Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Current Protests May Spread to Schools and Force Officials to Cut Back on Testing

The current protests against the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, show no signs of dying down. Based on what I am seeing in New York City, we can not only expect protests that will block bridges, highways, streets and tunnels, but are likely to disrupt Christmas shopping. These protests have already dwarfed, in size and militancy, those launched by the Occupy movement and are far more diverse in race and class. But most importantly, these protests are drawing in large numbers of high school and even middle school students. A whole generation of students whose main experience in schools has been relentless testing and zero tolerance disciplinary policy policies have had the heady experience of taking over streets and stores and subways and disrupting the activities of entire downtown business districts. Never in their lives have they experienced anything like this sense of collective power, and those who think it will stop with protests against policing are operating with tunnel vision.
As someone who was politicized by civil rights protests in the 60's and ended up participating in building take overs at my own university, I know from experience how protest can become "contagious" and that the sense of power students derive from protesting outside of school can easily translate into protests at schools
We are likely to see this happen, in high schools and even middle schools throughout the country next spring
Remember the old song from World War I "How can you keep them down on the farm when they've seen Paree?"
There are tens of thousands of high school students around the country who have experienced the feeling of power that comes from collective action.
Having had that experience, can we then expect them to go through metal detectors and sit through one boring class after another to prepare for the endless round of tests officials have imposed on them. Many high school students, especially those in inner city, working class and lower middle class communities now HATE going to school, especially since the things they love, arts and sports, have been cut back to make room for tests. That coupled with the increasing prevalence of metal detectors and arrests for minor disciplinary infractions have created a simmering anger that has mainly taken the form of individual explosions. What if that rage was channeled into collective protests such as strikes and walkouts? Not an impossible experience
Especially since the rewards of going to school are not all that great
What is the light of the end of the tunnel for students who fight through the boredom and graduate from high school ?
If they go directly into the job market, they face minimum wage jobs with the same "zero tolerance" discipline they experience in their schools
If they go on to college, the face the prospect of accumulating huge student debt and entering the job market where they are going to have to compete for a dwindling number of jobs with decent salaries and benefits.
Put all of this together- the power students now feel, the boring and humiliating experiences they have in school, and the grim prospects they face in the job market and you have the perfect scenario for a massive student uprising. An uprising that may become so long lasting and strong that it will force officials to do something they never imagined-- cutting back on testing and making high schools a place where students actually want to attend, filled with experiences that will give them the sense of power and agency they right now are finding in the protests sweeping the country

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why We Can Expect a Major Escalation of High School Protests This Spring

As an historian of social movements, one of the things I have learned is that experience in one form of protest often spills over to another. In the 1960's participation of tens of thousands of young people in civil rights demonstrations, some of which took involved civil disobedience, went a long way to shaping their response to the escalation of the Vietnam War, leading ultimately to the largest and most militant anti-war movement in US History,  You can also say the same about the participation of hundreds of thousands  of working class Americans in hunger marches and unemployed demonstrations in the early Depression years, an experience which conditioned them to participate in the wave of militant strikes that swept through the US from 1934 through 1937, leading to the collective bargaining agreements in overland trucking and the auto and steel industry which labor leaders had once thought impossible.

  We may see a significant escalation in education based youth activism as a result of the remarkable protests against the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice currently sweeping the nation.  Although these protests have attracted people of a wide variety of ages and racial backgrounds, tens of thousands of high school students have participated in them, not only in Ferguson, but in New York, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado  and numerous other states where thousands of people have taken to the streets. And with many more protests to come, those numbers could escalate dramatically.

  The sense of power and agency that these high school students are gaining from participation in these protests should not be underestimated.  For many, these have  been the first protests they have ever participated in and the sensation of being part of a purpose filled group of thousands of people capable of shutting down streets, highways, bridges and transit lines has given them a feeling of power and agency they never thought possible

  That feeling of power is not going to disappear. It is going to remain part of who they are and when they return to their high schools and even middle schools, many of which have test filled curricula, zero tolerance disciplinary policies and heavily policed security arrangements,  a coming clash is  inevitable 

   Do not be surprised if the result is a wave of school walkouts this coming spring- some to protest excessive testing, some to protest humiliating security policies, some to protests the elimination of arts and sports programs, some in solidarity with people protesting police violence in their own cities and neighborhoods. Young people who have had a taste of freedom, a taste of solidarity, and a taste of their collective power are not going to easily adapt to the scripted curricula and constant test prep they are being deluged with; with metal detectors in their schools; and with police being brought in to arrest students for minor disciplinary infractions.  To young people who have been in the streets  and brought the operations of whole cities to a standstill, compliant acceptance of policies which humiliate them bore them and stigmatize them may well be seen as intolerable.

