Archive | October, 2013

Note to Pinehurst: hunker down like Africatown

29 Oct

Pinehurst is an alternative school in Seattle that emerged out of the social justice movements and cooperatives of the 1970s.  Now, the school district is trying to close / move it.  As Melissa Westbrook at Save Seattle Schools blog suggested, maybe the Pinehurst community should take note of what’s happening at the Africatown Innovation Center at the Horace Mann building, and should simply refuse to leave.

According to Pinehurst’s website, their “staff work with students using an alternative pedagogy that emphasizes experiential learning, differentiated instruction and connecting classroom learning to real-world contexts.” I met a Pinehurst teacher when we were tabling at the NW Teachers for Social Justice conference, and he emphasized that Pinehurst emphasizes hands-on learning outside of the classroom, and they also connect with various social justice efforts to provide students with chances to grow as active members of society.  This all seems worth supporting and defending in an era of increased centralization, standardization, routinized classroom boredom, and top-down control.

Though they serve  different communities with different demographics,  advocates for Pinehurst might be able to learn something from the struggle of parents and educators of African descent, who  are organizing themselves to build a school called the Africatown Innovation Center at the Horace Mann building.  A broad coalition of educators and activists are arguing that the district’s pedagogy, curriculum, school cultures, and disciplinary methods are not working for Black youth, and they aim to build a center that can create a model for effective, community-based education rooted in African-centered values.

Melissa Westerbrook, over at Save Seattle Schools blog, is no supporter of Africatown.  In fact, she seems highly anxious about the fact that Black folks are taking matters into their own hands; she is particularly upset they are refusing to leave the Horace Mann building until the district meets their demands.  She seems to suggest this is a threat to law and order and is advising the district to crack down.   She doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of the political controversy that would erupt  if the district and/or the mayor order in cops to colonize and displace people from the building.  The images of the police brutality involved would quickly spread across the country, mingling with images of Chicago and Philadelphia youth protesting school closures in Black neighborhoods.    Melissa chides the district for not asserting proper control of the situation; maybe the district politicians understand better than she does just how angry people are about the current state of our public schools.

keep calm

A liberal is someone who asks the question: “is it legal” instead of  “will it bring us closer to freedom?”   By that definition, Melissa is definitely a liberal.  I wonder what she thinks of  the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement which straight up broke the law, or the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast programs which were public resources run  by everyday people, not by the state bureaucracy.  These sorts of efforts tend to fill  liberals with fear because they cannot be controlled.  They also send a clear message to everyone in society that direct action gets things done much faster than waiting on lawyers, politicians, or PTSA and union bureaucracies.

Melissa seems especially concerned that  other people might get the idea that they can just take over schools if the district doesn’t do the right thing fast enough.   She writes:

I have asked but have not seen any kind of temporary lease agreement (but now, it’s onto public disclosure).  What seems to be the case – outwardly – is that the district is allowing whoever to stay in the building – probably for free – until the district finds them another space (I read Columbia Annex).

I’m done with asking the Superintendent, the staff and the Board about this.  Clearly, no one is in charge.

Note to Pinehurst; hunker down and refuse to leave.  It seems to work well for others.

Maybe Pinehurst folks should take her advice?  She probably means it sarcastically, but I think it’s actually a  good suggestion, one that might be effective in the current political climate.  What if Pinehurst supporters refuse to leave their own school until the district meets their demands AND the demands of the Africa-town Innovation Center?   

I wonder, is Melissa trying to do some pro-bono consulting work for the district leadership?  Is that her intention in warning them they might soon have a bigger problem on their hands if they allow the Africatown folks to set a precedent?  Perhaps she is correct in that assessment.  I’m not sure if Pinehurst folks or other groups across the city are as prepared to take direct action as the Africatown community.  The possibility that they might be seems to fill her with dread, while it fills me with hope.

imagesWhen Black folks take matters into their own hands,  this tends to open up cracks in the power structure.  All of the skeletons that the passive aggressive white liberal politicians have hidden in their closets start to come out, and everyone has to deal directly with the contradictions of race and class that run deep through our society.   Because institutionalized racism/ white supremacy is such a key stabilizing factor in our society, when it’s challenged a lot of things become possible, not only for the Black community, but for  every group of people that is not happy with the status quo.   Remember when the Black liberation struggle of the 1960s inspired a new wave of feminist and LGBTQ liberation struggles? Or when wildcat strikes by Black auto workers in Detroit inspired white workers to walk off the job protesting unsafe working conditions?  Who’s to say it can’t happen again?

