#EduColor: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Written on 15 May 2017, 01:00pm under Homegrown

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Integrity. Decency. Solidarity. These are the qualities that brought me to what is now commonly known as the EduColor Movement. Before this group had dozens of invited members, thousands of newsletter subscribers, many thousands of loyal followers on Facebook and Twitter, and millions of impressions on its Twitter hashtag, it was a handful of people who came together on email. Many of us – like myself – worked in education spaces where the subject of race and racism was ignored and raising these subjects was professionally risky. EduColor was a safe space: to share, laugh, and lament. It was a space where we could be our whole, passionate, justice-filled selves.

In 2013, I traveled to New York City, and while there carved out time to meet the teacher-blogger from NYC who had conceived EduColor. It was in its infancy—it was literally five of us on email: myself, Liz Dwyer, Xian Franzinger Barrett, Sabrina Stevens, and the founder Jose Vilson. Fierce and fearless and unapologetic in our drive to bring justice and equity to educational spaces. In the subsequent months and years, we attended conferences and met educators seeking what EduColor offered. People like Rafranz Davis. They were welcomed into the tent. We met people online—frequently on Twitter—and we saw they shared our battles. What we were experiencing as people of color in education was pervasive. We created a space for affinity and uplift and unending support. We boosted each other. We rallied behind each other’s triumphs. We dried each other’s tears. We used social media to organize and bring credibility to discussions about racial and cultural literacy in educational spaces.

It was good. And EduColor accomplishments are notable: speaking out on harsh and racially disparate discipline, tackling Jordan Davis or Ferguson and Mike Brown in classrooms, speaking out when NYC teachers wore “Thank You NYPD” t-shirts, and organizing against a Virginia school district that wanted to charge Black teens with felonies for a senior prank. There are many more examples of this coalition – this collective – coming together to spark discussion and take action on educational injustices. I’ve always been deeply proud and humbled to be a part of a grassroots activist space that intentionally set out to be a haven from the dysfunctional, marginalizing, hostile spaces so many of us worked within.

But regrettably, EduColor Movement has replicated the same institutional behaviors. On Saturday, I resigned from EduColor. I sent a letter to the general membership explaining how EduColor has become a collective without a collective soul for me. I spoke my truth, though in the intervening days more questions have surfaced. So for those sincerely interested in knowing what I’ve experienced, please read on.

From the beginning, the founder’s drive and devotion contributed to this movement. I’ve always respected his hustle and ingenuity. I also respected his wisdom in knowing that growing a collective is not a solitary enterprise. From its original days—when the handful of us included three Black women and two men of color—EduColor’s resourcefulness, fuel, and fire has mostly come from women of color. The collective was built and grown with the time, energy, passions, and unpaid labor of women of color. But disappointingly, as EduColor expanded, what the founder has called “growing pains” in all candor was individuals grasping for social capital and ego gratification—with myself and another woman of color as the collateral damage.

EduColor became known for its ability to prod others to have difficult and crucial conversations. But we abdicated our duty to do the same within the EduColor collective. An ill-defined advisory committee—of which I was a member—remained silent as the founder made unilateral decisions, including decisions that silenced and marginalized women of color in leadership. EduColor has now lost two dedicated members within months. The loss of Rusul Alrubail, a loyal EduColor member who sat on the advisory team, symbolizes the harmful impact of steamrolling over peers and disregarding consensus. And I emphasize impact—because regardless of one’s intentions, two women of color walked away from interactions feeling erased and disrespected by the group’s founder. And once that’s brought to your attention, and you fail to reflect and readjust, the only conclusion can be that this is intentional. That it’s not a flaw in leadership style, but a feature.

As things turned bad, I challenged my fellow advisory members to be the leadership team the collective deserved—to hold each other accountable, to lead with integrity, to adopt norms and bylaws and a democratic construct to guide the group’s operations. I owned my part in not speaking up when I should have – and I committed to do better. And all of this was met mostly with silence. Everyone in EduColor is a volunteer – and people have busy lives, myself included. Additionally, there are any number of reasons for why people can be silent in online spaces. But when “leaders” remain mostly silent in the midst of misogynoir and sexism it’s not normal – and when peers remain silent on this matter and willingly engage online at other times, the busyness of life is a convenient excuse—what’s being practiced is selective silence and a lack of conviction. I stepped out to challenge the group’s status quo. In service of a stronger, more just EduColor, I directly and unflinchingly challenged the founder and our processes – and the reward was becoming his target.

