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Archive for February, 2012

by Terry Burant

Recently, a friend told me that a former high school student of mine named his car “Terry” after me. When she asked him why, he explained, “She’s a little older, she’s strong and tough, and she can handle anything, just like my old car; watching her as my teacher made me realize that I can be strong and accomplish things too.”

This former student of mine struggled mightily with sophomore chemistry and, before every test, he spent hours in my classroom after school working problems on the board with other students and taking periodic breaks for making jokes, watching a silly YouTube video, or writing with the dry erase markers on the arms of his friends. I thought I was teaching him chemistry; turns out, he learned how to stay strong and succeed. His comment, and the picture in my mind of an old beater car with my name cruising the streets of Milwaukee make me think about the unintended lessons teachers teach, about the things we leave with our students of which we might not be aware.

An all-night-long Glee-watching marathon over winter break also made me think about our legacies as teachers. While I realize that Glee isn’t free from criticism, particularly for its lackluster, individualistic treatment of the many forms of bullying going on in the school (see “TV Bullies: How Glee and Anti-Bullying Programs Miss the Mark,” by Gerald Walton, p. 216, Rethinking Popular Culture and Media), the last ten minutes of the final episode made me think about the kinds of impressions we leave with our students and the unintended lessons we teach, so much so that I decided to use a segment of the episode on the first day of the spring semester in an undergraduate teacher education course I teach.

For those not well-versed in Glee, the show centers on a high school singing club in Ohio. Resurrected by a former Glee Club member and current Spanish teacher at the school, Mr. Schuster, the club is often on shaky ground with the administration and always in danger of having its funding cut. The first season ends with the club convinced that after not placing at the Regional competition, the club is history.

The last ten minutes of the season begins with the Glee club members inviting Mr. Schuster into the auditorium where the students are on stage ready to say goodbye to their teacher, in song of course. Yet they begin, one by one, describing the ways in which he and Glee club made an impact on their lives.

Santana, a bit of a badass cheerleader, always ready with a cutting remark for her fellow Glee club members, states that as the year started, “she hated everyone in the club.” Michael Chang, one of the best dancers in the group, says that before Glee club, “he only danced in his room.” Kurt, a young man who comes out as gay during the school year, points out that he “wasn’t honest with who [he] was” until the camaraderie within the group helped him realize that he could be himself. Finn, a young man whose father died when Finn was a young boy, tells Mr. Schuster that he was a like a father to him, showing him a model of “how to be a man.” Finally, Rachel, the quirky diva of the group, tells Mr. Schuster that “no matter what the judges said, we won. We had you as a teacher.”

After their statements, the group sings “To Sir with Love” to Mr. Schuster, and seasoned Glee fans will completely understand the looks between members as well as the appropriate lines of the song as sung by specific members.

As I listened to the students’ comments and the lyrics of the song, I noticed that not one student mentioned meeting standards, using a packaged music curriculum (for Mr. Schuster’s curriculum often came from student interests and concerns), getting a good ACT score, or mastering a specific objective that was listed every day on their classroom board. While I realize that this is an after-school club on a television show in which people burst into song in school hallways, the stark contrast between the students’ statements and official school goals made an impression on me.

In my class, towards the end of the first day, after showing this clip, I asked my students to think about and write from the following prompt and return with their writing for the next class:

Imagine yourself as a teacher, about 5-8 years from now, in a situation similar to the one in which Will Schuster finds himself in this clip from the Season 1 final episode of Glee. What would your students say if they were expressing some thoughts about what you’ve given them? In other words, what do you hope your legacy might be as a teacher?

My students wrote things like “I want my students to think for themselves, to be advocates for justice and equity, to realize that I cared about them as people, to be critical readers and thinkers, to know that I wasn’t just a teacher of math or science, but a person who noticed and cared about them.” Similar to the Glee episode, not one mentioned hoping that his students would remember meeting math standard 1.11.12 about linear equations, about being a teacher who recorded grades in the electronic grading program on time, about following the Success for All reading scripts to perfection, or about only using the district-approved curriculum. All of the future teachers in my class, most of them juniors or seniors in their teacher education program, want far more for their students than teaching them what’s on a test.

I worry about my students, just a little over a year away from their first teaching positions. Will the craziness of testing, of school district officials entering their classrooms to take away materials, of control of their curriculum from outside sources, lead them away from realizing their dreams as teachers? Will their students have the kinds of experiences in school that lead them to sing in gratitude for the larger life lessons they learned in school?

