Howard Charter Firings: Racist Error or Business as Usual

By Wayne Jebian

It quacks like racism, at least in the short version.

Three social studies teachers, who are black, were planning lessons for Black History Month at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science, a predominantly black charter school on a Historically black college campus in Washington, D.C. Given pink slips in front of their students, these teachers’ sudden dismissal upset parents and moved the students to stage a demonstration of their displeasure. According to news reports, the students stood on the lawn of the main quad of Howard University. Blogs reported the students chanting:

“We Want a School, Not a Business.”

The NAACP has launched an investigation of the incident, but paying attention to the students’ words, the important question about the event is not “did a black school make a racist call?” but rather, “can a charter school not make a racist call?”

The problem is the business model. The kids nailed it.

In the business model of education, you might be working with a particular supplier of a curriculum, and therefore be reluctant to go off menu to teach about Marion Barry, for instance. Howard Charter made a point of defending its curriculum in a statement paraphrased by the Washington Post. In a business model, competing lesson content will always be just that, competition, and will be received hostilely.

The crush of competition and all of its unforeseen consequences may be close to the top of the “Stupid Business Tricks” list, but it has company. At-will termination and lack of free speech protections are bad enough separately, while the combination becomes combustible when racial content is involved. That certainly was the case at Howard this year, and it has been for years.

In 2007, according to the Los Angeles Times, charter school administrators in that city stopped students from reciting the poem “A Wreath for Emmett Till” during a Black History Month program. The students circulated a letter of protest, and two teachers, Marisol Alba and Sean Strauss, were fired for signing it. The Times described a school administrator explaining that Emmett Till was inappropriate subject matter to celebrate because he had whistled at a woman.

After Emmett Till, a young black teenager visiting the south in 1955, allegedly whistled at a white woman, he was murdered and his body mutilated. His mother’s decision – to have an open coffin and put the full horrors of lynching on display — is credited with jumpstarting the Civil Rights movement. The lesson of Emmett Till to school administrators is that social studies and history aren’t pretty, but they have a value greater than the white-washed curriculum being peddled by the next corporate officer in the chain of command.

Marion Barry may not be pretty, but for the middle school students of Washington D.C., there could be a significance that an outsider has no business judging (and no curriculum publisher thinks of including). So until charter operators find better ways than off-the-shelf answers and corporate compliance to grapple with the issues on the ground that matter to their students and their communities, charters will continue to be viewed as racist institutions that fail to deliver the variety and quality of education our teachers of color an dour students of color deserve.

Marshawn Lynch, Carl Heastie and the Media: Is the New Speaker As Tough as the Seattle Running Back?

Ed In The Apple

Marshawn Lynch is the all-star running back for the almost two time Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Lynch grew up in Oakland, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and left after his junior year to play professional football, first in Buffalo, now in Seattle, and, ” … his teammates joke that he loves chain restaurants … [and] is also known for his frequent community involvement. In 2013 he was featured in Red Bull’s campaign ‘Athletes Give Back’ when he put together a very successful food drive for his home town.” However, he has always been reticent to speak to the media, The NFL fined him a number of times, at the required press availability at the Super Bowl Lynch showed up and answered every question with “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”

The room, full of media, asked him question again and again knowing full well that he…

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Naison Rants!

Once you understand how much money there is to be made from dismantling public education, filling schools with tests, and making neighborhoods ripe for gentrification by closing schools and opening charters, you will see why both political parties buy into and promote the School Reform Myth . Not only have the School Reform measures endorsed by both parties failed to reduce gaps in educational achievement and income by race and class, they have magnified those gaps. I defy any economist to show me evidence which shows that the US has become a more egalitarian society since the passage of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Whether you look at child poverty, income distribution, or wealth gaps by race, the US has experienced the largest redistribution of wealth upward in modern history in the very years School Reform has been at its peak.

We have more children living in poverty, lower wages, and a higher percentage of national income controlled by the top 1 Percent than we did in 2001, or 2008. Yet our elected officials continue to push their toxic mix of National Testing, Charters, and Test Based Accountability as though it were some kind of anti-poverty program rather than a huge opportunity for profit by publishers, software manufacturers, real estate investors and “educational entrepreneurs.”

It is time to pull the mask away and see the profound corruption that lies at the heart of dominant School Policies- whether they are pushed by Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, Rahm Emmanuel, Michael Bloomberg or Barack Obama.

– Mark Naison

Dear Governor Andrew Cuomo – A Fifth Grader Speaks Out – Maggie’s Letter

Excellent student letter to Gov. Cuomo. I sincerely hope he reads all of the mail he is getting from students.

Poetic Justice

Two days ago, I published a letter from Josh – a fourth grader from NYC. That one letter has gotten over 13,000 views from all over the globe. I truly believe IT IS TIME for STUDENT VOICES to be heard. Today I received this letter from the parent of Maggie – a fifth grader from Central NY State. I am honored to share Maggie’s letter with my readers.

Maggies letter 2 2 2015Maggie is the fourth Student Hero presented on this Poetic Justice blog. She, too, is bold and brave and not afraid to put her opinions in writing. I truly hope that Maggie’s letter will be read by many and will encourage other students to voice their opinions in writing to the governors of their states.

As Maggie writes:

“Please read this letter completely and thoroughly until you (Governor Cuomo) get my gist. I am not the only student who doesn’t appreciate you…

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Dear Mr. Cuomo – A Fourth Grader Speaks Out

Brillant piece from Poetic Justice and a brave young student activist. Thank you for allowing War Report to reblog this piece.

Poetic Justice

This is going to be my third blog about a Student Hero. My newest hero is Josh – a fourth grader from NYC who has a legitimate beef with Governor Cuomo. Here is the very persuasive letter he wrote to the governor: 10407630_10153047556870798_3534263753656568750_n He is my hero because he is bold and brave and not afraid to express himself in writing. He is also my hero because he wants his words shared with the world. Josh happens to be the son of a filmmaker. Josh expressed his desire to impact the world with his own words just as his father impacts the world with his movies. His dad agreed to post his letter on Facebook and included his own fatherly rant with the posting. In the rant, his father stated:

…for full disclosure josh will never take a standardized test not while im around to make sure he doesnt. but we…

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Teacher Education to USDOE: “Let Us Ruin Our Own Discipline!”

Nice blog post on Teacher Education.

radical eyes for equity

Maybe this is appropriate with Groundhog Day approaching—since many of us now associate that with the Bill Murray comedy classic. But I am also prone to seeing all this through the lens of science fiction (SF), possibly a zombie narrative like World War Z.

“This,” for the record, is the accountability plague that began in the early 1980s and continues to spread through every aspect of public education—starting with students and schools, followed by infecting teachers, and now poised to infect teacher education.

As I noted above, on one hand, the accountability game is predictable: some government bureaucracy (state or federal) launches into yet another round of accountability driven by standards and high-stakes testing and then educators respond by showing that they too can play the accountability game.

On the other hand, accountability seems to be a SF plague, spawned in the bowels of government like the root of…

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The Personification of Pearson: Always Earning

My daughter was in Kindergarten when she first met Pearson. According to my daughter, Pearson was the bully that chased you around and around the playground until he finally got a grip on your blue denim jacket- and- with a mighty heave, stopped you dead in your tracks, spun you around, grabbed you by the collar, put his face right up close into yours, demanding not only your lunch money, but anything else you had in your pockets: coins, pencils, rubber bands, erasers, paper scraps, chewing gum, jawbreakers, even lint. Even Lint. Yeah, Pearson was THAT kind of bully. It seemed that he wanted everything that every kid had- all of your money, paper, ABC gum- you name it.

 

Needless to say, I marched myself down to the elementary school and discussed Pearson with my daughters teacher. I was told that Pearson was a challenge but that he had been adopted by the state and would be staying in my daughter’s school. As a ward of the state, there was nothing the teacher could do about that; however, she would make sure that my daughter was exposed to Pearson as little as possible and that she would never have to be in the same room with him during testing. Time passed- and my daughter- through lack of contact- rarely saw Pearson during the remainder of elementary school.

 

Fast forward to Middle School. Orientation. Guess who greets us at the door???? Yup.  Pearson. This guys is everywhere AND suddenly he is popular!!!  POPULAR! He is the darling of the new Teach for America teachers and old school testing gurus alike. He is still a bully, only now he is a sly one, a sneaky one, a slithery serpent of a bully who insinuates himself into the good graces of both Guidance and Gradebook alike. My daughter is wary of him, but this time, they are in every class together. She said that he doesn’t pick on her anymore but sitting next to him still makes her uncomfortable. I told her to just do her work and ignore him unless he becomes a real issue during testing and essay writing time. Thankfully, other than his overbearing and popular persona, Pearson doesn’t influence my daughter much during middle school. High school, however, will be a different story.

 

In high school, as luck would have it, my daughter actually began to enjoy spending time with Pearson. I don’t know what she saw in him, but she liked working with him on the school computer programs. The more time she spent with him, the more she began to like him. She had no problem with how much personal information he wanted from her.  As much as it creeped me out, it didn’t seem to phase her. Perhaps this is due to a “generation” gap,  but I can’t seem to shake the image of that pilfering bully on the playground all those years ago.I can’t stand the thought of his nimble fingers picking her pockets, rifling through her purse, or picking her brain.

These days, Pearson isn’t so much a bully as he is nosey. He wants to know everything about my daughter.  He asks her questions about her name, ethnicity, her likes and dislikes, questions about her parents. He records all of it in his data-bank of a brain, squirrelling it away for use at a later date. What is he going to do with this data? Where is it going? Who sees it? My daughter has even told me that he asks about us, her parents. Where we live, how much money we make, our phone numbers, our email addresses. I told my daughter our personal information is none of Pearson’s business and she doesn’t have to tell him anything about us- or her- if she doesn’t want to. She can refuse to answer any of his questions.

 

Hopefully, my daughter will take my advice about Pearson to heart. She will start college before too much longer, to become a school teacher, and Pearson will be at the same school.  Pearson, it seems is EVERYWHERE. Apparently, Pearson isn’t going to a four -year college; high school (and some dual enrollment classes)  gave him all the tools he needed to be college and career-ready.

 

Ironically, although he isn’t going to be attending my daughter’s college as a student, he IS going to be there. He got a job working for a company where he is in charge of monitoring the student teachers at my daughter’s college. Although he has no formal degree, he is working for the company  my daughter will be PAYING  to grade her student teaching experience! So Pearson, with his lack of education and lack of teaching experience, will be making money grading videos of my daughter ( which she has to pay money to upload ) while evaluating her as a student teacher. Wow. Pearson certainly does get around. In fact, you could say that from the moment my daughter met him, he was always earning.

by Lucianna M.  Sanson

Lucianna Sanson is a high school English IV and AP Literature teacher in Franklin County Tennessee. She is a public school parent and she is married to a public school teacher. She is FCEA President, and the Associate Co-Producer of the War Report on Public Education internet radio show. She is a warrior goddess activist for students and public education. She is admin on several FB pages and she can occasionally be found on twitter. You can also find her delivering nasty bits of edu-reform wisdom via Honey BADger Blurbs.