Saturday, November 7, 2015

ANNOUNCEMENT:  Community Voices for Public Education EDUCATIONAL FORUM

I will be giving my talk ""Beyond Standardized Schools:  Reclaiming our Abundant Funds of Knowledge to Create Equitable, Educational Schools for Our Children" at this event November 21st.  I hope to see many of you there!   

CVPE Fall Conference:  "Current Issues in Public Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

Nov. 21st at United Way of Greater Houston (50 Waugh Dr)  8:30am - 4:30pm.

Spend the day exploring some of the issues that our public schools are currently facing and networking with other people who care about public schools.  Become a more informed and empowered advocate for public education.  

Speakers and Panelists include: 
The Honorable Scott Hochberg, former Texas State Representative and school finance reform expert
Dr M Francyne Huckaby​. associate professor of TCU College of Education, director of Center Community Voices for Public Education​
Dr. Linda McNeil, Professor of Education, Rice University
Dr Ann McCoy​. director of Data Services, All Kids Alliance
Zeph Capo Houston Community College Trustee - District 1​.
HISD Trustee Juliet Katherine Stipeche​
Allen Weeks​, executive director of Austin Voices
Jason Lee​, activist

November 21, 2015 at 8:30am - 3:30pm
United Way
50 Waugh Dr
Houston, TX 77007

Monday, November 2, 2015

Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas: Border Air Quality Education - Curriculum


In my last two posts, I celebrated the lives and work of Grace Lee Boggs and Dolores Huerta -- not just as strong, tireless women who are inspirations in themselves, but for what they have taught us about justice:  it has to be worked for, that work takes sustained organizing to built collective strength, and it must begin where we live. And for us as educators and parents that means where the children live.

The old ASARCO "chimney"  that towered over the El Paso/Juarez landscape has been demolished, so it might be easy to forget that the toxins it spewed for decades still poison the air, water, soil and lungs of El Paso and Juarez.  How thrilling that this new curriculum out of UTEP not only assure that that toxic legacy won't be forgotten, but empower children and their teachers to learn the science and the activism needed to create a healthier future for their communities.  

I am grateful to Angela Valenzuela for bringing to our attention this very clear example of a Si Se Puede vision of educating our children!   (And yes, the curriculum is in both Spanish and English!)  A long and detailed post, with many helpful links; I include it in its entirety for its elegance and completeness and for its power to inspire the curriculum you need in your community to address the barriers to social and environmental justice.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas: The Youngest Americans: A Statistical Portrait of ...


Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas: The Youngest Americans: A Statistical Portrait of ...:   Executive Summary America’s youngest children—12 million infants and toddlers—are the leading edge of a demographic transformation ...

Many in this generation are starting out with severe economic hardship.
• Nearly half (48 percent) of America’s infants and toddlers live in low-income families (incomes less than twice the poverty line); one-quarter
(25 percent) live in families below the official poverty line.
• One in eight (13 percent) is in deep poverty (that is, their family’s income is half or less than the poverty level).
• Economic disadvantage is concentrated in the families of black and Latino infants and toddlers; fully two-thirds (66 percent) of these young
children are in low-income families.
• Nearly one in four (24 percent) black and Latino infants and toddlers live in households that are “food-insecure” (a measure of inability to
obtain sufficient healthy food).

So glad Angela brought this report to our attention.  An unfortunate reminder of unmet obligations to our children.  

After you read Angela's post, I encourage you to check out this beautiful book, "I Have the Right to be a Child," which is a great way to reflect on what all children are entitled to....Read it with the child or children in your life!  Share it with teachers!  The illustrations are second only to the powerful message:

"I am a child with eyes, hands, a voice, a heart, and rights."

Thursday, October 22, 2015


One of my graduate students brought in his field notes from observing five sophomore English teachers at a large urban high school.  All had been teaching a lesson on action verbs, a lesson that varied only slightly from teacher to teacher.   My student and I mused on the possible efficacy of teaching action verbs de-contextualized from text – texts the students would read or themselves compose, giving action to those verbs.

