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June 26, Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au spoke at a Seattle rally protesting the role of the Gates Foundation in public education: “Educating the Gates Foundation.” The rally was sponsored by Washington BATS (Bad-Ass Teachers) and Washington Save Our Schools. This is the speech he delivered at the rally. 

Educating the Gates Foundation Rally Remarks

by Wayne AuWayne Au

Good evening. I’m here tonight because I am deeply concerned. I’m concerned that public education is rapidly becoming privatized. I’m concerned that we are all part of a grand experiment, one that is hurting kids and communities. I’m concerned that we are losing democratic, public accountability in public education. I’m concerned with the state of public education reform and the role of Bill Gates and his foundation.

 

You see, right now Gates and his foundation are pushing an entire set of public education reforms like charter schools and vouchers, high-stakes, standardized testing, and using tests for teacher evaluation. We are getting this set of reforms purely because he and his foundation have leveraged vast financial resources to influence and negotiate politics. They are doing this despite all countervailing evidence, and they are doing this with no democratic accountability.

 

And that is just the thing. While Gates and his foundation tinker around with charter schools, high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and the junk science of using tests to evaluate teachers, they avoid the central and most important issue that impacts educational achievement: poverty.

 

But Gates and the Gates Foundation aren’t hearing that. As far as I can see, they are not about actual educational equality and equity. Instead they seem to be about opening up public education to the marketplace.

 

In fact, Gates has said as much. Back in 2009 in the run up to the Common Core, Gates said the following:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.

 

I find this ironic. It seems to me that Gates wants to fix inequality in public education by relying on the same market forces responsible for the crisis in housing, the crisis in medical care, the climate crisis, the massive wealth gap, and the increase in the schools-to-prisons pipeline for youth of color, amongst other national travesties.

 

And all of this has me concerned because in many ways you and I and our children are unwillingly part of a grand experiment in education reform. Back in September of 2013, Gates himself said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” These folks pushing these reforms do not know if they will work, but they are willing to experiment on an entire generation of children.

 

And this raises another issue that we must contend with: institutionalized racism. We know that the system of public education does not serve low-income black and brown kids like it should. Unfortunately, here in Seattle we are a great example of this given the low achievement and disproportionate discipline rates for students of color. But the question we have to ask ourselves is this: “Have these corporate styled reforms like charter schools and high-stakes testing actually improved the conditions of education for the least served?”

 

On the whole the answer is “no.” Low-income students of color have had their curriculum gutted because of the tests. They are far more likely to experience scripted instruction and rote learning purely to prepare for the tests. They are far more likely to have art, recess, music, physical education, and even science and social studies cut in preparation for the tests.

 

And despite their never ending promises, the charter school sector has continued to find ways to keep out English Language Learners and students with disabilities, expel or counsel away low performing kids of color, maintain intense racial segregation, and NOT, I repeat, NOT out perform regular public schools in terms of overall achievement.

 

Given that both failure on high-stakes tests as well as expulsion and suspension from school greatly increase the chances of students to get caught up in the criminal justice system, I would argue that these reforms contribute directly to the racism of the schools-to-prisons pipeline.

 

In this way low-income black and brown students of color are the ultimate guinea pigs for the Gates experiment in public education reform, and I think it is ethically, morally, and politically reprehensible that wealthy elites feel so free to experiment on our kids.

 

This is especially true given that Gates’ own children have not had to face any of his own reforms. In fact, I want all of our children in public schools to have what Gates’ children have had.

 

Take Lakeside Schools, where his kids have attended. They had small class sizes, a large, well endowed library, top notch facilities, and a rich curriculum. These things seem to work for children of the elite. Don’t the rest of our children deserve them as well?

 

Lakeside students also don’t have to take 5, 6, 7, or 8 high-stakes, standardized tests a year. As my dear friend and education activist Jesse Hagopian says, we could say the boycott of high-stakes testing in Seattle really started at schools like Lakeside because the rich have rejected having their children take these tests for years: They just sent them to elite private schools.

 

I also want all of our kids to have some other things those Lakeside students have, like food security, a stable home to live in, jobs for their parents that pay livable wages, access to free or affordable healthcare…You know, all the basic human rights that the rich can afford and, increasingly, the poor cannot.