   And if high school walkouts spread to the point where they make schools non functional and interfere with testing, they may do more to force a reconsideration of Test Drive Pedagogy and Common Core than all other protests combined

    The genie of youth activism is out of the bottle, and will not return any time soon

   And the result may be the first real break in the Test Machine that has grabbed control of our educational system and is busily squeezing the life out
of it for all concerned

It Only Takes a Spark- A Dallas Teacher's Response to Events In Ferguson

I went to Ferguson for the Weekend of Resistance in October of this year. While there I became entranced by the organizers. They were young, vibrant, charismatic, whip-smart, passionate, technologically savvy, fiercely determined, and incredibly organized. And I do mean organized. They linked everyone together through websites and text messages. There are many websites they have formed, but the main one is a person registers here, they will receive DAILY newsletters with updates. Additionally, everyone was told to text “hands up” to 90975. Through text messaging, individuals are updated with Breaking News or any changes in plans.
As someone who has spent their life studying racial justice, I started a Facebook group called Racial Unity which was to act as a forum for discussing race and racism. Because of this and a propensity to do so, I remained very in tune with current events. I also joined SURJ, Standing Up for Racial Justice, and was on an initial conference call with them. After indicating that I wanted to organize, I had plans to have a conference call with them to discuss how to begin organizing.
I had not yet been on my “organizing” conference call with SURJ, but, after the Eric Garner non-indictment announcement (the second in a couple of weeks), I was angry but felt resolved. Resolved in my knowledge that it was time to put my lifetime of racial justice study into action.
Knowing that the Ferguson organizers wanted people to gather at their local Department of Justice on the Friday following this announcement, I knew people needed to gather if for no other reason than to commiserate. I figured that other people, too, would be aware of the Ferguson organizers’ wishes and would probably automatically gather at the DOJ on Friday night, but I wanted to set it in stone and inform people of the exact plans.
That night I created a Facebook Event setting the rally for that Friday at 8:00 p.m. at the Dallas Department of Justice. I didn’t have any corporate sponsors or organizers to back me up, but I guess I didn’t realize I needed them. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” right? I knew I was ready and equipped and that it would work out. Immediately, people started messaging me making suggestions and asking if I needed help or if I had considered this or that. It was magical.
I posted the event on Facebook, Twitter, Ferguson Action, and the Ferguson tumblr. Other people volunteered to help me post it and share it everywhere, which they did. When the first person messaged me and asked me who I was going to have as speakers, my first thought was “speakers?” I’ve attended many rallies, but not all have had speakers; however, due to the occasion I determined that speakers were probably necessary. I said I didn’t know but that my partner, who is an expert on black history and was also a DJ in the past, could probably help. This was Tuesday night.
By Wednesday morning, a local pastor messaged me on Facebook and asked if he could speak. I asked him what he wanted to say, and he sent me some articles he had written. After reading them, I decided he would be a good fit for what I wanted the rally to look like.
Shortly after that, someone else messaged me with recommendations for speakers. He had three local pastors in mind, including the one I had already approved. Although I had no idea what the message SHOULD BE, I knew that I didn’t want to have speakers blaming the black community for these injustices through any “pull your pants up” speeches. I’m also agnostic so I really wasn’t sure about having three pastors as speakers.