As an in-class follow-up activity, I asked my students to re-read their responses and to write an additional paragraph stating one specific way in which they would work this semester to make their desired-for legacy come true. They shared those paragraphs with a partner in class, making commitments to one another to stay true to their larger goals.

In these times, perhaps now more than ever, all of us who teach might remind ourselves of why we do what we do. If the conditions are making it harder and harder to be the kind of teachers we want to be, we might make the extra effort to commit to act in and beyond our classrooms to realize the legacies that mean the most to us and to our students.

Terry Burant is a Rethinking Schools editor and an instructor in the department of Educational Studies at the University of Wyoming.

Related Resources

Rethinking Schools has long been attentive to the messages in popular culture and media that saturate our lives.  We devoted an entire book to it, and carved out a section on “Minding Media” in our upcoming Rethinking Elementary Education.

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy. This anthology includes outstanding articles by elementary and secondary public school teachers, scholars, and activists who examine how and what popular toys, books, films, music, and other media “teach.” The essays offer strong conceptual critiques and practical pedagogical strategies for educators at every level to engage with the popular.

Rethinking Elementary Education, edited by Linda Christensen, Mark Hansen, Bob Peterson, Elizabeth Schlessman, and Dyan Watson.The articles in this volume offer practical insights about how to integrate the teaching of content with a social justice lens, how to seek wisdom from students and their families, and how to navigate stifling tests and mandates. Teachers and parents will find both inspiration and hope in these pages.

Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools, edited by Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel. Through articles that provide thoughtful and emotional critiques from the frontlines of education, Pencils Down deconstructs the damage that standardized tests wreak on our education system and the human beings that populate it. Better yet, it offers visionary forms of assessment that are not only more authentic, but also more democratic, fair, and accurate.

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by the editors of Rethinking Schools


Rethinking Columbus banned“Banned in Tucson.”

As many Rethinking Schools readers know, in January Tucson school officials ordered our book Rethinking Columbus removed from Mexican American Studies classes, as part of their move to shut down the program. In some instances, school authorities confiscated the books during class—boxed them up and hauled them off. As one student said, “We were in shock. . . . It was very heartbreaking to see that happening in the middle of class.”

Other books banned from Mexican American Studies classes included Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America, and Elizabeth Martínez’ 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures.

We are in good company.

Many commentators focused on the outrageous act of banning books. But the books were merely collateral damage. The real target was Tucson’s acclaimed Mexican American Studies program, whose elimination had long been a goal of rightwing politicians in Arizona. Their efforts ultimately found legislative expression in House Bill 2281, passed shortly after Arizona’s now-infamous Senate Bill 1070, which mandated racial profiling in immigration enforcement. National outrage focused on SB 1070, with barely any attention paid to HB 2281, a law whose origins lay in the same racial prejudice.

The law’s punchline comes in Section 15-112, which prohibits any courses that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Tom Horne, the former Arizona superintendent of public instruction and the state’s current attorney general, sums up the law’s curricular dogma: “Those students should be taught that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can achieve their goals. They should not be taught that they are oppressed.”

Of course, by “those students,” Horne means Mexican Americans. To assert that oppression is a myth, especially the oppression of Mexican Americans, one must be historically illiterate—or lying. A few examples: The state of Arizona itself was acquired by the United States through invasion, war, and occupation—an enterprise justified by notions of racial supremacy. As the Congressional Globe insisted in 1847, seizing Mexican territory for the United States “is the destiny of the white race. It is the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race.” A 1910 government report, quoted in the now-banned Occupied America, concluded: “Thus it is evident that, in the case of the Mexican, he is less desirable as a citizen than as a laborer.” Today in Arizona, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than twice the percentage of Mexican American children live in poverty as white children: 64 percent to 30 percent. And Mexican Americans are twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

To demand that students think purely in terms of individuals and ignore race, class, and ethnicity is to enforce stupidity as state policy. Moreover, to erase solidarity from students’ conceptual vocabulary leaves them ignorant of how people have struggled to improve their lives—and have made the world a better place. Proposing that we rise purely as individuals—“I think I can, I think I can”—may be a comforting notion for social elites, but it’s simply wrong, empirically as well as morally. Outlawing solidarity benefits only those whose interests are threatened by people organizing for greater equality.