As the ugly surfaced, he intentionally ignored my inquiries in group discussions. My work in the group – on our monthly chats and in other ways – was intentionally overlooked and disregarded. And when I sparked a discussion about the erasure of women of color as it relates to press coverage of the movement—and a scholar subsequently published a blog post recognizing EduColor women of color – myself (and others) were accused on a general membership communication list of “overshadowing” the male founder. With the founder’s tacit endorsement. Through his public and less visible actions, I was reduced to a detractor, when I’ve always been a builder and edifier – and I was cast as divisive, when I’ve always been explicit and transparent with both my rejoicing of and critiques of this movement. The sincerity of communication I shared with others was not shown to me.

With all of this, it should come as no surprise that I resigned. Who would want to stay in such a space? I’ve lost faith in the founder. I’ve lost faith in the advisory committee. I’ve lost faith that me beating a solo drum for a democratically operated and controlled group is the path forward for EduColor, especially when silence has been the most dominant element within the space for much too long. But some faith remains—that EduColor members who truly believe in just social movements will bring your fierceness, fearlessness, and unapologetic drive and energy to righting what is wrong within the EduColor movement. Not only through norms, bylaws, and structures that I championed – but through empathy and compassion, and being present for and to each other.

With love. Salute.

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Reminiscent of Groundhog Day, some education discussions just seem to resurface, again and again. The state of teacher education is one of those.

In April, I had the privilege of speaking at the annual American Educational Research Association conference, where I participated in a presidential session that aimed to challenge the public and policy discourses surrounding teacher education—by featuring the work of four equity-minded teacher educators and scholars from across the country: Elizabeth M. Dutro, University of Colorado Boulder; Antero Garcia, Colorado State University; Bettina L. Love, University of Georgia; and Bree Picower, Montclair State University.

I offered some thoughts on the future of teacher education. Here’s what I said.

Good morning.

As a writer, I enjoy metaphors. They allow for creativity, and nuance, and imagery. Metaphors can make complicated concepts more accessible, and add depth to your writing. And successful metaphors conjure up mental pictures that are vivid – and sometimes unforgettable.

So I’d like to invite you to think of teacher education not as a beleaguered system that deals with the study of teaching … and the learning process … and its application – but rather as a much-maligned reptile.

Teacher education – like crocodiles – generally suffers from bad press. Although revered in some quarters, the mere mention of teacher education – like crocodiles – can evoke negative sentiments. And over time, the prevailing narrative surrounding teacher education becomes so ingrained in our minds – like crocodiles – that some begin to call for drastic measures, even elimination.

But metaphors can be tricky. Basically, not all metaphors are created equal. The best ones not only enhance our understanding of the topic at hand, they help us grasp associations and characteristics we might have overlooked.

The photojournals from Antero, Bettina, Bree, and Elizabeth offer a strong and powerful image for teacher education’s future. So perhaps it’s helpful for us all to think of teacher education not as a crocodile, but rather as a system on the brink of a revolution.

What I see in the pictorial displays – and what I hear in the video and audio – is a promising and underutilized path – a strategy that can effectively disrupt the hegemonic whiteness that supports the current system of teacher education, and that informs how pre-service teachers are currently prepared and inducted into the profession.

And it’s the perfect time – considering the magnitude of demographic changes now underway. A few years ago, AACTE conducted a comprehensive analysis of data collected from nearly all of its more than 800 teacher preparation program members. The findings are startling, but not surprising: classrooms are growing more racially and ethnically diverse, while those leading classrooms remain predominately white.

According to the data, 82 percent of bachelor’s degrees in education are awarded to white students. Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American teaching candidates were each in the single digits. This is contrasted against the rapidly changing racial and ethnic makeup of public school students – more than half of public school students today are non-white, and according to the Census Bureau, by around 2020, non-white children will make up more than half of Americans under the age of 18.

