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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!

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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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Earlier this month, we set up shop at the annual meeting of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). It’s always a joy to see old friends and meet folks who are new but no less passionate about multicultural education.

If you follow our blog, you likely share this passion, and know that Rethinking Schools has offered insights and resources on critical, multicultural teaching since our inception in 1986.

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Here are a few examples, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education,
by Wayne Au
Multicultural education has to be based on dialogue, both among students and between students and teachers.

“If There Is No Struggle…” Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow
Students “become” members of an abolitionist organization and grapple with the strategic dilemmas faced by one of the most significant U.S. social movements.

Multiculturalism: A Fight for Justice, by the editors of Rethinking Schools
The introduction to a special report on multicultural education.

Precious Knowledge: Teaching Solidarity with Tucsonby Devin Carberry
A high school history teacher centers a study of social movements on the fight over the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. His students spread the knowledge.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access! (All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-660-4192.)

What Do You Mean When You Say Urban?: Speaking honestly about race and students, by Dyan Watson
“Urban” has become one of a series of euphemisms for African American and Latina/o students. What preconceptions hide behind the language?

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

Diversity vs. White Privilege: An Interview with Christine Sleeterby Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner
Christine Sleeter explains why multiculturalism, at its core, is a struggle against racism, and must go beyond an appreciation of diversity.

Putting Out the Linguistic Welcome Mat, by Linda Christensen
Honoring students’ home languages builds an inclusive classroom.

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Perhaps you’ve followed the controversy around the name of the NFL team Washington “Redskins.”  They have faced a lot of pressure, and rightly so, to ditch the offensive name. Sadly, the team owner Dan Snyder has vowed never to change the name, and NFL officials have only recently agreed to talks with Native communities. (Here’s background from Huffington Post if you haven’t been following the controversy.)

NoMascotsIn Wisconsin, there’s a similar fight underway. Mukwonago is a small town about 30 miles southwest of Milwaukee. The Mukwonago school district’s Indian mascot is offensive and damaging to the Native communities in Wisconsin, so they joined with progressive activists and concerned parents and students to urge the school board to part with the mascot and enter into a community-based process to find a new one. They nearly succeeded in forcing the school board’s hand until the state legislature intervened with a bill that makes it nearly impossible to protest racist team names and mascots.  Just yesterday, the bill passed in the Assembly, and the Senate will take it up next month.

One of the activists who has dedicated an enormous amount of time and effort in pressuring Mukwonago school officials is retired teacher Sandy Shedivy, a long-time friend, supporter and volunteer with Rethinking Schools.  Sandy is a scholar in her own right on this issue.  Her PhD dissertation was on stereotypes.

In her comments to the Mukwonago school board, Sandy expressed

“Our school has appropriated a cultural symbol without knowing the background and history of Indian regalia… these conceptual understandings of  ‘Indians’ rarely come from authentic interaction with members of the Native communities, based in a spirit of honoring and respecting diverse cultures. These logos and mascots must be challenged in order to dismantle the prejudices that emerge from our country’s colonial past.”

Would that NFL team owners and officials heed Sandy’s message.

Fortunately, calls to change the Washington D.C.’s team name have been growing, and sports newscasters and personalities like Peter King, Bill Simmons and most recently Bob Costas have expressed in very public ways that it’s time for a name change.  (Read Dave Zirin’s excellent column on Costas’ remarks.)

As educators committed to social justice, these names and mascots are a violation of our progressive principles, and we need to speak out.  But events like these are also an opportunity for learning and dialogue.

unlearningindianstereotypesSo as we discussed the Mukwonago mascot controversy with Sandy, we came up with the idea to send copies of our DVD Unlearning “Indian” Stereotypes to members of the Mukwonago School Board, the Wisconsin legislators who sponsored the bill to hamstring activists as they fight to remove offensive and racist mascots and logos from our public institutions, to the owners of the Washington D.C. football team, and to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, whose response has been disappointing.

Originally produced as a filmstrip by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1977 as part of a series of filmstrips combating racial stereotypes, Unlearning Indian Stereotypes was enhanced and transferred to DVD by Rethinking Schools in 2008. In spite of the fact that it was produced more than 35 years ago, it remains a useful resource for understanding and confronting racial stereotypes.

Narrated by Native American children, the DVD asks viewers to examine racial stereotypes through the eyes of children, while also providing a brief introduction to Native American history.

