Just News from Center X – March 15, 2024

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Illinois Prison Fired Incarcerated Teacher For Saying Jim Crow Laws Were Racist, Lawsuit Says

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal

An incarcerated teacher at an Illinois prison was fired and disciplined for teaching his students about the racist intent of Jim Crow laws, according to a lawsuit filed by a civil rights law firm last month. The complaint, filed by Uptown People’s Law Center, states that instructor Anthony McNeal was teaching a civics class, as required by state law, at Centralia Correctional Center last March when a student asked about Jim Crow laws. Under the Re-Entering Citizens Civics Education Act, the Illinois Department of Corrections must educate incarcerated people about their voting rights within a year of their release date. The law states that an incarcerated educator must teach the class.

GOP nominee to run North Carolina public schools called for violence against Democrats, including executing Obama and Biden

Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck, CNN

The Republican nominee for superintendent overseeing North Carolina’s public schools and its $11 billion budget has a history marked by extreme and controversial comments, including sharing baseless conspiracy theories and frequent calls for the execution of prominent Democrats. Michele Morrow, a conservative activist who last week upset the incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction in North Carolina’s Republican primary, expressed support in 2020 for the televised execution of former President Barack Obama and suggested killing then-President-elect Joe Biden.vIn other comments on social media between 2019 and 2021 reviewed by CNN’s KFile, Morrow made disturbing suggestions about executing prominent Democrats for treason, including Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Chuck Schumer and other prominent people such as Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates.

In a Rafah school called ‘Hope’, Gaza IDPs seek shelter from Israel’s bombs

Aseel Mousa, Al Jazeera

The rooms and corridors of Rafah’s El-Amal Rehabilitation Society, a two-storey building in a sunny yard filled with trees, and a children’s play area off to the side, are as lively as they have ever been. But instead of it being just the deaf students who are usually bustling around, the classrooms are occupied by families fleeing Israel’s relentless assault on the people of Gaza. Rafah, at the southernmost tip of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, now hosts some 1.5 million people displaced by the endless, indiscriminate Israeli bombing from other parts of the Gaza Strip into an area of about 63sq km (24sq miles). The first arrivals poured into the fixed structures: homes of friends or family, abandoned buildings, and schools that were not in use because Israel’s war on Gaza had paralysed life.

Language, Culture, and Power

Students protest DEI firings at the University of Florida

Kiara Alfonseca, ABC News

University of Florida students protested outside of the Board of Trustees meeting Friday over the university’s decision to eliminate all of its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) positions. Student groups across campus joined together for an open letter denouncing the firings, particularly the firing of the university’s chief diversity officer, Marsha McGriff. “As students, we have watched Dr. Marsha McGriff champion a campus where all students, no matter their background, may be enabled to embody our guiding values and fulfill our mission to lead and influence the next generation and beyond for economic cultural and societal benefit,” the statement read.

NAACP urges Black athletes to avoid Florida public universities over anti-DEI policies

Becky Sullivan, NPR

Black college athletes should rethink any decision to attend public colleges and universities in Florida, the NAACP advised in an extraordinary letter issued in response to efforts by Gov. Ron DeSantis to weaken diversity, equity and inclusion efforts statewide. The letter, authored by the NAACP’s top two officials and addressed to Charlie Baker, the head of the NCAA, comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by the University of Florida that it would eliminate the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion staff in order to come into compliance with an anti-DEI law signed last year by DeSantis.

Tibet boarding schools: China accused of trying to silence language

Micky Bristow, BBC News

Fewer Tibetans are learning their own language as more people are taught Mandarin Chinese

Tibetan educational sociologist Gyal Lo can speak Mandarin Chinese fluently – but he would rather not. He has spent the last few years telling the world about Beijing’s sweeping educational reforms in Tibetan areas, and would prefer not to use the language of people he identifies as colonial oppressors. China has expanded the use of boarding schools – for children as young as four – and replaced Tibetan as the main language of tuition with Chinese. Beijing says these reforms give Tibetan children the best possible preparation for their adult lives, in a country where the main language of communication is Mandarin Chinese.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

Should schools teach climate activism?

