their October 19, 2016 action in recognition of making Black Student Lives Matter in our schools. We hope that these teachers are continually supported by the district, the school board, their union, and parents in their struggle for racial justice in Seattle schools.
Name & Affiliation (for informational purposes only)
- Curtis Acosta, Education for Liberation Network & University of Arizona South
- Alma Flor Ada, Ph. D., Professor Emerita, School of Education, University of San Francisco
- Annie Adamian, Assistant Professor, California State University, Chico
- Jennifer D. Adams, Associate Professor Science Ed and Earth and Environmental Sciences, CUNY
- Tara L. Affolter, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College
- Jean Aguilar-Valdez, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
- Lauren Anderson, Associate Professor of Education, Connecticut College
- Subini Annamma, Assistant Professor, Special Education, University of Kansas
- Zandrea Ambrose, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
- Nancy Ares, Associate Professor, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
- Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price, Teacher Educator–Montclair State University; EdD student at Rutgers Graduate School of Education
- Rick Ayers, Asst. Prof of Education, U of San Francisco.
- William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education (retired), University of Illinois Chicago
- Wayne Au, Associate Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington Bothell
- Jeff Bale, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
- Megan Bang, Associate Professor, learning Sciences and Human Development, Secondary Teacher Education
- Lesley Bartlett, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Teddi Beam-Conroy, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, University of Washington
- Lee Anne Bell, Professor Emerita, Barnard College
- John Benner PhC, University of Washington, College of Education
- Jeremy Benson, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Rhode Island College
- Dr Berta Rosa Berriz, Arts in Learning Division,Lesley University
- Dan Berger, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Margarita Bianco, associate professor, School of Education and Human Development, University of Colorado Denver
- Anne Blanchard, PhD, Senior Instructor, Western Washington University.
- Whitney G. Blankenship, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies & History, Rhode Island College.
- Aaron Bodle, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, James Madison University
- Joshua Bornstein, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Felician University.
- Samuel Brower, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston
- Anthony Brown, Associate Professor, University of Texas Austin
- Kristen Buras, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
- Dolores Calderon, Associate Professor, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington university
- Timothy G. Cashman Associate professor, social studies education, University of Texas at El Paso
- Keith C. Catone, Principal Associate, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
- Charusheela, Assistant professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Minerva S. Chávez, Ph. D., Director, Single Subject Credential Program, Associate Professor, Department of Secondary Education, California State University, Fullerton
- Linda Christensen, Director Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark College.
- Christian W. Chun, Assistant Professor of Culture, Identity and Language Learning, University of Massachusetts Boston
- Carrie Cifka-Herrera Ph.D. University California Santa Cruz
- Donna-Marie Cole-Malott, PhD candidate, Pennsylvania State University
- Ross Collin, Associate Professor of English Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Rebekah Cordova, PhD, College of Education, University of Florida
- Chris Crowley, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Wayne State University
- Cindy Cruz, Associate Professor of Education, UC Santa Cruz
- Mary Jane Curry, University of Rochester
- Karam Dana, Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Chela Delgado, adjunct faculty in San Francisco State University Educational Leadership graduate program
- Robert L. Dahlgren, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, SUNY Fredonia
- Noah De Lissovoy, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas at Austin
- Betsy DeMulder, Professor, College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University
- Robin DiAngelo, Adjunct Faculty, University of Washington School of Social Work.
- Maurice E. Dolberry, PhD. Lecturer, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington-Bothell
- Michael J. Dumas, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.
