Tag Archives: Apartheid

Workshop And March Tomorrow: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

19 Jan
info graphic from SuspensionStories.com

info graphic from SuspensionStories.com

where:  Garfield High School, 400 23rd Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

when: Mon, Jan 20th, workshop from 9:30 – 11:00 AM

march begins at 12:30 –  if you want to march with us, we’ll be meeting right across the street from Ezell’s Chicken.

what: The workshop will expose and analyze how the system stratifies the population through a set of “pipelines”. While some students are channeled into futures in management and the professions, and some into a working class, however insecure, still others are left to expect the least opportunities plus the threat of incarceration in the largest prison system in history.

Teachers, students, former inmates, and activists, will share how this is all fitting into a pattern of especially insidious racism, as well as other forms of discrimination.

You are invited to discuss these perspectives, and your own, with us. We will also discuss how we can inform, agitate, and organize together, to undo and overcome this oppression.

This workshop is one of many that will be held as part of the larger, annual Martin Luther King Day event at Garfield High School.

We will be marching together in the larger march, with posters and chants against the school to prison pipeline.  Look out for us across from Ezells at 12:30 if you want to march with us.

A free-standing isolation booth, now banned in Oregon.  (Source: KATU News, posted on http://www.policestateusa.com)

A free-standing isolation booth, (Source: KATU News, posted on http://www.policestateusa.com)

One of the teachers speaking in the workshop is the author of this piece, about how she and her students turned the isolation room in their classroom into an art project.

Here is the Facebook event page for tomorrow.  Please invite your friends.

The workshop is being  organized by a really dynamic coalition of people, including  folks from Africatown/ More4Mann, some of the organizers of the Youth For Justice rally this summer, folks from Free Us All (the prison hunger strike support committee), artists/writers from  High Gods Entertainment, Creativity Not Control, and folks from Washington Incarceration Stops Here (the group organizing against the new juvenile detention center in Seattle.)

Check out the links for more information, and check out those groups or others if you’d like get involved in struggles against the school to prison pipeline here in Seattle. There are lots of ways to get involved, from organizing and fighting back,  to educating and creating art and music on the subject.  We’ll see you out there!


Police arrest SPS “community partners” at Horace Mann during ongoing negotiations

20 Nov
Police making arrests at Horace Mann today; photo by Alex Garland

Police making arrests at Horace Mann today; photo by Alex Garland

Today the Seattle p0lice arrested four members of the Africatown / Central District community in the Horace Mann school building; they also took steps to prevent community members from retaking control of the building. One of the arrestees told me the police arrested them at gunpoint. 

While the mainstream media is presenting these men as “occupiers“, as a violent threat, or as some splinter group, they are, in fact, part of the  broad-based More4Mann movement: a coalition of predominantly Black parents, teachers, students, and community activists who want the Horace Mann building to be a public resource for the Africatown/ Central District neighborhood and for students across the district.  They want to use the building to create a school that can support Black students who are facing disproportionate suspensions and lack of culturally relevant education in the Seattle Public Schools.

As I wrote here, I was worried that the media and school district officials would try to separate the educators in this coalition from the people remaining in the building, splintering the broad-based nature of the movement.  But those divide and conquer tactics didn’t work; the entire coalition held a rally on Nov 8th to support those who remained inside the building after district and police threats had made it unsafe for the educators to continue holding classes there. The coalition put out a unified press release, which you can find at the end of this post.  The media was there interviewing people at the solidarity rally, but they didn’t actually publish what they saw, probably because it looked like this:

kids support More4Mann

And this clearly doesn’t fit with the narrative they’re trying to push.

People inside the building reciprocated this solidarity with their own public statements, like this one:

LET THIS BE KNOWN: I am a More for Mann Coalition Task Force member, seated to discuss the future use of the Horace Mann building with the school district, as are two of my co-workers, Gabriel Prawl and Purnell Mitchell. My two co-workers have asked me to post the following on behalf of all three of us: WE HAVE NOT AGREED TO MOVE, AND WE ARE ANGRY THAT MANY OF OUR TEACHERS HAVE BEEN PUSHED OUT INTO THE COLD BY DISTRICT THREATS AND INTIMIDATION! We don’t think it’s right that they were forced to shut down their classes or face the threat “tresspass” charges from the district. It isn’t right that the school district refused to sign the lease on the interim space it offered them. It isn´t right that the school district hasn´t cleaned the mold, filth and birds nests out of that space. It isn´t right for them top make our teachers teach in the rainy streets. It isn´t even right that the school district attorney Ron English and the board members who listen to him are bullying Superintendent Banda into threatening to throw the cops at our community, and are punishing Banda for even convening our task force at all.

