Thursday, December 15, 2016

Ten-year-olds tackle ‘The Lie’ of demeaning stereotypes in video

Video source:  Washington Post

Albert Schweitzer (I believe it was in the "Teaching of Reverence for Life") wrote that we do harm to children -- and to our world -- when we encourage them to "grow out of" their natural early idealism.  When I circulated this video made by children speaking up against hate, Pansy Gee, recently retired teacher of 10-year-olds, sent this spontaneously eloquent and hopeful response:

I am pleasantly not surprised by the kids' reactions.  For the most part, kids are open- minded, blind to skin color, tolerant, and much more loving of their fellow man than adults.     The indignant reactions of children, when confronted with issues of prejudice or stereotypes is the one of the truest forms of social justice and  hope for the future.  It is when the adults in their lives deem that children are "old enough" to be "taught" about the "real world" that they begin to conform to their parents' world.  It is why I chose most of the books I did.  I wanted to open those lines of communication.  Sometimes I was not well liked by the parents. 

Reading those books about the prejudices of post-civil war times in Mildred Taylor's Friendship, the way the Okies were treated in California as depicted in the Cobblestone Magazine, or issues of personal freedom in The Giver and the discussions that ensued are what I miss about the classroom.  I am not just another adult voice that perhaps the kids would listen to.  I hope I am encouraging open minds, blindness to skin color, tolerance and love (or at least respect) for all. If children learned to read, write and talk skillfully and understand that we don't all have to agree on everything, their community, our world would be a bit more sane.  I hope teachers see the importance of reading REAL texts about REAL issues and give the boys and girls the opportunity to not just know the material, but to wrestle with it.  It's good to let them think through and struggle with the problems of their world. Teachers should give them chances to form opinions and to stand on the knowledge they're learning as support. Every teacher should have a classroom community where ideas are encouraged and can be exchanged safely, where minds can change more than once and no matter what-- as a class we care about each other! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Or, A Lesson My Teacher Taught Me  

When President Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education as a cabinet department in 1979, educators across the country were thrilled.  In the post-US/Vietnam war era, the education of America’s children would have the same official standing as the US treasury, the military (“defense”), agriculture, and foreign affairs. No longer sandwiched in between “Health” and “Welfare,” Education would leave the old HEW department and be an official national priority:  a Cabinet department.  Surely this independent standing would create leverage for research funding, for special programs, for innovation and, most important, for implementing and monitoring and enforcing equity – the rights of all children to an equitable education.   Teachers, parents, and educators at all levels celebrated this affirmation of their work and of the children.

By Spencer Rich Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 28, 1979;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. A1

But I heard a word of caution.  John Palmer, my doctoral dissertation advisor and Dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Education, is a historian and an astute observer of the uses of power.  He saw the new Cabinet department through a different lens.  I recall his very quiet words of wisdom:  “You know, when you create a new program or a new structure, you have to think very carefully about whether this is what you would want to have in place if the other party were in power.  What might this new department mean if the other party were in control of it?”

For some reason, those words stuck in my mind. Perhaps because John Palmer is one of the wisest people I know and, yes, though I was officially his student all those years ago, he continues to be my teacher.  At the time, I think we thought the worst that could happen would be reduced funding for education research and for attention to such critical issues as special education, bilingual education, and the advocacy and enforcement of equity provisions not always reliably maintained by some of the states.

Never did we (or, at least, I) envision that having “the other party in power” would mean a threat to the very existence of the nation’s public schools.  The public’s schools.  Yet that’s where we are:  a person whose stated goal is to destroy the public’s schools has been appointed to be the United States Secretary of Education.  A person who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to elect politicians willing to de-fund the public’s schools and shift the public’s tax dollars to corporate charter chains: to private companies that will get rich at public expense using our children as the raw materials in their money machines.

Our schools – and our teachers – have survived four recent Secretaries of Education of questionable qualifications, often open antipathy toward teachers, and a deficit view of children and their families.

I personally heard Rod Paige, when he was superintendent of Houston’s public schools, describe Mexican American parents who called his office concerned that in late October their high school-age children still did not have textbooks as “interfering with my [his!] schools.”  Margaret Spellings seemed chosen just to keep the Texas-style accountability system in place under George W. Bush.  Arne Duncan famously bragged about closing schools in Chicago, a red flag that should have been an immediate disqualification, especially when President Obama had other, stellar, choices among talented and dedicated educators to choose from.  Duncan and Obama doubled down on the Bush policies of punishing under-funded schools rather than investing in them and their children, giving the corporatizers (Democrats as well as Republicans) the excuse they needed to justify closing schools in minority neighborhoods, shifting our tax dollars to wealthy charter chains and their money managers, and generally promulgating a rhetoric of “failing schools.” (And of John King, the less said the better.)

So in walks Betsy DeVos.   It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump knows nothing about public education, its central role in our democracy, its anchoring of our communities and their local economies and civic life.  If he knew that the public’s schools are pillars of our democracy, are a true public good, he wouldn’t agree or even be interested.  But he didn’t have to know. We  learn now that Betsy DeVos has been pursuing a “long game,” for years funding politicians to do her bidding to destroy the public’s schools, to weaken the teaching profession for its voice in education policy and its previous fairly reliable votes for Democrats and their pro-public education policies.  Her “long game” is to divorce the education of children from the control of their parents and the people their parents elect.

So now we look at all those functions (and budgets) under the centralized control of a Secretary of Education and recall those cautionary words of my great teacher, John Palmer: is this the structure you’d want to have in place if the other party were in power?

Professor Palmer’s close colleague and another professor of mine, Herb Kliebard, expressed the caution differently.  He always told us that as chaotic as the American system of public education is, with so many local, county, state and federal jurisdictions overlapping and often contradicting each other, that chaos was in fact the strength of the system: federal policies mitigated the racist exclusions in George Wallace’s Alabama, federal and state funding brought special education to poor or reluctant school districts, and local school boards had to answer to parents.   The potential for crazy still lurked at all levels, but all these intersecting policy venues assured that no one bad policy was controlling the whole system.

The chaos a Betsy DeVos will wreak is not what Herb Kliebard had in mind.  He saw openings for dialogue, for invention, for questioning, for local quirkiness, for experiment on the one hand and for holding on to good traditions on the other.     Conservatives need to remember their mantra against “big government.”  Progressives need not to feel we have to apologize for invoking democracy. We will have to build new coalitions of resistance to fight privatization of education, to protect our treasured public good, and to assert positive solutions at every jurisdictional level, leveraging the chaos where we find it.

Our children deserve no less. Our democracy depends on the education of its people.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Re-posted from Diane Ravitch's blog

Parents, Educators, Advocates Demand Federal Protection of Student Privacy

Diane writes:  A coalition of parents, educators, and privacy advocates issued a statement in defense of student privacy, which is threatened by efforts to create a massive federal data base containing personally identifiable data.

Friday, November 18, 2016

See What Organizing Can Do!

Image source:

History was made today! The State Board of Education of Texas rose above its almost caricatured record of questioning whether Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and civil rights labor leader Cesar Chavez are worthy role models for our children by voting unanimously to reject – to not approve – the racist, erroneous Mexican American Heritage "textbook."

While we applaud the good sense of the members of the state board of education, real credit goes to the parents, educators, scholars and friends of Texas children who showed what democracy can do:  they organized, they publicized, they studied, they brought their deepest concerns and their scholarly expertise and their families’ stories into the debate.  They built a coalition to reject racism. They also built that coalition to affirm what is just and inclusive and historically authentic.

I applaud historian Emilio Zamora and his Nuestro Grupo colleagues for doing the  tedious work of a fine-grained review of this proposed book. And I applaud the thousands who became informed, signed the petition opposing this book, and made their opposition known through calls, letters, emails and testimony.

This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy can do!

Image source:
Here is the board’s decision.  Also check out Professor Angela Valenzuela’s testimony at the hearing, and the testimony of historian Emilio Zamora

Our work isn’t finished.   Bills are already being drafted to shift our tax dollars from the public’s schools to the corporate charter chains as soon as the legislative session opens in January.    Our kids deserve strong public schools.  We can stop the charter movement.  

We’ve seen what organizing can do!

To comment on this post click on the word "comment" below

Monday, November 7, 2016

Re-posted from Angela Valenzuela's Blog, Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas: Update on the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook

Not this time! #Reject the Text!

My last post told you about a Spanish I textbook, used throughout most Texas districts, that talked about "people who speak Spanish" as an exotic other:  "they" eat tortillas, "they" depend on corn as a staple in their diet, essentially "they" are not who we (the Anglos who choose the textbooks and and who refuse to acknowledge -- or maybe are afraid to acknowledge -- the emerging majority of Latino youth in our schools) -- "they" are not who "we" are.  That demeaning textbook was used year after year with, so far as I know, no outcry from students, their parents, or -- and this is very sad -- their teachers.

No such silence has greeted an openly racist, erroneous text being proposed to teach "Mexican American Heritage" in Texas schools.  The Texas State Board of Education will meet next week to vote on state approval of this book. The book has inspired a movement: historians, parents, teachers, community activists, even some elected officials have spoken out against it. This book is a blatant attempt to colonize children of Mexican, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Cuban -- indeed Mexican-American -- heritage.  In adopting this book, the state would be officially sanctioning a definition of these children and their families as "lazy" -- and worse.   

Let  the State Board of Education know you refuse to let your tax dollars pay for racist textbooks.  Sign the petition to  Reject the Text, then share the petition with your friends.  Write or call your SBOE member -- or all of them.  Sign up to speak at the hearing.    

We can't let cynical, racist, opportunist publishers work against our goals of equitable, culturally rich, educationally authentic learning for all our children.    We can't let the state board members think silence means we think this book and its message are ok.  

I'm including the link to Angela Valenzuela's post so you can learn more about why this is the wrong book for Mexican American Studies -- or for any of our kids -- and how you can take action against it.  Read what she has to say, sign the petition, choose a path of action, then link on "comments" to let me know what you think.

Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas: Update on the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook ...: Today is Día de los Muertos, a holiday observed on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to remember loved ones lost, and it is part of ... 

Friday, November 4, 2016

What my students saw in a Spanish class

Tejano Monument, Austin, TX
Image source:
Two students burst into my course on the American High School, angry to the point of tears, theirs the anger of righteous indignation.   Forget the syllabus and the assigned lesson: we had to hear their story.

These two Rice students had observed earlier that day in classrooms at one of the city’s predominantly Latino high schools:  95% Latino, some recently immigrated, most long-time Texans.   The subject of their fury:  a Spanish I textbook.  The kind that goes chapter by chapter introducing grammar rules, verb conjugations, and vocabulary. The interesting stuff is found in those sidebars,-- you know the ones that are in color and talk about the countries and cultures where this new language is spoken. 

My students were almost shouting, “It keeps saying ‘they’!”  “’They’ eat this, ‘they’ wear that….it keeps saying ‘they’!”

Seated in a Spanish class among Mexican American students, my Anglo students were shocked to find that these “cultural” sidebars described Spanish-speakers as an exotic “other.”  The “they” were all native speakers of Spanish wearing rebozos and singing Mariachi; “they all” eat tacos and enchiladas, with corn as the staple in their diet.

The “they” assumed the book – and the class – would be exclusively for non-Spanish speakers.

The problem of “othering” non-Anglo students is larger than the book: the district had vetoed several principals’ attempts to add Spanish-for-Spanish-speakers to their course offerings. Those courses in Spanish and Latin American literature, in advanced composition and conversation, were seen as electives “we can’t afford”  despite a Latino majority in the district’s student population. Thus students who were fluent in Spanish were having to sit through Spanish 1 and 2 to get “foreign language” credits on their transcript.

My students were very upset at what they came to see a form of cultural colonizing in the selection of the book. Even more upsetting was the silence about those “cultural” sidebars: the teacher did not mention them, nor did the students speak up against  this objectification of themselves and their families and their language.   Angela Valenzuela’s path-breaking book Subtractive Schooling:  US-Mexican Youth would suggest that by high school these students had probably absorbed this colonizing, this culturally subtractive curriculum, as normal, as the way we do school.  My students, preparing to be teachers, wanted assurance that this othering is not normal, will not be inevitable. They wanted to learn ways to teach respectfully, drawing on what students bring to class. They aspired to amass culturally rich and authentic instructional materials and, most important, they wanted to not hurt their students. And they wanted to work in schools that supported that vision and made it, not subtractive schooling, the norm.

That old textbook is not likely to still be bouncing around in our city’s high schools. But the colonizing continues and in very dangerous ways.

The newest instrument of colonizing is a proposed textbook that is as startling in the audacity of its racism as in the utter falseness of its content.  Whether as a cynical backlash against the hard-fought victory for Mexican American Studies courses to be approved by the State Board of Education in Texas or as a brash and opportunistic commercial venture, “Mexican American Heritage” produced by uninformed Anglo writers and a conservative former member of the state board of education – does far more damage than those references to a “they,” to the “them” in those Spanish I textbooks that so upset my students.  The "Mexican American Heritage" book didn't sit well with the State Board of Education committee that reviewed it, either:

"Jamie Riddle and Valarie Angle failed to meet the professional standards and guiding principles for the preparation of a textbook worthy of our teachers and youth in Texas classrooms. They failed to engage in critical dialogue with current scholarship and, as a consequence, presented a prolific misrepresentation of facts. This means that the proposed textbook is really a polemic attempting to masquerade as a textbook."

You can learn more about this book here.  Its errors and racist messages are documented by scholars and activists, as well as journalists. It does not take historians to know that a book that calls Mexicans “lazy” is toxic, racist, and frankly ridiculous.

But this racist text is not being met with silence.   Critiques have emerged from historians, activists, community groups, and most important from the state’s Mexican American community – the “we” of this story.

And this book can be stopped.  In fact, the book has catalyzed a movement.  When the State Board of Education meets later this month to vote on this book, the opposition will be organized, vocal and most of all, present.  Add your voice to opposition to having this fake history book in our schools.  See my next post for ways you can speak up against colonizing the Mexican American children of Texas. 

To register your thoughts on this book or share experiences with other ways our schools and our instructional materials may be colonizing our kids, click on the word “comments” below.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

This is what we need to be thinking about

This is what's happening to our kids. 

Especially tragic is that 1/3 of the previously low-poverty-rate census tracts are now high-poverty....very concrete evidence of the pathologies of being a billionaire's city!

Houston’s high poverty areas have quadrupled since 1980

Read this new research and send me your comments.