Last week in a downtown Chicago hotel I heard education wonks and education writers mix it up on testing, free community college, digital learning and a host of education topics. Innovation. Deeper learning. It was a potpourri of education buzzwords. Then I took a field trip to the South Side to visit Gregory Michie’s middle school social studies class at Seward Academy. And my deeper learning kicked in.

“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Every historical event can be retold through the lens of the victors and the vanquished. And how we view history is shaped by our understanding of events – as conqueror or conquered. Watching this teaching concept unfold in a predominantly Latino class was eye-opening and utter bliss.

I don’t remember a lot about 7th / 8th-grade social studies. I think we took a trip to see the Liberty Bell. I know we never explored the Latino experience. And the Mexican-American War, if it was taught at all, was probably summed up with, “Booyah! We won!”

Walking into Mr. Michie’s classroom and hearing a corrido written to hail the achievements of Chicago mayoral candidate Jesús “Chuy” García was just a hint at what was to come.

An overview on lynching and other forms of racial violence inflicted on Mexicans following the war was the preview for an enlightening lesson on Gregorio Cortez, a Mexican folk hero who was portrayed in news reports of that era as a murderous villain.

“Why is it important for us to look at multiple sources when trying to learn about a historical event?”

“Based only on the newspaper, what would you think of Gregorio Cortez?”

These prompts from Greg elicited sharp and focused replies from his students, because they had the freedom in his class to turn a critical and questioning eye on what is commonly known as the truth. After listening to “El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez” and watching a clip from Hollywood’s adaptation, “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” gradually a fuller story emerged.

“What did you learn that wasn’t in the New York Times?”

“Why was Gregorio Cortez seen as a hero by so many Mexican Americans at that time?”

Greg’s school is in Back of the Yards, a working-class Chicago neighborhood made famous as the setting for Upton Sinclair’s landmark 1906 exposé, “The Jungle.” Today the community is populated largely by Latino immigrants and their children. Children who deal with stereotypes and misconceptions about being Latino with Mexican ancestry.

The students soaked up the knowledge that Greg showered on them, with the growing realization that there are two sides to every story and somewhere in between lies the truth. Historians believe that the legendary tale of Gregorio Cortez circles back to a language miscommunication. Most gratifying was watching these young faces smile and bloom as clarity came into focus.

Prior to the current unit Greg’s social studies class delved into the history of Native Americans and Blacks in America. One of his students proudly introduced himself by eagerly telling me that he was the one who presented on Ferguson at Chicago’s Teaching for Social Justice Curriculum Fair last November.

The value of ethnic studies is its ability to uncover the truth of racial and cultural histories that have been misrepresented and distorted for students of color and white students. It is empowering to see students experience communities of color in a new, radiant light. Greg’s class broadened my perspective and made it more relevant and real.

In academic speak: Culturally responsive teaching increases student engagement, fosters a sense of belonging, and helps students critically examine race, ethnicity and culture with fresh eyes. All important. Though nothing compares to seeing this through a 7th-grader’s eyes: “It’s about us. We can express ourselves. It’s fun.”

A Resonating Message on the White Moderate

Written on 16 April 2015, 06:38pm under Homegrown

Fifty-two years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a grimy jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama and composed what would become “one of the most iconic documents of the civil rights movement.

Letter from Birmingham Jail is one of my favorite of Dr. King’s writings. The letter was a response to white ministers who chastised Black civil rights protestors and urged them to stop demonstrating. King’s 1963 letter lays out in the most dynamic prose why protesting segregation in Birmingham – a stronghold of virulent racism and Jim Crow laws – was neither “unwise” nor “untimely.”

As a writer, I am struck at the skillful way Dr. King answers the criticism leveled, using secular and spiritual references, and crafting a piece of writing both fiery and constrained. As an insistent voice for racial equity and justice in education, I am struck by how much the white clergy in Letter from Birmingham Jail resemble white education activists.

Dr. King created a seminal work of the Black civil rights era. Almost 7000 words castigating white silence. A letter that continues to inform and inspire.

My Dear Fellow Education Activists:

Today, urban school closures are ripping apart Black communities. Black students are expelled at a rate three times higher than white children. Black children are less likely to be in well-funded, well-resourced schools and more likely to be taught by inexperienced, under-prepared teachers.

All of this is well known. Yet your attention stays riveted on ESEA bills, Common Core, and a multitude of priorities and projects. When activists of color endeavor to bring racial inequalities and unjust practices to the forefront of education advocacy, we are routinely scorned, rejected or ignored.

Why do you continue to trot out tired tropes about “colorblind education” and reverse racism when we call for more teachers of color and bilingual teachers? How can you continue to shirk responsibility for eliminating racial disparities in education? There’s no defense for refusing to make racial equity and social justice the focus of all education and policy discussions when children of color are the majority in public schools.

And please tell me. When is the right time to make the school-to-prison-pipeline the central and pivotal issue in education activism? Nationally, six out of every 1,000 students were referred to law enforcement agencies in the 2011-12 school year. Black and Latino and special-needs children are being pushed out of classrooms and into the criminal justice system for kicking a trash can. Delivered by schools into the waiting arms of the courts and police – the same police that kill Black children playing with toy guns.

It is distressing to think that these grave conditions confronting our children of color don’t rise to a level of prominence on your activism docket. So I must conclude that children of color are merely props for you to further your agenda. Not the protagonists in your education story who will be victorious.

What should disturb your conscience and impel you to act renders you disinterested. One day education will recognize its real heroes.

Yours for the cause of fundamental equity and change,
Melinda D. Anderson

“I’m the architect of my filter bubble; it’s the only way to be sure that the choir to whom I’m preaching is real, and reasonably intelligent.”
Today a woman I blocked on Twitter learned that not everyone she wishes to “push through…disagreements with” cares to dedicate one iota of energy to such an effort. And goodness, what followed. What seemed like an ordinary April Fool’s Day turned into a social media temper tantrum thrown by a motley crew of fools.

If only Erika Sanzi could bottle and ship those waterworks, California’s historic drought would be solved.

While Erika and her merry band of misfits in education reform continue to wring hands and wail, what is conveniently overlooked in the calls for “civil discourse” is that there’s nothing civil about what I observe in public education today. And those who are taking the brunt of the punishment look a lot like me, my son and his friends. They don’t look like Erika Sanzi or the Education Post mouthpieces, who seem to think that a “better conversation” is the path to “better education.” Because everything we’ve ever gained for Black and Brown students in education throughout history has come from civil discourse and polite disagreement. Not.
So in short, I wish Erika the best with her crusade to bring inclusive, open-minded discourse to the Internet. Too bad the Walton family, which funds her blog musings, doesn’t comport to the same principles for its Walmart employees.In the meantime, I’ll be @mdawriter. Blocking.