So the mainstream media is either too lazy to investigate or too corrupt to tell the truth. It is crystal clear to anyone paying close attention, that those inside the building and those outside in the community are on the same team.  This means that Seattle Public Schools officials will not be able to make all of this go away by arresting a few people inside  – today’s raid will probably  galvanize the broader coalition to keep fighting against racism in the schools in general, and for community control of the Mann building in particular.

This afternoon, supporters of the movement rallied outside the East Precinct where the people arrested were released. 

 Upon release, they called for everyone to mobilize tomorrow at the school board meeting at the John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Ave S., Seattle, WA, 98134.  

This could get really interesting, because supporters of the Indian Heritage School and AS1/Pinehurst are already planning on rallying at 3:30 before the board meeting, to prevent the closure of their programs.  On Facebook, leaders of the More4Mann Movement and leaders of the indigenous Idle No More movement have been exchanging statements of solidarity, supporting each others’ causes.   Thinking they just crushed a marginal opposition, school district officials may have just helped consolidate a multi-racial movement against them. 

The media is, as usual, missing all of this context.  By calling the men arrested “occupiers”, they fail to see that trying to use a public building for the purposes of publicly educating youth in your own neighborhood is not an act of occupation.  That’s like saying you are occupying a neighborhood park by allowing your kids to swing on the swingset.  But I guess this is how the pro-gentrification Seattle establishment views the remnant of the Black community in the Central Area – as squatters in their own ‘hood.

And yet, this is the same Seattle whose politicians like to make a public show of engaging in “dialogue” with communities of color.  In fact, the people arrested are part of  the  same exact More4Mann coalition that Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda has been calling “community partners”.  It is the exact same coalition that Banda and his staff are currently negotiating with to lease space in another district building while the district renovates the Mann building.

Contrary to the Seattle Times’s sloppy reporting, the district has not signed this lease yet, for the reasons outlined here. At least they hadn’t by Nov 10th, the date of the last post on More4Mann’s blog. Neither the district nor the movement has announced any finalization of the lease, so my assumption is the Times is going off of outdated promises that Supt. Banda had made publicly but the district never followed through on.  The deal was that the Africatown educators would move out of Horace Mann as long as the programs they were doing in the building continue elsewhere.  But no satisfactory place for these programs was every guaranteed in writing.  Also, the Africatown workers’  demands that Black folks have equal access to the school construction jobs were also not met. These are the reasons why people were still in the building today. 

So by asking the police to raid them, SPS is responsible for a raid on the very same coalition that has been running programming for Black youth in the Mann building for months, programming that Banda and other SPS officials recognized for its cultural relevance and  its alignment with the  district’s strategic goal of overcoming what they call the “achievement gap” between Black students and white students.

In fact, at least one of the people arrested is actually part of the very task force that Supt. Banda set up to negotiate with the Mor4Mann coalition and to work toward this goal. This means that Seattle Public school staff worked with the Seattle Police to arrest at gunpoint someone who they claim to be negotiating with, during ongoing negotiations over a new lease and new partnership. I guess that’s what “dialogue” looks like to them. 

It seems to me like one of two things is going on here.  Either 1)  the district leadership’s behavior is dangerously erratic and it’s policies around racial equality are completely incoherent or  2) the district is sending a clear message to all of its “partners” that negotiating  with politicians might involve them calling a group of people to kidnap you at gunpoint in your own neighborhood during the middle of the negotiation process. What a way to solidify a partnership! 

But all of this is getting obscured by the sensationalist media narratives.   Kiro TV claims that one of the people inside the Mann building called them and suggested they were prepared to snipe cops from the rooftop.  But nowhere does Kiro prove that this call actually represents anyone in the More4Mann coalition, or that it even came from within the building.  According to Seattle Weekly, Omari Tahir Garrett, one of the people arrested today, “claims the call was a prank from someone trying to make them look bad, and vowed to press on.” 

All of us should press on, despite all this negative media and and the police raid.  The issues that MOre4Mann has highlighted are still unresolved.  The community’s refusal to relinquish control of the Mann building has pushed the district  leadership to talk about these issues, but I don’t think we should take their words seriously since they also just coordinated the arrest of someone on their own task force.  

Let’s learn from Africatown, and start taking matters into our own hands.  Let’s organize in all of of our schools and neighborhoods, against racist discipline policies and in favor of culturally responsive education.  We could take direct action, such as campaigns to reinstate students who are unfairly suspended, or efforts to replace aversive discipline policies like isolation rooms.  And, most importantly, we should support Africatown and the Indian Heritage program tomorrow at 3:30 at the school board meeting. 


