Tag Archives: Garfield

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!


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.

Students join the boycott: a sit-down strike against boredom?

6 Feb

This was posted today on Change the Stakes’ Facebook page:

Here’s what happened at Garfield today: Admins came into classrooms and tried to pull students out to take the MAP test in the library. Students stared straight ahead, and wouldn’t budge.

In a library with about 60 computers stations set up for the MAP, there were single digit numbers of students sitting at computers. Of those, many sat at the computers and refused to press even a single button.

That’s how that went.

Lots of local news was covering….



Here are some interviews that King 5 News did with students at Garfield.

All power to the students!  Let’s spread this to other schools!

Creativity Not Youth Jails

22 Jan

We are inspired by the Garfield teachers who refused to administer the MAP standardized test.  This action, coming only a few months after the Rainier Beach High School Walkout, is a sign that struggles in the Seattle Public Schools could be heating up.

Garfield High School is also located in the historically Black Central District, where community activists have been struggling for nine months against the creation of a new Juvenile Detention Center. Here is an article  about that struggle, by folks from the neighborhood.

Testing is a tool for sorting students by caste – along lines of race and so-called “criminal history”.   Some students at Garfield and other schools are tracked toward high paying jobs in the region’s tech industry and other students are tracked toward that new Juvenile Detention center and eventually onward to prison and a lifetime of low-wage labor in jobs that discriminate against ex-convicts.

The Garfield teachers’ resistance to testing and the anti-jail struggle happening down the street are two parts of the same freedom struggle.

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.