Against this shifting landscape, we have teacher educators like our presenters who are upending the model for teacher education. With laser-like precision, they are demonstrating how equity and social justice and excellence can work in harmony – and be elevated to an imperative. Through their work and scholarship, the aim is not to reform teacher education, but to revolutionize it – not to tweak, but to transform.

Author, historian, and journalist Lerone Bennett, Jr. – a shrewd observer of American society and its racial injustices – had a piercing take on the teaching profession that immediately comes to mind as I reflect on the presenters’ journals. The photojournals capture the lives and the work of teacher educators as liberators. Any discussion on teacher education and scholarship that fails to include the intersection of race, culture, and opportunity cannot build a road map to the future.

Allowing for the trends I noted, for the foreseeable future, the teachers in our public schools will be primarily white and middle-class. And because of widespread housing and school segregation, they themselves will have likely lived in primarily white neighborhoods and attended primarily white schools.

Today, these prospective teachers enter preparation programs and complete their schooling without ever having their ingrained and widely-accepted beliefs about the students they’ll be teaching challenged or even questioned. And let’s be frank – it’s not just white teachers. The same applies to aspiring teachers of color as well. Because as people of color we also can internalize ideas, beliefs, and behaviors that mire us in our own oppression.

The quarterly magazine Rethinking Schools incisively describes the work that must be embraced in teacher education. Changing the dominant narrative requires changing the way that teacher educators teach – which the photojournals illustrate – as well as changing the way that teacher education research and scholarship is used to inform policymakers and the public.

To influence and sway opinion means writing not to impress and dazzle your colleagues – who already have an established interest in the topic – but writing clear and readable materials for a general audience. It means producing works – in written or other formats – that challenge established thinking and practices – and therefore have the capacity to generate new visions and directions. And that doesn’t mean “dumbing down” your work – as evidenced by the work of our presenters, which is rigorous and insightful.

What I see in their pursuits is what all education research should be: fresh and inviting, with a real-world connection that underscores its relevance and validity.

Teacher education needs to show that you have some skin in the game. Countless time, energy, and resources are spent trying to improve the field of teaching to meet the needs of a growing, diverse student populace – and no one wants to speak the words “race” or “culture” or “racism.” That’s a shell-game and not a solution.

In my research for this session, I came across a piece in the journal “Teaching Education” written by Cheryl Matias, an assistant professor in urban teacher education at University of Colorado Denver. True to form, it seemed to have caused quite a firestorm, because the article expressed some seldom-heard, and for too many, difficult-to-accept truths.

In the journal, she describes whiteness as a disease —emphasizing that a colorblind society is impossible in the United States. She stresses that we can’t even begin to address the education debt – commonly referred to as the racial achievement gap – without addressing the underlying maladies of racism and whiteness. And she calls on schools of education to own and prioritize this work before teaching novices land in classrooms.

I found her words very illuminating – and for me it encapsulates the real test ahead for schools of education.

Teacher education programs must actively engage preservice teachers in the work of unpacking and reassembling how race, ethnicity, culture, language, and social class manifest in schools, in their students’ lives, and in the communities in which they are privileged to teach. And I reiterate – privileged. Because as a parent, I turn my most-prized and treasured asset over to teachers every day.

Teacher education can recreate what teaching practice looks like, re-envisioning the role of teachers and schools in historically marginalized communities. You have the tools and the means to create schools where social, political and economic equality is fostered and nurtured and grown.

Can you enthusiastically and openly move in this direction? The presenters here today show me it’s possible. Let’s make it permanent.

Thank you.

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High on the euphoria of first-time motherhood, I remember the day I brought my newborn to the office. Colleagues surrounded the stroller 15 years ago wanting to hold my son. After dispensing the obligatory hand sanitizer, I placed him in the arms of an older Black woman I’d known for several years. Pulling back the hood on his onesie bodysuit, a look of satisfaction spread across her face as she proudly proclaimed: “He’s going to be handsome. Look at those ears.”

It’s commonly believed in the Black community that you can tell the final skin tone of a baby by the color of the tips of the ears. Whether it’s medically sound or Black folklore is less important than the need to affirm this practice, generation after generation. I was struck by the significance of that long-forgotten episode this weekend as I sat in a room of adolescent teen girls in Baltimore. Far more perceptive than I was at their age, the young ladies engaged in a rich conversation on self-esteem and the historical underpinnings that lead many of us to reject and disparage the skin we’re in.