 

If Gates and the Gates Foundation really want to start increasing the achievement of low income and students of color, and if they are unwilling to have the real conversation about growing race and class inequality in this country, then I’ve got a suggestion: Fund a nationwide campaign for the implementation of Ethnic Studies. We’ve got research that shows that Ethnic Studies, like the program that was banned by conservatives in Tucson, Arizona, contributed greatly to positive educational outcomes and college attainment of students of color there. In that program students learned about their cultural histories and identities, and they learned about institutional racism in this country.

 

But I doubt we’ll see any Gates-funded campaign for Ethnic Studies because it doesn’t have the right kind of politics.

 

Speaking of politics, as the Seattle Times reported, Bill Gates recently said that, “These are not political things,” and that he’s merely supporting research about making education more effective. I’d like to close my speech tonight by pointing out how this statement rings hollow in so many ways.

 

For instance, we have ample research on the critical impact of smaller class sizes, the importance of culturally relevant practices, the fallacy of using test scores to evaluate teachers, the increased inequity produced by charter schools, the harmful effects of high-stakes, standardized testing, and the central role poverty plays in educational achievement. But Gates and his foundation don’t care to listen to any of this. They have their own agenda for public education, and they are wielding their mighty resources to advance this agenda with disregard of sound critiques or public deliberation.

 

Gates’ statement also rings hollow because these are all political things. Poverty is a political thing. Institutionalized racism is a political thing. High-stakes testing is a political thing. Charter school policy is a political thing. Private school vouchers is a political thing. All curriculum, especially the Common Core, is a political thing. Teachers’ rights to due process and protections provided by union contracts are political things.

 

When you attack public education and try to reshape it along the lines of private industry, and you do it with no democratic accountability to the public, THAT is a political thing. Every aspect of education policy is a political thing, and it is ignorant of Gates to think or say otherwise.

 

But that is why I am standing here tonight. That is why you are here as well. We all know better. We all know that public education is a political thing, and we all know that public education is a political thing worth fighting for. We can win this fight. Together we can remake our schools in ways that actually meet the social, cultural, and academic needs of ALL of our children. We can resist the privatizers like Gates. We can put the Public back into public education.

 

Thank you.

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We’re nearing the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, but don’t let the teaching of Asian Pacific Islander history and perspectives be limited to just one month. It’s good that we have official months and weeks during which we learn about and celebrate a diversity of cultures. But, of course, the world is always multicultural, and our curriculum should be too.

By sharing these articles, we’re posing a friendly challenge to take lessons about Asian Pacific history and culture (as well as Black history, Latino history, etc.) beyond the artificial boundaries created by the dates May 1 and May 30.

Enjoy these articles, available free to all friends of Rethinking Schools. 

You’re Asian, How Could You Fail at Math? by Wayne Au and Benji Chang.  Unmasking the myth of the model minority.

Taking a Chance With Words by Carol A. Tateishi. Why are the Asian-American kids silent in class?

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education by Wayne Au. This article is one of many critical pieces published in our new and expanded edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education.

The two articles below were originally published in Rethinking Schools magazine. They are now available from the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools. (Register for free access to these and hundreds more teaching articles and resources.):

A review of ANPO: Art X War by Moé Yonamine. A film tackles the U.S. occupation of Japan.

What the Tour Guide Didn’t Tell Me: Tourism, Colonialism, and Resistance in Hawai’i by Wayne Wah Kwai Au. Lessons on the history of Hawai’i and the impact of colonization and tourism.

 

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today at a 20% discount when you use code GRADE14 at check out. You’ll gain immediate access to these articles: 

Tiger Moms and the Model Minority Myth by Helen Gym
The media splash around Amy Chua’s writings about Chinese mothers exploits Asian stereotypes, exacerbates racial tensions and creates additional obstacles for vulnerable youth.

Haiku & Hiroshima by Wayne Au
A high school teacher uses an animated film and haiku poetry to raise awareness about the events of August 1945 and the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans During WWII by Moé Yonamine.
A role play engages students in exploring a little-known piece of history-the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps and back to Japan as POWs.

 

 

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Oops!  We scheduled this to post on Saturday, but something went awry. Now we’re a few days late, but we think these links are still worth a look. 

We like sharing interesting news, insightful opinions, activist victories, and actionable curriculum via Facebook, Twitter, and of course through our magazine and books.

