Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Children are Watching

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A child, wide-eyed, peers over a wall. 

He does not know barriers. He know curiosity, questions, possibilities.  

Who has power?  The builders of tall, menacing columns of steel lined up as far as the eye can see?  The fear shouters?   The definers of out and in, us and them, friend and foe?

Or the child whose mind leaps over the barricades of exclusion.  The child who can’t help exploring beyond what he can see.  The child who reminds us that our actions--and, even more, our failures to act--are being watched.  The child who must wonder if this wall of steel will always form the backdrop of his life.

The artist JR brilliantly and imaginatively takes us to the border and, through this beautiful child, takes down the wall.  I could not be more grateful for his creative vision, his kindness and humor, and his courage in shattering the silliest – and scariest – monuments to fear.   And I am grateful to the mom and little boy who, living in the shadow of oppressive (and insulting) barriers, bring grace to the border.  

Friday, April 7, 2017


Being neither a theologian nor a scholar of Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, I have hesitated to write about what passes as “Christian” in a lot of conservative language and policies.  Especially strange is the way “love thy neighbor” has been lost in the cacophony of voices against immigrants, Muslims, Jews, women, people living in poverty.  Whatever happened to taking care of “the least of these”?  Did our Sunday school teachers have it all wrong?  I really have struggled to figure out how people calling themselves Christians could say so many hateful things – and in public, on posters and t-shirts they’re wearing, sometimes shouting from microphones.

It’s not that I’m na├»ve about the uses of Christianity to justify slavery or subservient roles for women or wars against Muslim countries. And I know that’s not all just a history that’s nicely wrapped up in embarrassing rationalizations in our history books.

But really!  We have people in office bragging about de-funding Meals on Wheels, determined to take away health insurance from the sickest among us – our neighbors who may be too sick to hold a job, much less a job that provides good health benefits.
And these are the same people (you, Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz and….) who claim Christian values guide their decisions.

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I’m not qualified to do an exegesis of the gospel according to these self-identified Christian politicians, so I could not be more grateful that Nicholas Kristof has done it for us.  He writes to Pious Paul (Ryan) in the voice of Jesus, reminding him that our mission is to take care of the “least of these.”  Kristof crushes the transformation of “prophet” into “profit” in the Christian-right lexicon. 

Here is Kristof’s Jesus explaining to Ryan why he should learn from the Good Samaritan, though Ryan’s admiration is for the rich guys who passed by the suffering traveler to take care of their own business:

A man was attacked by robbers who stripped him of clothes, beat him and left him half dead. A minister passed down this same road, and when he saw the injured man, he crossed to the other side and hurried on. So did a rich man who claimed to serve God. But then a despised Samaritan came by and took pity on the injured man. He bandaged his wounds and put the man on his own donkey and paid an innkeeper to nurse him to health. So which of these three should we follow?”
“Those who had mercy on him,” Pious Paul said promptly.
Jesus nodded. “So go ——”
“I mean the first two,” Pious Paul interjected. “For the Samaritan’s work is unsustainable and sends the wrong message. It teaches travelers to take dangerous roads, knowing that others will rescue them from self-destructive behaviors. This Samaritan also seems to think it right to redistribute money from those who are successful and give it to losers. That’s socialism! Meanwhile, if the rich man keeps his money, he can invest it and create jobs. So it’s an act of mercy for the rich man to hurry on and ignore the robbery victim.”

Then Jesus’s response to Ryan’s idea that prayer is “universal health care,” and that Jesus would be smarter to invest with the Donald in for-profit hospitals, making a little for himself on the side:

Jesus turned to Pious Paul on his left and said: “Be gone! For I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; and I was sick, and you did not help me.”
“But, Lord,” protested Pious Paul of Ryan, “when did I see you hungry or thirsty or sick and refuse to help you? I drop your name everywhere. And I’m pro-life!”
“Truly I say to you,” Jesus responded, “as you did not help the homeless, the sick — as you did not help the least of these, you did not help me.”

Read the column, pass it on, and pray (if such is your tradition) for this gospel of hate to wear out its welcome before too many more people get hurt.   Imagine if our national conversation right now kept coming back to the question of whether we and our policies really were taking care of the least of these.

Please comment on my post here

Friday, March 24, 2017

On the Radio: What Damage Can Betsy DeVos Actually Do to the Public’s School?

If you’ve accepted my invitation to imagine a Secretary of Education for America’s  Children and a Secretary of Education for the Public’s Schools, you may wonder what led me to (perhaps somewhat wildly) fantasize a person holding that office who is moved by the gravity of the responsibility to act wisely and forcefully as the first and highest advocate for our children, their learning, and their well being.