The Flourishing Blossoms Society For Girls, Inc., a mentoring program addressing the holistic needs of its participants, is the brainchild and product of the energy of Valencia Clay. Clay, a graduate of Morgan State University, started her teaching career at a Freedom School in Baltimore where she cultivated a passion for teaching social justice. For Clay the Blossoms give her life purpose and meaning. Moving back home to New York City this summer couldn’t break the bond – she travels to Baltimore monthly to continue running the program.

Seated on a brightly colored rug in the Southwest Baltimore Charter School library, a tight-knit group of 8th-grade girls chatted excitedly with Clay on Saturday morning. On the agenda: exploring the concept of self-hatred. It was intriguing to watch each girl slowly come to recognize and accept how self-hatred operates and the subtle yet profound, insistent influences that permeate American culture allowing prejudice like colorism to take root.

Reading from the biography of Assata Shakur, Clay shared a passage from Shakur’s childhood involving a young man named Joe. Joe, with an unrequited crush, was cruelly rejected by Shakur on the basis that he was “too Black and ugly” in the estimation of her peers. The moment deeply changed Shakur – her consciousness as well as her perception of self and others. Writing about the scars of internalized racism, she reveals:

For weeks, maybe months, afterward, i was haunted by what happened that day, by the snakes that had crawled out of my mouth. The sneering hatred on his face every time i saw him after that made me know there was nothing i could do but change myself. Not for him, but for me. And i did change. After that i never said ”Black” and “ugly” in the same sentence and never thought it. Of course, i couldn’t undo all the years of self hatred and brainwashing in that short time, but it was a beginning. And although i still cared too much about what other people thought about me, i always tried hard after that to stand on my own two feet, to stand by what i felt and thought and not just be a robot. I didn’t always succeed, but I always tried like hell.

In unison the Blossoms were appalled that Shakur could be so mean to Joe, who had been so nice to her. But Clay deftly brought the topic back to them: “Have you ever had a moment when you projected your self-hatred onto someone else and didn’t know it? Have you ever seen it?”

The spark of realization was instantly apparent in all of their faces. Boys in class who tease each other for being “Black as…” but they’re just as dark-skinned as their targets. A sister who labels others girls as being “so ‘hood” but they’re from the same community. Now understanding how self-hatred presents itself, Clay transitioned into its roots with the documentary “Dark Girls,” a 2012 film examining the origins of colorism, its lineage dating back to slavery and colonialism, and how early it materializes – showing a contemporary version of the black doll experiment from the 1940s.

Skillfully integrating her own family history Clay was able to elicit spontaneous awareness in the group of Black girls about their experiences with skin tone and hair and how self-hatred manifests. In a safe space created through genuine care and trust, the one white girl in the group even shared how she always wanted the texture of Black hair. The weight of her statement resonated throughout the room. Over the course of a few hours – teaching, punctuating, clarifying, affirming, reinforcing – Clay guided the girls to see the damaging and destructive effects of colorism. She closed the day inviting them to explore through poems, itemized lists, and storytelling how they’d grown from what they learned that day.

For me, more aptly described as well-developed foliage than a Blossom, so many memories came flooding back: the times I was silent when I shouldn’t have been, the times I made assumptions I shouldn’t have, the times I subconsciously viewed proximity to whiteness as the measure of a Black woman’s beauty or status.

Maybe I wasn’t the audience, but it left me thinking and reconsidering. Thank you Ms. Clay.

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In my school district we’re less than a month away from the first day of school. As I oversee the annual ritual known as “Finish your summer packet or else” I’m also beginning to see the annual resurgence of back-to-school articles. Which sparked this quick post, because what’s the use of having a blog if not to serve as a vehicle for my musings and such.

