4/18: Everything Is Connected Workshop

Talking Climate Justice in our Schools and Communities

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When: April, 18: 11 AM – 5 PM

Where: The Commons, Brooklyn

388 Atlantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY
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Closest train stops: 
Hoyt/Schermerhorn (A/C/G)
Bergen (F/G)
Nevins St (2/3/4/5)

In this day-long series of workshops, we will attempt to highlight not only the ways in which climate change is connected to everyday issues, but also how we can talk to others (be they students, friends, family, neighbors, or fellow activists) and help build a movement to fight this global crisis. Using the new book A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, we will brainstorm and work together to bring this crucial discussion into our classrooms and our communities.

Climate change is a global emergency-not just a distant threat to our ways of life on this planet, but an immediate threat to our livelihoods. Communities around the world are reeling from natural disasters, loss of crops, droughts, and diseases due to increasing temperatures and pollution. Close to home, from the effects of Hurricane Sandy to skyrocketing asthma rates in the Bronx, we can clearly see the ways climate change plays out along lines of race and class.  

More and more people are coming to the conclusion that these things are connected. In order to bring those people together and create the movement we need to fight back, we need to generate strategies for talking to our students, friends, and communities about how climate change connects to food security, racism, war, gentrification, and all sorts of other issues that are affecting us on a daily basis.

We hope this can be an important step in generating those strategies, and bringing together organizations and activists involved in different aspects of this important work!

Session One: Who’s to Blame for the Climate Crisis?

We’re often told about the benefits of checking our carbon footprint or taking shorter showers. But is our consumption really causing the crisis? In this session, participants will take part in an interactive mock trial on who should be held responsible for the climate crisis. They will also hear from activists fighting for ecosocialism.

Session Two: Environmental Justice

Because climate change affects us differently along lines of race and class, we have to fight not only for and end to climate change itself, but for environmental justice. In this session, participants will do a workshop on the impact of climate change on different communities and share their experiences of environmental racism.

Session Three: Teaching Climate Catastrophe

How can we bring talk of environmental justice into the classroom? In this session led by teachers, participants will explore how to bring the subject of climate justice into the classroom and discuss strategies for emphasizing the human impact of climate change as well as finding ways to inspire students to join the fight against it.

Sponsored by: Haymarket Books, System Change Not Climate Change (SCNCC), Rethinking Schools, NYCoRE, This Changes Everything, YAYA Network, International Socialist Organization (ISO)

APCE cover **Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event for a discounted price of $16 and you can also purchase the book online using code APCED15. There will also be a wide range of other book titles on race, environmentalism, education, and more available from Haymarket Books.

Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

Read the full article on our website: rethinkingschools.org.

David Bacon

We’re at a tipping point. The killings of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride—and far too many other African Americans—have put to rest the myth of a “post-racial” America. In death, these Black youth—shot down with impunity because of the color of their skin—have provided a tragically thorough education about police terror and institutional racism, and ignited the Black Lives Matter movement.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was originally created by queer Black women activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi as a call to action after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin in July 2013. Their battle cry went viral and then turned into a national uprising when Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. The movement exploded when Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted for choking to death Eric Garner.

As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, Black students have played a pivotal role. For example, at Seattle’s Garfield High School, some 1,000 students, led by the Black Student Union (BSU), walked out the day after the non-indictment of Wilson was announced. As 17-year-old Issa George, vice president of the Garfield BSU, told the Seattle Times: “This is our time, as youth, to speak. . . . The waking up that America has done in the past couple of months—something that us as youth get to witness and get to be a part of—has been extremely powerful.”

College, high school, and even middle school students have staged protests and school walkouts in cities around the country. According to reporting by the Nation’s George Joseph and others, student activists of the Baltimore Algebra Project held a die-in when their local school board voted to shut down the first of five schools. The board fled, and the students took over their chairs to lead a community forum on the closures.

Black students take these risks because they know their lives and futures are at stake—from police violence on the street; from the dismantling of their communities through foreclosures, gentrification, and unemployment; and from the destruction of their schools through corporate reform.