The idea of imagining possibilities came to me as I prepared for a radio interview with Dan Angelo, whose Education Today has for 25 years provided a forum for in-depth conversations about critical issues in education.  Mr. Angelo asked me to speak about the implications for our schools should DeVos be able to enact her stated agenda of dismantling the public’s schools and shifting our tax dollars to private religious schools, corporate charters and online “education” companies.

Needless to say, doing my homework for the interview was not pleasant. The more I read about the damage DeVos left behind in Ohio (including having to pay fines for violations of campaign laws) and Michigan (charters with dismal records of student learning, in close proximity to the now closed or marginalized public schools), the more I feared for America’s children and for the future of the vital role our public education system has played in creating and, to now, sustaining our democracy.

I was dismayed to read the ways that DeVos and other privatizers trick the public by claiming that private schools that take our money (through direct tax dollars to charters or indirectly through vouchers) are “public schools.”  Nope and nope.  The obfuscating terminology, the wholesale attacks on all public schools, the blaming of teachers and schools that have been starved for resources – the DeVos record was painful for what it’s done and frankly terrifying for what she plans to do as a member of the Cabinet under a president who himself is hostile to public goods and public institutions of all kinds.  

You can read my interview that “homework” produced.  I talk with Dan Angelo, host of EducationToday on Quartermoon Radio, about what Betsy DeVos hopes to do to our public schools:
You’ll see why the more I learned about DeVos, the more I kept imagining what would someone do as Secretary of Education who had, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer, a reverence for children’s lives, a weighty sense of obligation to their schools and to the democracy we’ve promised they’ll grow up in.  Imagining an alternative was an exercise in hope.

I hope you’ll add your own imaginings to my previous posts on such a Secretary of Education, and check back in a few days to see how I’m imagining a Secretary of Education for America’s teachers.

Please comment on my post here

Thursday, March 23, 2017


With Betsy DeVos in as US Secretary of Education, we know our public schools are not safe.  A new administration should have come in ready to do away with high-stakes testing and other punitive policies and jumped right in to use the Secretary’s power – and budget in the billions of dollars – as a force for the most academically rich, culturally grounded, child-centered and, of course, equitable schools we can as a nation imagine. 

Instead, we see a Secretary eager to use the power of her office to impoverish the public’s schools by robbing them of our tax dollars, giving them to private schools.  Betsy DeVos wants our public dollars to leave our children’s classrooms and fly across town into the pockets of people who run schools but for some reason can’t make them financially viable on their own.   Religious schools (in her case, Christian ones), corporate-run charter chains, independent private schools – these are the folks who want a handout from the government!   Education “welfare”?

We can call it theft, misappropriation, corporate welfare, or de-democratizing.  Betsy DeVos calls these cash transfers “vouchers,” “freedom scholarships,” “market payments.”

Vouchers by whatever name will take money out of our public schools, making them weaker and – surprise! – vulnerable to closure or take over by private interests.    The president’s proposed budget takes billions of federal dollars away from even basic services to put into vouchers – voucher programs that states may have to go along with to get other federal dollars they desperately need in such areas as special education.  And many Republican governors and state legislatures are voting on voucher bills this very month (including, my Texas neighbors, right now in Austin).

“Vouchers” sound neutral; “freedom scholarships” sound generous.  How can we explain to our friends, our legislators, and our members of Congress how dangerous vouchers are?

A teacher can tell us!  Mercedes K.Schneider is a public school teacher in Louisiana, a careful researcher, and writer who can explain the most complicated policies in clear prose even a legislator can understand!     Her new book is here just in time to give to your member of Congress or state representative before they get sucked into thinking vouchers are inevitable, vouchers “worked” in Michigan (they didn’t), vouchers help poor kids (no).  SchoolChoice:  The End of Public Education?(Teachers College Press, 2016) traces vouchers to their roots in Southern resistance to desegregation:  if white families could take their local school tax dollars to private schools not under the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, they could keep their kids in all-white schools – and at the public’s expense.  

Schneider shows vouchers to be fundamentally aimed at destroying democracy, starting with Milton Friedman’s goal of replacing public institutions (the public’s institutions) by private players in a market where “competition” would be the only form of regulation.  And private interests would have no obligation to collective governance.   Her section on “choice” is especially compelling: Schneider shows that when tax dollars – and kids – go to voucher and charter schools, it’s the schools, not the parents and children, who have the power of “choice”: to include, to exclude, to do less than advertised.  Not good for children, not good for the community, and definitely not consistent with our democracy.