Then I thought of Jean Anyon.  In Ghetto Schooling, she taught us the importance of action verbs.   People living in poverty in Newark didn’t just happen to be poor. They, and their neighborhoods, had been pauperized. They had been made poor.  City leaders, corporate executives, and elected officials had taken actions that over many years had created structures of inequality, had moved jobs away from the central city and lowered wages for those jobs that had remained, and had shifted the investment of tax dollars into whiter, richer areas of the city.   They exercised their power through action verbs:  they pauperized those areas of the city they chose to abandon.

The life and legacy of Grace Lee Boggs remind us that action verbs – real actions – can also challenge injustice.    Grace Lee Boggs, who died this year at the age of 100, took action and inspired action. And she did so everywhere she lived and in every circumstance in which she found injustice.  Those actions included investigating and naming and making public (“public-izing”) not only injustices but the people and organizations and laws that created and benefited from them.  Her actions included writing with courage, organizing in places where the poor and oppressed had more typically been acted upon, and building new structures of possibility that would persist beyond her lifetime.

Image source:
McFadden's tribute to Boggs is full of the specifics of Grace Lee Bogg’s actions:  injustices encountered, creative solutions imagined, obstacles surmounted, and new alliances ever being forged to fight civic and economic injustices with unconventional voice and action.  A Chinese-American woman organizing for African American civil rights, and in the process expanding our understanding of democracy in action.

Image source:  Tumblr "The People's Record"

For more inspiration from Grace Lee Boggs, and for the humor and, yes, grace, she brought to all her endeavors, I hope you’ll take time to savor her interview with Bill Moyers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Alexandra Whittington's scenario for schools that nurture children, that foster creative ideas and embody a collective spirit that affirms a public education system in the public good seems almost too idealistic to achieve.  The onslaught of criticism against the public's schools, used to justify drastic spending cuts, which then in circular force create the very weaknesses the critics claimed is more than a cynical attack on our teachers and on our communities' schools.  What seemed to be misguided, but hopefully short-lived,  policies to standardize are in fact the strategic tools to weaken, subvert, and ultimately privatize this valued public institution, this building block of democracy.

The task to hold onto, much less strengthen and make more equitable, our public schools seems impossible.  But we are not without models of courage against unthinkable odds, people whose basic, and to them unremarkable, sense of justice moved them to action. Even when that action seemed quixotic at best, futile at worst.

Dolores Huerta is my inspiration.  If the task of holding onto and enriching our public schools for all children seems daunting, Dolores Huerta shows us what it takes when no institution is even in place to serve the public interest:  everything has to be imagined, created, protected, and then sustained even for people to have their basic rights.  Rights for farm workers to organize for fair and safe working conditions, for bathrooms and drinking water out in the fields, for protection from toxic chemicals being sprayed from airplanes only feet above the workers and the children laboring beside them. A basic right to have a voice in one's daily work -- and the power of a collective voice.

I had the extraordinary honor of meeting and spending time with Dolores Huerta when she came to Houston in 2013 to confer the Rothko Chapel's Oscar Romero Human Rights Award to a courageous young woman organizing factory workers in her native Mexico.   This past August, the capstone of my summer was attending a People for the American Way event in Santa Fe where Dolores Huerta, a member of PFAW's board, spoke passionately in defense of democracy.  She radiated optimism about what it will take to reclaim --to enact -- democracy for those who are excluded, marginalized, and systemically oppressed because of their race, geography, recentness of immigration, language or other signifier used to justify a denial of voting rights or erecting of barriers to higher education or exclusion from civic participation.  Optimism because she's seen it all before -- and she's seen what collective action can do.

I love the story of "Sí Se Puede."  This was not a pre-emptive shout of victory. And it definitely wasn't created in a consultant's focus group!   Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez and others from the California United Farm Workers group had been asked to go to Arizona, where worker conditions were even worse and the large agricultural owners even more intransigent, dominating a legislature and governor that not only banned organizing and strikes during the harvest season, but declared that (legally) "these people don't exist." Dolores and her colleagues were asked to assess the situation, advise on strategy, and inspire workers to keep organizing. The more they saw of the situation, the more hopeless it seemed.