- Jody Early, Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Washington Bothell
- Kimberly Early, adjunct faculty, Education department at Highline College & Applied Behavioral Science department at Seattle Central
- Education for Liberation
- Kathy Emery, PhD, Lecturer at San Francisco State University
- Joseph J Ferrare, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
- Michelle Fine, Professor, City University of New York Graduate Center
- Liza Finkel, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Lewis & Clark College Graduate School of Education and Counseling
- Kara S. Finnigan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education Policy, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester
- Ryan Flessner, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Butler University
- Susana Flores, PhD Assistant Professor, Curriculum, Supervision and Educational Leadership at Central Washington University
- Kristen B. French, Associate Professor & Director, Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, Woodring College of Education, Western Washington University
- Victoria Frye, Associate Medical Professor, City University of New York School of Medicine
- Derek R. Ford, Assistant Professor of Education Studies, DePauw University
- Jill Freidberg, part time lecturer, Media and Communication Studies, University of Washington Bothell.
- James A. Gambrell, Assistant Professor of Practice, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University
- Arline García, Spanish Instructor, Highline College
- Mónica G. GarcíaAssistant Professor Secondary Education, California State University Northridge
- Brian Gibbs Assistant Professor of Education University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- David Goldstein, Senior Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell.
- Julie Gorlewski, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Alexandro Jose Gradilla, Associate Professor, Chicana/o Studies, CSU Fullerton.
- Sandy Grande, Professor of Education and Director of the center for the comparative study of race and ethnicity, Connecticut College
- Allison Green, English Department, Highline College
- Kiersten Greene, Assistant Professor of Literacy Education, State University of New York at New Paltz
- Susan Gregson, Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Cincinnati
- Martha Groom, Professor, IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Rico Gutstein, University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
- Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, Michigan State University
- Amy Hagopian at University of Washington School of Public Health.
- Jessica James Hale, Doctoral Research Fellow, Mathematics Education, Georgia State University Elizabeth Hanson, ESL Professor, Shoreline Community
- May Hara, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Framingham State University
- Nicholas Hartlep, Assistant Professor of Urban Education, Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN
- Jill Heiney-Smith, Instructor in Teacher Education, Director of Field Placements, Seattle Pacific University
- Mark Helmsing, Coordinator of Social Studies Education, University of Wyoming
- Kevin Lawrence Henry, Jr., Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies & Practice, College of Education, University of Arizona.
- Erica Hernandez-Scott, Master in Teaching Faculty, Evergreen State College
- Josh Iddings, Assistant Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies, Virginia Military Institute
- Ann M. Ishimaru, Assistant Professor, University of Washington
- Dimpal Jain, Assistant Professor, California State University, Northridge
- Brian Jones, City University of New York, Graduate Center
- Denisha Jones, Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, Trinity Washington University
- Beth Kalikoff, Associate Professor, Univ. of Washington Seattle
- Richard Kahn, Core Faculty in Education, Antioch University Los Angeles
- Daniel Katz, Chair, Department of Educational Studies, Seton Hall University
- Mary Klehr, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education
- Courtney Koestler, Director of the OHIO Center for Equity in Math and Science, Ohio University
- Jill Koyama, Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies and Practice, University of Arizona
- Chris Knaus, Associate Professor, University of Washington Tacoma
- Matthew Knoester, Associate Professor, University of Evansville
- Rita Kohli, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Riverside
- Ron Krabill, Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Patricia Krueger-Henney, Assistant Professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of Massachusetts Boston.
- Saili Kulkarni College of Education Assistant Professor Cal State Dominguez Hills
- Scott Kurashige, Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Gloria Ladson-Billings Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education UW-Madison
- Carrie Lanza, MSW and PhD, adjunct faculty, University of Washington Bothell
- Douglas Larkin, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
- Alyson L. Lavigne, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt university
- Clifford Lee, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
- Kari Lerum, Associate Professor, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Washington
- Pauline Lipman, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois-Chicago
- Katrina Liu, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, University of Nevada Las Vegas
- Lisa W. Loutzenheiser, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
- David Low, Assistant professor of literacy education, California State University Fresno
- John Lupinacci, Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching & Learning, Washington State University
- Wendy Luttrell, Professor, Urban Education & Critical Social Psychology, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
- Aurolyn Luykx, Assoc. Professor of Anthropology & Education, University of Texas at El Paso.
