A few quick thoughts about Seattle’s superintendent candidates after last night’s public forum

A few quick thoughts about Seattle’s superintendent candidates after last night’s public forum

We met the three finalists chosen by the school board — Jeanice Swift, Denise Juneau and Andre Spencer, in that order — and each candidate spoke with Keisha Scarlett of SPS for 45 minutes in a question-and-answer format.

Here are my brief-as-I-can-be thoughts about the three people we’re choosing between to lead Seattle’s schools.

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Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Rarely in life do you meet people whom you instantly know are one-of-a-kind, authentic and unique in their presentation, passion, purpose, performance and personhood.

Yet when you meet these people, whether you know it or not, their energy completely transforms your life. One of those people is Letta S. Mason.

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Seven decades of lip service is more than enough. When will Seattle Public Schools actually do something about closing racial opportunity gaps?

Have you read Neal Morton’s article in the Seattle Times about racial inequity in Seattle Public Schools? I’ve got plenty of thoughts, but honestly, the facts laid out in the article speak for themselves.

In fact, the headline alone speaks for itself:

Racial equity in Seattle schools has a long, frustrating history — and it’s getting worse

Just to drive the point home, here’s the sub-headline:

“For at least seven decades, Seattle Public Schools has pledged to eliminate the gaps in achievement between students of color and their white peers. But even as district leaders swear their latest efforts are more than just another round of rhetoric, the gaps continue to grow.”

Seven decades!

Think about that. This conversation about racial inequity in Seattle Public Schools is older than most current students' grandparents. There can’t possibly be anything new to add, anything worth saying that hasn't already been said and ignored.

It really gives a sense of how endlessly we are able to confuse well-intentioned spinning wheels for progress.

Seattle Public Schools have always produced wide opportunity gaps. This institutional racism continues to produce wide, unacceptable opportunity gaps. If that’s not a clear and accepted truth by now, then it might never be.

There is no time left to debate this truth. The gaps exist. We know that. Next.

We have long since moved past the time when simply acknowledging our inequity was enough, if such a time ever existed. Measuring the gaps, describing them as appalling, and continuing to go about your business as usual is not enough.

Words are not enough unless they are backed up by action. Believing the opportunity gaps are unacceptable is not enough until we stop accepting them.

Our thoughts about these gaps exist only in our own minds unless we are very conscious about living out our ideas. Your set of beliefs and values about what’s right and wrong are not enough unless they are given life by your actions.

To everyone working in our schools: if you’re not here to do something about these gaps — and if you're not prepared to be accountable for what you do and what you leave undone — then your time is past.

Seattle families have been banging their heads against the same wall for seventy years now. We’ve been perpetuating racism through our acceptance of an intolerable status quo for that entire time as well.

It’s awfully hard to convince myself it's a good idea to wake up Tuesday morning and send my son, who is not white, back to Emerson Elementary, our long-neglected neighborhood school in the Seattle district. In what way have Seattle Public Schools earned my son’s presence? We know, based on 70 years of meaningful inaction, that they cannot promise to treat my son the same as they’ll treat the white kids. We know, based on 70 years of failure to change, that all of our current advocacy efforts will not work in time to make a difference for my son.

We know that talk is cheap and that timid, tepid plans are not going to lead us where we need to go. I’ll say it again: Believing the opportunity gaps in Seattle’s schools are unacceptable is not enough until we stop accepting them.

I’m determined to do more than talk, to do more than just complain about the status quo while supporting it with my actions and inactions.

So, how do we move beyond words and take action to truly disrupt a system that has been openly racist for 70 years?

For me, as a parent writing about inequity in Seattle schools while raising kids of color, at what point does that look like pulling my kids out of public school? At what point does it look like students and families boycotting an institution with a documented history of racism stretching as far back into the past as we can see? When do we stop voluntarily participating in this form of oppression?

 

James 2:14-17

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Guest Post: It’s Non-Negotiable. We Have to Teach Social Justice in Our Schools.

By Zachary Wright

In a recent article, J. Martin Rochester, a professor of political science at the University of St. Louis-Missouri, raised concerns about teaching social justice in schools. Rochester’s problem with teaching social justice in schools is focused on two simultaneous axes. One, he thinks that social justice exists outside the jurisdiction of school curricula, and second that those who would teach social justice approach it only from a liberal perspective.

As an educator who includes social justice as a necessary part of my classroom practice, I think Rochester got some some things right but a lot of things wrong.

EDUCATION HAS ALWAYS BEEN POLITICAL

Rochester’s first insinuation is that schools ought to focus on the traditional curricula of reading, writing, mathematics, sciences, etc. Schools ought not to, in Rochester’s words, “aspire to be churches or social work agencies.”

What this overlooks, however, is that education has always been political. When a nation has within its DNA laws regulating who can learn, with whom one can learn, and where one can learn, then the idea that a school ought not engage in the political realm reeks of forced naïveté.

As long as our school systems are funded within halls of state legislatures that maintain 21st-century houses of education for zip codes of wealth, and crumbling school houses for zip codes of poverty, then it is disingenuous at best to assert that schools exists outside the realm of political discourse.

Sacred Stone Community School in Cannonball, ND, November 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

Sacred Stone Community School in Cannonball, ND, November 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

Furthermore, schools have always been community centers akin to congregations. Schools are where communities come together to vote, engage in town halls and hear from their elected representatives. They are the places where evening athletic leagues flourish, where families gather for tax filing support and where communities gather to enjoy the arts.

To assert that schools should exist solely as collections of classrooms is to not only deny the reality of schools across the country, but also to waste the potential of using these community centers to promote social justice as defined by that particular school community.

OUR JOBS AS EDUCATORS IS TO EDUCATE NOT INDOCTRINATE

Rochester paints with an absurdly large brush when he argues that, “Educators for social justice are disingenuous in posing as facilitators of student-centered learning when as teachers they have largely foreclosed the discussion or at least steered it toward a preferred outcome.”

To label all educators as disingenuous is lazy and calls into doubt one’s arguments as purely didactical, more concerned with an agenda than honesty. However, if we assume the best, and discuss the argument underlying the insult, there may be some merit.

It is true that our job as educators is to educate, not indoctrinate. It is our job to help students develop the critical skills to be able to think for themselves, not simply to regurgitate the values forced onto them by a chosen curricula. This truth, however, does not call for the elimination of the social justice curriculum, but rather its expansion.

In my classroom, I choose to teach Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” I teach it as a means for building critical reading skills that allow students to identify an author’s central point, analyze the methodology of that argument and to critique the merit of that argument. According to Rochester, since Alexander’s work is decidedly left of center, it has no place in my classroom. What Rochester does not know, however, is that to supplement Alexander’s work, I purposefully choose secondary source materials that run counter to Alexander’s narrative. I ask students to not only analyze the merits of Alexander’s arguments, but their shortcomings as well. In fact, after reading Rochester’s article, I will take his suggestion of including Heather McDonald’s “The War on Cops.”

More and more, our political reality resembles the kindergarten sandbox wherein we yell over each other rather than engage with each other. The point is that we should not shut down the conversation simply because we think the other side’s view might be expressed. That’s not how we get a conversation on social justice to flourish.

WHAT’S JUSTICE ANYWAY?

Lastly, Rochester argues that social justice curricula imply a stagnant set of value systems. He argues that social justice itself is open to interpretation, for exactly what is justice? Fair enough.

But while we may disagree on what justice is, we can likely agree on what justice is not. It is not justice when schools in affluent zip codes have laptops for all students, while those in zip codes of poverty cannot provide every student a book. It is not justice when, according to the Brookings Institute, suspension rates for Black students was 17.8 percent while those for Whites was 4.4 percent.

We will disagree on causes and remedies. We should. That discourse, as Rochester himself argues, is precisely how we can arrive at best solutions. What we cannot do is bury our heads in the sand and abstain from engaging in these discussion for fear of offending one another. And, most importantly, we cannot block our students from having these conversations in school, not when we must soon look to them to solve the ills of their predecessors.

Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

"I was a racist teacher and I didn’t recognize it.

At the time that I taught, I would have argued that I was the opposite. I was a progressive, a Democrat. I campaigned in my progressive town in Western North Carolina for the first Black man to run for the U.S. Senate against a notorious racist from our state, Jesse Helms. I voted for Obama, even volunteered in his office during the 2008 campaign."

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