The district officials are educators, or at least claim to be.  So they probably know some of this history, and maybe that’s why they’re hesitating to crack down.  Do we know this history?  And more importantly, are we willing to continue making it?

Maybe  the Africatown struggle will teach folks at Pinehurst (and at other schools across the district) how to win demands from school district leaders who seem to understand bold actions much better than petitions and polite complaints.


Jock Culture, Rape Culture, and the need for Educator Hiring Halls

26 Oct

img_4351*trigger warning: sexual violence*

Following up on Veryl’s post about coaching yesterday, I’d like to share this article from the Nation about how jock culture supports rape culture, as well as this article about sexual violence at Notre Dame, my alma mater.  Both report stories of young women who were raped by members of school athletic teams, and then faced terrifying retaliation for speaking out.  Between these atrocities and the notorious Steubenville case, it should be increasingly clear to the public that America’s schools are breeding grounds of misogyny and rape culture, and that we need to put an end to this. 

Our comrade Kloncke has written some insightful and practical analysis of the struggle against rape culture in Steubenville, emphasizing the need to seek justice outside the court systems which perpetuate patriarchy and white supremacy: 

One thing is certain: none of the steps toward legal justice, halting and probably insufficient though they may be, would have happened without the bold interventions of ordinary people.  If Alexandria Goddard hadn’t grabbed those horrific tweets before the cretinous creators had a chance to delete them; if Anonymous and KnightSec had not continued releasing media to the public; if people of Steubenville, Wierton, Pittsburgh, and other surrounding towns had not come out to protest LOUDLY, over 1,000 strong in a town of 18,000; the police and the courts would have dampened and silenced the story of the assault, and Jane Doe would never have received support from all over the world — Malaysia to Minnesota, Warsaw to Wheeling.

Having spent some years in the activist scene of the Bay Area and other places, I’ve seen a lot of rallies and protests.  But the February 2nd protest in Steubenville was one of my favorites.  For one thing, it felt truly “survivor centered,” without losing touch with the political context — a difficult balance to achieve.  Brave people stepped up to the mic to tell their own stories or read aloud the stories of others: for some, this meant breaking a silence of 20, 30 years, or more.  It was breathtaking.

I also admired the rally because the audience would just shout out their opinions, unsolicited!  It was a call-and-response with the emcee; it was a conversation.  In an era of progressive NGOs in bed with politicians, or top-down protest styles that expect only two responses from the audience — cheers or silence — this protest was a refreshing example of mass participation, though still in small, nascent form.

We need more of this.  We need democratic, mass organizations linking up rural, exurban, and urban areas so that when shit goes down (and it will, again and again), we can decide, through organized bodies of people, how to take action.  When it comes to that democratic participation, and weaving together of neighboring towns, the Steubenville area could really get ahead of the curve.

At the same time, Kloncke points out that we need to move beyond simply responding to flashpoint crises: “Support is clearly necessary, but the problem is rampant, so the danger of burnout looms large…  In addition to supporting survivors of sexual assault, we must ask ourselves how to drain those stagnant pools: how to intervene in the conditions that allow rape culture to thrive.” 

I agree.  Education organizing and feminist anti-violence organizing should not necessarily be separate “issues”; the struggles we are waging in our schools should challenge rape culture on a day-by-day basis, as I wrote here.   Kloncke lays out some suggestions for the kind of demands and goals we could fight for in our schools: 

Sports. A focus on sports institutions as locations of rape-enabling power and authority would be great.  This is not to vilify organized sports, or lump  all athletes together as domineering scumbags.  But statistically, athletes are shown to have more rape-supportive attitudes.  And let’s remember: playing on a sports team, especially in high school, is a PRIVILEGE, not a RIGHT — even if the football team is the biggest social or economic game in a deindustrialized town.  It’s a little mind-numbing that Big Red has yet to exact any penalties on other players associated with the Rape Crew.  Why should they leave it up to the courts?  The Ohio High School Athletics Association specifies penalties for playing on unauthorized teams, for using drugs and alcohol, and other infractions.  NO MENTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.  That needs to change.  Parents, teachers, staff, students, and supporters, together, can make it change.

It says something profound about our economy and prospects for young people, as well, that commentary on the Rape Crew includes hand-wringing about whether the case will ruin Mays’ and Richmond’s chances at a decent future.  If their prospects are so bleak, what about other young people who would never qualify for an important sports team?   Throughout the country, as sports maintains its role as an economic juggernaut (from high schools to colleges to the pros), we need to demand decent resources for everyone, according to need — not just for the MVP’s.