More4Mann press release (Nov 8th 2013, coinciding with a rally outside the Mann building): 

Imminent Eviction of Black Community Education Center by SPD

The Seattle Police Department has issued a notice to the Africatown Center for Education & Innovation to remove this needed community resource from its location at the Horace Mann School as soon as 6pm tonight, November 8, 2013. The Seattle School Board has refused to negotiate in good faith with Seattle’s Black community to preserve necessary programming at Horace Mann, Africatown’s only location, which benefits cross-cultural communities of color in Seattle’s Central District.

The Seattle School District has, in spite of comment from Seattle’s Black community, chosen to return the NOVA Alternative School to Horace Mann. Overwhelming community support in the Central District and among the Black community for continuing ACEI’s mission has been ignored by the Seattle School District’s push to relocate NOVA from its current spacious and sufficient location central to its student body on 20th Ave E.

ACEI has put down roots in reclaiming Horace Mann School *for* the Black community and has brought in cross-cultural programs that benefit many Seattle children, from bilingual Spanish/English education for grade schoolers through the Seattle Amistad School’s summer program at ACEI to fostering shared community responsibility through the Africatown Center Children’s Collective where we bring the proverbial village together to promote an Afrocentric curriculum for young minds.

It is imperative for Seattle’s Black community that we retain this resource and that the School Board speak to us in good faith about discussing future possibilities for Africatown at Horace Mann. We can work with the Seattle School District to create a better, Afrocentric focus for Horace Mann School, a school in the very heart of the Central District and we are more than willing to do so. However, the Seattle School District has given ACEI nothing but bad faith and now impending eviction.

For more information on the programs offered by Africatown Center for Education & Innovation, please see http://www.africatownseattle.org/africatown-center/.

Trayvon Martin and the Badass Teachers Association

22 Jul

I recently joined the Badass Teachers Association.  The BAT Facebook forum exploded rapidly over the past few weeks, drawing together thousands of teachers who want to fight back against the corporate education “reformers”.  These politicians and think tanks, who should be called “deformers”,  are setting us up to fail by imposing new centralized standards while  at the same time cutting crucial resources we need to teach.   I’m happy to see that teachers are tired of this, and that we are starting to organize ourselves to fight back.  I’m happy to see we’re done playing the role of passive, obedient professionals, and instead we’re ready to act like badass workers.  This puts us in good company:  it puts us on the side of badass truckers, longshore, warehouse, and fast food workers who have been fighting back recently.

Badass longshore workers face down EGT, a company pushing for corporate waterfront reform (aka unsafe working conditions, and more corporate control of workers on the job)

Badass longshore workers face down EGT, a company pushing for “corporate waterfront reform” (aka unsafe working conditions, and more corporate control of workers on the job)

However, to build a movement of badass teachers,  we will need to break through the wall that has held back so many  labor movements in the past: the wall of institutionalized racism, or systemic white supremacy.  White supremacy  divides working class people, giving some of us unearned advantages over others, and making some of us complicit in the oppression of others.  This weakens the overall struggle of the working class for freedom and creativity.  Instead of fighting back against the capitalist system that is controlling us, white supremacy prompts us to go home at the end of the workday thinking “at least I’m not Black” (or Latino, or Native, or…. )

White supremacy can only be broken down through action.  When a mostly white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty for the murder of  Black teenager Trayvon Martin, thousands of people took to the streets.   Imagine what it would be like if workers built off of this energy by  shutting down business as usual, saying “if you are going to kill our youth, we will refuse to work”.   This is how the West Coast prisoners have responded to  injustice; why can’t we do the same?  Of course, a strike action would take serious coordination and organization, and I hope that networks like the Badass Teachers Association can start laying the groundwork for that within our schools.

However, judging from the Facebook debates, not all of the Badass Teachers are on the same page about the need for this kind of solidarity.  Some suggested that talking about race, rather than racism itself, is the source of the divisions among us.

The whole discussion about Trayvon had started because some  teachers were posting heartfelt questions about how they could help their students process these traumatic and racially charged  current events in the classroom.  Others were emphasizing that many of their students could be the next Trayvon if we don’t take action to challenge the racism that lead to his murder.  However, in response to these genuine expressions of solidarity, other teachers argued that talking about Trayvon or about the underlying racial issues is a distraction from fighting the corporate education reforms.

