Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Teaching About White Supremacy in the Trump Era

Over the past year and a half, I was quite busy creating an elementary social studies curriculum and was on hiatus from blogging. I return to blogging about social studies and education with this post related to the events from last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, and teaching about White supremacy (and the upcoming "Unite the Right 2" event in Washington, D.C.).

Before becoming a Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandies wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” While this related to his views of corporate transparency, I find this quote particularly helpful in framing the teaching of White supremacy and racism in the classroom. There may be a worry among some teachers or parents that students are not ready to learn about White supremacy (or racism more broadly), or that by teaching about White supremacy, it may actually lead to more racism. Yet, sunlight is the best disinfectant in regard to racism and White supremacy. By learning about White supremacy in the past and present, how it functions, and ways to work against it, students will be better prepared for a world where it has control over so many social factors. At the same time, I also argue that in our current era, it may be more difficult than before for teachers to teach about White supremacy.

Over the past two years, there have been several high profile events that have exposed White supremacy to many Americans who were previously unaware of it. As a private citizen and later a candidate, Donald Trump routinely used racist rhetoric (including his negative portrayal of African Americans, Mexicans, Central Americans, and Muslims), which appeared part of his political strategy and was likely a major factor in his electoral victory. As a president, he has continued this rhetoric and attempted to enact certain racist policies (such as this, this, and this), which may influence his ongoing support by some groups of Whites). While some may argue that Trump’s language and actions are unusual for an American president, I would argue that he is simply illuminating the White supremacy that has long permeated American society, including its government (he may simply be expressing what many politicians, including some past presidents, thought, but did not express publicly for fear of the political ramifications). Concurrently, there has been the rise of the Alt-Right, which is an attempt to unite a series of far right ideologies under a core belief of White nationalism. Alt-Right groups were responsible for the "United the Right" event in Charlottesville that included a nighttime White supremacist rally that used Tiki torches to imitate Nazi rallies of the past and an attack where a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people. Finally, there has been a dramatic increase in reported hate crimes, with many specifically targeting Latino/a and Muslim Americans (which has been labeled by some as the Trump effect), over the past two years.

These events have presented some very difficult issues for social studies teachers (and teachers in general) who routinely make current events a focus of their classrooms. Many teachers have a fear that if they ask students to critically evaluate the words and actions of Trump (in the same way that they did for Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton before him), they may now incite emotional (and possibly uncontrollable) discussions in their classrooms, or worse, be labeled as trying to politically indoctrinate their students. Yet, if teachers are not engaging their students in civil discussions and critical analyses of Trump’s words and actions (the same discussions that all democratic citizens should be having), then they are missing an important opportunity to help their students make sense of the current political climate and its implications for our country (and its future).

To make clear, when teaching White supremacy in the age of Trump, it is important to draw careful distinctions between the larger ideological movement and the president. While Trump's language and actions are certainly guided by White supremacy (including his defense of White supremacists in Charlotteville as "very fine people on both sides" and his re-Tweeting of White supremacist anti-Muslim videos from Britain), to simply conflate the two would be a mistake; it would not only alienate some conservative students, but also possibly prevent any productive classroom discussions or inquiries on the topic. In fact, this should not be a partisan issue (and numerous members of Trump's own political party have condemned his stances on a number of occasions when he used racist language and or engaged in racist actions; see here and here).

So, how should teachers help students understand White supremacy and its role in history and present day? I suggest teachers focus on three things when addressing issues of White supremacy in their classrooms.

1. Place White supremacy within a historical context, but also connect the history of White supremacy to the present day.

It is essential for teachers to help students place White supremacy within the much larger historical context of the country (i.e. European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, race in the colonial era, slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the War on Drugs, the L.A. Riots, Hurricane Katrina), but also connect that history to the present day. This is to help students see that White supremacy, as an ideology, has existed across U.S. history and was not ended during the civil rights movements or as a result of Barack Obama's election (as some people have suggested), but persists in our current society.

