Tag Archives: social justice
Published by The South Seattle Emerald
by Jesse Hagopian
By Wednesday this week every school in Seattle will have held a union vote to decided if our Seattle Education Association (SEA) should go out on strike on May Day—International Worker’s Day—to demand full funding for education, to support our immigrant students, and to defend union rights.
I am voting yes!—and I hope that the rest of the educators join me in authorizing this walkout for the schools our students deserve.
Here in Washington State, our state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that our state legislature was in violation of the state Constitution’s “Paramount Duty” to amply provide for education. The court has fined the legislature and found them in contempt of court for failing to support public education. And yet we have seen our legislature continue to funnel money to the wealthiest corporations in our state, giving away billions in tax breaks to Boeing and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich. Washington State is one of only a few states without an income tax and ranks dead last with most regressive tax structure in the nation. The year 2017 was the final year that the state Supreme Court gave the legislature to fix the funding problem and it is clear that the legislature has no plans to start following the law anytime soon.
We have tried emailing, calling and asking nicely for the legislature to follow the law and fund education. That hasn’t worked.
Now it’s time to show the collective power of labor. We held a one-day walkout two years ago as part of a rolling strike wave across the state to pressure the state legislature. That was an important action that raised awareness, brought families into the streets with teachers in a common struggle, and gave teachers a glimpse of their power. But this one-day strike has the potential to have a much bigger impact than the last because the Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a resolution calling on all the locally affiliated unions to go out on May Day. As the Seattle Weekly reported,
SEA isn’t the only union flirting with a May Day strike. UAW Local 4121 is also voting on strike action, according to the op-ed. (We’ve got a line out to the union.) And the Martin Luther King County Labor Council voted last week in favor of a resolution supporting strikes and other direct actions (for instance, teach-ins) on May Day in cooperation with organizers of the labor and immigrant marches.
Many unions are looking to the SEA to see if we strike. If we do, others could follow and it could become a mass outpouring of labor solidarity that truly has the power to shake up the one percent and their political representatives in the legislature and make them heed our demands for education and union rights.
In addition to the urgency around education funding in our state, the May 1st Coalition in Seattle has called on workers to strike for immigrant rights on May Day, and there will be a massive outpouring of humanity at a rally that day to stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. All the anti-immigrant rhetoric and deportations are demoralizing our students, splitting them apart from their families, and leading to hate crimes. Moreover, there is a push by the Trump administration and within the federal government to ratify anti-union, so-called “right to work” legislation, that would gut union protections.
I am voting to strike because I believe we as educators should join the struggle for immigrant rights and I see that as a vital component to a better education system.
I’m not content to teach students about the mass strikes and boycotts of the past that won social programs and the right to unionize–I know we actually need to bring back that history and make it real for our students by demonstrating what it looks like in practice. I’m ready to make the streets my classroom on the first of May and teach a lesson about union power and collective struggle that the rich and powerful won’t soon forget.
Erin Middlewood, writing for The Progressive magazine, flew out to Seattle just before the end of the last school year. She spent an afternoon with me in my classroom and then accompanied me that evening to our Black Student Union senior awards banquet that my students had organized to honor our graduating black leaders.
Below is the link to the essay Erin wrote, “The Education of Jesse Hagopian” about my political development and activism. Most importantly, the essay focuses on the intersection of the opt out movement against high-stakes testing and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is my hope that these two movements increasingly unite into a great social force that can transform public education and bring down the institutions of racism.
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.
Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s updated primary source companion to A People’s History of the United States includes Amber Kudla’s anti-standardized testing graduation speech and Jesse Hagopian’s reflection on the Seattle MAP test boycott.
Since its publication in 2004, Voices of a People’s History of the United States has played a vital role in my classroom—not only revealing the voices of social justice from the past so often choked into lifelessness by the standard issue corporate textbooks, but also inspiring my students to take actions of their own. Over the semesters and over the years, I repeatedly point students towards this collection of primary sources when they want to understand the ideas that helped propel social change: Bartolome De Las Casas’ “The Devastation of the Indies;” Tecumseh’s “Speech to the Osages;” Fredrick Douglass’ “What to the slave is the forth of July;” Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?;” Eugene Deb’s statement to the court upon being arrested for speaking out against WWI; Helen Keller’s “Strike Against War;” Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit;” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War;” Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots,” and many others.
One of the many great actions that students at my school participated in was the 2013 boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. When teachers announced that year they would refuse to give the deeply flawed MAP test, the student government voted unanimously to support that boycott. When teachers wouldn’t give the test, the school district decreed that the building administration would have to pull students out of class and march them off to the computer labs to take the test. It was then that students staged a sit-in—in their own classrooms!—refusing to have their class time wasted by a test that was not relevant to what they were learning in class.
I am at a loss for words to describe what it means to me that the newly updated, 10th anniversary edition of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, includes my essay reflecting on the meaning of the MAP test boycott and how it has contributed to an uprising for education justice around the country. It is also beyond words that Voices includes a speech by Amber Kulda, a young women I came in contact with through the editing of my book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. Amber was the valedictorian of her class and was asked to give the graduation speech. She tried to get out of it, but the principal wouldn’t let her. So she used the occasion to deliver and uproariously funny and deeply moving address about why she wasn’t the smartest person in the class just because she had high grades and test scores—and why our society needs to think outside the bubble test.
Those in the movement to defend our schools from the corporate education reformers should read these essays on education justice in this new addition of Voices; but if you want our movement to win—to truly defeat the testocracy once and for all—you should read all the entries in the book to develop a political analysis of how war, racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, and other interlocking systems of oppression degrade our world and our education system. Then you raise your own voice!
Below is the announcement for the book:
10th anniversary edition of Voices of a People’s History also includes many of my modern day heroes, including contributions from war resister Chelsea Manning, climate and economic justice advocate and author Naomi Klein, the immigrant rights activists Dream Defenders, and the unparalleled journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Paralleling the twenty-four chapters of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Voices of a People’s History is the companion volume to the national bestseller. For Voices, Zinn and Arnove have selected testimonies to living history — speeches, letters, poems, songs — left by the people who make history happen but who usually are left out of history books. Zinn has written short introductions to the texts, which range in length from letters or poems of less than a page to entire speeches and essays that run several pages. Voices of a People’s History is a symphony of our nation’s original voices, rich in ideas and actions, the embodiment of the power of civil disobedience and dissent wherein lies our nation’s true spirit of defiance and resilience.
Here in their own words are Frederick Douglass, George Jackson, Chief Joseph, Martin Luther King Jr., Plough Jogger, Sacco and Vanzetti, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Twain, Paul Robeson, Cesar Chavez, Leonard Peltier, June Jordan, Walter Mosley, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Yolanda Huet-Vaughn, and Malcolm X, to name just a few of the hundreds of voices that appear in Voices of a People’s History of the United States, edited by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove.
The 10th anniversary edition will feature new voices including whistleblower Chelsea Manning; Naomi Klein, speaking from the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Liberty Square; a member of Dream Defenders, a youth organization that confronts systemic racial inequality; members of the undocumented youth movement, who occupied, marched, and demonstrated in support of the DREAM Act; a member of the day laborers movement; and several critics of the Obama administration, including Glenn Greenwald, on governmental secrecy.