Get Schneider’s book today – for you, your teachers and school board, your policy folks, your local library!  Keep our dollars in our classrooms.  Anyone who wants to start a private school should try it; but raise your own money.  The rest of us have already committed our tax dollars to the public’s schools.

 comment on my post here

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Announcement: Save Texas Schools Rally

This is an announcement from Save Texas Schools.  Please add your voice at the Capitol!

It's rally time at the Capitol-Saturday, March 25, 10 am-Noon 

Public education in Texas continues to struggle with the challenges of underfunding and over-testing. Texas children deserve better. Join thousands of fellow Texans standing up at the Capitol to say THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW!

We have an amazing set of speakers (including parents, teachers and students) and student performers. We'll also have a large group of legislators attending as our audience. Buses are in the works from DFW, Houston, San Antonio,El Paso, and the Valley. Keep spreading the word!

Texas children cannot be left standing, waiting for long-delayed funding reforms. We need fair funding, testing reform and community-based supports for struggling schools today!

Click here for information about parking, speakers, etc. Get those amazing signs ready, spread the word on social media and be there on Saturday morning, ready to be make some noise for public ed!

Save Texas Schools Twitter: @savetxschools

Friday, March 17, 2017

Education, Race and Poverty: It’s Time to Organize!

Our local NPR station (KUHF) joined with its Dallas counterpart (KERA) for a state-wide conversation on the persistent connections between race, poverty and the education of the state’s childrenYou can listen to the program here.

The invitation to participate prompted me to reflect on my thirty years of studying Texas public schools and the ways year after year, legislative session after legislative session, the story has been one of extraordinary teachers and children inside the schools up against pressures from outside that blame, undermine and disinvest.  I used a part of my time during the KUHF interview to recount a history of what Jean Anyon called “pauperizing,” that is, making poor – taking resources away from our schools. In Texas this has happened through a long history of inadequate and unequal funding (acknowledged in more than one court ruling but rarely remedied by legislative investment), as well as billions in direct cuts under Rick Perry (gasp, now US Secretary of Energy) when he was governor.  

Recent and current top officials (Bush, Perry, Abbott, Patrick) have made families poorer as well, rejecting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act though the state ranks very high in the number of uninsured children and families, and not even considering such legislation as fair and living wage laws, increased regulation of asthma-inducing industrial pollution, or other policies to mitigate inequalities.

And now the threat to poor families, and to the public’s schools, is the outsourcing of poor, Latino and African American children to charter chains and voucher schools (giving families “freedom scholarships,” with tax breaks to rich “donors” to private schools), an artificial “market” of schooling in no way accountable to or aligned with strong communities and democracy governance.  It can’t be a coincidence that strategic subtractions from the capacities of our public schools come at a time when our student population is most ethnically, culturally, linguistically diverse – that is, less “white.”

Professor Richard Milner of the University of Pittsburg contributed to the radio discussion his research on the ways our failure to address persistent poverty and to address educational inequalities fills the school-to-prison pipeline, abridging the futures of the most vulnerable youth.  In his concluding remarks he urged listeners to organize on behalf of our schools and our children.

I didn’t get to follow up on the air, so I’ll share with you my closing remarks:

Yes, organize!   Get together with your neighbors and with parents and teachers at a school near you.  And join in the efforts of these groups already working on behalf of your children, your community and our schools:

In Texas: 
Community Voices for Public Schools:  See their website for info on Save Our Schools Day, March 25 , to lobby the legislature to defeat vouchers and fund our schools

Pastors for Texas Children , working to keep tax dollars in the public's schools, not in voucher schools; and Texas Freedom Network, vigilant advocacy for public schools, for separation of church and state, for educational equity

Network for Public Education, now 300,000 members strong!  

Only by organizing, by making common cause, can we counter the increasing forces of pauperization and subtraction dominating education policy in Austin and in Washington.

Please comment on my post here

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


For my readers in Texas, Raise Your Hand Texas reminds us that Vouchers Hurt!  Call and write your state senators NOW to let them know you're not fooled by "tax credit scholarship voucher," "Education Savings Accounts," or any other trick label that takes dollars out of our children's classrooms and turns them over to profiteers and private interests.   Tell them: we know theft when we see it.  And we're watching.  Vouchers hurt the public's schools. A vote for vouchers will hurt you in the next election!

The Senate Education Committee on voucher legislation has been RESCHEDULEDfor Tuesday, March 21.

