“The customer is always right” is a basic tenet in business but not in education. While teachers and administrators and policymakers and taxpayers engage in rhetorical wrestling matches, public education continues to ignore and operate counter to the needs and wants of its true customers: students. Listening to your customers is how you build and grow and succeed over time. And when you show disregard for customers, there’s often a price to be paid.

A look at history reveals a long and honorable tradition in education of students of color feeling a certain kind of way about being marginalized and disenfranchised by their public schools, and flexing their consumer muscles.

In 1964, Black and Puerto Rican students boycotted New York City public schools to protest segregation. Bayard Rustin, fresh from orchestrating the 1963 March on Washington, brought his consummate organizing skills to the campaign. Hundreds of thousands of students and their supporters participated in the walkout to oppose the city’s pattern of de facto segregation.

A year earlier Black students in Chicago staged a one-day walkout to desegregate the public schools and call attention to overcrowded and under-resourced schools attended by Black children. In what’s been hailed as “one of the largest and most overlooked civil rights actions of the 1960’s” more than 200,000 students – about half of Chicago Public Schools enrollment in 1963 – stayed out of school. This was an unprecedented student protest, with “customers” taking to the streets to voice their frustrations.

More than 50 years later, these mass actions for educational justice hold lessons for current students. Many have been inspired by these 1960s demonstrations. Their activism embodies the spirit and strength of those who fought for educational equity during an earlier civil rights movement. This is powerfully on display in Montgomery County, Maryland.

With the search for our next superintendent in full swing, Black and Hispanic teens put forth their list of priorities for the new hire. In bold and honest detail they shared stories of being viewed as “academically inferior,” being steered to community college as white students are guided to pursue four-year higher education, and feeling isolated, stigmatized and unwelcome in the learning community.

This comes on the heels of a successful rally last spring where hundreds of students from the countywide Minority Scholars Program raised awareness and called for accountability in closing Montgomery County’s large “achievement gap” between Black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers.

And not to be overlooked, as One Montgomery’s blog post noted, “Speakers during the rally made repeated comparisons to other youth movements in history, from the East Los Angeles Walkouts in 1968 to the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa.”

Youth voices – the customers – need to be heard and respected.

When Racist Acts Obscure Racism [Teaching Tolerance]

Written on 17 March 2015, 08:18pm under As Seen In

Talking about race and racism and racial bias is uncomfortable and uneasy and most white people would rather opt for a root canal sans novocaine than have an honest and direct conversation about the r-words and this country’s long, sordid history. So the national norm becomes obfuscation and a pattern of strategic distraction.

My latest at Teaching Tolerance unravels the absurdities. What leads adults to subscribe to the faulty logic blaming rap music for racism and all of the other mental gymnastics people go through to avoid reality. The piece also discusses how teachers and schools can play a critical role in checking this line of thought.

Prolific writer, civil rights activist and social critic James Baldwin never minced words on racism. His extended quote here is profound and relevant – 50 years later.

One wishes that Americans, white Americans, would read, for their own sakes, this record, and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives. The fact that Americans, white Americans, have not yet been able to do this – to face their history, to change their lives – hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.
For history, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.
And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror, one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror, because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating; one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history.
James Baldwin, “White Man’s Guilt,” 1965

There are two common myths about Black children that run in the background of policy and education discussions like Muzak. And like Muzak, it’s impossible to get the tune out of people’s heads.

The first is the absentee Black father. It’s a lie that’s been given cheerful support on the left and on the right, in politics and in the media. Irrefutable evidence shows that Black fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than dads from other racial and ethnic groups. Yet the stereotype endures.

The second is the fight for educational access and equity for Black children began with Brown v. Board of Education. Public schools have long been the sites on which the struggle for equity has been fought. Black parents have always demonstrated the capacity to act forcefully to gain quality schooling for their children. And the fight for equitable education in the Black community did not begin with a Black third-grade girl in Topeka, Kansas.

Because of the bold courage of one Black father – a former slave and one of the first Blacks to migrate to the West – a monumental achievement was accomplished for Black children in California on March 1, 1890. Excerpts from news reports and historical summaries tell the story in all its glorious detail.

(Edmund Edward) Wysinger…brought his son Arthur to Visalia (California) High School on Oct. 1, 1888 and said, “Here is my boy to put in your school. He was told by the teacher, S.A. Crookshank, to take his son to the “colored” school, thus excluding him from a public school established for white children. Crookshank denied Wysinger’s request on the grounds that Visalia’s Board of Education provided separate schools for black children. So began a two-year journey through California’s judicial system that ended in California’s highest court, a journey that saw the end of the notion of separate-but-equal in area public schools.

Edmund Wysinger…filed a writ of mandate on behalf of his minor son, Arthur, on October 2, 1888, challenging a public institution’s authority to deny a group its constitutional right because of race, color, or national origin. On March 1, 1890, the California Supreme Court, in Wysinger v. Crookshank reversed a lower court decision and ordered 12-year-old Arthur Wysinger admitted to Visalia’s regular school system.

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – A quote frequently attributed to Mark Twain but actually comes from Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher from the 1800s.

#TodayInBlackHistory is laced up and ready. This is a marathon, not a sprint.