I recommend explicitly teaching about both overt and covert White supremacy. It is helpful to provide examples. For instance, rallies like "Unite the Right," spray painted swastikas, or the Charleston Church Shooting are all examples of overt White supremacy. The perpetrators of White supremacy are very clear that racial hate motivates them. However, there is also covert White supremacy. This is where White supremacy is much more nuanced or hidden. It may be perpetrated in a way that does not make racial hate as obvious. For instance, the 1998 Willie Horton political advertisement is a good example, as it intentionally used race to convince a group of White voters (through their racial fear) to vote for a specific political candidate. Or, it can be carried out by people who are not even aware of their White supremacy. For example, numerous studies have been done on implicit bias, which are unconscious and automatic features of prejudiced judgment, or microaggressions, behaviors or statements that do not necessarily reflect malicious intent but can inflict insult or injury. This may impact how White police officers react to certain situations involving people of color or how a person of color may be routinely overlooked for job interviews. This type of White supremacy is far more systemic and structural. It means that people of color must routinely justify their abilities or even their existence to Whites. While students may be much more familiar with overt than covert White supremacy, it is important that they are provided with examples of both. Covert White supremacy leads many White Americans to support racist actions or policies (without even recognizing the underlying White supremacy). It presents a "less ugly” racism and often frames White supremacy using “common sense” language (for instance, in arguments opposing affirmative action, you may hear, "if you support fairness, why would you support something that gives a preference to some groups over others?" It re-frames a program that is meant to support groups disadvantaged by racism as actually disadvantaging the dominant group). For some, this covert White supremacy can eventually becomes overt (See this piece on the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville).

2. Allow practice using critical media literacy on past and present racist images and writings.

It is also important for teachers to have students practice using critical media literacy to analyze racist images from the past and present (I recently gave a presentation at the New-York Historical Society about this, which include some examples of how race is presented in the media and how young learners may experience it-within a larger discussion of teaching difficult history at the elementary-level). It is important for students to not only be able to critically evaluate the media in their own world, but also cases of White supremacy from the past. For instance, Malcolm Cawthorne and Kathryn Leslie have used an interview with a White nationalists in their class at Brookline (Massachusetts) High School to help students see how people in our current time may hold overt White supremacist ideas. Or, Jeffrey Morgan, an English teacher, had students analyze White supremacist propaganda found on the Internet. However, these teachers also connected the present day to a long history of White supremacy in the United States. Whether it be overt White supremacy, such as when 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members marching on Washington, D.C. in 1925, or covert White supremacy, like how most White people in the American South accepted and supported Jim Crow Laws in their daily life. Teachers might have students analyze political cartoons about immigrants in the early 20th century or racial depictions of the Japanese during World War II, but then ask students to look for similar examples in the media of their current world, such as in the news media or how certain groups are portrayed on social media posts. It is important to show that there were-and are-people who engaged in purposeful acts of White supremacy, but also people who were-and are-complicit in a system that allows it to continue.

3. Provide students with possible ways to work against White supremacy. 

Finally, it is important to avoid fostering in students a fatalism around White supremacy (or a belief that it cannot be changed; that Whites will always hold prejudice toward others and maintain a racist system). The best way to do this is to provide tangible ways to work against White supremacy. Without tangible ways to reduce White supremacy, students may be left thinking "there is nothing that I can do."  One way teachers can do this is to expose students to the many different resources for anti-racist understanding and action, both covert, such as Harvard's Project Implicit, the Weldon Cooper Center's Racial Dot Maps, or the Mapping Police Violence Project, and overt, such as the many organizations that keep track of hate groups, including the SPLC's Hate Watch and Hate Map, and the Anti-Defamation League's Hate Crimes List. The final step it to help students (and your fellow colleagues) access possible ways to take that knowledge and work for change. This included community resources, like the Southern Poverty Law Center's Community Response Guide to Hate, articles and books on doing anti-racism work, and professional development from groups like Teaching Tolerance on teaching about anti-racism. The United States has long struggled with its White supremacy past and it will take education and action to work against it in the future.

Additional Resources:

Below are a few additional resources that can help teachers in their approach to White supremacy in the classroom.

An article from The Atlantic on how teachers are addressing issues related to the Alt-Right in the classrooms:

Strategies for teaching about Charlottesville from the Anti-Defamation League:

A lesson plan from PBS Learning Media on understanding White supremacy:

A lesson plan from AFT Share My Lesson on Charlottesville and White supremacy:

An article from Nikki Brown in the Washington Post:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

I’m Back... With A New Elementary Social Studies Curriculum

Over a year ago, I started building an inquiry-based elementary social studies curriculum for the Kenny Elementary School in the Boston Public Schools (with the help of my fantastic BU colleague Jenn Bryson). Since then, I have not had the time to regularly update my blog with my usual posts about social studies and education more broadly. I am excited to announce the first version of the curriculum is finally fully developed and we are ready to share it with the world. I am also happy to announce that I should be able to return to occasionally sharing my thoughts on this blog.

The name of our new elementary curriculum is "Understanding Our World." It is named this because it is based on the idea that children should get social studies starting in the early grades and that it should be, as Rudine Sims Bishop described, both "mirrors" and "windows" for themselves. The mirrors represent opportunities for students to learn about their (and their families' and ancestors') histories, social identities, and ways to civically engage in their communities, and the windows represent how their historical and present-day experiences relate to others. While this curriculum was designed for one school and is rooted in the local history, civics, geography, and economics of its community (Dorchester, which is a neighborhood in the city of Boston), this curriculum is open source and can be adapted for any school or district.