Back-to-school stories abound. New laptops, Common Core, cost of back-to-school school supplies, and teachers’ tales of heading back to the classroom are typical favorites when other education stories rarely see the light. Here are two that easily come to mind:

School segregation: Nikole Hannah-Jones has returned to the topic she expertly covered on the anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, exploring in The New York Times Magazine how segregation is the continuing tragedy in Michael Brown’s school district one year after his death. This issue is one that adversely impacts school districts across the country. There is little political will to address this situation, and education reporters can bring attention to this through more consistent coverage like Jones exhibits. To paraphrase an Economic Policy Institute report, commentators (and reporters!) can’t continue to write ad nauseum about the “achievement gap” and quote education policymakers citing education as “civil rights issue of our time” and not spotlight the racial isolation of Black students (and other students of color) in public schools.

Homeless students: Like a recent NPR story out of Florida, periodically stories appear on local school districts working to identify and help homeless students. These are feel-good and pleasant. What doesn’t get enough ink is that federal law requires specific services be provided to students without a stable home. The McKinney-Vento Act, which oversees such regulations, mandates that states and school districts register homeless students for school without delay, provide transportation, and deliver other services that are routinely ignored. Education policymakers can’t eradicate homelessness, but education reporters can ensure they are held responsible for providing homeless children with the support they need.

As an education writer I choose to focus on how education intersects with issues of race, culture, gender, and class because this is an area that is undercovered and often misunderstood. I’m not seeking clones, but it would be nice to see more conscientious and painstaking education reporting that carves a new path rather than follows the same, well-worn template.

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Today a new website launched, with the mission “to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children…the education they deserve.”

So please allow me to offer an “honest, fact-based” look at this new education endeavor. And why it’s decidedly wack. [Look it up if you don’t know the term. Consider it an invitation to grow your vocabulary.]

The majority of students now in public schools aren’t white. Based on demographic trends, the fastest-growing groups in U.S. public schools for many years to come will not be white. The racial and ethnic gap – more like a crater – between students of color and their teachers is a well-worn topic. Many including myself have noted the disparity, and the necessity for more teachers of color is apparent.

Now comes The Seventy Four to remind us that it’s not just the teachers in public education that are blindingly white – so are the voices trying “to lead…conversation” in education. These are the so-called experts who will hold two forums with presidential candidates for both major political parties, taking their temperature on what education in America should look like and how it should perform.

Of the staff at The Seventy Four with “Director”, “Editor” or some indication of management in their title, none are perceptible people of color. Of the Board of Directors, the same percentage applies. For those who might ask “Why does this matter?” you’re the reason why this erasure of voices of color, with a handful of notable exceptions, has been the way of education leadership for so many years. Ideology aside – be it reformers, traditionalists or the newest label du jour – it’s white people doing white things and having white brainstorms about nonwhite children and schools.

Who among us thinks Campbell Brown and her cohort are looking to “overhaul” schools in wealthy white suburbs. Or will The Seventy Four stake their claim speaking for students of color, parents of color, communities of color … racial and ethnic groups they wish to lavish with benevolence, but who are not sufficiently capable of serving on The Seventy Four’s Board or serving in high-ranking positions on its staff.

The Seventy Four is just the latest example of whitewashing in education newsgathering. Coming on the heels of The Grade, offering “praise and criticism” on education journalism through the categorically white lens of five white education journalists who serve as the blog’s advisors. Colorblindness is racism. And colorblind education leadership is an insult and a disgrace. Racial and ethnic representation matters.

As a parent of color, spare me your imperialistic colonialism. People of color in this country have a long, sordid history of white people speaking for us and acting on our behalf. We’re not three-fifths of a human being any longer. We can speak, think and act for ourselves.

Here’s my “honest, fact-based” conclusion: Rather than the new kid on the block, The Seventy Four is looking more like the same old, tired retread.

 

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The concepts contained in words like ‘freedom,’, ‘justice,’ ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.
–James Baldwin, “The Crusade of Indignation

Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence denounced slavery as a “cruel war against human nature.” Mind you this rousing language was written by a man who owned slaves. Anyway, Jefferson’s paragraph on slavery never made it into the final Declaration of Independence because slave-owning delegates from the South and delegates with business ties to the slave trade from the North debated Jefferson’s passage and stripped this language.

Let’s just stipulate for the record that America’s Independence Day – celebrating “freedom” and “democracy” – is rife with hypocrisy and cowardly logic. Frederick Douglass peeped it and called it out in 1852. All of this history is an interesting sidebar to fully grasping what occurred last weekend as a room of about 7,000 educators in Florida tried to reconcile their principles with their practices.

