Sunday, March 20, 2011

School to Prison Pipeline -- Call for Papers

The Journal of Educational Controversy announces its call for papers for Volume 7 Number 1.

THEME: The School-to-Prison Pipeline


The School-to-Prison Pipeline refers to a national trend in which school policies and practices are increasingly resulting in criminalizing students rather than educating them. Statistics indicate that the number of suspensions, expulsions, dropouts or “pushouts,” and juvenile justice confinements is growing. Moreover, there is a disproportionate impact on students of color and students with disabilities and emotional problems. In this issue, we invite authors to examine the policy implications, the political ramifications, and the causes and possible solutions to this problem. Moreover, what are these policies teaching our children?



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dragged from the classroom? One teacher's lonely battle for free speech rights

A few years ago, somewhere on our great continent, a teacher showed a documentary critical of religious fundamentalism to his Grade 9 class. The next day, the Vice-Principal threatened to remove the teacher from the classroom if he continued to show the film.

Did this happen in Arizona? Idaho? Elsewhere in the Bible Belt of the United States, perhaps? Not at all--this event, which touched off a teacher's lonely, quixotic, twenty-year battle for his own free expression rights, happened in Canada's tiniest, sleepiest province, Prince Edward Island. The story that subsequently unfolded is both a triumph of principle and a human tragedy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

From the great state of Idaho ....

where "it's always a siege on education and budgets." This just in (via private email) from my friend and colleague Matt Sanger at Idaho State. Matt is an educational philosopher who worked with Gary Fenstermacher and is finely tuned to the moral dimensions of educational work and policy. (Reprinted with Matt's permission):

My primary obsession at the moment is how advocates of current ‘reforms’ can support those reforms, while at the same time acknowledging that teachers make such a difference in the quality of education—apparently ignoring the fact that they are making teaching a much less desirable occupation. I wonder how they think these reforms are going to draw in even higher quality teachers than we have now? We may finally be able to get rid of the few fabled bad seeds under the current movement, but I’m not sure what that will leave us with for our future teaching corps (aside from a handful of bright and brave ivy grads signing up for a couple years of service, and those who really feel called to teach and who are willing to overlook the condition of the profession).

Spot on, Matt. We can't trash the profession and then attract the best and the brightest. ...

(Thanks to Idaho Writers Groups for the state seal.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can "public" survive a (R)epublican attack?

Every day now there is a news story about education that jerks me to attention. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the new governor announced a budget proposal that cut state funding for higher education by 52%. Funding for local public schools is projected to be significantly lower than last year, a move that will certainly prompt increases in local property taxes even as districts cut teaching positions. Other cost-saving measures are long past scraping flesh off bone. (And cuts for public schools are being proposed at the same time that a new voucher proposal is in the state legislature, a proposal that will further drain public school funding while enabling students to opt out of public schools in favor of parochial schools at taxpayer expense.)

I’ve already figured out what this is about, even as I work against the defunding of public educational opportunities. However, here’s a story I can’t quite figure out -- or maybe I just don’t believe it. The state legislature in Utah has passed a bill that requires schools to teach students that the United States is a compound constitutional republic. This is true and leads me to wonder what they have been teaching.

Apparently, the need for this legislative action is tied to fears (whose?) about indoctrination with respect to pure democracy and socialism. (We apparently have no fears about indoctrination with respect to free market mania or corporate control, both of which seem to me to be more immediate (and more concerning) dangers than either pure democracy or socialism.

As I understand a republican form of government, it can be captured as “majority rule, minority rights” administered by representatives of the people. While I suppose we might quibble about what it really is, I would argue it’s ultimately not a definition to be stipulated but a political stance to be negotiated. Yes, we have a compound constitutional republic, but what does that amount to? We elect representatives following constitutionally-framed procedures and those representatives decide what the majority wants and which minority rights must be honored. And that too is a constantly renegotiated political stance.

While the Founding Fathers (and what about those Founding Mothers anyway?) were pragmatic in their specification of a form of government that was not purely democratic (in both representation and attention to minority concerns), they clearly had democratic aspirations of the kind John Dewey articulated throughout his career. That is, they aspired to a “mode of associated living” marked by communicative competence. While I think it is ducky that students will learn that they live in a constitutional republic, I think it a shame – and an intellectual error -- that they will learn about democracy only as a threat to the American way of life, rather than as a vision that, while admittedly dangerous*, animated the American Revolution and much of American history since that time. (And do I need to mention that socialist and free market economies can exist in constitutional republics, and that more often, as in our case, a nation’s economy is mixed for pragmatic reasons?)

I have the sinking feeling that the defunding of public schools in Pennsylvania at the hands of one of a slew of newly-elected Republican governors is actually very much tied to this legislation in Utah. Both are part of an orchestrated plan to drive a stake through the very concept of “public,” to stipulate what should be negotiated anew with each new political season. Their private interests, their minority rights, are being written into the fabric of governmental and educational possibilities. This should command our attention.