When we were designing this curriculum, we specifically wanted it to be open-source (so teachers can make modifications for their students and their communities), so you will see that it can be downloaded in both PDF form and an editable Word document. We also wanted it to be a curriculum that can serve as a stand alone during a teacher's social studies time or embedded within literacy instruction (for teachers in schools where there may be no dedicated time for social studies). Lastly, and most importantly, we wanted it to focus on issues of equity and social justice and help students at at an early age think about fairness.  

Finally, this curriculum is still under construction (we expect a Version 2.0 to be unveiled in the summer of 2018). We are in the process of continually improving it, making it more culturally relevant, and ensuring that the perspectives of various people and groups being studied are accurate and authentic. If you have any suggestions on how we can do this or general improvements, please e-mail them to me at cmartell@bu.edu or take this anonymous feedback survey.

You can read more about this "Understanding Our World" curriculum and download at its website: www.christophercmartell.com/understandingourworld/

(One final note: the bandwidth of the curriculum website is not very large, so please do not stream the videos. Instead, you can download them to a desktop and play them from there.)


Monday, July 3, 2017

On Hiatus... Returning Soon with Elementary Social Studies Curriculum

Due to several projects (including an elementary social studies curriculum that I am developing), I have been on a blogging hiatus. I expect to return in spring 2018, when I release the new curriculum and return to this blog...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Teaching Protest Movements: The Women's March in Historical Context

Last Saturday, at least 3.2 million Americans participated in the Women's March (including my family here in Boston), which made it the largest political protest in U.S. history. Several news outlets have compiled aerial photos to help us understand the enormity of this protest, including CNN and USA Today. Led by women, these rallies were a reaction to the rhetoric (and now actions) of President Donald Trump and the organizers described them as, "stand[ing] together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families - recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country."

The most obvious historical connection to this protest would be the 1913 Suffragette Procession, where thousands of women gathered to demand a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote (held the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration) and the Silent Sentinels protests outside the White House in 1917. Both of these protests were led by Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association and later the National Women's Party (a NAWSA break-off group). 

Top: The 2017 Women's March in D.C. Bottom: The 1913 Suffragette Procession in D.C.

As a long-time government teacher and now teacher educator, I have often heard students say that they do not feel that their vote "counts." Having experienced two incredibly close elections in my life (2000 and 2016, where the winner of the Electoral College did not win the popular vote), not to mention many close state and local elections, there seems to be evidence that every vote does count. Yet, I can understand the apathy, especially with the amount of influence that large donors have on the political system. However, my reactions to these students' comments have always been, "Voting is the lowest form of democratic participation. Democracy is really what happens between elections, when citizens must engage in signing petitions, wearing political buttons/having political bumper stickers, writing to elected officials, campaigning for and contributing money to candidates, engaging in civil disobedience, lobbying for a special interest, running for office, and demonstrating through forms of protest" (the Center for Civic Education has a nice list of ways to participate in democracy here). The last one, demonstrations, is particularly important. In fact, there is a long history of political protests influencing U.S. history.

Compared to citizens in other nations (especially Europe and Latin America), Americans rarely protest. When I have taught the right to assemble, many of my students have confessed that they would "never do that." They say that they do not think protests make a difference or that they don't feel comfortable taking their political views to the streets. However, when conditions become so poor or people become so afraid that the basic tenets of democracy may be at risk (i.e. the Boston Tea Party, the Depression, the Vietnam War), the average person may decide there is no alternative than to march. I imagine many of the marchers this past weekend participated in their first political protest. As a social studies educator, the marches last weekend make me feel hopeful for our democracy.

So, how can social studies teachers help better prepare citizens who are more likely to participate in political demonstrations? I would suggest there are three problematic ways that political protests are presented in the social studies curriculum that contribute to this reluctance of Americans to exercise a right to assemble and, by challenging these views of protests, we can better help foster engaged citizens:

(1) Protests are usually presented as being led by a charismatic individual (i.e. Sam Adams leading the Boston Tea Party, Martin Luther King leading the March on Washington). Yet, most protests (including those two aforementioned protests from the 18th and 20th centuries) were not led or organized by individuals, but instead collective movements of people. This "individual leader" view sends the message to students that you need a captivating figure to organize protests (however, the Women's Marches are a clear example helping dispel this, since they had no one person leading them).