The nation’s largest teachers union on July 3 unanimously approved a measure to combat institutional racism, “taking a historically bold stand against racism and hate.” Channeling the country’s Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, it was a powerful moment of righteousness and justice. But like Baldwin noted, true justice requires “enormous…individual effort” and like the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, the NEA delegates on July 4, 2015 came up short.

First up was an item calling on NEA to “support…efforts to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.” The ensuing debate reminded me of a game of Twister. Clutching and grabbing at any excuse not to ban the Confederate flag and racist symbols that glorify slavery and oppression – while looking desperately for a comfortable and steady position to land.

Some of those in attendance, and some watching online, had profound observations. Like Baldwin’s essay, so clear and uncomplicated.

After about a two hour debate “and other symbols of the Confederacy” was stricken from the item. A great public school for every student is the Association’s vision – though if you’re one of the thousands of Black students forced to attend a school honoring racist leaders, it might not be so great. Oh well.

Over the next couple days the assembled educators flirted between flashes of consciousness and backpedaling from / equivocating on actions that would show their institutional racism vote signaled a new way of thinking and doing. Based on the NEA’s elected representatives who gathered in Orlando, the jury is out on whether the union can “move to confront racism” and “demand changes to policies, programs, and practices that condone or ignore unequal treatment,” as cited on NEAToday.org.

What appears obvious is that NEA members have an opportunity to put some teeth to anti-racism work or leave it untouched on the plate. Over a year ago I challenged educators to step up and address racial injustice. It’s still your move.

Racism Is In The Air, Our Schools, Our Classrooms

Written on 23 June 2015, 09:15pm under Homegrown

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Who or what is to blame for Dylann Roof? This is a question people have been debating since the 21-year-old massacred nine faithful men and women gathered for Bible study in Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a Black house of worship with a rich history going back nearly 200 years.

A white man walks into a Black church and brutally slays nine Black people. It shouldn’t require a doctorate in critical race studies to suspect that this was a racist act committed by an anti-Black terrorist. Yet when violence is perpetrated against Black people in this country, the social commentary always resembles Gumby, bending and twisting logic to turn the calculated wickedness of a white supremacist into a neat and orderly explanation.

Grasping at any justification other than unapologetic and unflinching racism, politicians denounce the deadly attack, faulting lax gun laws, and the media probes Roof’s history of drug abuse to rationalize his “cold stare.” Because it’s easier to point to gun control and prescription medication abuse than to admit that American institutions allow racism to flourish.

We don’t have to struggle to explain what created Dylann Roof. Racism is in the air.

Of human ignorance I am almost in despair
For racism is around me everywhere
But like they say sheer ignorance is bliss

–Francis Duggan

The Confederate flag has long been a symbol of racial division and simmering source of controversy. In South Carolina and seven other Southern states a sign of racist hatred flies over taxpayer-funded state capitol grounds.

But state governments aren’t the only institution with dirty hands here. The largest institution in the country with the collective responsibility for educating the vast majority of our nation’s children also had a role in the formation of Dylann Roof. On Saturday, a racist screed penned by Roof – with a searing indictment of the high school dropout’s public school education – surfaced on social media.

From The Daily Beast:

He wrote that America’s history of slavery was based on myths and lies, using the fact that not all Southern whites owned slaves to downplay the malevolence of the institution. He also claims to have read slave narratives that were overwhelmingly positive towards the slaveowners, without naming the texts or pausing to consider whether they had been coerced.

Roof’s manifesto claims segregation “existed to protect us from them”—both in terms of violence and supposed cultural purity. “Integration has done nothing but bring Whites down to level of brute animals,” he wrote. “The best example of this is obviously our school system.”

It would be easy to brush off Roof’s manifesto as the rantings and ravings of a sinister killer. But how many people in this country were shocked that such violence could strike a Black church, blissfully ignorant of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and a long, painful history of attacks?

The Black American experience is mistaught and misinterpreted in schools, leaving students deceived and prejudiced. Roof would have no doubt about slaveholders and the system of slavery if the brutal physical, psychological and sexual exploitation that encompassed the transatlantic slave trade was taught honestly and truthfully.