Today’s curricular ethnic cleansing in Arizona is the product of a toxic blend of fear and racism. Here’s Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal on NPR’s Tell Me More: “These issues are going to be huge philosophical issues for the United States as we become—as our whole racial makeup changes. And we need to know that there are a lot of serious concerns about how you educate kids, the values that you pass on to them.”

Translation: Whites are becoming a minority in this country. If children of color are taught to question structures of wealth and power; to think in terms of race, class, and ethnicity; to learn the history of solidarity and organizing; and come to see themselves as activists . . . well, the United States will be a very different place. In his 2010 campaign ads, Huppenthal promised to “Stop la raza.” Destroying Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program is one way he intends to keep that promise.

For rightwing politicians like Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and Gov. Jan Brewer, it’s not the failure of the Mexican American Studies program that they fear—it’s the program’s success. According to Tucson’s own director of accountability and research, “there are positive measurable differences between MAS students and the corresponding comparative group of students.” Mexican American Studies students score higher on standardized reading, writing, and even math tests than their peers, are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to attend college, and—a feature that doesn’t show up in the data printouts—are more likely to see themselves as activists.

This kind of education is a threat to those who would prefer Mexican Americans as quiet and compliant workers. Mayra Feliciano, a co-founder of the Tucson student activist group UNIDOS and an alumna of the Mexican American Studies program, told Jeff Biggers in an interview, “As long as people like Superintendent John Huppenthal and TUSD board members are afraid of well-educated Latinos, they will try to take away our successful courses and studies.”

Following one of Biggers’ fine Huffington Post blog posts on the Mexican American Studies program, one respondent, “Tucson Don,” directed his comments to a student Biggers had quoted:

“Hey Chicka, nobody is stopping you from learning about your own culture. But you now live in the US, and you can do that on your own time and your own dime! We Americans want you to learn to read (English), write (also in English) and be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide well enough to complete a business transaction without needing a computer to tell you that a $1.99 Egg McMuffin plus a $.99 hash browns and free coffee adds up to $2.98 before tax.” Tucson Don and his ilk echo the century-old words quoted above: the Mexican American is “less desirable as a citizen than as a laborer.”

This is the “gutter education,” as the youth of South Africa used to call it, that the Mexican American Studies program was designed to supplant. Those who have read the letters and articles online by MAS teachers Curtis Acosta and Maria Federico Brummer, or who have seen the excellent film Precious Knowledge, know that this is not a program that teaches hate or “resentment.” It sparks curiosity, honors students’ lives, demands academic excellence, prompts critical thinking, invites activism, and imagines a better world.

Its ethos of love, mutual respect, and solidarity is expressed in the poem that has come to symbolize the program, borrowed from Luis Valdez’ 1971 Mayan-inspired “Pensamiento Serpentino”:

In Lak’ech (I Am You or You Are Me)

Tú eres mi otro yo.

You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti.

If I do harm to you.

Me hago daño a mí mismo.

I do harm to myself.

Si te amo y respeto,

If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo.

I love and respect myself.

We encourage Rethinking Schools readers to join the national solidarity campaign, “No History Is Illegal,” launched by the Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) network, to teach about this important struggle. In fact, Tucson’s program should not only be defended, it should be extended: We should demand that local, state, and federal policies support more multicultural, anti-racist education initiatives. As the U.S. school curriculum becomes increasingly shaped by giant multinational publishing corporations, it’s essential to stand up for—and spread—community-supported, social justice curriculum, as exemplified by Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program.

In Lak’ech. An injury to one is an injury to all.

Related Resources:

The Line Between UsThe Line Between Us explores the history of U.S-Mexican relations and the roots of Mexican immigration, all in the context of the global economy. And it shows how teachers can help students understand the immigrant experience and the drama of border life.

A People’s History for the Classroom helps teachers introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula.

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by Jody Sokolower

The day the Tucson school board voted to kill the Mexican American Studies program, I was in Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, learning about a different fight to rewrite history.

Jawad Siyam is the director of Silwan’s Wadi Hilweh Information Center. Silwan, he explained to my partner Karen, my daughter Ericka, and me, has a history that stretches back to the time of the Canaanites. More recently, it was for many centuries thriving Palestinian farmland, a main source of food for the city of Jerusalem. Currently the history and the future of Silwan are under siege: Israel has given total power to a private company, Elad Association, which has been systematically demolishing the neighborhood and building an archeological park instead.