Accountable Coaches. The second reason a school-and-sports-based strategy is useful is because it reminds us that we, the people, ought to be able to demand high-quality, well-trained anti-rape role models, educators, and resources in public schools.  Young people deserve nothing less.  And while the intention of the NFHSA reform is commendable, it’s also naïve.  A single mandatory course is not going to significantly shift the attitudes of those coaches (not all, but many) who’ve believed their whole lives that “boys will be boys” and sluts deserve what’s coming to them.  Again, these misogynist views are opinions held by a significant proportion of our society.  Why wouldn’t we demand more of our public figures, our educators, our mentors?  Instead of offering education to incumbent coaches, why not make them prove they are capable of upholding the anti-rape responsibilities that (should) come with their position?  An exam or licensing process, with a certain Pass/Fail ratio and follow-up training to support even those who pass, might not be out of the question.  (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)  And it’s weird that we’d even have to say this, but here goes: any coach who allows something like a “Rape Crew” to form among their players, under their watch, is clearly incapable of doing their job properly, and should be relieved of their duties.

Meaningful Education. Finally, in addition to demanding accountability from educators and coaches, working-class people can demand relevant and meaningful education for students — including education about rape (tellingly, many of the witnesses on the stand today didn’t seem to know what it is), rape culture, and the failures of the criminal justice system to address the root causes and conditions that allow sexual assault to flourish.  When public school teachers in Seattle, Washington recently organized with students and parents, refusing to waste precious life energy on useless standardized testing, the struggle awakened people’s imaginations to all the important knowledge that could be created in the classroom, instead of teaching to a test.  Rather than perpetuating a culture where survivors are shunned and silenced, we could be supporting students, young and old, in developing their own brilliant responses to sexual assault independent of the legal system.

Rape culture is so pervasive that it can seem overwhelming and impossible to confront.  I think Kloncke’s suggestions  provide some concrete starting points for possible struggles in the schools.   They highlight the kinds of demands we might be able to win if we develop our capacity and build a broad-based and militant teacher-student-community alliance. 

Kloncke’s point about accountable coaches also gets at a core issue in teacher/ educator/ staff organizing that I’ve written about here.   In reaction to the corporate ed reformers’ emphasis on teacher evaluation and accountability through standardized testing, a lot of Leftist and liberal teachers  have fallen into the trap of trying to defend the public schools as they currently exist.  This is not tenable, because our schools are breeding grounds of white supremacy, patriarchy, and class stratification.  We need to transform the schools, and this means being accountable to working class communities, NOT corporate think tanks and hedge funds.  Teachers and coaches should welcome  working class feminist efforts to fire coaches who condone “rape crews” and to replace them with coaches who can serve as anti-sexist role models. In fact, we should join such efforts, and look for moments in our schools where we can initiate them ourselves.  No amount of seniority and no union contract should protect a coach if there is clear evidence that he is complicit in encouraging rape.  

As a long term goal, I think we should fight for the power to make hiring and firing decisions that affect all teachers , coaches, and anyone else who works with youth, instead of leaving these decisions up to unelected administrators.  Teachers, students, and community members should be able to decide who teaches and coaches our youth.  Port workers demanded and won control of hiring and firing on the docks in the 1930s, ending the racist and humiliating shape up system (similar to the process by which day laborers are hired at Home Depots today).  However, over time these hiring halls became nepotistic and exclusive because they were run by the union itself as a private club,  not as a public organization run by the working class as a whole. Hence workers had an incentive to try to get their brothers, sons, and inlaws onto the job, which in Seattle has resulted in discrimination against Black workers.  To avoid this kind of outcome, a teacher/ coach/ education worker hiring hall would have to be run democratically with input not only from teachers but also from students and their families.  

Ultimately, this would be a revolutionary demand, because it would point the way toward a society of popular councils, assemblies, and committees instead of  one that is run by professional classes above society.  In the meantime, we can prefigure this goal by organizing ourselves and taking direct action to push the administration to fire individual misogynistic coaches and to hire coaches who know how to challenge rape culture. 



Bypolar’s new track “Picture Frame”

26 Oct

Shout out to our comrade Bypolar, aka the Toxic Cherub.  He’s been crafting some unique hip hop,  narrating the struggle with prophetic rhetoric.  From (mis)education in the Seattle public schools, through Malcolm-style self-education in prison, he’s developed his own unique style of  intervention and reflection on the movements that have shook our city’s streets the past few years.   Check out his track “Picture Frame”, and look out for his upcoming mixtape:

Creativity And (Or?) Coaching

25 Oct

large_burnsOn this blog, we’ve been arguing for learning in the classroom that involves cooperation, creativity, and horizontal solidarity, instead of competition, standardization, and centralized, top-down authority.   But what about learning on the basketball court, the football field, the volleyball court, etc.?