The School-to-Grave Pipeline

For the past decade, social justice educators have decried the school-to-prison pipeline: a series of interlocking policies—whitewashed, often scripted curriculum that neglects the contributions and struggles of people of color; zero tolerance and racist suspension and expulsion policies; and high-stakes tests—that funnel kids from the classroom to the cellblock. But, with the recent high-profile deaths of young African Americans, a “school-to-grave pipeline” is coming into focus. Mike Brown had just graduated from high school and was preparing to go to college when police killed him. According to a 2012 investigation by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a Black person is killed by law enforcement, security guards, or vigilantes every 28 hours. A recent ProPublica report found that “Blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.”

The Black Lives Matter movement inspires us to fight the school-to-grave pipeline as an example of structural racism, after decades in which anti-racism has been defined in excessively personal terms through anti-bias or diversity training. Anti-bias work focuses primarily, and often exclusively, on internal and interpersonal racism. In other words, if you strive to not be racist in your personal relationships, that’s good enough.

There is definitely a place for personal reflection and discussion of racist attitudes and beliefs. And there is no doubt that many individual police officers need anti-bias training and to be held responsible for their actions. But that’s not enough, as the statistics on police violence, incarceration, school suspension and dropout rates, inequitable school financing, and school closures make clear. These are all sharp indicators of structural racism. When Michelle Alexander says mass incarceration is “the new Jim Crow,” she insists that the racist structures that have existed since slavery have mutated and changed, but they have not been eradicated. We can’t understand, teach about, or change what’s happening in this country if we don’t face this fact. And our students know that. Being an effective teacher in today’s society means taking the Black Lives Matter movement seriously.

For all the “students first” rhetoric of the corporate education reformers—who claim their policies are directed at closing the “achievement gap”—they are conspicuously absent from the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, the corporate reform agenda is in direct conflict with the goals of the movement. In city after city, Black students are those most affected by the decimation of neighborhood schools, the “no excuses” discipline and rote teaching of charters like KIPP, the substitution of endless test prep for meaningful curriculum, and the imposition of two-years-and-I’m-gone Teach For America corps members on our highest needs students.

Black Lives Matter doesn’t just mean Black people don’t want to be shot down in the streets by unaccountable police. As anti-racist teachers and students, we need to expand the slogan to include:

  • Stop closing schools in Black neighborhoods.
  • Fund schools equitably.
  • Support African American studies programs and substantive multicultural curriculum.

When activists staged a Black Lives Matter die-in in Detroit last December, Will Daniels, from United Students Against Sweatshops, told the Nation: “As a Black student, my rationale for doing the die-in was that structural racism causes not only police brutality, but also the starving of majority Black schools. This is a subtler form of violence.”

Let Black Children Be Children

The murder of Tamir Rice exposes a connection between individual racism and structural racism with important implications for teachers. Tamir was only 12 years old when police showed up at the Cleveland park where he was playing with a toy gun and shot him down within two seconds of their arrival. When his 14-year-old sister ran over, she was tackled to the ground and handcuffed. The officer who called in the shooting described Tamir to the dispatcher as a “Black male, maybe 20.”

Overestimating the age, size, and culpability of Black children is a widespread phenomenon, according to The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children, based on research led by Phillip Atiba Goff and Matthew Christian Jackson of UCLA. One of their studies involved 264 mostly white female undergraduates who were asked to assess the age and innocence of white, Black, and Latino boys. The students saw the Black boys as more culpable and overestimated their age by 4.5 years. “Perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race and, for Black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said Jackson. “Black children may be viewed as adults when they’re just 13 years old.”

It’s not much of a stretch to see how this affects Black children in schools where the majority of their teachers are not African American. Any time teachers or administrators see Black children as older than they are, “just being teenagers” (or pre-teens, or little kids) becomes something threatening that has to be controlled or disciplined. How can children grow and learn if the adults around them see them as older and “guiltier” than they are? What will it take for school communities to eradicate this deeply embedded prejudice?

Why Not “All Lives Matter?”