We hope that the officials who receive the DVD view it with an open mind and consider how their actions and statements contribute to the negative stereotyping of Native Americans.

Showing the DVD in your classroom would be a great way to connect current events in sports to our history.

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People of conscience are outraged and saddened over the acquittal of George Zimmerman last Saturday—and the conviction of Trayvon Martin. We need to find ways to engage our students in reflecting on the meaning of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Here are some helpful reflections that will provide a starting place.

Rethinking Schools associate editor Jesse Hagopian wrote the following on his blog I Am an Educator:

Want to close the so-called “achievement gap?”

This gap–better described as the opportunity gap–would quickly narrow if standards were added about analyzing the continuity of the American judicial system in excluding Black jurors and acquitting people who murder African Americans–from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin and beyond.

When you teach students about the major issues affecting their lives, and allow them to use the curriculum to help them solve these problems, you see education come alive for all students. The fact that you can’t imagine a standard that addresses institutional racism in America being added to the Common Core State Standards is a clear indication that they are not interested in truly raising the achievement of all.

This video of a speech I gave in the wake of Trayvon’s murder by George Zimmerman could serve as an opening lesson in the unit:

…followed by this lesson from Linda Christensen at Rethinking Schools, The Danger of a Single Story.”

From Bree Picower (friend of Rethinking Schools, co-editor of Planning to Change the World, and Assistant Professor at Montclair State University), “On Juror B37 and the Willfully Passive Consumption of White Supremacy.”

“Who but white women could have the privilege of not paying attention to a case that terrorizes the daily lived experience of people of Color? Who but white women could be so willfully ignorant of the world around us?”

From Bill Moyers, “Trayvon Martin Murder Trial Reactions.”

Curated excerpts from some of the “more thought-provoking posts” seen since Saturday night.

From Common Dreams (and reposted from The New Yorker), “Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves,” by Jelani Cobb

“The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.”

From ColorLines, “Five Myths About Crime in Black America—and the Statistical Truths, ” by Hatty Lee and Shani O. Hilton

A thoughtful myth-busting infographic.

From Bernice Johnson Reagon, “Ella’s Song” lyrics.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes…

From the Teacher Action Group in Philadelphia, “In Response to the Verdict

“The deep racism and historic inequality of our legal system is mirrored in the systemic inequality of our education system.”

From Catalyst Project, “Black Lives Matter: Take Actions and Keep Going

“We must mount a clear, massive challenge to the system which pronounced Trayvon Martin’s life so insignificant that his death didn’t even legally constitute manslaughter.”

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With the pending decision about the Keystone XL pipeline in the news–along with the recent huge anti-pipeline demonstrations in Washington, D.C.–we are sharing articles and resources from our archives about the proposed pipeline, coal, climate change, and environmental justice with you.

And in the spirit of taking black history beyond “Black History Month,” we’re also sharing articles that celebrate the role of African Americans in our history and today. We hope you will use these articles throughout the entire year.

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

Dirty Oil and Shovel-Ready Jobs:  A Role Play on Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, by Abby Mac Phail

High school students learn about the conflict over the pipeline by participating in a role play.

Got Coal?  Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock in America, by Bill Bigelow

Students play a game promoted by the coal industry-then dig beneath the surface to look at the realities of mountaintop removal mining.

Don’t Take Our Voices Away’–A Role Play on the Indigenous People’s Global Summit on Climate Change, by Julie Treick O’Neill and Tim Swinehart

Students learn about the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable cultures and geographic areas, then share their knowledge as they discuss strategy for saving the planet.

A Message from a Black Mom to Her Son, by Dyan Watson

An African American mother and teacher educator uses examples from her own childhood to describe how she hopes her child will be treated by teachers, and what she fears.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access!*

The Big One: Teaching About Climate Change, by Bill Bigelow

The environmental crisis requires a profound social and curricular rethinking.

A Pedagogy for Ecology, by Ann Pelo

Helping young children build an ecological identity and a conscious connection to place opens them to a broader bond with the earth.

“My Family’s Not from Africa–We Come from North Carolina!” Teaching Slavery in Context, by

Illustration by Robert Trujillo

Illustration by Robert Trujillo

Waahida Mbatha

An African American middle school teacher changes her African American students’ understanding of Africa and their own history.

Five Years After the Levees Broke: Bearing Witness Through Poetry, by Renée Watson

Students in the Bronx create startling poems after comparing the response to Hurricane Katrina with subsequent “natural disasters.”