I strongly disagree with that last perspective, and I posted this statement explaining why:

 Some people on here are asking why issues of race are relevant to badass teachers. Here’s one answer. Teachers are under attack by corporate education deformers like Gates, Broad, the privatizers, etc. One of their main strategies is to rally working class communities, including working class Black communities, against teachers. They do this by pointing out how the public schools reproduce class and race inequality in society – what they call the “achievement gap”. The thing is, our schools DO reproduce inequality and everyone knows it. The corporate “reformers” have no effective solution to that problem – they will simply scapegoat us for it, in order to deflect popular anger away from them. But they will succeed at doing that if we remain complacent in the face of all the inequality in our schools. So if teachers want to defeat the corporate attacks on us and our schools, then we can’t simply defend public education as it currently exists . We need to fight to transform it. We need to directly confront institutionalized racism and white supremacy, in our schools and in the larger society. Joining our students in making sure they don’t become the next Trayvon Martins is part of that.

That’s one more reason why I’ll be out there on Tuesday joining with students who are rallying to make sure they are not the next Trayvon.  If we are going to be badass teachers, we need to act like badass fighters against all forms of oppression, including the white supremacy that is devouring the lives of our students and communities.

Learning for Liberation, not for Labor

13 May

Word.  Enough said…

The MAP test, and the AP test, and White Supremacy

6 Feb

The  Seattle Weekly reports that the NAACP has joined the struggle against the MAP test:

In addition to broad concerns over what results of the MAP test actually reflect, the local branch of the NAACP has specific concerns regarding the Seattle School District using the computerized test to determine which students are placed in advance courses – a practice the NAACP says can lead to an “inequitable result” for children of color and those living in poverty.

This is a great point,and I’m glad the NAACP is joining the fight.  But I think we need to go further, and question the very existence of tracking systems in schools, and how they reproduce institutionalized racism/ white supremacy.  For example, Garfield High is in the historically Black Central District, a neighborhood which has gentrified with an influx of middle class white families.  Many Black families have been pushed out by rising rents, and   some of the new white families push for increased police surveillance and harassment of youth of color.   How does this play out at Garfield?  Who controls the school – the gentrifiers, or the Black community?   How many Black students are in Garfield’s Advanced Placement (AP) classes?

Furthermore, the Advanced Placement tests given at the end of AP classes are also standardized tests with their own cultural biases. For example, overemphasizing AP tests can push high schools to cling to a eurocentric (white dominated) approach to social studies instruction. In other words: there is no AP Black History.

I used to teach African and Asian studies at a borugie prep school.  There was tremendous pressure for seniors to take AP European History so they could get into elite colleges.  On about the third or fourth day of the semester, I soon realized that my “ethnic studies” classes were considered the “easy” alternative to the more “serious” AP classes.  Many student athletes had been informally tracked into African studies and considered it a “jock class”.  I remember discussing and analyzing that with my students.  I made it clear that African history is just as important as European history, even if it doesn’t prepare you for getting a 5 on a prestigious AP test. I made that class just as rigorous as any AP European History class, but also a lot more creative, because we didn’t have to focus on test prep lessons.

Black Student Unions at schools like Garfield fought hard against these kinds of racial hierarchies and white-washed curricula.  As the boycott of the MAP test unfolds, I hope these dimensions of the struggle for equality continue to be central.

Creativity Not Control

20 Jan

Creativity, Not Control
Learning for Life, Not Labor

Human beings are naturally creative.  Instead of adapting to our surroundings, we have adapted to changing surroundings.  Our brains developed to learn and create in a state of almost constant motion and change. We have the capacity to create, together, in ways that grow and transform nature, our minds, and our bodies, instead of destroying them.  We are constantly learning by acting; for us, learning and creation are part of the same process.

However, it is easy to forget all of this when you are trapped inside a classroom doing boring lessons preparing to take standardized tests in which you compete with the person next to you.  Everything is controlled.  Instead of creating knowledge together, the teacher is handed a chunk of knowledge which she is expected to deposit in her students minds, so they can regurgitate it on a future test.  Those who regurgitate most efficiently rise to the top.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure we use to collectively create – from music and art programs to labs and texts and computers – are deteriorating due to austerity budget cuts, especially in working class schools and majority non-white schools.  

The School to Work to Prison Pipeline

Some of these schools feel like prisons, with security guards and cops stepping in to reinforce school discipline. Students who are written up or expelled get channeled toward juvenile detention, prison, and the second-class citizenship that comes with having a criminal record.

Our creativity has been turned into dead labor and our learning has been turned into a system of control.  Instead of preparing students to create together, our schools prepare students for dead-end jobs making money for rich people – or unemployment, hustling, and prison.  In these jobs, young people will not be expected to question, to think critically, to collectively create new possibilities, so these qualities are not prioritized in America’s classrooms.