(2) Protests are presented as comprised of radicals, rather than "regular" citizens. While it is true that radicals often advocate for swifter change than the population as a whole and may be the first to protest, without regular citizens most protests would not have been very effective. A prime example of this is the Vietnam War era protests. While there were protests as early as 1963, it wasn't until a mass of "regular" students began protesting that the media and government started to pay attention. This "radicals only" view discourages citizens from regularly participating in protests.

(3) Protests are presented as one-time events, rather than a part of long-term movements. Most protests are part of movements extending years or decades, rather than a single event. In fact, protest movements often converge. For instance, in the mid-1800s there was substantial overlap between the participants of the women's rights and abolitionist movements. Today, the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter Movement have some convergence with recent women's rights, immigrants' rights, and gay rights movements. The "one-time events" view discourages sustained political protests. Yet, sustained political protests are more likely to force the government to establish reforms leading to lasting change (for instance, the abolitionist movement had decades of political protests, in the form of newspapers, marches, rallies, lawsuits, and ultimately war before their goal of ending slavery was realized).

To help students better understand this nation's long history of protests, I suggest teachers have students engage in inquiry around the Women's Marches and three lesser-known political protests. After students compare and contrast the four movements' objectives and methods, a good inquiry question might be: "After examining the evidence from the Women's Marches and these three other events from U.S. history, which movement had the most effective methods of protest?" By using these protests, instead of some of the more well-known, students will be able to see examples that defy the above problematic depictions of protests.

1. Shay's Rebellion: In 1786-87, farmers in Western Massachusetts protested against economic inequity. This would ultimately lead to the Constitutional Convention. Howard Zinn had an excellent chapter on this in his book "A People's History of the United States." Here is a link to primary sources from Shay's Rebellion.

2. Anti-Nuclear Protests: In the late 1950s into the 1960s, across the United States, Americans protested for nuclear disarmament. This movement eventually influenced a series of agreements between the U.S. and Soviet Union to reduce their nuclear arms stockpiles (and actually gave us the peace symbol). Here is a link to primary sources from the nuclear disarmament movement between 1957 and 1985.

3. Anti-Globalization Protests: In the late 1990s, environmentalists and workers rights activist engaged in several worldwide protests of globalization, including the 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization Meeting in Seattle. The movement highlighted several growing concerns related to globalization, including the devastating effects of free trade on humans and the environment, and in many ways these early protests have framed the major economic and political debate over the past 20 years. Here is a link to primary sources form the 1999 WTO Protest in Seattle.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Using “Columbus Day” to Teach American Indian Activism and Resistance Today

Above: Who is a hero? Columbus (from a painting in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda-notice the depiction on the right of the Native people) and Lakota Chief Sitting Bull

Across the United States, there has been a growing movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including in the states of South Dakota (which celebrates Native Americans' Day) and Vermont, and the cities of Berkeley, Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis, Anchorage, Cambridge, Portland, among others. I teach in Massachusetts, where Indigenous people first held the National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving 1970 to protest the genocide, land theft, and cultural destruction of Native peoples (which continues to be held here each year). While some dismiss these movements as "political correctness," I argue that they instead challenge all of us to critically evaluate the impact of Columbus' voyage on the Americas and its first nations (for more on this, perhaps no one has expressed it better than Wamsutta Frank B. James in his Suppressed Thanksgiving Speech). In the spirit of Indigenous Peoples' Day, I begin this post with two anecdotes from my teaching, followed by ways that we can use the Columbus Day holiday to teach modern day American Indian activism and resistance.

Almost ten years ago, when I was a high school social studies teacher, I was teaching about the westward expansion of Whites (perhaps better described as an invasion from the east) in my U.S. history class. The students were learning about forced reservations, the Dawes Act, and Indian boarding schools (including the notorious Carlisle Indian Industrial School). A student raised her hand and asked, "Why are there no longer Indians in America?" I paused for a second, and just before I began to speak, a classmate of hers said, "There are still Indians. My dad is a member of the Wampanoag tribe." I added that they hold a pow wow every year in Cape Cod and suggested the student attend to learn more about the first people of Massachusetts.

More recently, I was teaching a history methods course to future social studies teachers (many of whom are earning or have earned bachelor degrees in history). My students were participating in a lesson where we critically evaluate chapters on the "Closing the Frontier," which are typical in U.S. history textbooks. I then introduced an activity that they could use with their students to rewrite the textbook. At the conclusion of the activity, I told my students about the time that one of my students asked why there were no longer Indians in the United States and her classmate's response. I then asked students where in the U.S. history curriculum they stopped learning about Indigenous people. Most responded that it ended with the Battle of Wounded Knee (what is most appropriately called the Wounded Knee Massacre). I then asked how many students had heard of the American Indian Movement, the Occupation of Alcatraz, the protests at Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II, the Second Battle at Wounded Knee, or the Longest March. Very few hands went up.