As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, some participants have questioned whether “All Lives Matter” is a more inclusive slogan. Although we recognize the serious impact of racism and other forms of oppression on many groups of people in the United States, we think it’s important to understand and talk with others about the historical and current realities behind this specific demand. As Alicia Garza, one of the movement’s originators, explains:

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. . . . It is an acknowledgment that one million Black people are locked in cages in this country. . . . It is an acknowledgment that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families. . . . #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important—it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole.

A civil disobedience demonstration that closed down the federal building in Oakland during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend highlighted the connections. Behind a banner reading “Third World for Black Power,” protesters identified themselves as Arabs, Filipinas/os, Latinas/os, Koreans, Chinese, Palestinians, and South Asians “for Black resistance.” As Filipina activist Rhonda Ramiro said: “The wealth accumulated through the enslavement of Black people in the United States enabled the United States to go around the world and colonize countries like the Philippines. We see our struggle for independence as linked 100 percent.”

Within that framework, how teachers apply this understanding will obviously vary from classroom to classroom, depending on how old the children are, their experience and knowledge about the issues involved, and the level of community that has been built in the classroom.

How to Make Black Lives Matter in Our Schools

So what does all this mean in individual classrooms and schools? Here are a few ideas for bringing Black Lives Matter into our teaching:

>>Read the rest of the article on our website! 

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A People’s Curriculum for the Earth – book review

Rethinking Schools:

Education for Liberation wrote an excellent review of A People’s Curriculum for the Earth. One of our favorite quotes from the review, “This book offers plenty of ways to inspire without demoralisation, and empower with humility.”

Purchase your copy of APCE on our website.

Originally posted on Education For Liberation:

Review by Nick Grant

A People’s Curriculum For The Earth
Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis
Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart Rethinking Schools 2014

At the heart of capitalist schooling the world over is a presumption that each learner is in competition with each other. From nursery to Ph.D learners are expected to

image assume a different and often aggressive set of goals separate from one another.

In the UK this is institutionalised in Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) given to 7, 11 and 14-year olds, which provide crude data for the compilation of performance league tables.

Likely progress in these tests determine functional arrangements such as patterns of student seating, and their access to additional teaching.

But the whole syllabi for GCSE, A Level, degree and post-graduate courses share a myopic belief that individuation is the prime purpose. There is a pragmatic assumption that employment is the quid pro quo…

View original 1,049 more words

Hands Up, Don’t Test: Police brutality and the repurposing of education

Rethinking Schools:

Jesse Hagopian is a Rethinking Schools editorial associate.

Originally posted on I AM AN EDUCATOR:

While I was recently in Boston speaking about my recently released edited book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the great EduShyster, who asked me important questions about the connection between the resent rise in student protests against police brutality and high-stakes, standardized testing.

Here’s what I told her:

Season of Protest

Jesse Hagopian says protests against police and high-stakes testing have more in common than you think…

EduShyster: You happened to be in Boston recently giving a talk about the new uprising against high-stakes testing on the same night that thousands of people here were protesting police violence and institutional racism. Here’s the people’s mic—explain how the two causes are related.

Jesse Hagopian: If I could have, I would have moved the talk to the protest to connect the issues. I would have said that the purpose of education is to…

View original 1,327 more words

Teaching to Change the World

Teaching to Change the World

Rethinking Schools Note: Wayne Au is a Rethinking Schools editor and author. In 2014 he edited the second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education and in 2012 he co-edited Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public School.

In January 2013, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School sparked an already-growing movement over standardized testing in the post-No Child Left Behind era.

They announced that they were boycotting the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP test, a move that was initially met with threats from the school’s administration. Almost immediately, support for the teachers started pouring in, from near and far, from other educators, schools, and districts, and from unions, parents, and students.

Wayne Au, a former high school teacher, graduate of Garfield and Evergreen, and professor of education at the University of Washington Bothell, was an early and influential backer. Au is the author of Unequal by Design: High Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality and co-editor of Pencils Down: Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools. Within days, he posted an insightful blog about the boycott on the website of Rethinking Schools, a social justice education journal he helps edit.