In the face of that threat, the people of Silwan have joined together to create the information center, a women’s crafts collective that is producing extraordinary needlework and mosaics, a sports field and cultural café, and a playground.

The Wadi Hilweh Information Center

There are two glass cases in the entryway to the information center: one is filled with artwork from the women’s collective, the other with teargas canisters and other ammunition that has been aimed at the center. We watched a video featuring the voices of youth from the neighborhood. Jawad showed us the house next door, which belonged to his grandparents. Now there are a dozen Israeli flags hanging across the front. As we watched, an armored car pulled into the gate. It is illegal to fly a Palestinian flag in East Jerusalem, so the center flies a “We Love Silwan” flag instead.

Artwork from the women's collective.

At the crafts collective, the women showed us how to make mosaics and pulled out dozens of examples of the needlework they are working on. At the cultural café, we drank coffee and talked with the staff, all of whom have been political prisoners in Israeli prisons. They told us how many kids from the neighborhood were playing soccer and volleyball on the sports field, and the plans for cultural events at the café.

Jody and her daughter Ericka at the Center

We met many amazingly resilient and brilliant people throughout Palestine, but Silwan was special: It seemed so full of hope in a situation that is often filled with losses and desperation. Since we returned to the United States, I have told all my friends, everyone I know, about Silwan.

This morning, one of those friends sent me a URL. “Isn’t this the neighborhood you told me about?” she asked. I opened the link to see a news article from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: Yesterday the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority bulldozed the cultural café, destroying it completely, and seriously damaged the sports field. “This was the only place in the area to meet,” Jawad lamented, “to sit together. It was the only place for children in Silwan.”

How could this happen? The Israeli government claims that Silwan is the site of the biblical “City of David.” Although this finding is debated by archeologists, the Israelis have built the City of David National Park on the site, destroying dozens of Palestinian homes, a school and a mosque—either through direct demolition, seizure and re-occupation by Israeli settlers, or by digging under the foundations until the buildings collapse.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee approved plans for a visitors compound, vastly expanding the park. By Monday morning, the cultural café was rubble.

Archeology seems like a neutral science. Who, after all, could argue with the importance of understanding the past? But in occupied Palestine, like in Arizona, history and its uses are highly politicized. According to Raphael Greenberg of Tel Aviv University and Emek Shaveh, an organization of progressive Israeli archeologists, “The sanctity of the City of David is newly manufactured, and is a crude amalgam of history, nationalism, and quasi-religious pilgrimage.” Nonetheless, a half million tourists come to the park every year. They watch a 3-D movie that ignores the Palestinian history on the land, and walk down paths surrounded by high walls so they cannot see the Palestinian homes on every side.

Being in Palestine made me think a lot about the United States. In the United States, so much of the history of what came before is long buried. Every once in awhile there is news of a struggle by Native Americans to save a sacred site that is about to become a shopping mall. But in most parts of the United States, the hundreds of years of occupation have erased much of what came before. In Palestine, the fight is much newer, so the foundations of the buildings that have been destroyed are still there—sometimes the whole building or village is still there. And the Palestinians who were forced out of their homes starting in 1948 are still very much determined to return. How does time passing affect our responsibility to right wrongs?

As in Palestine, the determination not to be pushed out, buried, and forgotten is the crux of the matter in Tucson. The Mexican American Studies program is a way of keeping critical history from being erased and buried. “We are still here,” the teachers and the curriculum say. “We are still here, we are proud, our culture is strong. It is something all of us need and can use to build a just future.”

As social justice teachers, we know that justice is the only road to peace. That’s why teaching our students how to think critically about history is so important. And why solidarity is so important. In Tucson and in Palestine.

The Silwan community is determined to rebuild the cultural café by March 21, when Mother’s Day is celebrated in Arab countries. For more information on how to express your solidarity with the people of Silwan, visit the Middle East Children’s Alliance (www.mecaforpeace.org).

Jody Sokolower is the policy and production editor for Rethinking Schools.