During this time, I emailed SURJ SEVERAL times asking legal questions about where we would be allowed to stand, whether we needed permits, etc. They were very helpful and encouraging. Through them, I was able to talk to an experienced organizer in New York. I also drove by the DOJ to scope out the scene. Almost on cue, I saw that a small park was right across the street from the DOJ. I determined that, if it was a public park, we would gather there. It seemed ideal. I also made sure there was plenty of parking. In addition to metered parking, there was a paid parking lot on the other side of the Justice Center.
When I got home, I researched the park, found out that it was public, and edited my events to indicate that we would be gathering at the park. I also told them to bring signs and dress warmly as it was cold for Texas early in the week.
I initially said no to the other two pastors because I just didn’t want the rally to be a sermon, and I didn’t know what else to expect of pastors. This was my background with churches. However, the person who had initially recommended them just didn’t give up. He sent me some articles that each one had written and convinced me that they would be great fits as well. I gave him my approval and gave out my phone number to him and the pastors.
During this time, several different people asked me whether we would be marching. I initially said no because I didn’t want to run into complications with the police. Then people started suggesting small marches to me. I finally gave in to a small march to the City Hall and back. I again updated the events pages.
On the Friday morning of the march, another person I didn’t know contacted me and asked me to call him. He said he was an organizer who had been planning an event at the Dallas Police Department but that he wanted to combine events and be united. I agreed with him. Unity is essential to this movement. He also said that he wanted to take a long march to a large local interstate. I told him that wasn’t really what I had in mind, but he said he had regular rallies against violence and that he had marshals he would be bringing with him. He told me that he wanted to march TO the interstate but not ON the interstate. We agreed upon that. I told him the police needed to know about the march, and he said that the police were well aware of the event and that some police officers would accompany us on the march.
The day of the march I purchased a megaphone that was supposed to carry sound for ½ of a mile. I had called around about renting out a sound system the day before, but the cost and the timing were prohibitive.
When we arrived at the park on that Friday night, something else magical happened. The park had been decorated for a Christmas parade the next day so there were Christmas decorations and lights, and it looked beautiful! They also had stages out for, I assume, speakers for the upcoming parade; however, it seemed like divine intervention to me as it made an ideal place for speakers to stand. Police cars and police officers were aplenty, but they sat down and didn’t interfere during the rally.
The program ran for about an hour. People trickled in throughout the rally so the crowd just kept getting bigger. The speakers were vibrant and powerful. The audience was respectful and receptive. Several times during the rally, different speakers told the audience that we were going to be peaceful, we were not going to confront the police officers, and we were not going to get arrested. Members of the crowd murmured their approval.
After the rally we marched. The marshals and three police officers peacefully marched alongside us. An (over)abundance of police cars drove next to us the entire way. Throughout the march, we chanted. Many of the people knew the chants from previous marches, and those that didn’t either figured them out and joined in or marched along in silent solidarity. Altogether we had three or four megaphones which made the chanting easier and louder.
The most valuable rule about organizing that I learned is to be flexible and to listen to requests from other people. Really listen and consider their suggestions and requests. What I need to stress to you is that it all starts with an idea. Things have a way of falling into place after that.
I truly believe that the way this event seemed to organize itself was due to the power of the people. People are aching for something different. They’re yearning to fight against this unjust system. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to change it. I hope the powers that be are listening because we’re ready and we’re coming.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Rudy Guiliani- And Most of the Media- Doesn't Understand About Today's Young Protesters:

In several much publicized media appearances, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani expressed his dismay at the huge protests against the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, arguing that Black and New Yorkers should be grateful for the aggressive police tactics he introduced, which he claimed
saved tens of thousands of lives in NY's Black and Latino neighborhoods. To justify his argument, he pointed out that the murder rate in NY City has declined from over 2,000 a year when he took office to a little more than 300 a year today. Why, he asked, are young protesters not moved by this dramatic drop in violence?
There are many things you can say about Mr Guiliani's comments, but one thing it reveals is how out of touch he is with experience of young people of
color in New York City, especially those growing up in the city's shrinking and rapidly gentrifying working class and immigrant neighborhoods.
First of all, these young people have no memory of the wave of violence that swept through New York City when the crack epidemic hit, beginning in the mid 1980's and continuing through the mid 1990's. Even among scholars, the question of whether aggressive policing, or community revulsion against crack did more to reduce the murder rate is a matter of debate, but most people in high school or college now have no memory of the crack years- except through the music of Biggie, Nas and JZ- so feel absolutely no sense of gratitude for the reduction in violence in the neighborhoods they are living in. Coming of age after the year 2,000, they did not experience the gun battles between rival crews outside their apartment buildings and schools, that their counterparts did ten years earlier.
But more importantly, their experience with police and law enforcement has been so stifling and intimidating and suffocating that it nullifies any statistical comparisons that might be made between the 90's and today. The combination of a huge expansion of the city's police force, and application of the "broken windows" theory of policing has left young people of color feeling subject to harassment and public humiliation in their neighborhoods, at their schools, and in their ventures into the city's shopping districts. All over New York City, for the last ten years, armies of police officers have roamed through city, stopping young men of color hundreds of thousands of times, allegedly in the search for guns and drugs, even though less than 5% of the stops find anything illegal. It is hard to find a young Black and Latino male from the Bronx , or Southeast Queens, who has not been "stopped and frisked" numerous times, a ritual that is frightening, humiliating and filled with a message that they are viewed as an object of fear by city officials. This can happen to them outside their apartment building or school, in the subway, or when they are shopping or going to play ball. The awareness of this possibility hovers over them like a bad dream
Worse yet, virtually all of the high schools they attend now have metal detectors, so going to school now involves the virtual equivalent to passing through airport security! After worrying about being searched by police going to school, they find themselves searched by police IN SCHOOL, a process made more likely because more and more schools now have students arrested for disciplinary issues that were once handled in house by school personnel, such as cursing out a teacher, refusing to remove a hat, or shoving another student.
What we are talking about here is something utterly unprecedented in the history of New York and perhaps American urban history- the militarization of entire neighborhoods so that young people of color feel vulnerable to search and seizure and physical abuse every time they step outside of their place of residence.
This smothering, stifling police presence is THEIR REALITY, something they deeply resent not only for the fear it inspires, but for the message it sends about what the rest of the city and the rest of the nation thinks of them
That is why they rise up in anger when someone unarmed who looks like them is killed by police. They see themselves in Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
And feel no gratitude toward the public officials who have given police license to control every inch of space in their communities- at their expense.
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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Who Is in Danger?

The bitter divisions within the nation over how to respond to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not going to be easy to heal. For many people, this issue is not just political, it is deeply personal. And it stems from the following two realities:
1. Being a police officer is dangerous. Your work can place you in life threatening situations, some anticipated, some not. Every person who has a police officer in their family worries about them coming home safely. That is real. And those who know and love police officers empathize with the life and death decisions they have to make on the job and hope they make the one that allows them to live another day
2. Being a Black Male in the United States is dangerous. Many people fear you strictly on the basis of your appearance, and law enforcement officials in a wide variety of settings view you as a potential criminal and a threat. Your family members and loved ones understand this and hope you return safely from encounters with the police, which are more and more likely to happen given the vast expansion and militarization of police forces as a result of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.
How to reconcile these two realities, is, to put it mildly, a challenge.
I will say this. People choose to be police officers, knowing the dangers. People do not choose to be Black Males. They are saddled with the dangers because of the accident of birth, and the weight of America's unhappy racial history.
I look forward to a time when policing will be less dangerous, and being a Black Male will not be dangerous at all
In the meantime, we are in in pain, and at one another's throats.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

New York State To Dramatically Increase Field Testing-- by Trevor Krebbec

State To Dramatically Increase Field Testing (SATIRE!)
by Trevor Krebbec
Based on what he called, "the tremendous popularity of our current field testing program," New York State Commissioner of Education John King announced plans to make these tests a weekly occurrence throughout New York State public schools next year.
"Many of our vendors felt it was unfair that only Pearson is able to test their products in the school setting. We recognized this as a valid complaint, and because equity is one of our top priorities, we came up with a plan that we think will better serve all the members of this important constituency"
Texas based Paragonic, Inc., a manufacturer of school furniture, will be the first participant. On the first Friday of the 2015/16 school year, all public school students in the state will spend 90 minutes testing Paragonic's new line of chairs, sitting down and standing up again repeatedly to evaluate the comfort, weight, and ease of movement of the chairs. Stressing how much NYSED (the New York State Education Department) cares about special ed students, Commissioner King added that students with test modifications will be given extra time, up to 3 hours of sitting down and standing up.
Parent groups have already announced plans to opt-out of these added field tests, but Commissioner King was adamant. "Why would you deny your child the opportunity to be involved in their choice of seating? I think it shows that parents who will allow their children to stand and stare for 90 minutes while other students at least get to sit down for part of the time... well, I guess they just don't care about their kids."
Teacher representatives disputed King's claim that field tests are popular, but King stood his ground. "Some are claiming that we only spoke to executives at Pearson, but this is completely untrue. We spoke to middle managers, sales reps, people in accounting, and even administrative assistants. None of them oppose field testing. If anything, most felt we weren't doing enough." Responding to further complaints that NYSED's actions run counter to the opinions of educators, King said, "we conducted a survey of every superintendent who has applied for a position at NYSED, and they were 100% in favor of our plans for testing - not to mention the Common Core, APPR, literally everything."
Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Wagner acknowledged that there have been complaints, but he dismisses them, saying these people "have constantly criticized nearly everything the department has done in the last four years." In other words, as King explained, "We are very open to feedback, but it is NYSED policy not to accept complaints from people who complain. We want to hear from positive people, not naysayers. To put it another way, we know we're right, so anybody who says otherwise is, by definition, wrong."
Opponents of field testing may think they are looking out for the best interests of children, protecting them from unnecessary stress and having their instructional time needlessly wasted, but Wagner says these critics are just lazy and ignorant. "Rather than go through the difficult work, taking the time, to help people understand the need for field testing, sometimes it's easier to say 'I'm opting out.'"
After the chair test, subsequent field tests include Johnson & Johnson's "Band Aid" brand (all students will have different size bandages applied and ripped off their skin to test "ouchiness"), Elmer's glue (younger students will eat different types of paste to test for toxicity) and Epi-Pen (a single use needle used for treating severe allergic reactions).
Previously, Epi-Pens had only been used on students who were experiencing symptoms of reactions. But according to King, this is just too small of a sample. "This is really about what's best for all kids, and the only way we can know if these needles hurt too much - or not enough - whatever the case may be, is by testing them out on every single student."
Some districts have indicated that they will refuse to participate, but Mr. Wagner says that’s not acceptable. “If a particular community does not participate in field testing, it’s not like the need for field testing suddenly goes away. The burden just gets shifted to their neighbors.”
Public school advocates disagree, suggesting that, ideally, all districts would refuse. However, the commissioner counters, this would be even worse, as the burden would then be pushed onto corporations. "Corporations exist to make a profit. It's that simple. If we don't allow them to test out their products on our students, it will cut into their bottom line, and that hardly seems fair."
New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch agreed. "As John has said, it's all about equity. Corporate profits in this country are at an all time high and yet some firms are seeing margins that are barely out of the single digits. Have you ever been in the boardroom of a corporation that failed to meet its quarterly projections? Well I have, and its a sad, sad, sight - one that I'd like never to see again."
"Some point out that our mission is to serve students, but students are people and so are corporations. And while students are only with us for 12 years or so, corporations can last forever and we have to take that into account."
Asked if this new policy contradicts his prior statements regarding the need to limit testing, the Commissioner insisted it did not. “Field testing isn’t testing. When you put a modifier in front of a word, it becomes a new thing. We can do even more. Some of our corporate friends have suggested “pre-field-testing,” “quasi-field testing,” even “enhanced field testing techniques,” really creative stuff. You can see why we’re so interested in allowing corporations full access to our public schools. As I see it there are still over a hundred days on which students aren’t taking tests. This is only the beginning,” Mr. King said. “Only the beginning.”
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There Are No "Outside Agitators!" Young People Are Leading Themselves!

Anyone who thinks the current protests against the deaths of Michael Brown and Evan Garner are being orchestrated from above by figures like Al Sharpton has not spent time speaking with my students. The feelings of alienation and despair and rage they are conveying are coming from a place deep inside them. They are the ones who feel trapped. They are the ones who feel profiled. They are the ones who feel in danger. They are the ones who feel the American Dream is escaping their grasp. Police issues are one portion of a grim scenario that is unfolding in front of them when they consider their future in a sociey where they will be leaving school burdened with debt, where fewer and fewer jobs provide decent incomes, where more and more wealth and power is consolidating in a few hands. They have little use for Al Sharpton. They have little use for Barack Obama. They are becoming their own leaders. Underestimate them at your perilO