The problem is that we teach American Indian history in a way that makes non-Indigenous students think Indigenous people ceased to exist after 1890 (the date of the Wounded Knee Massacre). As social studies teachers, we need to re-position American Indians as modern day activists and resistors. We need to use culturally sustaining pedagogy (for what that may look like in a Native context, see here) and we need to bring the teaching of Native history into the 21st century (and frankly, the 20th century).

Below are five ways that teachers can use this week to highlight present day Indigenous activism and resistance. They position Native people as freedom fighters, rather than victims, and highlight the important present day contributions of the first people.

1. Native Voters and the 2016 Election

Above: A Bernie Sanders campaign event at the Meskwaki Nation Settlement near Tama, Iowa.

Several news outlets have highlighted that with new swing states emerging in the 2016 election (i.e. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa), that Native voters may receive more attention from the presidential candidates. NPR recently ran this story about politics among members of the Navajo nation. In the primaries, Bernie Sanders campaigned on numerous reservations. Teachers should consider using stories like these to help students learn what issues are most important for American Indians living on and off (only 22% of American Indians/Native Alaskans live on reservations, with 60% living in metropolitan areas) the reservation today.

2. Indian Mascots Protests 

Above and Below: Images from recent Indian mascot protests in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. and a political cartoon on the topic.

Over the past decades, there have been several attempts to get professional, collegiate, and high school sports teams to stop using Indians as their mascots. This includes campaigns against the Cleveland Indians Washington Redskins, and Atlanta Braves, who may have the most offensive logos, names, and chants (i.e. the tomahawk chop) of any sports teams (take a look at this video of a dispute between a fan and protester that made national news or this comedic commentary from the Daily Show). In 2005, the NCAA, which governs collegiate sports issued a policy banning offensive nicknames with particular concern for Native American mascots. However, professional sports leagues and many statewide high school athletic associations have not adopted similar policies. For instance, here in Massachusetts, 40 high schools still have Indian mascots. Teachers should consider using the Indian mascot controversies, as a way to help students critically evaluate depictions of Native people in the media. While sports teams may be a starting point, the best lessons would also examine the depiction of Native culture and people in consumer products and Hollywood films.

3. Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

Above and Below: Images from the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

The recent Dakota Access Pipeline Protests have joined American Indian and environmental activists. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been involved in a legal battle with the company building a crude oil pipeline near their reservation. Thousands of Native people have come from across the country to support the protest, which is attempting to prevent the disturbance of burial grounds and prevent the pollution of the reservation's water sources. Teachers should consider using this current events issue to teach not only about Indian land rights, the history of the U.S. government breaking treaties with Native people, but also the taking of land for government use via eminent domain.

4. Politically Conscious Native Hip Hop 

Above: Hip hop artist Tall Paul

While hip hop has its roots in African American culture, in many ways it transcends race and has become a global music phenomenon. Moreover, hip hop has long been a medium to express political arguments. There are numerous Native hip hop artists who are using politically conscious lyrics to raise awareness of complex social issues faced by Indigenous people. Teachers should consider using Native hip hop to teach students about important issues on and off the reservation, including the preservation of Native languages, drug and alcohol abuse, and youth violence. Here are my five favorite artists:

Tall Paul (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
Prayers in a Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61V69jRF5ys 

Naát'áaníí Nez Means (Navajo and Oglala Lakota)
The Radical: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW7cLgozECc

Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota)
AbOriginal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_1fmbKCMmY  

Drezus (Plains Cree)
Warpath: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8Cy1Knyu6A  

Supaman (Apsaalooke Crow)
Somewhere: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3JMKF_tXKQ

5. Pow Wows
Above and Below: The Mashpee Wamponoag Pow Wow, held every July in Falmouth, Massachusetts; The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Pow wows have deep cultural importance within many Native communities. They are spaces for Indigenous people to honor their culture through a social gathering of dance and music. They often involve hundreds or even thousands of dancers, drummers, and singers (for more, the University of Washington offers a pow wow primer here). In Massachusetts, one of the largest is the Mashpee Wampanoag Pow Wow on Fourth of July weekend. The Gathering of Nations is the largest pow wow nationwide, with thousands of people attending each April in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Teachers should consider introducing students to the modern pow wow to help students unfamiliar with Indigenous culture see an important way that American Indians are preserving and teaching their Native heritage to the next generations, which may also help non-Native students draw comparisons between this cultural celebration and some of their own.

While teaching cultural traditions, like the pow wow, it is especially important that social studies teachers acknowledge the diversity of the Native people of the Americas. American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Native Alaskans come from over 500 different nations with diverse languages and cultures. Imagine teaching about European historical events, such as the French Revolution or World War II, and only using "Europeans" to describe the people involved. Teaching Native people as monolithic is tantamount to that, removing important distinctions, including histories and cultural differences, between this continent's Indigenous peoples.

