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

Black Girls Should Matter, Too. [The Atlantic]

Written on 11 May 2015, 08:43pm under As Seen In


A mounting body of evidence suggests that black students across the country face daunting odds in their quest for an equitable education. Federal statistics show that black students in the U.S. are suspended and expelled three times as often than white students. Research on racial discrepancies in discipline underscores that the higher rates of punishment among black students don’t correlate with a greater tendency to violate school policies—rather, the data suggests they’re disciplined more harshly than whites and other students for identical infractions. A number of studies also suggest that racial stereotyping by teachers is a key reason black students are often stigmatized as both troublemakers prone to misbehavior and underachievers incapable of academic excellence.

Given the growing recognition that race and poverty hinder educational opportunity and outcomes, leaders ranging from policymakers to businesspeople have committed to tackling this crisis. Yet their interventions and solutions are centered on boys of color. This often renders black girls all but invisible.

If you’d like to read more, please click here and let us know what you think.

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.

“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.

Cease and Desist: How NOT To Celebrate Black History Month

Written on 25 February 2015, 08:16pm under Homegrown

I have a real love-hate relationship with Black History Month. I understand the kinship for a month when America gives focused and concentrated attention to the remarkable achievements and contributions of Black Americans. Cue violins.

I also know the month of February to be a long slog through cringe-worthy moments. After repeated spells of stupidity, even the heartiest devotee of Carter G. Woodson would decide enough is enough. With February 2015 coming into the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look back at the month that was.

Lip-Smacking Racism
This one is a recurring soap opera. A school creates a Black History Month menu with some combination of fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas, watermelon and / or cornbread. For the uninitiated, apparently these are all foods that only Black people eat, only Black people like, and signify Black History Month is underway. Are these foods racist? No. What’s racist is associating them with Black people, fueling a stereotype that is rooted in “a lot of racist history.” Why we have to review this every February is bewildering. But I’m sure we’ll encounter it again. Just serve fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas, watermelon and cornbread year-round and avoid the mea culpa.

“Today, You Get to Be A Slave”
This one is mind-numbing. I can’t begin to summarize the far-reaching depths of poor decision-making that would lead “educators” and “scholars” to create a digital simulation game where students can adopt the role of a 14-year-old slave girl, earning badges that could lead her to freedom – and funded with tax dollars to make it even more despicable. Rafranz Davis, an instructional technology specialist, uncovered this outrage and immediately took to social media, putting a spotlight on this damaging educational material and calling all parties to account. This episode left me disgusted – inviting students to role-play an escaping slave is just gross and wrong! – but not surprised. Slavery is taught in schools in such a splintered and fragmented way that the inhumanity, injustice, brutality and cruelty are completely erased. Slavery is as much a part of American history as Washington crossing the Delaware. That would be the same George Washington whose dentures were made with the teeth of his slaves. Yet another pertinent fact they never teach in school.

Kids Will Be Kids
This one could have happened any month. But it happened in February. Oh, the irony is rich. In Texas, white students decided to welcome a mostly-Black high school by flashing “white power” signs during their basketball game. One student claimed the sign was part of a “cheer routine” based on the home team’s blue and white team colors. No one could explain “power” however. Maybe the Flower Mound basketball team doubles as the Power Rangers? If youngsters are going to be racist, they really need to be quicker on their feet. In the end, out of feeble excuses, the students admitted they intended to spell out a racial slur. And the district seems fixated on the fact that the signs were “displayed for no longer than 30 seconds.” Just long enough to instill hate and fear.

T-minus four days until “Farewell, Black History Month 2015!”

I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.
— How It Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston

Bethesda Chevy Chase High School is in Montgomery County, Maryland – a suburb of Washington, D.C. In this video, Black and Hispanic students share the painful struggles of being a student of color in schools where they are thrown against a sharp white background. Where they must dodge the daily indignities of racial microaggressions – a fancy word for insults, rudeness and insensitivity that demeans a person’s racial identity or heritage.

That children’s saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Lies. All lies. These students show in heartbreaking and vivid detail how deeply words can cut. And what are left behind are the memories and scars that form from racially-charged words and incidents.

These young people are brave to speak their truth to “…give voice to those who suffer from ill perceptions” and “expose the harm of racial stereotypes in high school as well as bring awareness to the achievement gap.” Be brave enough to listen and care. And courageous enough to act on what you hear.