Have you used any of these articles in your teaching?  If so, let us know about it in the comments.

In solidarity,

Kris Collett
Rethinking Schools

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If you’re thinking about going to see the movie “Lincoln” over the holiday break, first read the latest “If We Knew Our History” column by Rethinking Schools curriculum editor Bill Bigelow.

The ongoing “If We Knew Our History” columns at the Zinn Education Project show why it is so important for teachers to “teach outside the textbook”–to bring a people’s history to our students. The Zinn Education Project is a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

Rethinkin’ Lincoln on the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

by Bill Bigelow

Here’s a history quiz to use with people you run into today: Ask them who ended slavery.

I taught high school U.S. history for almost 30 years, and as we began our study, students knew the obvious answer: Abraham Lincoln. But by the time our study ended, several weeks later, their “Who ended slavery?” essays were more diverse, more complex—and more accurate. In coming months and years, teachers’ jobs will be made harder by Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln, in which Daniel Day-Lewis gives a brilliant performance as, well, Lincoln-the-abolitionist. The only problem is that Lincoln was not an abolitionist.

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Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner chose to concentrate on the final months ofLincoln’s life, when, as the film shows in compelling fashion, the president went all-out to pass the 13th Amendment, forever ending U.S. slavery. Missing from this portrait is the early Lincoln—the Lincoln that did everything possible to preserve slavery.

Today’s Common Core State Standards propose that teachers concentrate on the compact and stirring Gettysburg Address, also featured in Lincoln. But my students and I begin with Lincoln’s first words as president, his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861. In this speech, not quoted in a single commercial textbook I’ve ever seen, Lincoln promised slaveowners that they could keep their slaves forever. He said that “ample evidence” existed in all his published speeches that he had no intention of ending slavery, and quoted himself to that effect: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” And, in less explicit, but no less clear language, Lincoln promised to “cheerfully,” as he put it, enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in protection of the nation’s “property, peace, and security.” Finally, in a gesture rich with irony, Lincoln said that he would not oppose the constitutional amendment that had recently passed Congress, “to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service.” Had it gone into effect, this slavery-forever amendment would have been the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

TheFieryTrialAccording to historian Eric Foner in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on Lincoln and slavery, The Fiery Trial, Lincoln:

  • sent that pro-slavery 13th Amendment to the states for ratification;
  • agreed to admit New Mexico to the Union as a slave state;
  • continued with schemes to deport — “colonize” in the jargon of the day — African Americans, proposing they be sent to Guatemala, Chiriqui (Colombia), and Haiti;
  • and in just the first three months after the Civil War began, returned more escaped slaves to their supposed owners than had been returned in the entire presidency of his immediate predecessor, James Buchanan.

As the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, commented in late 1861, Abraham Lincoln “has evidently not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins.”

Lincoln may be remembered today as “the Great Emancipator,” but Lincoln was no abolitionist. His aim throughout his presidency was to keep the Union together, a task fraught with contradictions, as large swaths of the country embraced both the Union and slavery–for example, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. As Lincoln himself said famously in August 1862, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”

Lincoln’s stance on slavery as the war progressed was based on military rather than moral considerations.

And that’s the necessary context for students to approach the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect 150 years ago, on January 1, 1863. Interestingly, despite the fact that the proclamation is mentioned in virtually every textbook, it is never printed in its entirety. Perhaps that’s because despite its lofty-sounding title, this is no stirring document of liberty and equality; in fact, it does not even criticize slavery. “Emancipation” is presented purely as a measure of military necessity. Lincoln offered freedom to enslaved people in those areas only “in rebellion against the United States.” It reads like a document written by a lawyer — one who happened to be a Commander in Chief — not an abolitionist. It even goes county by county listing areas where slavery would remain in force, “precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.” According to Eric Foner, the proclamation left more than 20 percent of enslaved people still in slavery — 800,000 out of 3.9 million.

No doubt, the Emancipation Proclamation was a huge deal, and it was cheered by abolitionists and even those who remained enslaved. As the great African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass pointed out, Lincoln’s proclamation united “the cause of the slaves and the cause of the country.” Those opposed to slavery were determined to use the Emancipation Proclamation as an instrument to end slavery everywhere and forever — regardless of Lincoln’s more limited intent. Freedom would be won, not given.