He also released—on Martin Luther King Day—a statement of solidarity he co-authored, which was signed by scores of education professionals across the country, including such prominent figures as Jonathan Kozol, who’s written extensively about public education; Diane Ravitch, a former assistant U.S. Secretary of Education; and Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The statement hailed the boycott as a “blow against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests” and expressed support for the “brave teachers” and opposition to “the growing standardized testing industrial complex.”

Four months later, after resistance had spread to other schools in the city, the district backed down, making the test optional if other assessments of student performance are used. To Au, the boycott “was a total success from several angles. Most importantly,” he said, “it became a flashpoint nationally—and even a little internationally—and it helped galvanize a growing, popular movement challenging regimes of high-stakes standardized testing.” Furthermore, he said he saw many “practicing teachers develop deeper and more complex understandings of the complications and problems surrounding high-stakes, standardized testing.” In the end, he said, the uprising demonstrated “the power of a broad-based, democratic, popular movement.”

Au is recognized nationally as a scholar of social justice in education. He’s written and spoken publicly about such issues as multiculturalism in education, the problems with using standardized testing to evaluate learning and teaching, and public funding of charter schools. And he’s not only voiced solidarity with activists in their struggles to better their schools, but also informed them with his prolific work.

His articles have been published in both academic journals and popular media outlets. He’s written two books and edited or co-edited six more, including the upcoming Mapping Corporate Education Reform, an analysis of the key actors influencing policy, which will be released next spring. He’s also contributed curriculum to several projects focused on social justice teaching, including The Zinn Education Project, Beyond Heroes and Holidays, and Putting Movement Back Into Civil Rights Teaching.

Au became a teacher to change the world. At an early age, he saw teaching as a powerful way to make a difference in the lives of others. “I knew I wanted be a teacher in ninth grade at Garfield,” he said. He also believes that the arena of public education—where he obtained his elementary-to-doctoral schooling—holds great promise in promoting equity and positive social change.

His fundamental commitment to social justice underscores everything he does, from teaching students and speaking at conferences and rallies to researching educational policy and organizing challenges to the status quo. “It’s part of who I am,” he said. “It drives the work.”

Au earned his bachelor’s and Master in Teaching degrees at Evergreen in 1994 and 1996, respectively. During his time at the college, he was an Upward Bound tutor to at-risk high school students preparing for college. Afterward, he was a social studies and language arts teacher at South Seattle Community College’s alternative Middle College High School. He then taught language arts and African history at Garfield, his alma mater, before relocating to California, where he worked at Berkeley High School, teaching social studies, language arts, ethnic studies, and Asian-American studies.

In Berkeley, he was active in the Education Not Incarceration Coalition, which opposed California’s plan to cut education funding while increasing monies to state prisons. Schools lost in the state’s final budget, and he was laid off, prompting him to pursue a career in higher education.

Au completed his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2007. In 2012, he was honored with an Early Career Scholars Award from one of the American Educational Research Association’s special interest groups. A decade before, he received the Early Career Advocate for Justice Award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which honors “individuals in teacher education who firmly support equity issues, who have linked their work with social justice and teacher education, and whose work shows evidence that it will have impact over time.”

At the University of Washington Bothell, where he chairs the school’s Diversity Council, he continues to practice his first love: teaching. This past summer, he taught a three-week bridge class to 22 incoming freshmen in the Academic Transition Program, which serves individuals with disadvantaged backgrounds. His lessons covered the links between poverty, educational attainment, and successful first-generation college students. This year, he’s teaching an undergraduate class, “Race, Culture, and Identity in the Classroom,” and three graduate-level courses, including one on multicultural education, “Teachers’ Self Understanding,” and another on education policy, “Theories of Organizational Change and School Reform.”

On the subject of school reform, Au urges “teachers, parents, and students to be activists. Instead of top-down reforms, I want a much more fully informed democracy around education policy. I want to see people get together, be strong, and be informed.”

The Garfield boycott didn’t end testing, but it was a seminal event in a larger grassroots movement. “In the broader struggle over how people understand education policy and practice, symbolic victories are critical to winning future fights,” says Au, who’s gearing up for battles ahead, including over Common Core testing and Initiative 1240, Washington’s Charter School Act.