Related Resource:

Portland to Palestine: A Student-to-Student Project Evokes Empathy and Curiosity, by Ken Gadbow

U.S. students talk directly with Palestinian youth and learn what it is like to live in a war zone.

from Rethinking Schools magazine, Winter 2009

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by Jennifer Morales

This week, PBS stations across the country will be airing “The Interrupters,” a powerful documentary about a daring and intimate approach to stopping the cycle of neighborhood violence in Chicago. Even as a person who already had a pretty fierce belief in people’s ability to teach and learn peace-building, this movie still blew my mind. I strongly encourage you to make time to watch it and let it change you.

Although the “Interrupters” profiled in the documentary are all adults, there is no age restriction on helping to build peaceful communities. “Chicago’s Peace Warriors,” Kazu Haga’s moving article about one Chicago high school’s embrace of Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence, shows that youth can learn to effectively interrupt our culture of violence, too.

The high school students in Haga’s article understand what’s at stake: Either we begin to actively teach and learn nonviolence or we’re choosing to expose another generation of young people to injury, prison, and early death. The lessons these students and “The Interrupters” teach are essential tools for dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline discussed throughout the current issue of Rethinking Schools.

Chicago’s Peace Warriors

By Kazu Haga

from the winter issue of Rethinking Schools

A group of students from Chicago’s North Lawndale College Preparatory High were in the middle of a weeklong summer training to become Peace Warriors—peer nonviolence leaders. Suddenly, a sophomore named Alicia got a text message alerting her that one of her close friends was just involved in a shooting and was in critical condition at the hospital.

A conversation about the violence in Chicago followed. At one point in the discussion, Tiffany Childress, science teacher and civic engagement director at the school, told the students: “This level of violence is not normal. I’ve seen wealthy neighborhoods in Chicago where young people getting shot is not part of the daily reality. Even in this neighborhood, 50 years ago we did not have this level of violence.”

The reactions came quickly.

“What!?”

“Really!?”

“How do you know that? You weren’t around 50 years ago!”

The students were surprised, confused, resistant. The violence in their communities has become so normalized that they literally could not believe that this does not happen everywhere, that this is not how it has always been. It was a chilling reminder of the need to inspire hope, to give youth a vision of peace.

North Lawndale, a charter school located in gang territory on the west side of Chicago, is working hard to provide that vision. In 2009, Chicago witnessed 458 murders—more than the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of those killings involved teenagers. Yet, that same year, the rate of violence at the school dropped 70 percent.

Childress was at the heart of the change. “Several years ago there was a culture of violence that surrounded our school, and it was spiraling out of control,” she began. “We needed to do something to get a hold of it.”

That year, she had a conversation with a woman about Kingian Nonviolence at a birthday party. She was immediately interested and attended a presentation shortly thereafter. Kingian Nonviolence, she learned, is a training curriculum developed out of the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by two of his close allies, Bernard Lafayette Jr. and David Jehnsen. Used in schools, prisons, and communities around the world, it provides a framework to understand conflict and violence, and teaches communities a way to build peace.

King believed that nonviolence is not a passive, but a proactive force that can defeat violence and injustice. It is not about teaching people to turn the other cheek, but about teaching people how to confront the forces of violence and injustice in their lives and create a real, lasting peace. It is, as King put it, “the antidote to violence.”

Childress saw right away how this curriculum could offer a new way to deal with conflict and violence in her school. “I was blown away by the material after the first day,” she said.

With the support of school president John Horan, Childress facilitated a two-day workshop for the faculty as part of their professional development and organized a five-day training for a group of student leaders chosen by the teachers at the school. These were the first North Lawndale Peace Warriors, students who would lead their peers in creating a culture of peace in their school. “The kids are the most well equipped and knowledgeable source for figuring out how to make their schools peaceful,” Childress said. “They know their peers, they know what would make good incentives, they know who’s ready to jump off, so you have to make them an authority so they can have ownership of the process.”

The summer Peace Warrior training, which is now an annual event, includes a study of the principles and steps of Kingian Nonviolence (see sidebars below), the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and role plays dealing with conflict.

For example, one role play last summer involved a scenario in the school cafeteria: two boys getting into a conflict over a girl. A couple is sitting together. When the boy gets up to go get a drink, another boy comes and takes his seat next to the girl. When the first boy comes back, an argument begins to escalate. Just at the point where the conflict begins to boil over, the trainers had the actors pause.

Senior Kingian Nonviolence trainer Jonathan Lewis asked the students: “What are some nonviolent responses that the students could have taken that would have resulted in a different outcome?”