FreedomsUnfinishedRevolutionWith rare exceptions — like the American Social History Project’s fine Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution – middle and high school textbooks fail to credit the real anti-slavery heroes in this story: the enslaved themselves, along with their black and white abolitionist allies. While early in the conflict Lincoln was offering verbal cake and ice cream to slaveowners, the enslaved were doing everything they could to turn a war for national unity into a war to end slavery, impressing Union generals with their courage, skill, and knowledge — ultimately forcing Lincoln to reverse his early policy of returning those fleeing slavery and, in time, leading the president to embrace their entry into the war as soldiers. The actions of the formerly enslaved even turned some white Union soldiers into abolitionists.

This resistance to slavery, along with its effects on Union soldiers, is captured in this 1862 testimony from General Daniel E. Sickles, quoted in Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution:

The most valuable and reliable information of the enemy’s movements in our vicinity that we have been able to get derived from Negroes who came into our lines…

They will submit to any privation, perform any duty, incur any danger. I know an instance in which four of them recently carried a boat from the Rappanhannock River [in Virginia], passing through the enemy’s pickets successfully, to the Potomac and crossed over to my camp and reported themselves there. They gave us information of the enemy’s force which was communicated to headquarters; a service upon which it would be difficult to fix a price. These services rendered by these men are known to the soldiers, and contribute, I presume, largely to the sympathy they feel for them …

There was one case in the 5th regiment where a man named Cox claimed some slaves. He was very badly treated by the soldiers. He came there with an order from the division headquarters for two or three slaves. He pointed out who they were and undertook to take them away; but the soldiers pounced upon him and beat him severely. … He went away without his slaves.

Who we “credit” for the end of slavery in the United States has important contemporary implications. As Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, points out in the film Monumental Myths, if it appears that Abraham Lincoln gave blacks their freedom, then “you create an environment where people begin to think, ‘Well,

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African Americans have always had things handed to them.’ It gets carried into the notions of welfare and the like” –African Americans as receivers of gifts from generous white people.

Beginning with the notion that “Columbus discovered America,” this top-down, Great Man approach has long characterizedhistory instruction in our country. Things happen — good or bad — because those in power make them happen. What this misses is, through our compliance or resistance, the actions of ordinary people. And when it comes to momentous social changes, like the abolition of slavery, one will always find social movements and the oppressed themselves at the center. As historian Howard Zinn said about the end of slavery: “Blacks won their freedom because for 30 years before the Civil War, they participated in a great movement of resistance.”

So when I ask my students to write an essay on “Who (or what) ended slavery?” I get lots of different answers. But none of them credits a single individual. And all of them include evidence of how, in myriad ways, the people themselves make history.

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Recently Philadelphia school parents and the local chapter of the NAACP filed a complaint with the City Ethics Board alleging that a major foundation and the Boston Consulting Group had engaged in lobbying the School District of Philadelphia around major policy issues such as school closings and charter expansion.

The complaint centered around the fact that the Foundation contracted with the Boston Consulting Group around a set of “deliverables” without the School District being a party to the contract. The Foundation also solicited donors to specifically pay the Boston Consulting Group at least $2.7 million for their work, but funneled the money through a separate agency to hide the identities of the donors.

Last week the School District of Philadelphia announced the planned closure and consolidation of dozens of schools across the city.

This post by RS Board Member Helen Gym, a co-founder of Parents United for Public Education in Philadelphia, explains why the parent group filed the complaint.

Why we filed with the Ethics Board: The public deserves to know what’s happening here

HelenGym

by Helen Gym

Yesterday, Parents United for Public Education, the Philadelphia Home and School Council and the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP filed a complaint with the City Ethics Board requesting an investigation into whether the Boston Consulting Group, private donors, and the William Penn Foundation acted as lobbyists and principals to influence policy in the School District of Philadelphia.

We did not make this decision easily or hastily. The William Penn Foundation has long been a positive force for philanthropy in the city. Before taking action, we requested a thorough legal analysis from the venerable Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. We arrived at our decision after months of observation and study around the murky activities of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the wealthy donors who funded them. Just a week before the District is expected to announce dozens of school closings which will throw our city into turmoil, we believe the public deserves to know the full influence of private money and access on decisions that impact us all.

As detailed in our complaint, the BCG -William Penn Foundation contract explicitly stipulated that BCG’s work would promote charter expansion, management networks, identify 60 top candidates for school closure and impact labor negotiations. Specific mention was made in the contracts about influencing the SRC before an important May vote. While it’s true that the District initially hired BCG, it did so only for about five weeks between February and March. BCG’s District contract expired March 29. From then on, BCG’s contract was only with the William Penn Foundation.