Anya Kamanetz, Hechinger Report

Yancy Sanes teaches a unit on the climate crisis at Fannie Lou Hamer High School in the Bronx – not climate change, but the climatecrisis. He is unequivocal that he wants his high school students to be climate activists. “I teach from a mindset and lens that I want to make sure my students are becoming activists, and it’s not enough just talking about it,” the science and math teacher said. “I need to take my students outside and have them actually do the work of protesting.” The school partners with local environmental justice organizations to advocate for a greener Bronx. Sanes recently took some students to a rally that called for shutting down the jail on Rikers Island and replacing it with a solar energy farm, wastewater treatment plant and battery storage facility.

California colleges have to slash emissions. Here’s why decarbonization is complex and costly.

Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

California is home to the three largest public university systems in the nation, with 148 campuses across the state serving nearly 3 million students annually. Maintaining expansive systems comes at a large cost, both in dollars and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Every time a student flips on the light switch in their dorm, a professor turns on the computer to start a lecture or a facilities employee drives across campus to make a repair, a campus’ carbon footprint grows. Now, as the state asks colleges to meet mandatory emissions reductions by 2045 while also accommodating more students, the University of California, California State University and community colleges will have to figure out how to reduce emissions while growing in size and scope.

What Happened to Nex Benedict Was Tragic. Why Did It Occur and What Can We Do Next?


On February 7th, an indigenous 16-year-old named Nex Benedict was assaulted by three classmates in a girls bathroom at Owasso High School near Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nex was required by Oklahoma law to use the girls’ restroom, even though he was gender nonconforming, using he/him and they/them pronouns. He told police that the girls attacked him after he poured water on them because they had been mocking him about his laugh and the way he dressed. He said the girls pulled him to the ground and beat him. The next day, Nex was dead. A month later, the cause of death is still unknown, and misinformation abounds.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

Biden lays out plans to improve early childhood education [Video]

NBC News

President Biden said he wants to expand “high-quality” tutoring and summer learning programs to ensure younger Americans learn to read before third grade. Biden also stated he would like to see public school teachers get pay increases.

Bans on diversity, equity and inclusion may halt Latino progress in higher education

Suzanne Gamboa & Iris Kim, NBC News

Kelly Solis’ 2020 freshman year at University of Texas at Austin, the state’s flagship, began with online classes, in forced isolation, because of the pandemic. She moved into a dorm to make connections, but struggled with loneliness and depression. Her lifeline came when she heard a Latino therapist speak at the annual welcoming program for Latino students, Adelante, organized by Latinx Community Affairs, a student group at the university’s Multicultural Engagement Center. The help from the therapist and other academic and personal support she got with regular visits to the center eventually led her to drop thoughts of transferring to a school in her hometown of Houston.

If Trump wins …

Steven Brint, Chronicle of Higher Education

What if Donald Trump is re-elected as president? As unpleasant as it may be to contemplate, it’s an increasingly likely possibility that would be a disaster for higher education. Trump leads Biden, according to recent polling. And yet the sector’s response, so far, has been to sleepwalk into the election. It’s time for us to wake up. For well over a year now, a small army of think-tankers, consultants, congressional aides, and campaign staffers have been at work crafting higher-education policies in anticipation of a Trump restoration. These efforts, if enacted into law, would radically change higher education in this country. Even more worrisome, Republican politicians have recently shown their skill at calling attention to campus problems that resonate strongly with the public. A Trump presidency with a Republican legislative majority could remake higher education as we’ve known it.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

The ‘Colorblindness’ Trap:  How a Civil Rights Ideal Got Hijacked

Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times

Anthony K. Wutoh, the provost of Howard University, was sitting at his desk last July when his phone rang. It was the new dean of the College of Medicine, and she was worried. She had received a letter from a conservative law group called the Liberty Justice Center. The letter warned that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions, the school “must cease” any practices or policies that included a “racial component” and said it was notifying medical schools across the country that they must eliminate “racial discrimination” in their admissions. If Howard refused to comply, the letter threatened, the organization would sue.

In states with laws targeting LGBTQ issues, school hate crimes quadrupled

Laura Meckler, Hannah Natanson & John D. Harden, Washington Post

School hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ people have sharply risen in recent years, climbing fastest in states that have passed laws restricting LGBTQ student rights and education, a Washington Post analysis of FBI data finds. In states with restrictive laws, the number of hate crimes on K-12 campuses has more than quadrupled since the onset of a divisive culture war that has often centered on the rights of LGBTQ+ youth. At the same time, calls to LGBTQ+ youth crisis hotlines have exploded, with some advocates drawing a connection between the spike in bullying and hate crimes, and the political climate.