To reflect on that question,  I’m posting a piece by Veryl, an educator and a basketball coach in Seattle.    As  a radical, he insists on direct democracy and horizontalism as general principles of social organization in the classroom and in popular movements.  But he struggles to reconcile this anti-authoritarianism with his observation that teamwork on the court often depends on the centralized authority of a coach who is able to challenge  star players to perform as part of a team.  The coach pushes the team to change up their strategy based on how each individual person on the team grows and changes.   This suggests that strategizing and leadership involve some level of caring work; the coach must pay close attention to the needs and development of each player, providing the kind of support each person needs to grow.   Sometimes, this means pushing a star player to step off the court and get his/her/their shit together.

The entire post on his blog is worth reading, including the comments; there, another person challenges Veryl, suggesting that players might fill these team-building roles themselves if they were not trained to rely on coaches to fill them:

Maybe winning basketball games with a dictatorial asshole at the helm isn’t the most important thing in sports. Maybe pickup games are actually more authentically basketball than highly structured, hierarchical “programs.” Perhaps pickup is a practice in on-the-fly cooperation and self-management. True, most athletes living in racist, sexist, and capitalist societies aren’t particularly adept at this sharing and coming together as a team in a short amount of time. But, how much more valuable is that attempt (and possible success) than being, as you say, a “pawn” in some egotistical, power-hungry, white man’s world?

Veryl replies with some interesting insights based on his coaching experiences.  This is a  sophisticated debate, drawing from the analyses of the Afro-Carribbean Marxist luminary CLR James and the cutting-edge Marxist feminist Sylvia Federici.  It also mirrors some philosophical debates about Deleuze and rhizomatic informal organization  that I’ve been meaning to read more about.

Continue reading

How to Overthrow the Illuminati (Theory)

24 Oct

cropped-illuminati-blog-final-renderTeaching in the ‘hood, I hear a lot about the Illuminati.   Some of my smartest students are hardcore conspiracy theorists, and they are quite good at preaching about the Illuminati,  a secret group of elites who supposedly control the world.  When we get into dynamic class discussions about police brutality, about the economic crisis, or about hip hop,  someone will inevitably bring up the Illuminati as an explanation for why Black people are oppressed, for why politicians or hip hop artists mislead people, or for why society increasingly seems like it’s on the verge of breaking down.

pamphlet-coverMy friends and I wrote this pamphlet to engage with these young intellectuals.   We argue against the Illuminati conspiracy theory, but we do so in a way that aims to engage with the questions these folks are trying to answer, instead of patronizingly dismissing them as ignorant:

Illuminati theory helps oppressed people to explain our experiences in the hood. Society throws horrible stuff in our faces: our family members get locked up for bullshit. Our friends kill each other over beefs, money or turf. Our future is full of dead-end jobs that don’t pay shit. We struggle to pay bills while others live in luxury. On TV, we see people all over the world dying in poverty, even though we live in the most materially abundant society in history. Most people act like none of these terrible things are happening. Why does this occur? We start looking for answers, and Illuminati theory provides one.

We believe Illuminati theory is wrong, and we wrote this pamphlet to offer a different answer. We wrote this pamphlet because we know people who think about the Illuminati usually want to stop oppression and exploitation. They’re some of the smartest people in the hood today. Forty years ago, Illuminati theorists would’ve been in the Black Panther Party. Today most of them sit around and talk endlessly about conspiracies. This is a waste of talent.

I am sharing this pamphlet mostly to reach any youth reading this blog.  For teachers reading this, I also wonder whether it might be useful in the classroom?  I imagine if you teach a lesson on the Illuminati theory, your students will probably be engaged and interested since many of them are studying this stuff  already on their own.  I’m not sure if you can get away with assigning this pamphlet as part of such a lesson; it may be too direct and too radical for most schools.   But at the very least, I hope it can serve as a reference to help get you started.

In any case, I will cover the printing costs of a class set of pamphlets for the first person who manages to teach this text in a school classroom.  I will do the same for the first person who convinces your colleagues and administrators that teaching it aligns with the new Common Core standards we are required to teach.   If you do that, send me your lesson plan, and we can post it here so others can use it. 

We tried as hard as possible to make the pamphlet a considerate text, meaning we define key vocabulary within the narrative, or in the glossary, and attempt to break down complex social theories in everyday language, with references to daily life experiences.   The intended audience is not necessarily all youth; it is written for intellectuals in the ‘hood who are already interested in the Illuminati, so it presumes some level of prior knowledge.  But it is intentionally written in a non-academic way with as little jargon as possible.