For more teaching resources on American Indian history, check out the PBS American Experience documentary and companion website: We Shall Remain

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why I Am Voting No on 2

This is not a post about the merits of charter schools. Just like their public school peers, some charter schools provide an excellent education, while others are failing their students. The reality is that charter school students perform equal or worse on standardized tests than their peers in the public schools. In Boston, while charter school students perform better on state standardized tests, their public school peers are more likely to graduate college. Overall, Massachusetts has the nation’s best public education system, which is something we should be very proud of, but also something we must carefully protect.

Instead, this post is focused specifically on the upcoming Ballot Question 2 in Massachusetts. If this question passes, it would remove the current statewide cap on charter schools and allow up to 12 new Massachusetts charter schools every year. If it does not pass, the state legislature will continue to decide how many new charter schools can open in the future. Considering all of the negative consequences of the ballot question at hand, I am using this post to discuss the five reasons why I will be voting NO on Question 2 during this November’s election.

1. This ballot question will decrease funding for traditional public schools. Despite the “Yes on 1” campaign’s claims in television commercials that voting yes will result in “more funding for public education,” there is no evidence that this is true, especially since communities continue to receive less state educational aid. Even the ballot question’s most vocal supporter, Governor Charlie Baker has stated that Questions 2 will not change the current school funding formula. Currently, more than $450 million yearly is being drawn from public school districts. With an increase of 12 charter schools per year (which according to this ballot question can happen indefinitely), it could cost local school districts more than $1 billion annually within 10 years (which will not only present serious problems for urban communities' municipal budgets, but also would hurt their credit ratings).

While charter schools are approved by the state, their funding comes largely from charter school tuition reimbursements from public school districts (see here, for more on charter school funding). Boston had a $158 million charter school tuition assessment, which was 5% of the entire city budget. If this question passes, it could lead to almost all of Boston’s state education aid being diverted to charter schools. Moreover, there are other costs that local districts incur related to charter schools, including transportation. Last year, Boston spent $12 million on charter school busing, while the district has been dramatically cutting its own students’ transportation (middle school students now use public transportation instead of buses and the school assignment policy was changed so more students would attend schools closer to their homes. Boston charter schools also get first pick of school start times).

2. This ballot question will contribute to growing educational inequity in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts (and nationwide), there is strong evidence that charter schools do not serve all students. They typically have higher student attrition rates (which some attribute to charter schools “pushing” or consulting out students) than public school districts. They serve smaller numbers of English language learners and special needs students. Their teachers are not required to be licensed. Their school policies are more likely to promote “no excuses” discipline procedures that can be harmful to children (to understand what this looks like, consider this in-district charter school in Boston or these two charter schools in New York). They are also contributing to an alarming trend of racial resegregation in schools nationwide. It makes sense to correct these inequities before any major expansion of charter schools occurs in Massachusetts.

3. This is about privatizing public education. This ballot question is being pushed by well-funded special interest groups (who do not have to reveal their donors and many are from outside Massachusetts with no previous advocacy work for public education), who would like to see more private entities running public schools. Many of these special interest groups are supported by wealthy families (who do not typically have children in the public schools) and investors (who profit from investments in charter school companies and other attempts to privatize public education). If you believe that public education is essential for democracy, then this should raise serious concerns.

4. This ballot question does not correct problems with charter school governance. While a marketing campaign pushed the use of “public charter schools” among charter schools in 2014, in court, charter schools often argue they are “private” when it comes to open-records, open meeting, and labor laws. The best label for charter schools is probably quasi-public schools, since they receive public funding and are approved and regulated by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (although there is little oversight by the state and charter schools are rarely closed), but are privately managed. Unlike public schools in Massachusetts, which have democratically elected school committees that govern and set policy (except Boston, which is appointed by the mayor, who is democratically elected), charter schools have private boards (usually composed of business and political leaders, and rarely parents or students). Many charter schools are often run by educational companies and chains, which have much higher management costs (and sometimes by EMOs that are for-profit). Moreover, local school boards have no authority (and usually little communication) with the charter schools in their cities or towns.