As a third party entity, BCG had unprecedented access to District data, financial information, high-level decisionmakers, and private forums to push their plans. No such access has ever been afforded to parents and community members who had to settle for limited information and public meetings.

BCG’s influence was made apparent in the massive charter expansions which happened this past spring. BCG’s contract with the William Penn Foundation stated as a “deliverable” that BCG would “work closely with the school district’s senior leadership, School Reform Commission members, and the Office of Charter Schools to design a charter school expansion strategy” and “design and execute a charter school renewal and modification process.”

They delivered.

Against a backdrop of dramatic fiscal crisis – Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen even threatened that schools may not open in September – the School Reform Commission inexplicably approved 5,416 new seats across 14 charters at a projected cost of $139 million over five years. Some of the charters like KIPP Philadelphia had a School Performance Index which ranked them among the District’s lowest performers.

It’s critical for the public to understand the role of private, monied interests seeking to influence such decisions. PILCOP found that the William Penn Foundation solicited donors specifically for the BCG contract and then oversaw a fund at a separate agency that disbursed donations exclusively to BCG. This set-up allowed the identities of many of those who paid for BCG’s work to remain secret, along with any economic interests they may have had in the policies and decisions being advanced. For example, it was later reported by the Public School Notebook that the donors included a prominent real estate developer and individuals and groups with interests and ties to religious and charter organizations.

Transparency matters in the case of charter expansions, or when BCG states as a deliverable that it will “identify 60 top candidates for [school] closure.” It matters because under this shrouded arrangement, the public can’t know whether the work BCG did was for the District’s benefit or for the benefit of its donors.

From our viewpoint as parents, this is not philanthropy. It’s something dramatically different that needs the review of an independent agency. That’s why we joined with the Philadelphia Home & School Council and the Philadelphia NAACP to file a complaint with the City Ethics Board and bring what we believe to be the first test of the City’s new Lobbying Ordinance since it went into effect last January.

As Philadelphia NAACP president J. Whyatt Mondesire explains: “We need to assure the public that monied interests are not using the turmoil in the District for their own interest.”

This issue isn’t just a local one. On a national level, a number of education observers and public interest advocates have raised serious concerns about the role of “philanthropic” investments into education reform. From the Broad Foundation to the Waltons and Gates Foundations – what we’re seeing across the country is an unprecedented level of private money shaping public policy under the guise of philanthropy. Too often that agenda has centered around a radical dismantling of public education, increased privatization, and disruptive reform that has sent many districts spiraling into chaos and sustained turmoil.

It’s important to note the complaint we filed addresses regulatory compliance. We are not suing the Foundation or BCG and we are not charging them with illegal activity. Lobbying is legal. But there is a fundamental difference between claiming that BCG’s work was based on a full needs assessment of the school district with the District’s best interests at its center, and recognizing that they could also be a hired gun executing on a pre-determined contract with private interests hoping to influence decisionmakers rather than endure a public and democratic process of governance.

The public needs to know what’s happening here either way. We are not going to shrug our shoulders with a “business as usual” resignation. The lines separating public good from private interests have been blurred if not crossed on issues of dramatic importance to parents, students and community members. The School Reform Commission meanwhile has not assured us they understand the importance of boundaries and maintaining them judiciously.

Transparency and public process matter. It’s unfortunate it takes a formal complaint to reinforce that message for our schools.

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The fall issue of our magazine is now available on our website. The theme is Race and Place—teachers explore the context for today’s foreclosure and homelessness crises, and answer the question: Why don’t black and brown people in the United States have more inherited wealth?

In “Burned Out of Homes and History: Unearthing the Silenced Voices of the Tulsa Race Riot” master teacher Linda Christensen helps high school students begin to answer this question—and write historical fiction along the way—with an exploration of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.

Then Katharine Johnson brings the Civil Rights Movement home to elementary school students with a role play about redlining in their own city: “‘Why Is This the Only Place in Portland I See Black People?’ Teaching Young Children About Redlining.”

In “Boot Camp for CEOs,” education writer Alain Jehlen investigates the Broad Superintendents Academy, which filled 48 percent of all large district superintendent openings last year—including Chicago’s Jean-Claude Brizard.

PLUS an exclusive interview with esteemed educator/scholar/activist Lisa Delpitauthor of “Multiplication is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children. 

And much, much more.

Check our fall issue, subscribe, and return here to let us know what you think!

 

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