We thought why not collect some of our favorites ideas, opinions, and stories in one place each week. It gives you a peek at what piques our interest, and gives us the opportunity to revisit the news that’s shaping our profession and the public debate about education.

Let us know what you think of this idea in the comments, and feel free to add to our list there as well.

Speaking “Mexican” and the use of “Mock Spanish” in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones) by Dolores Inés Casillas via Sounding Out! Librarian and Rethinking Schools contributor Rachel Cloues alerted us to this thoughtful critique of the Skippyjon Jones series.

Post-patriarchy? We Still Have Much to Learn (and Teach) by Jody Sokolower  via Common Dreams. What started as a post here on our blog ended up at one of our favorite news and opinion sites.

Charter Schools Fail: New Report Calls Their ‘Magic’ Into Question, by Jeff Bryant, via Common Dreams. Bryant writes “In even the most casual treatments of education, charter schools are now regarded by many as a given “improvement.” (For those of you who watch NBC’s “Parenthood,” you saw that in this season’s episodes.) Bryant calls this glib pro-charter propaganda into question.

Teaching Untold Stories About Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by Moé Yonamine via Zinn Education Project. By now, many of us have heard of the Japanese American internment in the US during World War II. But very few of us know anything about the U.S.-ordered internment of Japanese Latin Americans — 2,300 individuals from 13 Latin American countries who were forcibly brought to the US and imprisoned during the war.

Pearson Wins Major Contract From Common Core Testing Consortium by Sean Cavanaugh via Education Week. We want to make clear that we don’t really “like” this link, but include it because it unfortunately confirmed our beliefs about the CCSS. For those who think the CCSS is an earnest and sincere attempt to improve schools, think again.

Rethinking Cinco de Mayo, by Sudie Hofmann via Zinn Education Project. As one person commented on our Facebook page after seeing this article, “Less beer. More truth.”  Need we say more? Read it.

Louis C.K. Takes Aim at Common Core… And We’re All Smarter for It, by Diane Ravitch via Common Dreams. Even we can’t resist pop culture sometimes. “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!”

Whitewash: How ‘The New York Times’ Just Rewrote the History of Sports, by Dave Zirin via The Nation. “From boxer Muhammad Ali to the Donald Sterling saga, Timothy Egan’s recent New York Times op-ed is a whitewash of the progressive history of sports.” 

Last year, 25 hedge fund managers earned more than double every kindergarten teacher combined by Matthew Yglesias, via Vox. Who doesn’t love an occasional interesting factoid? Can you say ‘Capitalism run amok?’

Chicago Teachers Union votes to oppose Common Core Standards by Becky Schlikerman via Chicago Sun-Times. New York teachers have taken this bold step as well (and need our support, by the way). Who’s next?

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We recently learned of an interview by Democracy Now! with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who discusses the segregation that persists in public schools around the United States. 

Watch a brief segment here:

You can watch the full interview at the Democracy Now! website.

Nearly 60 years after the Civil Rights Act and Brown v. Board of Education decision, Hannah-Jones points out that many public school districts look as though these landmark changes never happened.

“What George Wallace and others like him wanted was all-white schools. All-white schools don’t really exist anymore, but all-black schools do,” Hannah-Jones says. “Sixty years after Brown, integration is gone for many students.”

Hannah-Jones discusses the redrawing of school district boundaries in Tuscaloosa, Alabama as just one example of what she calls the “resegregation of America’s schools.”

“We still have a racialized K-12 system,” Hannah-Jones says. “Black and brown students tend to be in schools where they’re receiving an inferior education. They have less rigorous curriculum, and they’re less likely to have access to classes that will help them in college.”

Hannah-Jones’ full report, “Segregation Now” is published at ProPublica.

Related Resources:

The Promise: Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Movement, and Our Schools, special issue of Rethinking Schools, Volume 18, Issue 3, Spring 2004.

Teaching Brown in Tuscaloosa, by Alison Schmitke

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by Jody Sokolower

Jody Sokolower, lead editor of Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality

How do you respond when a child asks, “Can a girl turn into a boy?” in the middle of circle time?

What if your daughter brings home schoolbooks with sexist, racist stories?

What does “queering the curriculum” really mean?

What if parents complain?

Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality is filled with insightful, inspiring articles on these and dozens of other critical topics. This is the book we wish our own teachers—and our children’s teachers—had well-thumbed copies of in their classrooms.

We’ve got the articles and we’re deep into revision and design. But we can’t publish this life-changing resource without your help! That’s why we’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign—so friends and supporters like you can join us as we work to bring Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality to classrooms around the world.

Please go to our campaign page, watch our video, learn about how the idea for the book was born, meet the book editors, and join our campaign today. (Depending on the size of your gift, you might be eligible for a special perk.) No donation is too small!

 

Most important, please share our campaign with everyone you can think of who cares about these issues and wants to become part of the community making this book a reality. Thanks for your support!

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by Wayne Au

wayneheadshotThis post is an excerpt from the introduction to our new and expanded 2nd edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice published just last week.   

Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice, second edition, has been a long time coming. Over its almost 30 years of existence, Rethinking Schools has published more than 200 articles that dealt explicitly with issues of race and culture. Even though Rethinking Schools has always kept racial and cultural justice amongst our main focal points, until the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education in 2009, we had never published a book that specifically focused on race and culture in education in their own right. This book does just that: provide a Rethinking Schools vision of anti-racist, social justice education that is both practical for teachers and sharp in analysis.

It is my hope that the selections included in the second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice offer a more robust and powerful definition of multicultural education than we see so often used. For instance, some educators and teacher educators say they teach multicultural education, but do it under the guise of “global education.” This form of multiculturalism feels safer to some because it uses the veneer of international cultures to avoid more serious and painful realities of issues like racism. Similarly, “diversity education” and “cultural pluralism” get used with the singular intent of promoting heroes and holidays and celebrate individual differences, again circumventing issues of power and privilege.

RME2_cvrThe terms “diverse students” and “urban students,” two more stand-ins for “multicultural” students, have devolved into meaning “poor African American and Latino students” or “students who aren’t white.” This is particularly ironic given that in some school districts in the United States, schools might be approaching 100 percent African American or Latino students, as is the case in Detroit and Santa Ana, California, respectively, and are regularly referred to as “diverse” by professors, teachers, and politicians alike. The right wing has also developed its own, sometimes contradictory definitions of multicultural education. While some conservatives have vehemently attacked multicultural education as representative of the downfall of Western Civilization, others such as E. D. Hirsch (founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum) have developed a different definition of multicultural education. As Kristen Buras, professor of education at Emory University, talks about in her book, Rightist Multiculturalism, Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum has recently taken up the banner of multicultural education by defining the United States as a multicultural nation of diverse immigrants—while simultaneously covering up systematic oppression based on class, race, and nation status.

Multicultural education is also being narrowly defined as a path students can take to “higher” status literature. Teachers use Tupac’s lyrics to move students to Shakespeare; students can unpack hip-hop lyrics as a way to learn literary language like stanza and rhyme, but they need to study Frost and Yeats to be considered well read. Students in regular classes can read “thug” literature, but AP classes need to read the classics. (Does anyone read Morrison as a precursor to Chaucer? She’s harder than the Canterbury Tales). This version of multicultural education focuses on access to the canon of high-status knowledge. In doing so, such a definition not only keeps the Eurocentric canon of knowledge at the heart of “real” education, it also communicates to students the idea that the diversity of their identities, lives, and communities do not really matter when it comes to learning.

The second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education is an attempt to reclaim multicultural education as part of a larger, more serious struggle for social justice, a struggle that recognizes the need to fight against systematic racism, colonization, and cultural oppression that takes place through our schools. In the chapters included here, multicultural education:

  • is grounded in the lives of our students.
  • draws on the voices and perspectives of those “being studied.”
  • teaches through dialogue.
  • critically supports students’ identities.
  • embraces and recognizes the value of students’ home languages.
  • critiques school knowledge, knowledge that has historically been Eurocentric.
  • invites students to engage in real social and political issues.
  • creates classroom environments where students can meaningfully engage with each other.
  • is rigorous, and recognizes that academic rigor is impossible without it.
  • connects to the entire curriculum.
  • is rooted in an anti-racist struggle about which knowledge and experiences should be included in the curriculum.
  • celebrates social movements and the fight against nativism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
  • explores how social, economic, and cultural institutions contribute to inequality.