- Sheila Macrine, Professor, Umass Dartmouth
- Tomás Alberto Madrigal, Ph.D., Tacoma Pierce County Health Department
- Jan Maher, Senior Scholar, Institute for Ethics in Public Life, State University of NY at Plattsburgh
- Curry Malott, Associate Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- Gerardo Mancilla, Ph.D., Director of Education Administration and Leadership, School of Education Faculty, Edgewood College
- Roxana Marachi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, San Jose State University
- Fernando Marhuenda, PhD, Professor in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Valencia, in Spain
- Tyson Marsh, Associate Professor, Seattle University
- Carlos Martínez-Cano, PhD Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
- Edwin Mayorga, Assistant Professor, Educational Studies, Swarthmore College
- Kate McCoy, Associate Professor of Educational Foundations, SUNY New Paltz
- Cynthia McDermott.EdD., Professor and Regional Director, Antioch University Los Angeles
- Jacqueline T. McDonnough, Ph.D., Associate Professor Science Education, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Kathleen McInerney, Professor, School of Education, Saint Xavier University
- Deborah Meier, MacArthur fellow, NYU fellow
- José Alfredo Menjivar, Doctoral Student, CUNY, Graduate Center and Humanities Alliance Fellow, LaGuardia Community College
- Paul Chamness Miller, Professor of International Liberal Arts, Akita International University
- Jed Murr, Full-Time Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
- Bill Muth, Associate Professor, Adult Learning and Literacy, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Kate Napolitan, Teaching Associate, University of Washington Seattle
- Jason M. Naranjo Assistant Professor, Special Education University of Washington Bothell
- Pedro E. Nava, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Mills College
- Network for Public Education
- Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Tammy Oberg De La Garza, Associate Professor, College of Education, Roosevelt University
- Gilda L. Ochoa, Professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, Pomona College
- Margo Okazawa-Rey Professor Emerita, San Francisco State University
- Susan Opotow, PhD Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
- Rachel Oppenheim, Director and Core Faculty, School of Education, Antioch University Seattle
- Joy Oslund, Coordinator of directed teaching, assistant professor, Madonna University, Livonia, MI
- Sandra L. Osorio, Assistant Professor, School of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University
- Callie Palmer, WSU doctoral student/adjunct faculty at Linn Benton Community College
- Django Paris, associate professor, department of teacher education, Michigan State University
- Hillary Parkhouse, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Leigh Patel, Associate Professor, Boston College.
- Summer Pennell, Assistant Professor of English Education, Truman State University
- Patricia Perez, Professor, California State University Fullerton
- Emery Petchauer, Associate Professor. College of Ed. Michigan State University
- Bree Picower Associate Professor Montclair State University
- Farima Pour-Khorshid, Teacher Educator, University of San Francisco and PhD Candidate at University of California, Santa Cruz
- Shameka Powell, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies, Department of Education, Tufts University
- Rebecca M Price, Associate Professor, UW Bothell
- Sarah A. Robert, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo (SUNY)
- Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education, Michigan State University
- Rosalie M. Romano, Associate Professor Emerita, Western Washington University
- Ricardo D. Rosa, PhD., Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies,, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth
- Wayne Ross, Professor, University of British Columbia
- Dennis L. Rudnick, Associate Director of Multicultural Education and Research, IUPUI
- Lilliana Patricia Saldaña, Associate Professor, Mexican American Studies, University of Texas San Antonio
- Jen Sandler, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
- Jeff Sapp, professor of education, California State University Dominguez Hills
- Alexandra Schindel, Asst Professor, University at Buffalo
- Ann Schulte, Professor of Education, CSU Chico
- Simone Schweber, Goodman Professor of Education, UW-Madison
- Déana Scipio, Postdoctoral fellow, ERC & Chèche Konnen Center at TERC
- Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
- Doug Selwyn, Professor of Education, State University of New York
- Julie Shayne, Senior Lecturer, University of Washington Bothell
- Sarah Shear, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, Penn State Altoona
- Mira Shimabukuro, Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Bothell
- Janelle Silva, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Carol Simmons. Retired educator, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle University Professor, Seattle Community College, Western State University, City University Professor.
