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.
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 Youth for Justice rally today was amazing! Over 100 high school students in Seattle came together in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin. They also expressed solidarity with the ongoing prison hunger strike, and demanded an end to ICE Holds. (ICE holds are when the King County jail holds prisoners to be deported; inside their chambers, the County Council was debating whether to drop this policy, while we rallied outside).
The students were better organized than many adult activists, and they spit some powerful poetry expressing a sharp analysis of the system we live in, including the education system. Their solidarity and care for each other was moving, especially since it crossed racial lines. The mainstream media coverage doesn’t really do it justice – if the youth share their experiences, poems, speeches, or videos of the rally, I’ll post them here.
In the meantime, here’s the speech I gave, calling for teacher-student solidarity in the struggle against white supremacy:
I am a public school teacher. And there are some politicians out there who think that my role should be to stand up in front of you and list a bunch of facts about history. They want me to make you write these down so you can regurgitate them back on a standardized test. If I don’t do that, they will try to get me fired. What those people don’t understand is that truth is not in a textbook or a test, it is out here in the streets. Truth is here in your poetry and your courage and your unity. It is here in the fact that you are not simply learning history, you are making it.
So I am not going to stand up here and lecture you. In fact, you are the teachers, and I am and the student. Because what I’ve learned from you today is that solidarity is alive. It is not just an idea or a slogan, it is here in your words and your actions.
In the California prisons, the Black and Latino gangs have declared a truce so they can strike against the prison guards who deny them an education and torture them in solitary confinement. You have taken that spirit of solidarity from the prison yards into your neighborhoods, your classrooms, and here into this park. I see non-Black youth here supporting Black youth who are being targeted by the George Zimmermans of the world. And I see non-immigrant youth here supporting immigrant youth who are being targeted by La Migra, and the ICE holds that the politicians up there enforce. This is the kind of solidarity we need to tear down white supremacy and to replace it with freedom.
You’re giving me hope that we can build that kind of solidarity between students and teachers. We all know that Black youth are 3 times as likely to be expelled from Seattle public schools as white students. If you all decide you want to fight that, some of us teachers will get your back. We all know that they are cutting funding for education and youth programs, while they’re spending 210 million on a new juvenile detention center to lock ya’ll up. If you want to fight that, we will get your back. We all know they are trying to deport immigrant youth who they label gang members, and we know that they put that label on you simply because of who you kick it with at school. If you want to fight that, we will get your back.
Teachers across the country are fed up with this system. Seattle teachers successfully boycotted the MAP test this spring and defended a teacher at the Center School when he was transferred for teaching anti-racist curriculum. So if they try to get us fired for teaching about the Black Panthers or the Chicano movement, will you get our backs? If we demand smaller class sizes and enough time to build caring relationships in the classroom, will you get our backs?
This, right here, is where the real learning happens, not on some scantron bubble test. We make the road by walking it. We write the story by living it. And together, we can tear down all the borders and prison walls that divide us.
Right now, I’m taking night classes and finishing up portfolio assessments and internship activities on top of teaching full time. Needless to say, I haven’t been sleeping much.
This capitalist society hides how our labor power is reproduced; it covers up all the things we need to do in order to be able to work in the first place. It hides all of the cooking, cleaning, caring, and rest that we need in order to make sure we can come into work the next day and perform. The sexist assumption is often that someone else will do this for you at home, and that she will not be paid for it. We need to challenge this.
The only part of the reproduction of our labor that is made visible is education itself – the fact that we need to get job training in order to qualify for many fields of work. But this is becoming increasingly stressful, expensive, and impractical to do – in order to afford rising college tuition, many people find themselves in the same situation I’m in now, working and going to school and not sleeping, barely reproducing our current labor power in the hope of reproducing it over the long haul. We stay on our grind and are ground down in the hope of that ever elusive “career”. Or, we just rack up student debt until we default on our loans. This is the education racket – you have to pay in order to be able to work. It is learning for work, not life; exactly what this blog was set up to challenge.
All that being said, I am also learning a lot of useful techniques and instructional methods in this teacher training program, and am getting solid support from mentor teachers who really know what they’re doing. In activist scenes we talk a lot about how to make sure everyone’s voices are heard in a discussion, how to make sure that texts we are discussing are accessible, etc. These folks are providing me with practical approaches for how to do this better. I will write more on that as soon as I get a chance. In the meantime, I’d like to link to a blog by my friend and fellow teacher who writes eloquently on what he learned in his teacher training program, and how we can apply it in struggles for radical social change. I agree with him wholeheartedly.
In any case, I won’t have a lot of time to update this blog until I graduate in June. There is a lot going on right now, from the Chicago resistance against school closures to the marches in Mexico against school privatization. Locally, the organization Washington Incarceration Stops Here continues to organize against the new juvenile detention center which will warehouse many of my students. The group Who You Callin’ Illegal is organizing against deportations, pointing out that the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill is not enough since it still allows the state to criminalize and deport youth of color for alleged gang affiliations. These are all issues we need to struggle around in our schools and communities. It breaks my heart when I see students’ education interrupted by weeks in juvie or when I hear students tell me they are afraid to come to school because they don’t want ICE to come knocking on the classroom door looking for them.
At the same time, the Feds are investigating the Seattle Public Schools because of their record of suspending Black, Latino, and Native students at a much higher rate than white students; community groups are organizing to argue against suspensions and are testifying about their negative affects on youth in Seattle and across the country. And from India to Egypt to a high school in Ohio, folks are challenging rape and rape culture. As I wrote here, we need to confront this in our classrooms as well.
In general, life in the schools is becoming more and more stressful, bizarre, hopeful, and ripe for creative struggle.
After graduation, I’m planning on contributing to this blog regularly with analysis of current events related to education, anecdotes from life on the job, report backs from local struggles, and creative learning activities/ “lesson plans”. Until then, I won’t be able to publish much, but I am still thinking, observing, and struggling every day.
Washington Incarceration Stops Here (W.I.S.H.) recently posted this announcement on their facebook page:
Sat Mar 16th, 10-1:45
12th and Alder: Juvenile Hall
The county is having an open house at the Juvie to “Talk with King County staff about the public involvement, design and construction process; learn about programs designed to help youth and families; share your comments and concerns at the open house”.
We are gathering outside to express our unyielding disgust and outrage for the existence of the Juvie and the county’s reinvestment into cages, instead of youth.
Come on down, make some art, make some noise and talk to some folks about why we shouldn’t cage youth and what we should do instead.
Hopefully readers can make it out to this important event. We should fight for quality schools instead of more youth jails.
However, we should also insist that the schools themselves should be nothing like jails. During their break today, some of my students had a debate about whether school is as bad as jail; some said that it is becuase it’s all about control, discipline, and boredom. Others said jail is far worse, and it’s insulting to folks who have been to prison to suggest there is any comparison.
In any case, the fact that any students feel the comparison is apt shows that there is a problem in our schools that would require radically transforming them, not simply chanting “schools not jails”.
Making sure that resources go to creative learning projects instead of an expanded juvenile detention center is a good start. Much respect to W.I.S.H for pushing this forward, with an uncompromising comittment to youth freedom.
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.