The civil rights movement is taught as a string of heroes, martyrs and glorious events where America triumphed over racism. Except segregation in housing and schools and pools and restricted access continues. Racist injustices are taught as a historic footnote – not a contemporary evil – allowing delusions to fester and grow in youth like Dylann Roof.

In the emotional aftermath of the Charleston murders, a backlash against Confederate symbols is spreading nationwide and galvanizing the public into action. “Take Down The Flag!” has become a rallying cry. We need the same degree of unyielding force directed at our schools. Demand anti-racist curriculum in all classrooms. Call for anti-racist professional development for teachers and administrators. Make ethnic studies a graduation requirement.

To quote Teaching Tolerance, “Institutional racism exists throughout society and our schools—public, private, small, large, mono- or multicultural. None is immune to it.”

The Emancipation of MDA

Written on 19 June 2015, 08:00am under Homegrown

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I don’t garden. I don’t hike. I don’t crochet. Writing is my hobby and my job and my happiness. Writing is a forceful tool for activism and social change, and indispensable to inviting reflection and fresh discoveries. At a very early age, as I learned to navigate unchartered waters on race and racism, writing down my thoughts and observations became a mainstay. Intellectual powerhouse James Baldwin said, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” As a child, I was never in a rage, but over time I developed my own anger translator in my head.

“You’re so articulate.” – Smile.
Why the #*!# does speaking exactly the way you speak require commentary?

“You dress nicely for a Black girl.” – Grin.
I dress nicely for any girl – any race – and if you like what I’m wearing, just say that!

“Your parents must be so proud of you.” – Nod.
My parents are extremely proud of me. Even more so because I didn’t curse you out for throwing shade my way. I spared them a call from the principal. That’s true pride!

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
—Audre Lorde

From elementary school through my teens, I was the brown cocoa puff in a bowl of white milk, more commonly known as the Philadelphia Main Line. To most onlookers I was a triathlon swimmer in an ocean of whiteness. Except I refused to get in the water, because every time I got my hair wet I had to hold a symposium on why my hair looked “like that.”

It was through writing – feverish scribble for my eyes only! – that I was able to begin to process and make sense for myself of what it meant to be a Black girl … tween … young woman and why those witty responses could never pass my lips. Eventually I retired the anger translator. I became a professional writer. And now I write specifically on issues of race and equity in education. I poke. I prod. I push. I challenge. I question. I ruffle. I reveal.

I found my voice. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
—Maya Angelou

I am a product of public schools. Culturally and racially responsive teaching. Racially and ethnically diverse educators. Ethnic studies. This was not my experience. My education suffered for it. I have a child in public schools. The school-to-prison pipeline. Black and Latino students isolated by segregation. Racially-biased teachers. Limited access to AP and advanced classes. This is his realized and potential educational experience.

I follow one creed when it comes to my writing and activism and that is in the fight for educational equity and justice there are no good-hearted bystanders. To paraphrase a sentiment posted on social media, I am not comforted or appeased by well-meaning allies. This space is for conspirators and accomplices only. Freedom is never free.

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, slaves in Texas learned they were free. Today is Juneteenth. Black Independence Day. But with an asterisk. Historical accounts relate that slaveholders forced slaves to remain in bondage until after the next cotton harvest and that many slaves were killed seeking “absolute equality.”

On June 19, 2015, channeling the spirit of Shirley Chisholm – “unbossed and unbought” – I have learned many things about who I am and what I aspire to be. The emancipation of Melinda D. Anderson is complete.

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Sixty-one years ago today the Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling. In a unanimous decision, the Court struck down the concept of “separate but equal” in the nation’s public schools. It was a catalyst that invigorated the Civil Rights Movement and its quest to end the inequality of Jim Crow laws, affecting everything from lunch counters to buses.

Sixty-one years later:

As I wrote in January:

The isolation of Black students continues unabated. White families trying to outrun integration — affectionately known as “white flight” – continues unabated. And the hyperventilating about segregated schools doesn’t seem to last any longer than the news headlines and PBS specials. There’s not an education policymaker or education reformer that puts school integration on the top of any education policy agenda.

_________________________

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

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.”