- Dana Simone, Instructor, Foundational Studies in Education, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- George Sirrakos, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
- Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita, California State University Monterey Bay
- Timothy D. Slekar, Dean, College of Education, Edgewood College, Madison, WI
- Beth Sondel, Assistant Professor, Department of Instruction and Learning, University of Pittsburgh
- Debbie Sonu, Associate Professor of Education, City University of New York
- Mariana Souto-Manning, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Teaching, Teachers College Columbia
- Jeremy Stoddard, Associate Professor, College of William & Mary
- David Stovall, Professor, University of Illinois Chicago
- Rolf Straubhaar, Assistant Research Scientist, University of Georgia.
- Katie Strom, Assistant Prof Educational Leadership, Cal State Univ East Bay
- Katy Swalwell, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Iowa State University
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor, Dept of African American Studies, Princeton University
- Monica Taylor, Associate Professor, Secondary and Special Education, Montclair State University
- Cathryn Teasley, Assistant Professor, University of A Coruña (Spain)
- Adai Tefera, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Clarens La Mont Terry, Associate Professor, Occidental College
- Amoshaun Toft, Assistant Professor, School of IAS, University of Washington Bothell
- Sara Tolbert, Assistant professor, College of Education, University of Arizona
- Maria Torre, the City University of New York Graduate Center
- Diane Torres-Velasquez, Associate Professor, University of New Mexico
- Victoria Trinder, Clinical Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
- Eve Tuck, Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies in Education, OISE, University of Toronto
- Carrie Tzou, Associate Professor, University of Washington Bothell
- Angela Valenzuela, professor of Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin
- Manka Varghese, Associate Professor, University of Washington College of Education
- Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Professor, California State University Sacramento
- Michael Vavrus, Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies (Education, Political Economy, History), The Evergreen State College
- Verónica Vélez, Assistant Professor and Director, Education and Social Justice Minor and Program, Western Washington University
- Maiyoua Vang, Associate Professor, College of Education, California State University, Sacramento
- Michael Viola, Assistant Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
- Donna Vukelich Selva, Edgewood College, Madison WI
- Catherine C. Wadbrook, MA, Med, Assistant Professor, Department of English and Journalism, Austin Community College
- Mimi Wallace, Assistant Professor, Secondary Education, McNeese State University
- Camille Walsh, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington Bothell
- Lois Weiner, Professor, Director, Urban Education and Teacher Unionism Policy Project New Jersey City University
- Melissa Weiner, Associate Professor of Sociology, College of the Holy Cross
- Michael Wickert, Professor of English an Education, Southwestern College, Chula Vista, CA
- Gabe Winer, English/ESOL Department Co-chairBerkeley City College
- Min Yu, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University
- Ken Zeichner Boeing Professor of Teacher Education, University of Washington Seattle
- Shelley Zion, Professor, Urban Education, Rowan University
By Chris B. Bennett
The Seattle Medium
Jesse Hagopian, a community activist and history teacher at Garfield High School, recently reached a $100,000 settlement with the City of Seattle for an incident in which he was pepper-sprayed, without provocation, by a Seattle Police officer after he gave a speech at a community rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2015.
At the time of the incident, Hagopian was on the phone with his mother– arranging plans for a ride to his two-year-old son’s birthday party — when Seattle police officer Sandra Delafuente assaulted him with pepper-spray.
“That day was deeply painful, and not only because of the burning in my ears, nostrils, and swollen eyes,” said Hagopian. “What hurt the most was the fear that I brought to my two sons who were deeply troubled watching me writhe in pain and pour milk on face to try to sooth the burning.”
The pepper-spray assault was caught on video and garnered millions of views online and was the subject of national and international news stories. As a result of the video, Hagopian was able to show that the incident was unwarranted.
“It is deeply disappointing that we are in this place again that we see how protestors and peaceful marchers are treated by the Seattle Police Department,” said Attorney James Bible, whose law firm represented Hogapin in his claim against the City. “I think the question that should be posed by many is what would happen if there, in fact, was no video in this particular case. We’d be stuck with nothing but the narrative of law enforcement and what we know now is that the narrative of the law enforcement rarely, if ever, matches the video that we’re able to capture and gather on occasion.”
Hagopian, to his credit, has turned the incident into an opportunity to support people who are making a difference in the Seattle area, as he is providing money from the settlement to support the work of groups and individuals to improve the plight of people of color.
At a press conference held Monday at the NAACP office, Hagopian announced the establishment of his Black Education Matters Scholarship for student activist. Hagopian presented three high school students – Marcelas Owens, Ifrah abshir and Ahlaam Ibraahim – with $1,000 to use in order to continue their work in the community.
Marcelas Owens has been on the recognized for her work both locally and nationally on healthcare and transgender issues.
Ahlaam Ibraahim hosts an annual Islamophobic event to educate people who may be afraid of Muslim people due to media bias. In addition, she also uses social media to address bad things that are happening in schools and has been instrumental in getting building improvements at some schools through her use of social media.
Ifrah Abshir helped lead the Transportation Justice Movement for Orca Cards in Seattle Public Schools. This started off as a quest to secure Orca Cards for Rainier Beach students that lived more than a mile from school and were getting to school late or missing school because they did not have the financial means to pay for bus transportation. The two-year battle culminated in the City of Seattle providing Orca Cards to low-income high school students in Seattle.
“I’m really excited to say that the real heroes in our community are the young people who are making big change and getting ready to make even bigger change,” said Hagopian. “We are going to turn all this pain into positive movement forward and into action.”
“Already you’ve transformed Seattle Schools,” he said of the recipients. “I can’t wait to see what you guys do moving forward.”
In addition, Hagopian also announced funding for the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation, and Families of Color Seattle – two community-based organizations that are also helping to make a difference in the community.
Africatown Center for Education and Innovation is an organization that has developed a concerted effort to change the trajectory of African American students by providing a culturally responsive learning community that fosters hope, resilience, and academic achievement.
Families of Color Seattle is a local organization that provides parenting support and cultural programming for families of color.
“It’s meant so much to me to see the work that you’ve done with families of color across Seattle to empower them and this is exactly the type of work that I want to continue to support in Seatttle,” said Hagopian about his donation to the organization.
Hagopian says that the awards are not one time gestures and that he plans to establish a fund so he can give out funds to deserving people each year.
“We’re going to put thousands of dollars into this fund, so people can get it,” he said.
As it relates to the pepper-spray incident, the outcome is bittersweet for both Hagopian and the NAACP.
“This is a victory in that it has received an outcome,” said Sheley Secrest, Vice President of the Seattle King County NAACP. “But this is a lesson that Seattle has already had the opportunity to learn. SPD should be ashamed because they know that they have a problem when it comes to policing these types of protests.”
“We’ve told them over and over again and the fact this it has cost them over $100,000 for their failure to learn from their mistakes is a lesson that as taxpayers we cannot afford,” Secrest concluded.
With the settlement the City of Seattle did not admit to any wrongdoing. The Office of Professional Accountability recommended that officer Delafuente be suspended for one-day without pay for her actions. However, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, reportedly, choose to give Delafuente an oral reprimand instead of suspending her.
Because most of their arguments are increasingly discredited because of this uprising, they are desperately attempting to cling to one last defense of the need to subject our students to a multibillion-dollar testing industry.
Charles F. Coleman, Jr. supported this last ditch effort for the “testocracy” when he took up former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s argument that opposition to standardized testing was only from out of touch “white suburban moms.” Coleman has in the past written pieces in support of making black lives matter, but in this careless piece he dismissed the opt out movement as a privileged white effort:
Boycotting standardized tests may seem like a good idea, but hurts black learners most….White parents from well-funded and highly performing areas are participating in petulant, poorly conceived protests that are ultimately affecting inner-city blacks at schools that need the funding and measures of accountability to ensure any hope of progress in performance.
Here are six reasons why Coleman’s belief that opting out hurts students of color is fundamentally flawed and why his belief that accountability and academic success require high-stakes standardized testing is just plain old wrong.
1. Extreme over-testing disproportionately harms students of color.
Coleman admits in his essay, “there should be concerns raised over excessive testing and devoting too much classroom instruction to test prep.” But he doesn’t acknowledge how destructive excessive testing has become (especially for children of color) or credit the opt out movement for revealing the outsized role that testing is playing in education. No one—certainly not the media—would even be talking about the excessive testing in schools if it wasn’t for the opt out movement. And the amount of testing in the public schools today isn’t just excessive—it’s extreme. The average student today is subjected to 112 standardized tests between preschool and high school graduation!
But the crux of the issue is that the highest concentration of these tests are in schools serving low-income students and students of color. Schools that serve more black and brown students have become test-prep factories rather than incubators of creativity and critical thinking. The corporate education reformers behind high stakes testing, like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family want their own kids to have the time and support to explore the arts, music, drama, athletics, debate and engage in a rich curriculum of problem solving and critical thinking. Rote memorization for the next standardized tests is good enough for the rest of us.
2. Communities of color are increasingly joining and leading the opt out movement.
While it’s true that currently the students opting out are disproportionately white, to portray opting out as a white people thing 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 women, is one of the most important leaders in the country 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. PTA co-chairs Đào X. Trần and Elexis Loubriel-Pujols at New York City’s Castlebridge Elementary School (comprising 72 percent students of color) led the opt out movement there. They gained national prominence and helped to ignite the opt out movement across the country in 2013 when more than 80 percent of families refused to allow their kids to take a standardized test. The school had to cancel the test altogether.
One of the largest student protests against high-stakes testing in U.S. history occurred last spring when many hundreds of students in New Mexico—at schools that served 90% Latino students—walked out of school and refused to take the new Common Core exams. 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.
In my hometown, the Seattle/King County NAACP hosted a press conference last spring 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.”
Or check out the brilliant podcast, “These Tests Will Go,” The Opt-Out Movement in Urban Philadelphia, which documents the uprising of African American parents determined to make their kids more than a test score and fighting for the programs their kids deserve.
3. The federal government hasn’t punished schools for opting out.
Coleman argues that if the number of students taking the required standardized tests drops below 95 percent, the government can cut funding to schools, and that will be most damaging to students of color. However, the federal government has never—not even once—cut funds to a school district for its high opt out numbers. While No Child Left Behind initially had a provision for penalties against large opt out numbers, which carried over to the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the “testocracy” seems to be too afraid to use this clause.
Moreover, the opt out movement holds the potential to actually increase the amount of school funding. The many millions of dollars wasted on ranking and sorting our children with standardized tests every year could be spent on tutoring programs, counseling services, art teachers, nurses, librarians, music programs, ethnic studies classes, and many services our children deserve.
4.Test-and-Punish policies are cruel and inequitable.
High-stakes tests are being used around the country to label children and schools as failing, to prevent kids from graduating, to fire teachers, and to close schools. Chicago Board of Education voted in 2013 to close some 49 of the city’s public schools—schools that served approximately 87 percent black students. 71 percent of the schools had a majority African-Americans teachers and staff. The standardized tests the students take register racial and class bias, measure the lack of resources available to schools, and then provide cover for shutting them down.
A review by the National Research Council concluded high school graduation tests have done nothing to lift student achievement, but they have raised the dropout rate. African American, Latino, American Indian and low-income students are far more likely to be denied a diploma for not passing a test. High stakes tests often inaccurately assess English language learners—measuring their understating of English and the dominant culture rather than the subject they are being tested in. 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.
5) Standardized testing was invented by white supremacists and maintains institutional racism today.