The ideas came quickly. “What if the first boy pulls up another chair and introduces himself to the second boy?” one young man suggested. The students realized that if they took a minute, they could think of dozens of ways to handle situations that easily escalate.

Lewis said: “One of the most important tenets of Kingian Nonviolence is to suspend your first judgment. Maybe the second boy meant no harm, and maybe the two kids would end up being great friends. Yet, in our society, we are always taught to distrust people. Having students think through possible nonviolent responses to conflict makes them realize that they already understand how to de-escalate conflict. They just need to get creative and they need to practice.”

For Leticia, a 16-year-old trainee, a key learning was the first of the six steps of Kingian Nonviolence, information gathering: “Most times, we take action before we even realize what the problem is. Whether it’s a schoolwide thing or a problem between two kids, we need to gather information and understand what’s really behind the problem before we act.

“I hope to stand up. We have problems in our school like gang violence and cyber bullying. It’s time for people to take action. We often complain about things, but we never talk about the situation and come up with a plan. I want to be the person who stands up and takes action, because it’s time.”

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Jennifer Morales is a member of the Rethinking Schools board of directors, and was an elected school board member in Milwaukee, Wisc.

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Rethinking Schools co-founder and editor Bob Peterson wrote this poem after a visit to Casa del Migrante, a migrant shelter for men in Tijuana.  Some of the men who stay there are from Mexico on their way to the U.S., while others have been recently deported.  This poem recounts a conversation Bob had with Juan Torres, whose daughters were born in the U.S.  Juan had recently been deported after he was arrested by California authorities for driving without a license.

Casa del Migrante, Tijuana


Saint Valentine
was not looking over
Juan Torres today
as he landed in
downtown Tijuana
dropped off by la migra
after getting pulled over
a few days earlier by
San Jose police for
driving without a license
— a license he cannot get
because he is undocumented —
leaving his construction job
to go home to his two daughters
Cinthia aged 9 in fourth grade
Karely aged 8 in third grade
both citizens of the U.S.A.
born in California,
the police zapped their
computer connections with the INS
and Juan was no longer
staring down the headlights
of a San Jose cop
but rather turned over
to bright lights of the
Border Patrol
where he was
interrogated,
imprisoned for two days,
then flown to San Diego
with 200 other deportees
and finally bused to
downtown Tijuana
and dumped
in a place he’d not been
for 12 years
when he first crossed over
having left his home in Michoacan
at age 20 “to get a better life.”
Pushed off the bus
in the middle of the night
cold, hungry
Juan climbed into an
abandoned car in a futile
attempt to stay warm
shivering he abandoned
the car and sneaked into a church
resting a few hours
until the sun came up
when he learned from someone about
la Casa del Migrante
where he now sits
telling me
his story over a plate of
frijoles, papas, carne asada y arroz
saying how he talked by phone
to his daughters
and they said.
“We miss you, Papi…
so much!”
Juan looks down at his plate
and then into my eyes
and says “I miss them so much too.
I’m going back
but now you have to walk
for two straight days and one night
to get there.
“Good luck,” I say
and shake his hand.

Related Resources:

Teachers Tour U.S.-Mexico Border, by Bob Peterson, Rethinking Schools, Summer 2004

The Line Between UsThe Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration, by Bill Bigelow

The Line Between Us explores the history of U.S-Mexican relations and the roots of Mexican immigration, all in the context of the global economy. And it shows how teachers can help students understand the immigrant experience and the drama of border life.

Using role plays, stories, poetry, improvisations, simulations and video, veteran teacher Bill Bigelow demonstrates how to combine lively teaching with critical analysis.

The Line Between Us is a winner of the World Hunger Year Media Award.

Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson

This comprehensive 400-page book from Rethinking Schools helps teachers raise critical issues with students in grades 4–12 about the increasing globalization of the world’s economies and infrastructures, and the many different impacts this trend has on our planet and those who live here.

Rethinking Globalization offers an extensive collection of readings and source material on critical global issues. Through numerous role plays, interviews, poems, stories, background readings, cartoons, and hands-on teachign activities, the book offeres a memorable introduction to the forces that are shaping the future of our world.

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by Stan Karp

Stan KarpThe Obama Administration’s approval last week of 10 state applications for waivers from NCLB was another missed opportunity to learn from a decade of policy failure. Instead of changing the disastrous direction of federal education policy, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s waiver process allows states to reproduce some of the worst aspects of NCLB’s “test and punish” approach while continuing to ignore real issues, like reducing concentrated poverty or providing equitable funding and high quality pre-K for all schools.