The Thinking Classes and the Working Classes

Of course, creativity is prioritized in a small number of schools or elite programs within schools  that train the future thinking classes – the ones who will write the new computer programs, start new biotech companies, or administer the state and corporate bureaucracies.

Education “reform” is about raising a small number of youth into these thinking classes, while the rest are left in the working classes, where all you need to know is what bubble to fill in, and some math and reading skills so you can read the threatening memos or instruction manuals your bosses will use to convey their orders.

We are taught that we can’t be thinkers and workers at the same time. The great traditions of working class intellectual life are cut off, when they could be recreated in  new ways.  We forget about Malcolm, Assata, and Gramsci reading and writing from prison; we never practice writing for freedom like Gloria Anzaldua, Joe Kadi, or Tupac.  We never find our own voices, which could go even farther.  Youth today are cut off from a chance to become that rose that grows from concrete, the next generation of organic intellectuals.

The “Achievement Gap” is Really Apartheid

This divide between the thinking classes and the working classes is created and re-created in our school systems, and it often falls along racial lines.  Some people call it the “achievement gap”, and wring their hands about why students of color are not succeeding at the same rate as white students.  Yet, while they market new products, motivational speeches, and diversity programs aimed at ending this achievement gap, it just doesn’t get better.

Some blame the parents. Others blame the teachers union.  Some blame both.  But no one is looking at the root cause: our system sorts youth through a vicious division of labor that is created and recreated in the schools.  The schools teach us one thing:  your class is your destiny, and it is often color coded.  That is the main objective of the curriculum, and it is drilled into you at a young age.

Sure, there are success stories of students from working class, non-white backgrounds rising into the ranks of the college educated and going on to “middle class” lives.  But this only happens enough to maintain the myth of upward mobility that covers up what is really going on:  apartheid for everyone else.  When the markets crash and everyone becomes downwardly mobile, the programs that  youth of color use to pull themselves up by their bootstraps are the first to be slashed.

It Doesn’t Have to be This Way

Many teachers, parents, and students  know we are capable of a lot more, and this is confirmed by waves of research coming out now.  Study after study has shown that teachers need to  build relationships with students, respecting their agency and collective autonomy.  Learning should be student-centered, not  test-centered.  We need to encourage cooperation and creativity, tapping into student interests, facilitating student self-awareness (“metacognition”), and purposeful, fascinating discussion. This research seems to point toward models of collective learning that are much more dynamic and revolutionary than what we have right now in capitalist classrooms.  For example, Vygotsky’s social learning theory is very popular right now, which is ironic since Vygotsky developed it in the context of the Russian Revolution.

These kind of creative learning methods cannot be implemented within the confines of capitalist classroom control, especially control enforced by standardized tests. The contradiction between what it is possible to learn and what is necessary to test has become so unbearable that many schools across the country seem to be at a breaking point.

Beating the Odds: This is not Freedom Writers

Every once in awhile, teachers and students will come around who “beat the odds” and classrooms of working class youth will unleash their creativity to write books, perform Shakespeare plays, or initiate gang truces.  Then someone will make a movie about it.

This is all inspiring.  But when the system celebrates these teachers as exceptional individuals, it covers up the real lessons here: that the actual  heroes are the students, that they are capable of a lot more than what society has assigned them, and they are only capable of creating this when they cooperate instead of compete with each other.  Focusing on the myth of the exceptional teacher who rises above her colleagues undermines the cooperative spirit that makes this success possible in the first place.  The exceptional teacher is held up as a prop to get other teachers to feel lazy and guilty if they are not working 70 hour weeks and destroying their personal lives and mental health in order to excel in the classroom.   The reality is,  for these kinds of successes to become the standard, instead of the exception, we need creativity not control, and we need collective learning that prepares us for life, not labor.

Learning History by Making it Together

When students at Rainier Beach High School walk out demanding funding to renovate their dilapidated school facilities, they are pointing in this direction.  When teachers at Garfield High and Orca K-8 refuse to administer the MAP standardized test, they are pointing in this direction. When community members organize to  Collective resistance to the regime of control is real learning, in motion.  Instead of just learning about history to regurgitate facts on a test, we start to make history, together.

We know there are a lot of people out there who want creativity, not control.  We hope this blog will help us find each other so that we can organize and mobilize in our schools and neighborhoods, learning from each other in the process.  We welcome collaboration with fellow teachers,  fellow parents / family/ guardians, fellow students, and anyone who the schools have assigned to the working classes.

We will post updates about local organizing we are doing  in Seattle, as well as crucial developments in other cities.  If you would like to contribute, please contact us at CreativityNotControl@gmail.com.