We are trying to reach intellectuals in the ‘hood because we think they could have a tremendous impact on the world  if they end up catalyzing social movements, but their conspiracy theories are holding them back.  Also, we see many of these young intellectuals dealing with similar problems that older  intellectuals and activists are dealing with; they are asking “why do more people around me not see what’s  wrong with our society?  If they do see it, why aren’t they willing to take action to change it”?

Many academics and activists answer these questions by suggesting that they are the only enlightened ones,  destined to teach others who are too blinded by false consciousness, too brainwashed by the media, by their privilege, or by their religion.  Young intellectuals in the ‘hood develop an analogous explanation when they say they are the only ones who are not fooled by the Illuminati’s lies.  These elitist reactions to our alienation fail to help us overcome it, and fail to explain why more people are not fighting back,  and how this might change; instead, they simply widen the gap between the intellectuals and everyone else.

We need a theory we can use to overcome this alienation, to catalyze the processes through which we all  fight back together.  Conspiracy theories are a roadblock in the way of this.

I am confident that some of my students will  overcome his roadblock and will come up with  new explanations for their social oppression, and creative strategies for overcoming it.

Teaching for Social Justice Conference Events this Weekend

18 Oct

This Saturday is the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Seattle.  Creativity Not Control folks will be participating, and we’ll also be organizing the following events:

1) We’ll be tabling all day on Saturday during the conference – look for the bright orange and yellow banner that one of us made for this Saturday’s action at the Horace Mann building. 1378228_10152010496547642_2118418197_n

2) Some of us are going to go visit the Africatown Innovation Center at Horace Mann after the conference on Saturday. We’ll leave Chief Sealth at 4:45 and will get to Horace Mann, at 25th and Cherry, by 5:15. If you want to carpool, please look for us at the Creativity Not Control table.  For more info on groundbreaking work happening at Mann, check out:

3) People from around the Northwest will be coming to town, and some of us want to meet up to get to know each other and talk about what’s going on in our schools and our cities.

We’ll be hanging out from 9-11:30 PM at Saba Restaurant on Fri night, 110 12th Ave, Seattle, WA.  Come join us, kick back a bit before the conference, and meet other teachers, parents, and community members who are frustrated with the current state of education and want to do something about it.

Please share this invite with folks who might be interested. You don’t have to be a student, teacher, or a public school parent to come – what happens in the schools affects all of us.

Also, the place we are meeting doesn’t have an age limit so people of all ages are welcome.

Support Needed for ACIC @ Horace Mann!

11 Oct



Do you believe in justice and equality for all?

Do you believe in equitable education for all?

Do you want to see more effective education for all students in Seattle Public Schools?

So do we!

We are faced with a crisis in Seattle Public Schools!  Black children and families across the district are not receiving the education and services they deserve. The opportunity gap continues to grow! Now is the time bridge the opportunity gap.

The More4Mann Campaign seeks to partner with Seattle Public Schools to assist in advancing the achievement of black children by decreasing and ending the opportunity gap.

We are actively providing culturally relevant education for black children and families.

The More4Mann Campaign is working to establish a the AfricaTown Cultural Innovation Center in the Horace Mann School on 24th & Cherry. The Central District of Seattle is an historically black neighborhood and Horace Mann is an historical landmark.

The More4Mann Campaign is working to further establish AfricaTown Cultural Innovation Center in the Horace Mann building on 24th & Cherry and  WE NEED YOUR HELP.

We are still working with Seattle Public Schools to achieve an agreement that benefits both the district and the community. This plan will:

1) Provide AfricaTown with accessible and comparably affordable space until the completion of the renovation on the Horace Mann School.

2) Will provide future space and partnership in the Horace Mann School post the completion of the renovations.

3) Will be as community partnership that will assist the school district in achieving it’s goal of decreasing and ending the opportunity gap.

We are asking organization in support of the Campaign to:

1) Invite your constituents to the Mural Installation this Saturday, October 12th @ 9am. Seattle Public Schools invited us to design, paint and install murals at Horace Mann to beautify the space for renovation.

2) Send a member of your organization with a banner that has your name and/or Logo OR send members of your organization to the event to create a banner. These will be hung on the building as a public display of the organizations that are in support of the More4Mann campaign.

We will provide breakfast and family friend activities.

We need:

1) Art supplies

2) Paint & Spray

3) Banners

4) Ply wood

If you have questions please email us at:

Find the event on Facebook: