Sunday, June 4, 2023

Teaching About Affirmative Action

Above: Supporters of Affirmative Action outside of the Supreme Court in October 2022.

Despite a majority of Americans supporting the use of race in university admissions (although asking the question differently effects the results), it is very likely in the coming days that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that university affirmative action programs are unconstitutional (UPDATE: On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court reversed decades of precedent and ruled that affirmative action in college admissions was unconstitutional; this also led many to question the long-standing practice of legacy admissions in U.S. universities). This follows a trend of the conservative-majority Supreme Court undoing decades of civil rights legal precedents, including abortion rights (Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization), voting rights (Shelby County v. Holder), as well as separation of church and state (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; Carson v. Makin, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District; Shurtleff v. Boston) in the United States. 

This post is meant to help teach students about the history of affirmative action, the current debate over affirmative action, and help students contemplate the inquiry question: How should we address the racial disadvantages embedded in our educational systems? 

This issue is not only incredibly important to discuss with students, and especially high schools students who are often preparing to apply to college, but since educational access is a major determinant of life outcomes, it is an important issue for equity more broadly in American society.

Racial Segregation and the Civil Rights Acts 

Above: Black students attend a de jure racially segregated school in Summerton, S.C. (1954).

The United States was established as an independent nation in 1783 with a legalized race-based slave system and with people of color and women not having equal citizenship rights to white men, which caused widespread racial and gender inequality. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, racial and gender discrimination persisted and the social and economic gaps between white men and people of color and women continued to widen. While there were some eras of expanding racial and gender equality, including some civil rights cases in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (such as Tape v. Hurley and Méndez v. Westminster), women's suffrage, and during the New Deal (including anti-discrimination executive orders), it was not until Brown v. Board of Education that the government had a constitutional obligation to prevent racial discrimination. Soon laws, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act would follow and extend these protections based on gender, national origin, and other social identities. 

History of Discrimination and Racial Segregation Before Brown v. Board of Education (Library of Congress)

Tape v. Hurley

Méndez v. Westminister

Brown v. Board of Education (PBS American Experience)

After Brown v. Board of Education (Organization of American Historians)

1957 Civil Rights Acts

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Voting Rights Act of 1965

Great Society and Racial Equality

History of Affirmative Action and Re-Segregation of the United States

"Affirmative action" was a term first used in Executive Order 10925 signed by John F. Kennedy in regard to preventing racial discrimination in the hiring of government contractors. Under the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the program became one of his signature civil rights initiatives. In the 1960s and 70s, affirmative action programs expanded in employment and education for both people of color and women (white women have been the largest beneficiary of affirmative action). While primarily government programs, private employers and academic institutions have also adopted affirmative action policies. Yet, since the 1990s, racial segregation in U.S. schools, workforce, and housing has increased. 

Affirmative Action Timeline (The American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity)

History of Affirmative Action (Smithsonian Magazine)

History of Affirmative Action (Clinton White House Archive) 

The Return of School Segregation (PBS Frontline)

The Re-Segregation of the United States (NBC News)

Court Challenges to Affirmative Action

Above: Demonstrators in Washington, D.C. in 1977 protest the potential decision against affirmative action in the Bakke case.

Starting in the 1970s, there were a series of conservative legal challenges to affirmative action programs. They have made claims that race should not be a consideration in employment and especially not a consideration in school and college admissions (and labeling it as a form of "reverse discrimination," where there is evidence it instead "leveled the playing field."). Simultaneously, affirmative action programs increased social and economic opportunities for people of color and women. Meanwhile, many groups have defended the practice as a means to ensuring fairness in educational and employment opportunities.

University of California v. Bakke

Wessmann v. Boston School Committee

Grutter v. Bollinger/Gratz v. Bollinger

Fisher v. The University of Texas

Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina/Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College

Supreme Court's Hostility to Affirmative Action (National Public Radio) 

Meet the Man Trying to End Affirmative Action (Christian Science Monitor)

Commentaries and Fact Sheets on Affirmative Action

Above: College Enrollment by Race (PEW Research Center).

Below are a series of affirmative action fact sheets and commentaries presenting different perspectives on the topic.