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As Dolores recounts it, as Chavez fasted and workers' conditions became more dire, the overwhelming sense of futility became a chorus of "no se puede," essentially, "we can't do anything -- nothing can be done..." for the Arizona workers.  Almost as a sigh more of obligation than of hope, Dolores Huerta uttered "Yes, we can --  sí, se puede."  Her words were echoed back beyond her expectation as the Arizona farm workers shouted:"sí, se puede" and pursued their daunting course of organizing for their rights.

Now proud to declare she's in her 80's, Dolores Huerta brings her unstoppable energies to such national forces for justice as People for the American Way and to her own foundation
whose mission is the future:  specifically, working to assure an academically rich, equitable education for the youth in the Central Valley of California where she lives and confronts poverty and injustice and barriers with courage, no small amount of creativity and persistence, and always a smile and almost mischievous twinkle in her eye -- contagious courage and enduring inspiration.

We'll need no less as we pursue a vision of culturally rich, democratically governed, child-nurturing schools for our communities.  Gracias, Dolores.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Which Future of Public Schools?   Scenarios for 2025

The struggle to sustain and strengthen our public schools is really a struggle to envision and create a powerful future for the children.  To start this new school year with a focus on the children, I'm pleased to introduce Alexandra Whittington, a mom, a futurist, a tireless advocate for children, and, I think, an optimist about how we -- working together -- can make our schools what the children need them to be:

Educating.  All our Children has identified some of the top emerging issues and uncertainties in the future of public schooling: will corporate interests maintain their stronghold on curriculum and teaching?  Should schools embrace the cultural diversity of students and their families/communities?  Can high-stakes testing and real (i.e., “messy”) learning co-exist?   I value this exploratory perspective and it opens a mental space to flesh out some implications for the future—and consider if we like or dislike the impacts.  As a reader of Linda’s blog, a parent, and a futurist interested in education, I’d like to add the following future scenarios to the conversation she has initiated on learning, creativity and teaching.

Scenario 1:  Artificial Intelligence

Continued standardization and increased emphasis on technology in public schooling in 2025 has contributed to an environment where learning and teaching are automated, quantified, and above all, predictable.  Big data is the intersection of these major forces (standardization and technology) and guides the decisions of school administration. 

The technology essential for a successful school comes packaged as a benign Silicon Valley “making the world a better place” product. This fact lends to all types of privatization schemes involving school admins.  These partnerships ensure that tangible results (test scores), which generally increase funding, are achieved.  Publicly-funded school systems that are not so shrewdly run are quietly brushed aside by an invisible hand in the high-tech education marketplace. Robotics, artificial intelligence, massive data mining and virtual reality are just some of the technologies involved in the typical public school experience in 2025.

One of the biggest changes is that by 2025, a major in Theatre Arts is considered a good preparation for teachers.  But not for the public speaking skills or creativity….Since public schools use scripted lesson delivery in the classroom, "acting" becomes quite an advantage to getting hired.  The “coaching” that started out on headset technology has evolved with the use of VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) and, even though wearable technology is now very much a social norm, the most effective teachers are those who can memorize lines.  It boosts the bottom line when teachers skip the hardware.  And it helps differentiate human from robot teachers.

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For the most part, parents are kept out of the inner workings of school systems.  The privileging of data in schools has resulted in a predominantly impersonal, technical environment, so even though teaching is seen and described as highly “personalized,” it is based not on how well a teacher knows a student, or the quality of the time they spend working together, or parental influence and insights on their own child’s learning.  Instead, schools are service providers to maximize expected outcomes based on computational formulas meant to interpret a student’s abilities, strengths, weaknesses and, ultimately, career potential… all of which are now rendered as data points to be manipulated and mined.   

