Systemic oppression demands a systemic exodus

Systemic oppression demands a systemic exodus

Our traditional public schools are systemically inequitable — in Seattle, in Washington State, and everywhere else in the United States. Put another way, our schools are consistently producing inequitable outcomes based on race and family income, and it’s a form of systemic oppression.

We know this, most of us. But for most of us, that’s all we do. We know it. It’s mostly an intellectual idea.

So instead of idle knowledge, let’s consider for a moment what that really means — systemic oppression — and what it means for us as human beings.

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Trump’s inauguration is ours too: Be a watchdog for kids under the new regime


Today we are inaugurating Donald Trump, a president promising to “make America great again.”


It's almost a joke at this point. We all know America has never really been great — not for everybody at the same time anyway. Any of its strengths have always existed at the expense of an oppressed group of people.

In a way, because he has made so much truth so hard to ignore, Trump’s inauguration is ours as well. Now is our time. We know things are not right in this country.

And in knowing, we are now choosing: Will I stand up and resist? Or will I be an oppressor, even if only in my silence?

By knowing, we have been called to stay vigilant. It is up to us to take action, to decide whether or not we heed that call. Every little thing is at stake. We are, like it or not, watchdogs.

There’s no better example of this than in the world of education. Maybe you remember that last year our government came together for a rare moment of bipartisanship and passed a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Like the No Child Left Behind law that preceded it, ESSA still asks states to measure how well their public schools are doing with vulnerable populations like low-income, minority and children with special needs. But now it’s up to the states to monitor themselves on this behavior.

And if you know anything about the history of civil rights in this country, you know that states haven’t done such a good job of policing themselves on this sort of thing: Think Brown vs. Board or the Civil Rights Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These battles won in the courtroom or on the legislative floor aren’t acted out on the ground without a fight.

Now each state is submitting new plans for accountability under ESSA to the federal government. Think about it: States will be asking Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos for approval on how to make sure they’re closing the opportunity gap and improving student outcomes for kids who’ve traditionally been ignored. You’ll have to excuse me if I’m not optimistic.

Even once those plans are in place, the feds then have very few levers to impact anything if the states do fail to meet accountability standards. For all its faults, No Child Left Behind at least had teeth that the new setup does not.

Most of this is going to happen without a vote and without significant public input. It’s up to us to keep tabs, speak up and create change, to let go of our defensiveness. It’s time to move forward together in resistance to Trump, the new symbol of the all-American oppression we have been living with all along: racial discrimination, “justified” violence, economic disparity, intentional segregation, destructive environmental policy, profound inequity in school funding, and more and more everywhere we turn.

We have always been forcing someone to fight tooth and nail for their rights in the United States, and it takes a toll on all of us. If we aspire to some old “greatness,” as Trump would have us do now, we are only reaching backward to expand on our oppressive past.

It will be hard. It is hard.

The decision is ours to make each minute, but there is really no decision to make. Fortunately, the wisest among us have already thought this through:

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.


If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
—Desmond Tutu