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."

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 20th and 21st centuries.

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: 

Naát'áaníí Nez Means (Navajo and Oglala Lakota)
The Radical:

Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota)

Drezus (Plains Cree)

Supaman (Apsaalooke Crow)

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.