5. This ballot question moves the role of charter schools from “labs for educational innovation” into “replacement for traditional public schools.” The cap on charter schools was lifted in the early 2000s from the original legislation allowing 25 to 120 (however, the state has only approved 81 so far, so there is still room for 39 more under the current law) and charter schools serve about 4% of the state’s students (Boston has 27 charter schools educating 14% of its student population). This legislation would result in as many as 60 new charter schools statewide in just 5 years and possibly 120 in 10 years. If charter schools are labs of innovation, then they should remain a relatively small number of the publicly supported schools. If there are great ideas being developed in charter schools, then bring those over to the public schools, not replace them (however, the state has not developed adequate practices around the sharing of practices between public schools and charter schools, which seems to be a major problem if charter schools are actually labs for educational innovation). This ballot question may be the tipping point that could destabilize public school districts which raises concerns about the overall utility of charter schools.

I am writing this post, not because I have an ideological opposition to charter schools, but because I care deeply about public education. As a teacher educator, I work with many future and current teachers, who will work in public schools, charter schools, and private schools. As a former teacher, who worked in public and private schools (and my wife is a public school teacher who previously worked in a charter school), I know that different students flourish in different school contexts. I am also a parent who lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston with a child attending our neighborhood public school. I am very happy with my child's school, but I can understand why some of our friends and other parents in our community choose to send their children to charter or private schools. I deeply respect parents’ rights to choose the educational setting that is best for their children. Furthermore, there is much to like about the original idea of charter schools conceived by Ray Budde at UMass Amherst (my alma mater) and Albert Shanker (the former head of the American Federation of Teachers), who envisioned charter schools as teacher-led educational laboratories to experiment with new types of pedagogy and curriculum. The idea of improving teaching and learning, and teacher empowerment, is at the heart of my work.

The movements to profit from and privatize public education have clouded the original vision of charter schools. This may be the reason why the National NAACP, New England NAACP, Black Lives Matter Movement, the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association, the National Democratic Party (who has generally supported charter school expansion), the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and numerous local officials across Massachusetts, including the Boston City Council and the mayor of Boston (who is a vocal supporter of charter schools), have changed their stances on charter school expansion. Even Comedian John Oliver recently made this humorous commentary on "This Week Tonight" and, despite early voter support for Question 2, there appears to be lessening of support recently for changing the current charter school law.

If this ballot question passes, it would have a devastating impact on our local public school districts. It would continue to weaken traditional public schools, which serve 96% of the state’s students. This ballot question will possibly lead to a two-tiered education system in Massachusetts, with the negative impacts exacerbated in our urban communities. Conversely, if this ballot question fails to pass, charter schools will continue to be an option for Massachusetts’ families and there will be undoubtedly more charter school seats in the coming years (since the state has still not reached its legislative maximum, with the exception of a few districts).

Voting "no" on Question 2 allows for more time to be thoughtful in our approach to charter school expansion within our public school system.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

On Hiatus... See You in the Fall

Due to several new projects (and now summer), I have been on a blogging hiatus since January. I expect to return in the fall, so check back then...

For now, enjoy some of my old posts (consider this a "greatest hits" compilation):

Social Studies Education

The Case for Elementary Social Studies Specialists

What Happened to Elementary Social Studies? ...And How Can We Get It Back?

Massachusetts Social Studies Standards (Parts 1 and 2)

The Tale of Two Education Reports

Teaching History and Civics

Teaching Race and the Last 20 Years / Trayvon Martin / Black Lives Matter Movement

Teaching Race and the “Good War”: The Role of Racism in World War II 

100th Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre: Teaching Workers' Rights

10 Worst Supreme Court Decisions

Teaching the Boston Tea Party

Resources for the History of Thanksgiving

Teaching Tiananmen Square

Education in Boston and Massachusetts

The Tale of Two Schools and the Failure of Education Reform

"Education Improvement" Not "Education Reform"

The Future of BPS and the Search for a New Superintendent

Boston's Education Mayor: None of the Above 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Teaching the Intersection of Race and Labor

Labor history is often missing from the U.S. history curriculum. For example, here in Massachusetts, the History and Social Science Framework includes only a few labor history topics (i.e. the formation of labor unions, progressive era reforms, 1919 Boston police strike, and New Deal work programs). When labor history is included, events that highlight the intersection of workers rights and racial inequity are often missing. For instance, A. Philip Randolph is the only historical figure in our state's high school social studies standards, and my suspicion is that he is also rarely included, or at best a fleeting mention, in most U.S. history classrooms.

In this post, I offer 10 people and events that can be used to help students investigate the intersection of race and labor with links to websites that provide teachers with related primary sources.

1. Frank Ferrell, The Knights of Labor, and Racial Exclusion

A major controversy erupted at the 1886 Convention of the Knights of Labor over whether or not Frank Ferrell, a black representative of the Knights of Labor in New York City, should introduce the governor of Virginia at the opening session. This is an excerpt from Knights of Labor leader Terence Powderly’s 1890 autobiography detailing the tense moments leading up to Frank Ferrell’s appearance.