ACLU Affirmative Action Fact Sheet 

Asian Americans Advancing Justice Fact Sheet 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Fact Sheet

The Changing Meaning of Affirmative Action - The New Yorker

5 Reasons to Keep Affirmative Action - Center for American Progress 

A Monumental Threat to Racial Equality: The Supreme Court Affirmative Action Cases - Alliance for Justice 

Argument Against Affirmative Action - Stanford Magazine

Edward Blum Interview - Time Magazine

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Teaching Book Bans in the Past and Present


Above: A list of book bans by state (PEN America). There are bans in 138 school districts in 32 states that represent 5,049 schools with nearly 4 million students.

What is going on with all these states and schools banning books? 

How can teachers use this as a "teachable moment" and educate students about the long history of censorship inside and outside schools?

There is a long history of humans banning or destroying books that they find objectionable. Of course, one of the most infamous acts of book burning included those of the Nazis during their rise to power in the 1930s. Similarly, segregationists during the modern Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s attempted to ban books from local libraries and schools

Sadly, we again face attempts to censor what people, and especially students, read. A number of conservative states in the U.S. have passed laws that curtail what books can be included in schools and many school boards have banned books from their school libraries. These laws have largely targeted books related to race, sexual orientation, and transgender people (and are part of a concerted effort by conservatives to control the content taught in schools). In response, educators and community members have been challenging these laws. 

This blog post is to help social studies teachers contextualize these book bans through lessons for their students on the history of book bans.

Above: Book burning depicted in the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicles. Below: (Left) The 1817 Wartburg Festival in Germany, where anti-nationalist writings were burned. (Right) Segregationists in the 20th century often supported bans and burnings related to books about racial justice or written by authors of color. 


Book Bans Spread from Europe to the Americas

As long as there have been books, there have been attempts by people to ban or destroy them. There were incidences of book burnings in ancient Rome, Egypt, and China. There were at least 200 book burnings during the Medieval period in Europe. Traditionally, book burnings have been mostly symbolic acts to further the cause of banning books. With the invention of the printing press and books being more readily available, book bans increased. For example, during the Reformation, Pope Paul IV banned books by authors guilty of heresy against the Catholic Church, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII, and others. The first book banning in what became the United States was likely in 1637 at Manet (now Quincy) in Massachusetts Bay Colony and continued through much of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Book Bans to Prevent Increasing Justice and Freedom

Above: Anti-slavery book Uncle Tom's Cabin was banned and even burned in many places before the Civil War. 

In the 19th and 20th centuries, as more people facing oppression demanded their rights, book bans increased in the United States. Anti-slavery books were banned in many locations throughout the United States in the 19th century, and especially in slave states. For instance, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was publicly burned by slaveholders. Free Black minister Sam Greenwas was sentenced to 10 years in a Maryland penitentiary for owning a copy of the book. 

 

After the Civil War, with the passage of the Comstock Act (1873), possession or mailing of "obscene" or "immoral" texts became illegal; these laws often targeted queer people and women, as they included articles about sexuality and birth control. In Boston (where I live), the New England Watch and Ward Society was created in 1879 to push for the banning of books throughout in the area (it helped give the rise to the phrase "banned in Boston"); to their dismay, some publishers specifically chose to publish their books in the city in the hopes that it would get banned and raise publicity. During the anti-communism hysteria of the early 1950s, communities banned numerous books including Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird

 

In the 1950s and 60s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, and the sexual revolution, schools became the front link for book bans. The United Daughters of the Confederacy waged successful campaigns to ban textbooks that were not sympathetic to the Confederacy (here is an excellent story from The Root showing how many current congressmen used those textbooks). Those opposed to the Civil Rights Movement banned books about racial justice and written from Black perspectives (something that started decades earlier, including the banning of Carter G. Woodson's work). They also burned books, including the plea for racial equality "We Sing for America" by Marion Cuthbert. Meanwhile, segregationists also prevented Black people from borrowing books from public libraries.


Above: (Right) A comic book and magazine burning in 1949 at St. Mary's High School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. (Left) Elementary teachers cover bookshelves in 2023 after Manatee County School District officials direct them to remove all books that have not been approved by a specialist to ensure they do not violate a new Florida state law that censors the content of school books. 

 

Schools (and school-aged children) have often been the target of book bans and burnings. Due to their perceived innocence, book bans that are framed as "protecting children" often face less resistance from communities. Yet, these book bans have often targeted books that are actually uplifting to students of color and queer students, or help students understand issues related to race, sexual orientation, or gender.

 

During this period, there were also several important federal and Supreme Court cases that prohibited school officials from removing books from school libraries (Minarcini v. Strongsville City School District and Island Trees School District v. Pico) or preventing student journalists from reporting on controversial topics (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier). Much of these rulings we based on a 1933 Supreme Court ruling that struck down bans of the James Joyce book "Ulysses." Yet, there have continued to be so many contested books in school libraries that librarians have established the annual "Banned Book Week."


Above: A book burning in 2022 held by a conservative Christian pastor in Tennessee

Book Bans Today 

Book bans and burnings are not unique to the United States, but they have made a comeback in recent years. The nonprofit organization PEN America found that 1,586 book bans targeting 1,145 unique books had occurred in 2022. So-called "divisive concept" or anti-Critical Race Theory laws have give new tools to conservative politicians to remove books related to racial justice or queer peoples' experiences.

 

Moms for Liberty, a dark money funded astroturf group, has been one of the groups leading the charge to ban books at the district and state levels (while also strategically placing conservative political propaganda in some of those same school libraries and generally lobbying against public education). A similar campaign is under way from other conservative political organizations to influence history and civics curriculum around conservative political ideologies.

 

An important aspect to book bans or burnings is that they usually do not work (yet, they do sometimes have a silencing effect in the short term-and there should be a concern that these bans may be different). Ultimately, they may encourage more people to read a banned or burned book, especially in the digital age, where it is much easier to get access to reading materials. For example, an Arkansas lawmaker tried to ban Howard Zinn's A Peoples History of the United States, and it likely led to more students reading the book. After some school districts attempted to ban "Stamped" by Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds, book sales skyrocketed.

 

Below are several editorials and campaigns against book bans. Have students read these various perspectives as they consider the potential harm caused by book bans.

"The Real Reason North Dakota Is Going After Books and Librarians" by Taylor Brorby (New York Times) https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/24/opinion/libraries-sex-books-north-dakota.html 

"How to Beat a Book Ban: Students, Parents and Librarians Fight Back" by Adam Gabbatt (The Guardian)  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/sep/20/us-book-bans-fight-school-librar

"How To Fight Book Bans and Challenges: An Anti-Censorship Tool Kit" by Kelly Jensen (Book Riot) https://bookriot.com/how-to-fight-book-bans-and-challenges/

"Unite Against Book Bans Campaign" by the American Library Association https://uniteagainstbookbans.org/

 

Inquiry Questions to Consider Asking Students:


Finally, here are a set of inquiry questions that teachers might ask students about book bans (and burnings) in the past and present. To help students answer these questions, teachers can use the above linked sources from the post:

  • How should we remember the history of book bans and burnings? 
  • Using examples from history, what are some effective ways that students and parents organized to stop book bans?
  • Are current book bans in states like Florida or Texas constitutional? Do they cause harm to students?

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Teaching About Japanese American Incarceration

In 1942, the United States government unjustly incarcerated over 120,000 Japanese Americans. Anti-Asian American racism and fear of economic competition with white-owned farms and businesses have been widely documented as the main causes. Traditionally, Japanese American incarceration has been told through the U.S. government's narrative. Students study from textbooks, government documents, and even photographs and films that the government created to portray a "sanitized" version of what happened. I hope this post can support teachers in telling a different story that centers Japanese Americans, their voices, and their experiences. I start by telling the story of my in-laws, who were incarcerated as children, followed by a discussion of incarceration language, a document-based lesson plan, and additional resources.

We need the teaching of history to better humanize the experiences of people in the past. Moreover, we need to center the experiences of people who experienced difficult events of the past, rather than those who caused the difficult events. In the case of incarceration, we need to center the Japanese American community in how we remember what happened, rather than the U.S. government who did the incarceration; too often, Japanese American incarceration is told through the perspective of the U.S. government, the media who was complicit, and white Americans' unsubstantiated fears, and not Japanese Americans who resisted, survived, and persevered despite such difficult conditions.

My Family-in-Law's Story

Above: (Right) The Hashimoto family in a picture taken at Tule Lake Segregation Center in Newell, California. (Left) The Nakai family in a picture taken in Berkeley, California at a house where they lived with several other family members after being released from Tule Lake.

In this case, Japanese American incarceration is a personal topic for my family and it is important that I begin this post by telling their story. My father-in-law was incarcerated when he was 3 years old (above left is a picture from Tule Lake around the time of his family's release; Frank is on the right) and my mother-in-law was born at Tule Lake (above right is a picture from about a year after her family's release; Daphne is on the left). Growing up, my wife would hear occasional stories from her grandparents and parents about life in "camp" (there is a great amount of sadness and anger about the incarceration, so many Japanese Americans rarely share their stories). Since my daughters were little, they have also known that their grandparents were in prison camps as children and routinely ask them questions about it. They know the importance of never forgetting what happened. A few years ago, when they learned that migrant children were being imprisoned at the southern U.S. border (see the Tsuru for Solidarity movement), they demanded that we do everything we could to help stop it (because it was similar to their grandparents' experiences).

Above: My family attending a 2018 protest in Boston to stop the detention of migrant children and forced family separation. This is an on-going problem that has not ended under the Biden administration.

My in-laws and their families have heartbreaking, but also remarkable, stories. Daphne Nakai's grandmother and grandfather immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s. They would migrate back-and-forth to Japan a couple times likely for work and personal reasons. They would eventually settle in San Francisco. In the early 1920s, Daphne's father Steve (who was one years old) moved to Japan with his mother and siblings. His father would stay behind to work and send the family money. Tragically, he would die in a car accident in San José. As a teenager, Steve would return to the U.S. in 1938 and he was living in Berkeley, where he was a servant to a wealthy white family. When the word came that the U.S. government was "evacuating" Japanese Americans from the West Coast, he moved with his fiancé and her family to Lodi in the Central Valley to avoid it (Lodi is also where they would get married, so they would not be separated during their imprisonment). They would eventually be incarcerated at Rohwer in Arkansas.     

Frank Hashimoto's grandfather and grandmother immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s (after the war, they would open what we think may have been the first Japanese market in Alameda, California; see below). Due to restrictive Asian immigration laws, Frank's grandfather took a ship to Mexico and crossed the U.S. border with a group of about 30 other Japanese men at Eagle Pass, Texas (where there were fewer immigration restrictions at the time). He then made his way from there to Southern California and eventually would settle in the Bay Area. His children were kibei, meaning that they were sent back to Japan for their education. When Frank was born, his father had returned to the U.S. and was teaching at a Japanese language school for farmer's children in Pescadero, California (see below). My father-in-law was named Franklin by his parents, after Franklin Roosevelt, because before moving to Pescadero, his family was able to secure public housing through the New Deal. However, since the time of his incarceration, he has only gone by the name of Frank, as it was FDR who signed the Executive Order 9066 that imprisoned him and his family. As World War II broke out, the Hashimotos moved back to the East Bay to be closer to family members. They were eventually imprisoned at Topaz in Utah. 

Above: (Bottom) The Japanese School in Pescadero, California. (Top) Hashimoto Foods in Alameda, California.

Japanese Americans found numerous ways to resist their incarceration. People like Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, Mitsuye Endo, and Min Yasui used the legal system (sadly, they and others were denied their rights through the decision in Korematsu v. the United States). Others protested through attempting to move eastward, engage in civil disobedience and draft resistance. For example, Frank's future sister-in-law's family would famously hang a "I Am An American" sign outside their Oakland grocery store (see below), which they were forced to sell due to incarceration. Some Japanese Americans were able to find non-Japanese American accomplices who would "hold onto" their homes, stores, or land while they were incarcerated (yet, others lost their property to dishonest people or unfair selling prices). 

Above: Owned by the Masuda family, the Wanto Shokai grocery store was located in downtown Oakland. Tetsuo Masuda, a graduate of UC Berkeley, took over the business after his sisters, Mineko and Yoshiko, were sent to camp. Tetsuo created the “I Am an American” sign in 1943. The remaining family members moved to Fresno County, hoping they would not be evacuated. The whole family would eventually be incarcerated at Gila River in Arizona.

All of my wife's grandparents were what are referred to as "No-nos," meaning when the government forced them to complete a loyalty questionnaire in 1943, they answered "no" to questions 27 and 28 (asking about their willingness to serve in combat and renounce loyalty to the Emperor of Japan). As a result of their answers to those questions, the Nakai and Hashimoto families were moved to Tule Lake Segregation Center in California. For many years after incarceration, families who answered "no-no" were stigmatized for not being loyal to the United States. However, today, some in the Japanese American community have elevated their stories as the resisters of incarceration. Since they were seen as the most disloyal by the U.S. government, many families (including the Hashimotos and Nakais) were not released from camp until 1946. Both families struggled to find work after camp. The also faced redlining and racist housing discrimination in the Bay Area (similar to the experiences of African American and Latinos at the time). Incarceration also effected people's health during and after camp; 1,862 people died from medical problems while in the concentration camps and at least 7 were killed by guards. For example, my mother-in-law's brother Dennis would acquire tuberculosis at Tule Lake and spent several years at a sanitarium after the family's release (about 1 in 10 deaths in the prison camps were a result of tuberculosis).

Language

The language that we use when we teach Japanese American incarceration is important. As Densho states, "government officials and military leaders used euphemisms to describe their punitive and unjust actions against people of Japanese ancestry in the United States. ... Today, these decades-old euphemisms persist in textbooks, news sources, and other platforms—meaning that most Americans learn about this history through a distorted lens that diminishes the harsh realities of Japanese American WWII incarceration." Below, I have underlined the terms that many Japanese American organizations prefer be used.

Japanese Americans vs. Japanese: 

During World War II and after, Japanese Americans were routinely referred to as the Japanese (or worse by racial epithets) to "other" them and to imply that they were not "Americans" but foreigners in their own country. Moreover, 2/3rds of those incarcerated held American citizenship and the remaining were Americans by choice. For these reasons, it is important to describe those who were incarcerated as Japanese Americans.

Incarceration vs. internment: 

Internment, as Densho describes, is the legally permissible, but ethically and morally questionable, practice of imprisoning "enemy aliens" during wartime. This term is misleading, as a majority of those people incarcerated were American citizens and the term of internment has long been part of falsely justifying their incarceration as "enemy aliens." A more appropriate term would be "incarceration," which means to confine in a prison. Moreover, internment has an underlying suggestion that Japanese Americans were likely to commit espionage, sabotage, or other acts against the Unites States. Which is false, as there is no credible evidence of Japanese Americans engaging in sabotage or espionage during the war.

Forced removal vs. relocation: 

The U.S. government preferred to use relocation to describe Japanese Americans' forced removal (see this propaganda film), because it implied it was for their own good (such as an evacuation during a natural disaster. Forced removal better describes how Japanese Americans were taken from their homes against their wills.

Concentration camps/prison camps vs. internment camps/relocation centers:

During the period, the government used the terms relocation centers and concentration camps to describe the incarceration of Japanese Americans (There are documents showing that FDR himself used the term concentration camps). After the war, internment camp became a standard academic term to describe the prison camps (see above problems with the use of internment). As Densho states, the "use of 'concentration camp' is intended to accurately describe what Japanese Americans were subjected to during WWII, and is not meant to undermine the experiences of Holocaust survivors or to conflate these two histories in any way." Moreover, Holocaust scholars themselves often distinguish "concentration camps," where people were held, from "death camps" or "extermination camps," where Jewish people and others were systematically murdered.

A Lesson Plan

Based on a lesson that I used when I taught high school history, below you will find an activity that I use as a teacher educator today working with future teachers. While it includes several important government documents from the perspectives of white people, it attempts to highight how Japanese Americans experienced and resisted their incarceration. It also shows how Japanese Americans sustained their culture in camp. I have included it in PDF and Word, so teachers can edit the documents to best work for their students.