* A nod to Winston Churchill who noted that democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others that had been tried. He appreciated the dangers of “mob rule,” but also the vitality of political structures in which all had a stake.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Justice in the Ethnic Studies Ban in Tucson

If it weren’t for an extension, today would have marked an important date in the ongoing legal battles raging around the ban of Ethnic Studies courses in Arizona. House Bill 2281, which went into effect at the start of 2011, narrowed the prescribed curriculum toward a celebration of a dominant image of America and its past by ensuring that classes cannot “promote the overthrow of the United States government” or “advocate ethnic solidarity.” This bill entails banning Ethnic Studies courses, including classes in ethnic literature and history, where such views were allegedly taught. Mexican American Studies (sometimes called Raza Studies in Tucson Unified School District) received the brunt of the allegations with bill proponent former state Superintendent Tom Horne describing the “revolutionary program” as “an abuse of taxpayer dollars” because it allegedly promotes racial divisiveness and teaches Chicano children “the downer that they are oppressed” and “they should be angry against the government and they should be angry against the country.” During an Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, Senator Russell Pearce accused Ethnic Studies of teaching “hate speech, sedition, anti-Americanism.” A student of the program responded, “It doesn’t teach us to be anti-American, it teaches us to embrace America, all of its flaws and all.” In a later interview Pearce added, “This is anti-American revolutionary talk in a high school.” Another Arizona legislator at the hearing, Steve Montenegro, made explicit the connection between these courses and the fear that schools are teaching children how to speak out about injustice by claiming, “these programs are aimed at creating dissention.”

Instead, Horne argues, schools should teach that America is the “land of opportunity” and immigrants should learn “American history.” I contend that teaching a version of American history that omits or only briefly touches upon the historical and ongoing oppression of significant populations within its borders stamps out the plurality of perspectives on American identity and shared experience that are central to a democracy that is accountable to all of its members. This is especially problematic when a sizeable portion of the school population, as is the case in most of Arizona, are themselves members of the minority group whose history or literature are being omitted or downsized in the curriculum. Moreover, equating the teaching about oppression of racial minority groups to spreading communism and government overthrow, as Horne does, aligns students who have legitimate justice claims about their fair treatment in society with extremists. Implementing this view into prescribed curriculum limits children’s ability to learn how to raise worthy issues of dissent. Preventing them from not only learning about, but also speaking out about the injustices toward certain groups that have pervaded America’s past and present, prohibits children from fulfilling their Declaration of Independence-backed duty to dissent against injustice and makes the fulfillment of justice less likely insofar as it denies the existence or importance of ongoing racial oppression and actively works against solidarity building amongst historically oppressed peoples. Indeed the Ethnic Studies courses themselves resulted from a claim to justice; they were part of a court ordered program following a federal desegregation case. Ending them means not only ending an aspect of justice in that case, but also ending an education that can build justice-seeking capacities within students. Notably, many students within the banned classes took to the streets, to official government hearings, and to the media to protest the Bill and its meaning (as seen in the photo). In the next few weeks, I anticipate that we will continue to see teacher and student frustration and protest as the Tucson schools figure out if and how to comply with HB 2281. Let’s hope justice prevails.

Fomenting a revolution? Who is?

Update on the situation at McCaskey East High School:

A few weeks ago, I commented on an effort at McCaskey East High School in Lancaster, PA to create supportive homerooms (basically advisory groups) for students of color -- and segregated by gender as well. Somehow the effort in this small Pennsylvania city found its way to CNN. (You may also remember Lancaster, PA as the place where surveillance cameras on the streets surrounding Franklin and Marshall College raised a bit of a national fuss.) You know the formula: CNN = big fuss = noisy school board meeting with "outraged" citizens = school board fails to support a thoughtful experiment on the part of the school administration and faculty. As CNN later reported "School Scraps Race Specific Mentoring Program."

Typically, the reality is a little more complicated than CNN (or any other news outlet) reports. Based on conversations with folks in and out of the school, it appears that the mentoring opportunities were not "scrapped" so much as they were made open or optional.

What is worth noting is what is behind some of the opposition to this effort. Specifically, some white citizens reported worries about whether a segregated mentoring program might foment a "black power" vibe. I found myself wondering why exactly that would be bad and for whom? It reminded me of the time several women faculty at my previous institution were standing on a street corner on campus, talking as male members of the administration walked to lunch at the student center. It was pretty clear we were making them nervous just by being "huddled" together -- as they commented while walking by.

I suspect we were only talking about our children or our workload or perhaps (horrors!) the next women's studies faculty development meeting. But after seeing their reactions, we immediately started joking about “fomenting a revolution." So let's keep an eye on who's worried about who is gathering and for what purpose. It may be the worriers who are fomenting something.

(An excellent example of this phenomenon can be found on the mashup of Fox New video clips put together by TPM. These collected clips of the supposed “violence” of the Wisconsin protestors point clearly to the source of any violence being done. Check it out! And thanks to Nick Burbules at the thorough and provocative Progressive Policy Digest for point this out.)