2. A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters


In the 1920s, a group of disgruntled Pullman porters in New York City asked A. Philip Randolph, a strong advocate of the rights of black working men and women, to help them form a union of sleeping car porters and maids. George Pullman, president of the railroad company, fought the union, denounced Randolph as a communist and recruited support from the middle-class Black leaders of the Chicago. The Brotherhood was the verge of collapsing when Congress passed federal laws guaranteeing the right of all legitimate unions to organize workers without interference from their employers. Much of Randolph's philosophies on labor and politics was outline in this 1919 editorial "Our Reason for Being" in The Messenger.

3. East St. Louis Massacre of 1917


In the early 20th century, many southern African Americans sought job opportunities in northern factory towns during the Great Migration. The migration quickly expanded the size of the Black community in the St. Louis area, including East St. Louis, Illinois. On July 1, 1917, a rumor spread claiming that a White man had been killed by a Black man, and tensions boiled over. The next day, the city of East St. Louis exploded in the worst racial rioting the country had ever seen. Most of the violence - drive-by shootings, beatings, and arson - targeted the African American community. The riots, called the East St. Louis Massacre by many in the Black community, raged for nearly a week, leaving hundreds of African Americans and nine Whites dead, and $400,000 worth in property damage. More than six thousand Black citizens, fearing for their lives, fled the city. Several prominent Black civil rights activists spoke out against the riots, including this editorial by W.E.B. Du Bois and speech by Marcus Garvey.

4. The Bracero Program

The Bracero Program (translated as "One who works with his arms") lasted from 1942 to 1964 and allowed Mexicans to take temporary agricultural work in the United States. 4.5 million Mexican farmers came and worked primarily on the West Coast and Southwest. Several groups concerned over the exploitation of Bracero workers tried to repeal the program. As part of this protest, Leonard Nadel took these photographs of Bracero workers in 1956.

5. Operation Bootstrap/Operación Manos a la Obra

In 1948, Puerto Rico elected its first governor Luis Muñoz Marín who favored manufacturing as a means to developing the island's economy. As a result, the U.S. government launched an industrialization program known as “Operation Bootstrap/Operación Manos a la Obra,” which focused primary on inviting American companies to establish factories and business ventures in Puerto Rico. These companies would receive incentives, such as tax exemptions and infrastructural assistance, in return for providing jobs for the local population. At the same time, they often had poor conditions for their workers and the flood of U.S. products that reinforced economic dependency for the island. The U.S. government also encouraged the migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland U.S. (i.e. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, California, and Florida) and Hawaii. For many Puerto Ricans, this labor-related event is the push and pull factor that brought their families to the mainland. There are many graphs displaying statistics related to the U.S. government program.

6. Sue Cowan Williams Sues for Pay Equity for Black Teachers in Little Rock

Sue Cowan Williams represented African American teachers in the Little Rock School District as the plaintiff in a 1941 case challenging the rate of salaries allotted to teachers in the district based solely on skin color. As a result of her lawsuit, the school district did not renew her contract. While loosing the initial case, she would win on appeal in 1945, be reinstated in her position, and spending the rest of her teaching career in Little Rock (retiring in 1974). The case ruling is available here from Morris v. Williams (1945).

7. The Local 22 Strike and the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company


In the 1940s in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America forced the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to improve work conditions for the Black (and largely female) workforce, who often endured incredibly hot conditions and long hours, while breathing tobacco dust, we segregated in an area separate from White employees. Besides pictures, few primary sources exist. However, Duke Magazine has an excellent in-depth story on the union and strike.

8. Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta: National Farm Workers Association and the Grape Strike and Boycott


In 1962 Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta founded the National Farm Workers Association. The union would grow to include over 50,000 field workers, many of whom were Chicanos or Mexican immigrants. Chavez and Huerta organized numerous protests, including the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott. There are numerous primary sources available at the Farmworker Movement Document Archive and an excellent documentary film called Viva La Causa.

9. The '82 New York Chinatown Strike


In June 1982, demanding a fair contract, unionized garment workers, who were largely Asian women, went on strike in New York's Chinatown. As a result of thousands workers, many of whom were also immigrants, marched through the streets of Chinatown forcing employers to withdrew their demands. Within hours, the workers had won the strike. The memories of the workers from the '82 Chinatown Strike have been compiled into this anthology

10. Hattie Canty and the Las Vegas Hotel Maids Union

In 1990, Hattie Canty was elected president of the Las Vegas Hotel and Culinary Workers Union Local 226. As a result of the union workers' actions and strikes, work conditions and standard of living were improved for thousands of working class people in Las Vegas’s hotel and casino industry. This was covered in a New Yorker article from 1996.