The result is an academic environment that lacks surprises.  For example, as long as the adequate instruction time and content is covered in class, student scores can be forecast and bad grades can be addressed before they happen.  So there are no bad grades, low scores, or failures.  Everyone passes.  It’s designed that way to provide a service (to give parents and students what they want, i.e., job or college preparation for the student) and make teaching a “skill” (not a passion or a career, but a compliant service role that, ironically, requires no specific preparation other than being a quick study). 

What the school system of 2025 is not designed for is accidental learning, spontaneous discoveries and unscripted connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.  Some parents and students balked, but it was the way society was moving anyway.  In 2025 it’s not just that learning is predictable but so is life.

Scenario 2:  Mind Manifests Itself

In 2019 a breakthrough scientific discovery was made.  A convergence of new data determined that creativity is the most critical mental capacity needed to develop intelligence starting at preschool age.  The multiple-choice question was suddenly like lead paint on toys; many parents took action as if their children faced life-threatening consequences and quickly became involved in the growing Opt Out movement.  By 2020 it was seen as a moral failing not to step in as parents and demand alternatives to the ‘teach to the test’ environment that had dominated America’s public schools for almost two generations.

A parent- and student-led movement took place, culminating in the biggest disruption to public schools since Brown v. Board; the Opt Out Walk Out of 2022 fought for what educators have always known:  that “mind manifests itself,” (as the Dr. Arnold Gesell and the Gesell institute has put it since the 1950’s) and that our schools should honor a child-centered philosophy of learning.  On the first day of school in fall 2022, a million kids and parents walked out.  The parents worked together in their neighborhoods to coordinate homeschooling and co-ops so that the children were still engaged in learning during the weeks-long protest.  Their employers sympathized with their cause and helped coordinate the effort.  The student absences added up to billions of dollars in federal school funds lost to the schools—this is what got their attention.  After weeks of empty threats the response of the school system was swift.  So-called “accountability” was left for dead and the funding model changed from “standards” based to equal investments in meeting the real needs of all our children. 

Protest against the Gates Foundation
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The students and their parents worked with school systems and legislators to negotiate new expectations of the public schools, making demands for International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, community-centered schools and Montessori schools.  Libraries were fully re-funded and enrichment programs like art, physical education and music became consistent parts of the school day again.  Parents were advocating for a variety of programs, guided by experts in childhood development and a strong recognition of the inherently valuable potential of each and every child. 

By the start of the school year in 2025, many long-overlooked obligations to our children were being addressed by the schools.  For example, young children had longer and more frequent recess breaks throughout the day.  Exercise became an important part of their day and lunch periods were extended—the childhood obesity epidemic was quickly reversed!  In fact, schools became central to the healthy sustenance of entire communities through school-run food markets.  The simple fact that children and families didn’t have to go hungry anymore was a tipping point that increased parent engagement to nearly 100% in most public schools.

The value of socialization at school was recognized as critical to emotional intelligence and students were allowed the time they needed to play and chat with friends and teachers on a more relaxed schedule.  Teachers were able to adhere to looser routines so that emergent learning opportunities could be utilized.  Parents enjoyed innovative “open door” classrooms that offered transparency via both face-to-face and virtual/remote access.  It took a lot more work on everyone’s part but the positive results were worth it.

At the same time, classes were given more opportunities to venture out and conduct hands-on learning in nature and in the communities.  A new relationship was being established between schools and families, built on trust.  Money and power had driven a wedge between teachers and students, parents and schools for way too long.  That chapter was over.

My scenarios follow a predictable pattern for images of the future:  one “optimistic,” one “pessimistic.”  The actual future will probably not be so black and white.  But the stories are meant to bring attention to our choices regarding key uncertainties today:  what should be the role of modern technology in education? To what extent do we allow private companies to monetize schooling? Can schools be forces for positive social change in our communities?  I wanted also to spread a hopeful vision where parents act as driving forces for change in our schools, preventing our children from being used as financial instruments, analyzed as data points, and developed into little more than a ‘future workforce’.  Let’s advocate for a future learning environment where all our children are given equal opportunities to grow in the best way possible.