Most media coverage framed the legally dubious waiver process as giving states “flexibility.” But the waivers gave states—and more importantly schools, students, educators, and parents—no flexibility at all in the area they need it most: relief from the plague of standardized testing. When NCLB was passed in 2002, 19 states gave annual tests in reading and math. Today, under federal mandate, all 50 do and the waivers will mean more testing. As with the Administration’s Race to The Top, states applying for waivers had to commit to implementing another generation of standardized tests based on the “common core” standards that states were also forced to adopt. New Jersey, one of the states getting a waiver, is promising to replace NCLB’s absurd adequate yearly progress (AYP) system with “annual measurable objectives.” It’s a shell game only testing companies will win.

There will be more tests in more subjects, and the tests will be used not only to abuse students, but to rate and impose sanctions on teachers and the schools of education they came from. This is another set of wrong answers to the wrong questions.

The waivers will also turn up the pressure on schools serving the highest need populations. States must identify the 5 percent of schools with the lowest test scores and turn them into charters or “turnarounds” or close them down. Another 10 percent with low graduation rates or wide achievement gaps must be targeted for similar intervention. This is not a school improvement strategy, it’s a blank check to experiment on poor kids and create chaos in our most vulnerable communities.

The absurdity of closing schools and imposing “disruptive reform” on the poorest communities was underscored the same day the waivers were announced when a study was released showing that “the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.” The continued punishing of schools for the inequality that exists all around them is not reform; it’s a cynical political exercise.

It’s also a continuation of the bipartisan corporate ed reform strategy that has reinforced the state-by-state attack on teacher unions and public sector workers across the country. Here’s what my own Governor, Chris “1 percent” Christie—who has made war against public education and teacher unions the centerpiece of his administration—had to say when New Jersey was named one of the 10 waiver states: “The Obama Administration’s approval of our education reform agenda contained in this application confirms that our bold, common sense, and bipartisan reforms are right for New Jersey and shared by the President and Secretary Duncan’s educational vision for the country.”

NCLB is such a bad law it’s not hard to see why 30 more states are considering filing waiver applications this month. But teachers and parents would do better if their states took a pass on the hollow promise of NCLB waivers and lobbied for a different piece of paper: a pink slip for Arne Duncan.

Related Resources:

Rethinking Schools special collection on NCLB

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Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

As we wrote earlier, on Jan. 13, we learned that our book Rethinking Columbus had been banned in Tucson schools as part of Arizona’s broader suppression of the successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. We asked for ideas about how we could oppose the attacks on this program and act in solidarity with teachers and students there.

Rethinking Schools readers flooded us with comments and ideas. Thanks to all of you who wrote, called, posted on our Facebook page, and commented here on our blog posts. What a great community of conscience you are.

Rethinking Schools invites you to join the effort launched today, February 1, by the national Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) network: “No History Is Illegal: A Campaign to Save Our Stories“–by teaching lessons from and about the banned Mexican American Studies program. Visit the “No History Is Illegal” website, where you’ll find curriculum materials from the Mexican American Studies program as well as teaching ideas and resources developed by TAG teachers around the country.

Here’s the TAG “pledge,” which Rethinking Schools supports:

“In solidarity with the students and teachers in the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, AZ, I pledge my support to teach and raise awareness about their struggle and to ensure that the perspectives and stories of historically marginalized populations are kept alive in our classrooms and communities.”

Sign on here.

And check out this Saturday’s “Teach-In on Tucson,” at Georgia State University, sponsored by Georgians for fREADom. They’ll be live streaming for those of us not in Georgia.

Rethinking Columbus bannedFinally, many of you have generously offered to buy copies of Rethinking Columbus and other banned books to send to students and teachers in Tucson. As you know, the book-ban is really just “collateral damage.” It’s the entire Mexican American Studies program that Arizona right-wingers have set out to crush.

Nonetheless, there are a number of efforts underway to get books into the hands of students and teachers there — including one we just learned about initiated by The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street, which is collecting donations to send the seven banned Mexican American Studies program books to Tucson. We’ll keep you posted about these and other efforts.

Thanks for your important work, and for your support of Rethinking Schools.

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