Please comment on my post here

Friday, March 3, 2017

Imagine a Secretary of Education for America’s Schools

When the President of the United States appoints a Secretary of Education who openly, vocally, and financially works to destroy the public’s schools, we can sigh and hope to outlive her time in office, giving what support we can to the teachers we know and the schools that serve our communities.  Or we can declare the experiment in democratic education over (as some have already done), and shed tears for what this generation of children will miss and what our country will lack when their schools are closed and they, and their friends, are outsourced to private “education management companies” called “charter schools.”

Or, we can heed Maxine Greene’s admonition to foster in each other a social imagination – the imagination to envision a more just society, a creative public spirit, and a collective sense of urgency to make democracy work for everyone.  For Greene, an esteemed professor at Teachers College and a tireless advocate for educating through the creative arts, a social imagination was not idle musing or wishing what might have been.  An informed social imagination leads to action for justice.

I invited readers to imagine along with me what it would mean if we had a Secretary of Education for America’s children:  a cabinet member who understands the gravity of being the voice of the children –all our children – at the highest levels of government, and who acts accordingly.   Now we need to imagine what a Secretary of Education would do in her first months in office if she understood, cared about, and used her power to advocate for the public’s schools.

Again, cue up John Lennon’s “Imagine” or maybe “What a WonderfulWorld.”  And let’s imagine together…..

Imagine a Secretary of Education who understands that an investment in America’s infrastructure absolutely must include making sure that every public school, in every neighborhood, is built as an engaging learning environment and an asset to its community. That secretary would call in the Secretary of Labor to remind him that building good schools, and renovating older ones, is a great for job creation – for the workers immediately employed and for economies that that powerful learning will generate in the schools they build.  Our imagined Secretary would enlist the Secretary of Health and Human Services and colleagues NIH and the CDC and EPA for their expertise in assuring the building materials are built with children’s health in mind, safety from toxic chemicals, with clean air and water a given.  She’d of course call on the expertise of the Department of Energy and the professional organizations of school architects for specs on energy efficiency and renewable systems throughout, to model for the children a reverence for nature’s resources as well as to reduce expenses.

Imagine a Secretary of Education who tells the Congress and the President and infrastructure designers to get ready to build, but not until she has consulted with teachers and parents about what they want their school buildings to be.  Lively learning centers, yes.    Abundantly equipped, yes – even in the poorest neighborhoods, the most remote rural counties.    And inviting to all – a place where teachers want to teach, children are excited to spend their days, parents and neighbors know they are welcome to visit and volunteer.   Well acquainted with the amenities in private schools, the Secretary will already know that teachers need offices and conference rooms for study and lesson prep and collaborating across disciplines; teachers won’t have to ask for those basics. But teachers will want to weigh in on things this particular Secretary of Education may not think of – a community clinic with mental health services as well as basic family medicine, spaces for parents to meet, a community liaison who knows well the families’ languages, needs, assets and network of referral services throughout the community.

Imagine a Secretary of Education who understands that learning involves all the senses.   She might take a literal walk in the park to confer with the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Secretary of the Interior as well as the leaders of Nature Conservancy and various urban park systems to ask how they could work together to make sure every American child has places to play outside. She would have read Last Child in the Woods on the plane in from Michigan and arrived fired up to get America’s kids outdoors, exploring, discovering, skinning their knees and – the radical part – getting to play!

I’m beginning to like this imagined Secretary of Education.  Though I doubt she’ll materialize on her own. It will take a village – a very large and energized village and its teachers – to “raise” her.  In a future post, we’ll imagine what she might learn from America’s teachers – if she did decide to become the Secretary of Education for all of America’s children and all of the public’s schools.

Add your imaginings to mind in the Comments section here:

Monday, February 27, 2017

We need to make calls TODAY, THIS WEEK: Support Ethnic Studies in Texas NOW!

From Angela Valenzuela:

Time to put pressure on the legislature to get our Ethnic Studies bills heard this legislative session.  Please call your representatives in the House for a hearing for BOTH  HB1817 and HB366.  Also call your representative on the Senate side for a hearing of SB695.

Contact information appears below for the House and Senate Education Committee representatives, respectively.

If any of you live in the districts of any of the members listed below, do know that you are one of their constituents and call them since a call from you as one of their constituents means a whole lot more than if they receive a call from someone that is not a constituent. If you do not know who represents you, click here to find out. 

If none of the house or senate members represent you, then reach out to the chairs themselves or better yet, tell families, friends, and members of organizations that live in their districts to begin making calls.