Once you know the history of standardized tests in public schools, you can never fall for Coleman’s absurd assertion that, “boycotting standardized tests may seem like a good idea, but hurts black learners most.” Standardized tests first entered American public schools in the 1920s, at the urging of eugenicists whose pseudoscience proclaimed that white males were naturally smarter. As Rethinking Schools editorialized, “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.”
One of these early eugenicists was Carl Brigham, a professor at Princeton University and author of the white supremacist manifesto, A Study of American Intelligence. Brigham developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT. Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Howard Long. Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” noted in 1924 what today we call the “Zip Code Effect”—what standardized tests really measure is a student’s proximity to wealth and the dominant culture.
6. There are better ways than high stakes testing to improve education for children of color.
Coleman asserts that, “Standardized testing, albeit imperfect, remains one of the best ways to ensure that teachers, schools, and school districts are held accountable for making sure children are succeeding.” A huge body of evidence contradicts this statement, and points to the power of an inquiry based pedagogy, coupled with authentic forms of assessment. Take, for example, the New York Consortium Schools for Performance Based Assessment. These fully public schools have a waiver from state tests and instead use performance-based assessments. Students work with a faculty mentor to develop an idea, conduct research, and then defend a body of work to a panel of experts—including school administration, other teachers, and outside experts and practitioners in the field of study.
If the testocracy is right—if it’s true that high-stakes standardized testing is the key to improving accountability and performance—then these New York consortium schools that don’t give the state standardized test should be the very worst schools in New York City. However, comprehensives studies show Consortium Schools have higher graduation rates, better college attendance rates, and smaller gaps in outcomes between students of color and their white peers than the rest of New York’s public schools.
Conclusion: Hold the system accountable
Coleman’s arguments lamenting students of color score worse on the tests than their white peers—without acknowledging the ways in which systematic underfunding of schools, poverty, and institutional racism have disfigured our school system—end up pathologizing communities of color rather than supporting them. The U.S. school system is more segregated today than at any time since 1968. The majority of students attending public school in the U.S. today live in poverty. The school-to-prison-pipeline (including disproportionate suspension rates and the use of high-stakes testing) has contributed to the fact that there are now more black people behind bars, on probation, or on parole than were slaves on plantations in 1850. As education professor Pedro Noguera has said, “We’ve developed an accountability system that holds those with the most power the least accountable.”
Our task must be to build multiracial alliances in the opt out movement that can produce the kind of solidarity it will take to defeat a testing juggernaut that is particularly destructive to communities of color—while causing great damage to all of our schools. And while must begin by standing up to the multibillion dollar testing industry by opting out, we must also create a vision for an uprising that opts in to antiracist curriculum, ethnic studies programs, wrap around services to support the academic and social and emotional development of students, programs to recruit teachers of color, restorative justice programs that eliminate zero tolerance discipline practices, and beyond.
Now, back to writing that opt out letter for my son.
Jesse Hagopian is the Progressive Education Seattle Fellow. Jesse teaches history and is the co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School–the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013. Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. You can follow Jesse on his blog, IAmAnEducator.com, or on Twitter: @jessedhagopian
By Gerald Lenoir and Jesse Hagopian
Thanks to a long history of redlining, formerly black neighborhoods in cities around the country are continuously disappearing under the rapacious churn of financial real estate interests. But city blocks in prime locations aren’t the only things being lost. Gentrification is also happening in our classrooms and books, pushing out the past, erasing the lives and struggles of African Americans from our collective memory.
Take A Birthday Cake for George Washington, for example, a children’s book by Ramin Ganeshram published by Scholastic. In it, smiling, happy slaves wrap their arms around their master, the first U.S. president. In a Texas high school geography textbook published by McGraw-Hill, enslaved Africans are described as “workers,” rather than slaves, and placed in a section titled “Patterns of Immigration”—as if they came here looking for a better life. In Jefferson County, Colorado, the School Board adopted a proposal to avoid the use of materials in its advanced placement high school history curriculum that “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard for the law”—banning, of course, any discussion of the lunch counter sit-ins, freedom rides, and other actions causing “social strife” and which are foundational for the Civil Rights Movement.