It is critical that I take a moment here to address an issue regarding how I am defining “multicultural” in this book. Some friends and allies, for instance, critiqued the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education for focusing too narrowly on typical categories of race, ethnicity, and culture, to the exclusion of more expansive definitions of “multiculturalism” that might include, for instance, an attention to the identities of LGBTQ youth in our classrooms and curriculum, or to the religious diversity of our students and communities. I understand and appreciate these concerns. The identities of our students and their communities are diverse and exceedingly complex, and certainly one approach is to define “multiculturalism” in ways to match every aspect of those identities—every aspect of “difference.” My answer in conversation with these friends and allies has been along two lines. First I attend to the context of Rethinking Schools itself. Two of our earlier, widely used books, Rethinking Our Classrooms Volumes 1 & 2, take up a broad definition of teaching for social justice, and in doing so, both volumes seek to embrace an expansive definition of culture, and also span grade levels and subject areas. Granted these two volumes are not perfect, but in many ways, my choice of focusing on more typically defined notions of race, culture, and ethnicity was a conscious one within the context of Rethinking Schools. We had already worked with the more expansive notion of culture in those two volumes, but had yet to take up a book that focused on race, racism, and the ways culture intertwines with them. The second part of my decision to define “multiculturalism” in the manner that I have for Rethinking Multicultural Education is connected to my experience teaching multicultural education and diversity courses at the university level. As I discussed earlier in this introduction, I worry that multiculturalism has been equated with “diversity” and has become the “everyone else” category. Teacher education credential coursework at many universities, for instance, require some sort of “diversity” class as a part of their core sequence of courses. Although I generally believe in the importance of requiring such courses and certainly do not want them taken out of teacher credential programs, the “every aspect of difference” nature of these classes oftentimes means that students—future teachers in this case—may talk about race, privilege, and myriad issues associated with diversity but give short shrift to the painful and powerful systemic racism, the legacies of colonization, and the realities of cultural oppression.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to more expansive definitions of multiculturalism and diversity, and I’m open to hearing the critiques of my friends, colleagues, and allies regarding the definition of multiculturalism I’ve chosen within the context of Rethinking Schools as a whole and the field of multicultural education as it currently exists. But this book represents the need to defend the conscious and explicit attention to race and ethnicity, and the aspects of culture that extend from them, as I have done here in this second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education.

Read the rest of Wayne’s introduction >>

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Those of you who follow us on Facebook know that we regularly post articles, stories, and resources that we think would be of interest to Rethinking Schools readers. At the risk of jumping on the top-10 bandwagon, we decided to review our posts for the year and to highlight the ones that were the most popular, judged by total reach. Some are funny, some are moving, some are outrageous—all are provocative and worth reviewing.

1. Dec. 15: “Wrong” answers on tests from brilliant kids.

2. April 18: Today’s Democracy Now! had an excellent segment — “A Rush to Misjudgment” — about some of the hurried and racist mainstream media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. This would be an excellent segment to use with students.

3. Nov. 2: Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au was the scariest thing ever for Halloween this year: a high-stakes, standardized test!

WayneHighStakes

4. Oct. 5: History matters. Today’s patterns of wealth and power have their roots in slavery. “Top 6 Countries That Grew Filthy Rich From Enslaving Black People

5. April 2:  Our friend and colleague, Bill Ayers, has written a fabulous letter to the New York Times about the Atlanta cheating scandal. Read it here.

6. Oct. 17: The brilliant and magnificent Cornel West. Please watch and share. “Cornel West on the ‘shameless silence’ of progressives about Obama and education reform

7. Aug. 22: This is a fascinating expose at Daily Kos of how Time Magazine covers in the United States differ from Time covers throughout the world. Great questions to raise about this with students. Shared by Rethinking Schools author Özlem Sensoy.

8. May 3: Have you followed the story of the 16-year-old girl in Florida who was arrested and expelled for her science experiment gone awry? An example of the school-to-prison pipeline in action.

9. April 15: Rethinking Schools friend Dave Zirin reflects on the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, and offers some moving people’s history in the process.

10. September 7: Betsy Toll of the organization Living Earth, wrote this wonderful letter to The Oregonian, in Portland, saying we’re not weary of war, we’re sick of it. War is an “educational issue.” Read Betsy’s letter.

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