PDF: http://www.christophercmartell.com/JapaneseAmericanIncarcerationActivity.pdf

Word: http://www.christophercmartell.com/JapaneseAmericanIncarcerationActivity.docx

Additional Resources

Below is a list of excellent resources that center Japanese Americans within incarceration. Most are created and maintained by Japanese American organizations. 

Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project (Primary and Secondary Sources) 

Densho: WWII Incarceration (Storyboard)

We Hereby Refuse (Graphic Novel)

TedEd Talk: Ugly History: Japanese American Incarceration Camps (Short Film)

Unfinished Business (Film)

Resistance at Tule Lake (Film)

Children of the Camps (Film)

Japanese American National Museum (Museum; Includes Online Exhibits)

Uprooted! (Museum Exhibit)

The Art of Gaman Exhibit (Art)

The Suyama Resisters Project (Primary and Secondary Sources)

KQED: Japanese American Incarceration and Indigenous Dispossession (Article and Map)

Facing History: Japanese American Incarceration (Resources)

National Archives: Japanese American Incarceration (Documents)

Then They Came for Me (Photographs)

Saturday, October 9, 2021

It's Time for a Return to an Elected Boston School Committee


As a Boston Public Schools (BPS) parent, Citywide Parent Council (CPC) Representative, educator (former social studies teacher and current teacher educator), and Dorchester resident, I've long advocated for an elected school committee. I am not alone, as many parents (like my colleague on the CPC Suleiko Soto and fellow Dorchester parent Matthew Shochat), students, and former elected school committee members (such as Jean McGuire) have been demanding this for years. This movement has culminated in a ballot question this fall, asking the residents to vote on returning to an elected school committee here in Boston.

Boston is the only municipality in Massachusetts without an elected school committee due to a home rule petition and bill passed by the state legislature in 1991. Of course, many people remember the Boston Busing Crisis of the mid-1970s, which was a situation made worse by the actions of the all-white school committee at the time (I recommend watching this or reading this, which provide an excellent background). However, the move to a mayoral appointed Boston School Committee had nothing to do with the busing crisis and it did not occur until about 15 years later. In fact, in the early 1990s, it was parents of color who were the strongest opponents to an appointed school committee (including Black political leaders like John D. O'Bryant, Charles Yancey, and Bruce Bolling). In contrast, a white parent-led door-to-door campaign in favor of the mayor having control was effective and the measure narrowly passed in a non-binding referendum

Yet, in the years since, the appointed school committee has not been the panacea that its supporters claimed it would be. There was turmoil in the early years, unpopular decisions in the 90s and early 2000s (see here, here, here, and here), years of unanimous votes based on the mayor's wishes, and several problematic recent decisions and incidents (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). The community may already understand the importance of this issue, as there seems to be widespread support among both voters and city council candidates. Even former mayor Ray Flynn, who pushed for the change, expressed regrets only a few years later.

Above: Boston is the only municipality in Massachusetts without an elected school committee.

To be honest, any structure has disadvantages and it would be naïve to think changing the structure alone would inherently produce more equitable access for students to high-quality learning (related, I am also concerned about the amount of dark money flowing into school committee races nationwide). Regardless of structure, the reality is that educational equity comes from district leadership, the work of teachers and administrators, and funding choices made by the city and state. To be fair, Boston has made important educational improvements over the past few decades, including making the city's exam schools (see also here) more equitable for students of color, dramatically expanding the number preschool seats, and having increases in its students' scores on national standardized tests. But these changes have come despite not having an elected school committee, rather than because of having an appointed one. It is likely those changes would have happened regardless; Boston has significantly changed in many ways (including the city's wealth) since the 1990s. Moreover, the Boston City Council is the most diverse in its history, and structures can be put in place to ensure that an elected school committee would similarly represent the diversity of our city.

Above: Jean McGuire was the first African American woman to be elected to the Boston School Committee. She opposed ending the elected school committee and supports its return. Read her thoughts here.

There is a long history of democratically elected school committees in Massachusetts. Boston voters elected their first School Committee in 1789. The Commonwealth mandated that each community elect its school committee in 1826 (during the era of Horace Mann's education reforms). Since then, school committees have served as citizen oversight of our public schools. For me, this is an issue of democracy, equity, and racial justice. If the other 350 municipalities have elected school committees in Massachusetts, so should the one where I live, especially since this is a city where people of color are the majority and 85% of our students are students of color. Since 1991, Boston's residents have been disenfranchised on this aspect of democracy. For this reason alone, we should restore an elected school committee.