The Koch Brothers Sneak into School

How Right-wing Billionaires Seek to Shape the Social Studies Curriculum

By Bill Bigelow

koch_bros_dirtymoney_byPeterMarshall-335x222This month in Boston, thousands of teachers will gather for the annual National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference.

Two non-teachers will be there, too: Charles and David Koch, the notorious right-wing billionaires.

Well, the Kochs won’t be there in person, but they will be represented by a Koch-funded and controlled organization: the Arlington, Virginia-based Bill of Rights Institute. For years, the Bill of Rights Institute has shown up at NCSS conferences to offer curriculum workshops, distribute teaching materials, and collect the names of interested educators. What the Bill of Rights Institute representatives fail to mention when they speak with teachers is that they have been the conduit for millions of dollars from Charles and David Koch, as the brothers seek to influence the country’s social studies curriculum. (When I attended a Bill of Rights Institute workshop at an NCSS conference, I asked the presenter who funds their organization. “Donations,” she replied.)

rollingstone_kochbros_articleWith assets of more than $80 billion, the Koch brothers, who control Koch Industries, are together richer than Bill Gates. As a recent Rolling Stoneexposé (“Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire”) by investigative reporter Tim Dickinson details, the Kochs made that money largely by polluting the Earth and heating up the climate, with massive oil and gas holdings. And through their network of far right foundations and front groups, they lobby for policies and fund politicians in line with their free market, fossil fuel interests.

One of those front groups is the Bill of Rights Institute, launched in 1999 and funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, and David Koch. The BRI directors include Mark Humphrey, Koch Industries senior vice president; Ryan Stowers, director of higher education programs at the Charles Koch Foundation; and Todd Zywicki, a senior scholar of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, funded with corporate donations from the likes of Koch and ExxonMobil. Until 2013, the Bill of Rights Institute president was the Koch operative Tony Woodlief, who headed the Market-Based Management Institute in the Kochs’ hometown of Wichita, Kansas, and served as president of the Mercatus Center.

The Bill of Rights Institute is funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, and David Koch.

The Bill of Rights Institute is funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, and David Koch.

The Bill of Rights Institute says it offers “engaging educational games, videos, and activities for people of all ages, and classroom lesson plans for teachers across the country.” The institute holds essay contests for students and promotes free teacher seminars throughout the United States—on topics like “Being an American,” “Preserving the Bill of Rights,” and “Heroes and Villains: The Quest for Civic Virtue.” Their promotional materials boast that the BRI has offered sessions for 18,000 teachers and provided materials for another 40,000.

billofrightsinstitute_libertarianmssgIn its materials for teachers and students, the Bill of Rights Institute cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message that the owners of private property should be free to manage their wealth as they see fit. As one Bill of Rights lesson insists, “The Founders considered industry and property rights critical to the happiness of society.” This message that individual owners of property are the source of social good, their property sacred, and government the source of danger weaves through the entire Koch curriculum, sometimes with sophistication, other times in caricature. For example, in one “click-and-explore” activity at the BRI website, showing the many ways that government can oppress individuals—“Life Without the Bill of Rights?”—a cartoon character pops up with a dialogue bubble reading, “The gov’t took my home!” An illustration shows his home demolished.

Educator resources for “Documents of Freedom” at the BRI site underscore this business-good/government-bad message: “When government officials can make any laws they please—and hold themselves above the law—there is less economic growth, less creativity, and less happiness. Entrepreneurs won’t be willing to risk time and money starting businesses. Writers and speakers will restrain their words. Everyone will worry that his freedoms can be destroyed at the whim of a powerful government agent.”

However, the materials at the Bill of Rights Institute avoid discussing how the free exercise of property rights has played out in the real world—especially with respect to historically oppressed groups.

For example, the BRI introduces a Constitution Day lesson plan with a quote from Patrick Henry—you know, the fellow who said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” As a Virginia plantation owner, Henry denied his beloved liberty to the more than 70 individuals he enslaved on his 10,000-acre estate. Instead of focusing on the contradiction of “freedom loving” individuals like Henry enslaving other human beings, the institute selects a passage from him that warns of the evils of big government: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government—lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” The BRI is fond of this quote, which features prominently in one of the webinars at its website.