Legal equality for women could take 300 years as backlash rises against women’s rights, U.N. chief says

Edith M. Lederer, LA Times

Legal equality for women could take centuries as the fight for gender equality is becoming an uphill struggle against widespread discrimination and gross human human rights abuses, the United Nations chief said on International Women’s Day. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a packed U.N. commemoration Friday that “a global backlash against women’s rights is threatening, and in some cases reversing, progress in developing and developed countries alike.” The most egregious example is in Afghanistan, he said, where the ruling Taliban have barred girls from education beyond sixth grade, from employment outside the home, and from most public spaces, including parks and hair salons.

Democracy and the Public Interest

Dorie Ladner, June 28, 1942 – March 11, 2024

SNCC Digital Gateway

Dorie Ladner was “born a rebel against oppression.” A native of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi community known as Palmer’s Crossing, she spent her childhood fighting back against the oppressive racial norms that governed the lives of Black people there. Her mother taught all of her eight children that they “were as good as anybody.” Accommodating to white supremacy was not in her makeup. One day when she was twelve, Dorie was reading an issue of Jet Magazine at a convenience store, when the store’s white clerk “slapped [her] on the behind.” “I turned around and started beating him with the bag of doughnuts,” she recalled. When she told her mother of the incident, her mother replied “you should have killed him. Don’t ever let any white man touch you wrong.” So, explained Dorie, when she and her sister Joyce became part of the Movement, they were simply “doing what they prepared us to do.”

Many high schools across the United States offer limited civics-focused extracurricular activities

Melissa Kay Diliberti and Stephani L. Wrabel, Brookings

Public education plays a critical role in preparing youth to participate in our democracy. Civics education experts have identified 10 “proven practices” that K-12 schools should use to provide effective civics learning (see Table 1). These practices are notable for the range of activities they encompass, including formal instruction in civics-related topics like history and government, service-learning opportunities, and extracurricular activities. Given their importance to students’ civic development, prior research has investigated just how prevalent these practices are in U.S. schools, and for whom. Inequities in students’ access to coursework in various civics-related topics (proven practice 1) has perhaps gotten the most focus—partly because of data availability. Other practices have gotten some attention too.

How People in 24 Countries Think Democracy Can Improve

Laura Silver, Moira Fagan, Christine Huang, Laura Clancy, Jankee Chavda, Chris Baronavski, and John Carlo Mandapat, Pew Research

Dissatisfaction with democracy is high and, in many places, rising. But how do people think democracy in their country could be improved? To answer this, Pew Research Center asked over 30,000 people in 24 countries what they think would help make democracy work better where they live. Three key themes emerged:  Addressing basic needs. People highlight problems with their country’s economy, the need for jobs, a desire for safety and security, and problems with roads, electricity, health care and more – pointing to the precursors to democracy, or the things they need in order for it to function at all. Improving the system. People also want to improve parts of the government they already have. They want better politicians or fairer implementation of existing rights. And many call for their country’s citizens to participate more or behave differently in other ways. Overhauling the system. Some feel like the system itself needs to be reformed through changes to the electoral process, the balance of power between institutions, or the structure of courts, among other suggestions.

Other News of Note

The Last Repair Shop [VIDEO]

Kris Bowers, LA Times

In a warehouse in the heart of Los Angeles, a dwindling handful of devoted craftspeople maintain more than 80,000 student musical instruments, the largest remaining workshop in America of its kind. Meet four unforgettable characters whose broken-and-repaired lives have been dedicated to bringing so much more than music to the schoolchildren of this city.

L.A. Times wins first Oscar for ‘The Last Repair Shop,’ about LAUSD music program

Josh Rottenberg, LA Times

The Los Angeles Times has covered the Oscars for 95 years — and now it has won one. The heartwarming “The Last Repair Shop,” directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers and co-distributed by L.A. Times Studios and Searchlight, took home the prize in the documentary short category at the Oscars on Sunday. A moving love letter to Los Angeles itself, “The Last Repair Shop” centers on four unsung master craftspeople who service musical instruments for Los Angeles Unified School District students.