Ludlow High School (above; what it looked like in the 1990s) had not had any major reservations since it was built in 1962. As a high school student, I worked with my peers to influence the elected School Committee and Board of Selectmen to change that. As a teacher and union member in the Framingham Public Schools (below), I witnessed how the elected school committee was often responsive to parents and voters in the community.

My support for Yes on Question 3 is also based on my experiences living and working in three different Massachusetts communities. I have seen stark differences between communities with elected and unelected school committees. I grew up in Ludlow, which is a suburb of Springfield. When I was in high school, our school building was in great disrepair. My classmates and I witnessed members of the Board of Selectman make clear that they wanted to keep property taxes low and would not support borrowing to make renovations. As a result, students in town formed a movement to pursue change. Many seniors were 18 and we voted as a block to elect pro-renovation candidates to the board of selectman and school committee. This led to changes in leadership, and the town would later approve a multi-million dollar renovation of the building. 

My next experience was as a teacher and union member in the Framingham Public Schools, where I was a high school history and government teacher for eight years. For two of those years, I served as the Political Education Chair for the Framingham Teachers Association. In that role, I led protests related to stalled contract negotiations and a campaign to reduce class size. While we did not always see eye-to-eye with school committee members, I knew each of the members and they would almost always respond to and work with the teachers union (the district eventually settled our contract and added language about reviewing class size yearly). More importantly, in our conversations, they would often cite the concerns of parents and voters in how they made the decisions, as that is who they were ultimately accountable to. 

Meanwhile, I was raising my family in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston without an elected school committee. As someone with a child about to enter school, I deeply opposed the changes that were proposed to the district's school assignment process, which would move from a large number of choices within three zones to a home-based system that would result in parents having fewer choices (based on an algorithm that proclaimed to be race-neutral). Along with many others, I knew that these changes would negatively impact Black and Latinx families the most, but would also make the districts' schools more segregated. I wrote letters opposing the plan with no reply from school committee members, attended community meetings, testified at hearings, and met with fellow parents. I closely examined the work of Quality Education for Every Student, who had similar concerns. We then all watched as the unelected school committee unanimously approved the change despite protests (several studies have shown that our suspicions were correct and the district has experienced increased segregation as a result). 

After my daughter entered BPS, I was motivated to run to be the Citywide Parent Council representative for her school (the CPC is the umbrella organization for all of parent councils in the district and the officially recognized voice of all BPS parents). As a CPC rep., I saw again and again how us parents were relatively united on most issues (from changing the food services vendor to stopping schools from being closed and demanding tents for outdoor lunch during a global pandemic), but the school committee often hesitated to respond or outright voted against our stances. Moreover, we were almost never visited by school committee members, with the exception of a couple years ago when the chair came to lecture us on his preferred agenda (where he made clear that the appointed school committee provided "harmony" and that he was a "city finance guy, not an education guy."). My time as a CPC rep. has been five years of feeling voiceless and powerless (and I think most of my fellow CPC reps. would agree). In contrast, whenever I called or e-mailed my district or at-large city councilors, I have always received replies within days. Several city councilors have visited the Citywide Parent Council to work with us on various BPS and education-related issues. In fact, my daughters' school was not approved to expand to include a 6th grade, which would have had a devastating effect on our school community (especially since many secondary schools in Boston begin at grade 7 and parents had for years been left struggling to find school options for one year; we would routinely have a large exodus of students to K-8 schools in 4th grade for this reason). We wrote letters to and protested at school committee meetings. However, it was not until parents in our community reached out to our city councilors and they became involved, that we finally were given a meeting with the superintendent's office and received word that our school would get its needed expansion

While an elected school committee will not solve all of our educational problems in Boston, it can only help add a level of accountability through the return to democracy. Democracy is messy, but it is the best form of government we have. This is true for the Boston School Committee, as well.

The time is now for us to return to an elected school committee in Boston.