In reviewing curriculum and background materials at the institute’s website, I found nothing that could help teachers show students how race and social class shaped the U.S. Constitution—nothing that invites students to think about the Constitution from the point of view of anyone other than the elites who drafted it. A background article on how the Founders approached slavery says that this “would be a ‘make-or-break’ matter for the new republic,” but ignores those for whom slavery was the ultimate “make-or-break” issue: the enslaved people themselves.

billofrightsinstitute_curriculum_300pxwAnother Constitution lesson at its website, “Meeting the Framers—A Reunion Social in 1840,” is more hagiography than history. The lesson asks students to make business cards for the Framers attending the Constitutional Convention that they can distribute to one another at a fictional 1840 gathering. Students are required to list Framers’ contributions, “most noteworthy characteristics/interesting facts,” and contributions following the convention. There is not a single critical question raised. This lesson highlights another feature of Bill of Rights materials: They’re boring. A curriculum that tiptoes around real-world issues like race, class, and power is unlikely to fire students to life. An alternative lesson would be a Constitutional gathering that included individuals other than plantation owners, bankers, and merchants—one that examined issues from the perspective of common farmers, debtors, and people who were enslaved.

Focusing narrowly on property rights to the exclusion of racism and issues of social inequality are not limited to history lessons in the BRI materials. One section on the website is “Teaching with Current Events,” and includes a lesson, “Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine Laws.” It offers quiet cover for Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, mentioned in the lesson’s introduction. Here’s the lesson’s first discussion question: “Florida’s ‘Stand-Your-Ground’ law states ‘A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.’ How would you put this law in your own words?”

A follow-up question asks students to search the Constitution and Bill of Rights to support this law. But nothing in the lesson encourages students to search their own lives or to view Stand-Your-Ground from the standpoint of people who might be victimized by someone like George Zimmerman. The sanctity of an individual’s property is paramount—here and everywhere in the BRI materials.

billofrightsinstitute_legitimizedcurriculumThis lesson is especially disingenuous given that Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law was a product of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council—a Koch-funded outfit that promotes “model” conservative legislation. The Kochs not only pay for laws to be written and passed, they now pay for them to be legitimated in the school curriculum as well.

The “Current Events” subject that should be at the top of any school curriculum these days is climate change. But the BRI appears to want to avoid the issue. Dickinson’s Rolling Stone exposé chronicles the Kochs’ massive fossil fuel holdings and climate pollution. The Koch empire generates more greenhouse gases annually—24 million metric tons—than either Chevron or Shell. The Kochs own 1.1 million acres in the Alberta oil fields (tar sands land), an area larger than Rhode Island. And the Kochs are “a key player in the fracking boom,” polluting precious water supplies, and releasing unknown quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The BRI is one of the Kochs’ phalanx of organizations promoting the free market snake oil that economic decisions should be left up to the people who own the economy. This ideology offers implicit approval for the fossil fuel industry to do whatever it wants with its massive lode of carbon—even as greenhouse gases rise to a level that puts all life at risk. I say implicit approval because even the “Current Events” curriculum materials at the BRI website are entirely silent about the climate crisis. A search for “global warming,” “climate change,” and “fracking” yields a “Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.”

Koch Highhuffingtonpost_kochhigh

A July 2014 investigative article in the Huffington Post, “Koch High: How the Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way into the Minds of Public School Students,” by Joy Resmovits and Christina Wilkie, describes another Koch organization that targets public schools, Youth Entrepreneurs. According to internal documents uncovered by the authors, the group’s mission is to develop “a high school free market and liberty-based course” supported by the network of Koch foundations and Koch-supported organizations. According to these private documents, a 2009 Charles Koch Foundation working group, overseen by former Bill of Rights Institute president Tony Woodlief, worked to produce an economics curriculum to challenge what the group identified as “common economic fallacies,” including: “Rich get richer at the expense of the poor … Government wealth transfer programs help the poor … Private industry incapable of doing functions that public sector has always done … Unions protect employees … Minimum wage, ‘living wage,’ laws are good for people/society … Capitalist societies provide an environment for greed and materialism to flourish.”