One last, very important point.  The Texas State Board of Education may also implement this without being forced by the legislature to do so.  Yes, they are empowered to simply do the right thing.  So if they see that the legislature is getting pressured, they can move on their end without a law making them do this.

 To enlarge, click here.
 To enlarge, click here.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Imagine a Secretary of Education for America's Children

When President Jimmy Carter worked with Congress to create the Department of Education as a cabinet-level division of the federal government, he – along with parents and educators – envisioned the Secretary of Education as the advocate for the nation’s children and their education.  I’ve written about the dangers of concentrating too much power in one office, of so centralizing authority that it could easily be abused.  In the appointment of Betsy DeVos, a self-proclaimed opponent of public education, my cautions seem warranted as Ms. DeVos showed in her confirmation hearing little interest in and even less knowledge about the duties of her office to support the nation’s schools.   Her chilly and, frankly, smug interactions with the senators questioning her, and her fierce devotion to dismantling our public schools to replace them with a “market” of commercial and religious schools, means the struggle to protect, enhance and support our children’s schools will take our keenest vigilance, our collective advocacy, and our best ideas.

And that got me to thinking:  what if…  What if the Secretary of Education understood the gravity of the position:  “I am the face of the nation’s children in every meeting of the president’s Cabinet.  I am the voice of America’s children and the first and strongest advocate for their well-being and their education.”  I started wondering what such a person, stepping into the role in a spirit of humility and deep obligation to our children, would do.

Feel free to cue up John Lennon’s “Imagine” as you imagine along with me:

Imagine a Secretary of Education who rushes to meet with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, saying “You and I have a job to do.   Children learn best when they are healthy.  I need you to work with me to make sure every child in America has good, affordable health insurance and a doctor and well-staffed clinic nearby.”

Imagine a Secretary of Education who insists on a meeting with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, reminding him that children learn best when they and their family have a safe place to live.  “Together,” she would say, “we need to bring in mayors, school leaders, builders, bankers, and members of Congress to come up with -- and fund and stay on top of --  creative solutions to the need for affordable housing all across the country.”

Imagine a Secretary of Education who understands what it means to work hard and still struggle to support a family, who knows that holding two jobs and still making minimum wage leaves little time to read to your kids.  Imagine that Secretary of Education summoning the Secretary of Labor to get together over coffee to hammer out a plan for federal legislation to guarantee a fair and living wage – with benefits – for America’s workers.   If such a plan needs input about tax laws, she would invite the Secretary of the Treasury to join them.  If the president is serious about a huge federal infrastructure investment, bring in the financial advisers to make sure all the jobs created pay fair wages, with benefits.

Imagine a Secretary of Education who pleads with the Attorney General:  “Look, I know your record on civil rights is not stellar, but this is your chance to correct that legacy. American kids are counting on me to make sure they are all treated fairly, whether at home or at school or in their communities.  I need you to help make sure no one discriminates against a child because of his race, her religion, their gender or culture or country of origin.  Jeff, you can do this – and without you, I can’t be sure we can get all these kids through school.”

Imagine a Secretary of Education who knows that little minds have trouble learning when the children are afraid.  She would march over to the Homeland Security building and barge in on the Secretary’s border enforcement budget meeting:  “If kids think they might be picked up by ICE, or that their parents may disappear while they are at school, they can’t concentrate on their lessons.  You know that rounding up immigrants violates our cherished due process protections and just makes people in our country and abroad cynical about America’s commitment to the rule of law. Work with me here. We can come up with creative ways to protect families – and it will take both of us to convince Jeff Sessions and the loudest anti-immigrant supporters of the President.  But an education is a human right. We’re Cabinet members! We can do this!”

Imagine a Secretary of Education who can’t bear the thought of hungry children, children whose neighborhoods may be “food deserts” without healthy grocery stores or farmers’ markets, children eating un-nutritious fast foods that are cheaper than vegetables. That Secretary of Education would call on the Secretary of Agriculture to collaborate in ways that benefit farmers, children and healthy grocery stores.   

She’s the same Secretary who would venture to the Pentagon to enlist the Secretary of Defense in removing the military’s access to students’ personal social media information and school records and instead using the power of his office to advocate for publicly-funded higher education so that poor youth don’t have to see fighting in wars as their only path to a skill and an education.

A sign in my office urges “Imagine the Possibilities.”  Yes, let’s do! Let’s imagine what would be possible for America’s children and their education if a Secretary of Education assumed that office in the spirit of humility and obligation that being the voice of America’s children requires.  We believe all children can learn.  Imagine for a minute that all adults – including those in high office – can too.