The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI), which offers whitewashed classroom lesson plans for teachers across the country, is funded by the infamous Koch brothers, Charles and David, who together have more wealth than Bill Gates. Educator Bill Bigelow describes how the Bill of Rights Institute “cherry-picks” events to hammer home a libertarian message about the sacredness of private property, and also how it offers “quiet cover” for Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman:
One section on the website is “Teaching with Current Events,” and includes a lesson, “Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine Laws…” Here’s the lesson’s first discussion question: “Florida’s ‘Stand-Your-Ground’ law states ‘A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.
While black history has long been redlined and ghettoized, the corporate wrecking ball is swinging with a renewed velocity, aiming at cornerstones of black history as part of a broader resurgence of racism in the United States. This gentrification of the contributions of black people to our society is sanitizing white supremacy.
These latest developments are preceded by the icon-ification of many historical black leaders. History books portray the “I Have a Dream” version of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., never mentioning his radical critique of U.S. society. You will never see this quote from Dr. King appear in any mainstream history book:
Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.
In 1999, the establishment’s absorption of the image of Malcolm X was marked by the U.S. Postal Service issuing a Malcolm X stamp honoring his contributions to human rights. Never mind that the FBI surveilled and harassed him and were complicit in his assassination. Meanwhile, civil rights leaders like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer are left out of history completely—no stamps for them.
This paving over of black history, and failure to tell the true stories of black heroines and heroes paves the way for developers who destroy black neighborhoods and push out black people out of their homes.
The historic process of neighborhood gentrification began in the 1960s and has accelerated in the new millennium, as the gap between white and black wealth has become the greatest since 1989. Today, millions of African Americans are being displaced by so-called “free market forces” and are forced to relocate to suburbs without adequate services or job opportunities.
This transition in Washington, D.C., once known as the “Chocolate City,” is marked by the condominiums built on its historic U Street (one featuring a tanning salon on the ground level). In Seattle, there is a construction crane on every corner, while the rate of black homeownership has dropped by nearly half since 2000. The occupation of black neighborhoods around the country by police ready to use deadly force helps fuel the displacement and reassures the returning white gentry that they will be kept safe.
However, the engineers of the movement for Black lives are constructing one of the most powerful resistance movements in more than a generation, which is giving confidence to communities across the country to stand up and fight back.
In response to black community pressure, Scholastic pulled the children’s book from retail shelves and issued an apology. In the case of the Texas textbook, Roni Dean-Burren and her freshman son launched a successful Facebook and Twitter campaign forcing McGraw-Hill to acknowledge that Africans’ enslavement was not the same as white wage-labor, and to alter their online textbook. In response to the Jefferson County School Board proposal to effectively erase the Civil Rights Movement from history, hundreds of high school students from 17 schools staged a mass walkout. And in 2015, three conservative school board members were ousted in a recall.
And while the Koch brothers fund the creation of materials glossing over injustice and trauma inflicted on the black community by the killing of people like Trayvon Martin, social justice educators are occupying the curriculum with powerful lessons that connect his death to long legacy of state sanctioned murder.
Black Lives Matter activists have been demonstrating across the country, demanding an end to police brutality and murder. As we hit the streets, though, we also must hit the books. The struggle to de-gentrify textbooks is inextricably linked to black people reclaiming their past, present and future. Online, in neighborhoods, in classrooms, and in the streets, organized resistors are building a new black history on a foundation of equity and justice.
Gerald Lenoir is the former executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the San Francisco Black Coalition on AIDS (now Rafiki Services). He a member of the Black Lives Matter group in Berkeley, California and is a veteran of the 1969 black student strikes at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which led to the establishment of the Afro-American Studies Department.
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013. He is an associate editor for the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine and the editor of, and contributing author to the 2014 book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. He is also the son of Gerald Lenoir. Follow Jesse on his blog, IAmAnEducator.com, on Facebook or Twitter.