Of course, this is the ideology of the Tea Party. According to Youth Entrepreneurs, its curriculum is now taught in 36 high schools in Kansas and Missouri. Resmovits and Wilkie sum up: “Youth Entrepreneurs is just one piece of the Kochs’ slow creep into America’s schools.”

But what makes the Koch brothers’ focus on public schools so profoundly cynical is that they hate public schools. As Resmovits and Wilkie point out, this can be traced back at least as far as 1980, when David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee. The Libertarian platform that year was unambiguous: “We advocate the complete separation of education and state. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”

John Stossel: "K through 12 education in America is lousy. And I say it’s because you don’t have the free market."

John Stossel’s talk at BRI’s essay gala: “K through 12 education in America is lousy. And I say it’s because you don’t have the free market.”

Even as it infiltrates public schools, the BRI continues to trash the very idea of public education. Its website features a video of a talk by Fox News commentator John Stossel, who spoke at a dinner honoring student winners of a BRI essay contest. Stossel was blunt: “K through 12 education in America is lousy. And I say it’s because you don’t have the free market. A free market is what brings us all the good stuff that makes our life better. And education, K through 12, is largely a government monopoly. And they don’t do things very well. …. Forty years of reporting have taught me that the market does everything better.”

This Koch-sponsored hostility to public schools finds expression in what Koch brothers’ darling Gov. Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin, along with fellow Republicans. Walker has received lavish funding from the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity. As Bob Peterson summarizes in a forthcoming article in Rethinking Schools magazine, Walker’s 2011 Act 10 first took away virtually all collective bargaining rights from public employees, including the right to arbitration. Immediately following Act 10, Wisconsin initiated the largest cuts to public education in the country. Walker and cronies then expanded a statewide school voucher program—one that steals money from public schools to subsidize private schools—and enacted an income tax deduction for private school tuition.

Over at the Koch family foundations, they explain that these budget cuts make the BRI and their other education work even more necessary: “As budgets for liberal arts and social studies continue to shrink, BRI provides much needed instructional materials and conducts programs that teach the words and ideas of our Founders and the liberties and freedoms guaranteed in our Founding documents.” In other words, as the Kochs spend millions undermining and defunding public schools, impoverished schools will become more and more dependent on the millions that the Kochs spend to shape the curriculum.

The liberties that the Kochs are so fond of include the liberty to endlessly pollute the environment, the liberty to emit greenhouse gases without regulation, the liberty to bust unions, and the liberty to contribute unlimited amounts of money to candidates who will do their bidding.

Teachers and parents need to ensure that the public school curriculum is animated by a concern for the public—and that it does not promote a vision of society that offers freedom only to those who have the wealth to buy it. Perhaps when teachers gather in Boston for the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference, they will tell the Bill of Rights Institute representatives what they think of this ersatz version of freedom.

billbigelow-100x100Bill Bigelow is curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project. He co-edited the just-released A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis.

if_we_knew_bannerThis article is part of the Zinn Education Project If We Knew Our History series.

Restore Recess: A Movement is Born

Rethinking Schools:

Jesse is an editorial associate at Rethinking Schools.

Originally posted on I AM AN EDUCATOR:

Sign the Save Recess Petition today!Seattle Schools: Save Recess!

You have heard about Seattle’s fight for a $15 minimum wage, or the teachers who organized a mass boycott of the MAP test.  But you might not be aware of the newest movement–organized for one of the most basic human rights–that was recently ignited in the emerald city: The struggle for the right to play.

Parents and educators across Seattle are taking action to defend their children’s right to ample time for recess and lunch.  Parents and students at Whittier Elementary school set this movement in motion when they voiced objection to the school reducing lunch and recess time from 40 minutes to half an hour–gaining important local TV and media attention.  Parents at Leschi Elementary soon launched an online petition that has gathered nearly a thousand signatures in a few short days.  Now there is a city-wide organization of parents, students…

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