Just News from Center X – March 18, 2022

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Freedom to Teach: Statement against Banning Books

National Council of Teachers of English, National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Science Teaching Association, and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

School districts, the most active battlefield in the American culture wars today, are facing an unprecedented number of calls to remove books from schools and libraries, false claims about “obscenity” invading classrooms, the elimination of teaching about evolution and climate change, challenges to the need for making sense of and critiquing our world in mathematics classrooms, and legislation redlining teaching about racism in American history. These actions are putting excessive and undue pressure on teachers, who are caught in the crossfire of larger political conflict, motivated by cultural shifts and stoked for political gain. Teachers are being maligned as “harming” children and are subjected to constant scrutiny (and even direct surveillance) by many parents, school administrators, and activist groups. Some are afraid to offer their students award-winning books that may violate vaguely stated laws about teaching the history of racism or that may be misleadingly labeled as pornographic. As a result, teachers’ very ability to do their job is under threat.

Youngkin could set Virginia education back ‘many years’: Read the withering letter from school superintendents blasting governor

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

The Virginia Association of Schools Superintendents is taking a strong stand against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s move to end most education equity initiatives, saying that “gross assumptions” were made by his administration about what happens in classrooms and that he could set back public education “many years.” The letter, sent Thursday to Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, portends a rocky relationship between the Republican governor and the state’s superintendents, who made clear that they have no respect for the education agenda Youngkin has set.

Why the school wars still rage

Jill Lepore, The New Yorker

In 1925, Lela V. Scopes, twenty-eight, was turned down for a job teaching mathematics at a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, her home town. She had taught in the Paducah schools before going to Lexington to finish college at the University of Kentucky. But that summer her younger brother, John T. Scopes, was set to be tried for the crime of teaching evolution in a high-school biology class in Dayton, Tennessee, in violation of state law, and Lela Scopes had refused to denounce either her kin or Charles Darwin.

Language, Culture, and Power

Teaching Asian American history in its complexity can help fight racism

Kathryn Gin Lum, Washington Post

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recently ushered in the Year of the Tiger by passing a resolution of apology to “all Chinese immigrants and their descendants who … were the victims of systemic and institutional racism, xenophobia, and discrimination.” The cities of Antioch, San Jose and Los Angeles had earlier issued their own formal apologies to Chinese Americans. And New Jersey recently joined Illinois as only the second state to require public schools to teach Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) history.

What is being done to push Native American history to be taught in schools [Video]

Gilbert Cordova, ABC10

On the steps of the California State Capitol, the state’s first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature stood with colleagues urging for a change in the way Native American history is taught in school districts statewide. “This is just the beginning of a long process, and we’re not going to sit back and take no for an answer,” Assemblymember James Ramos said. “We’re going to keep moving pieces of legislation with strong support with strong allies till we get the curriculum changed for factual information.” Ramos was not alone in his motivation and awareness that there needs to be a change in the way Native American history is taught in school. Two members from the Latino Legislative Caucus — Assemblymember Robert Rivas and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia — also took the podium pulling from their personal experiences in the school system.

Racial Affinity Groups [Audio]

Young Whan Choi, The Young the Woke

For over a year now, conservative politicians and pundits have weaponized “critical race theory” in attempts to turn out voters. Enraged parents have been protesting at school board meetings about what they fear is the indoctrination of their children.  Few, if any of them, have ever stepped into a classroom where students of different backgrounds are discussing race. What would the students themselves have to say about the impact of discussing race in the classroom? In this episode, guest host and producer Rose Khor shares the voices of a racially diverse group of students from Heath Madom’s class at Oakland Tech. The students participated in racial affinity groups where they first divided into groups based on their racial identity to share their experiences and then, importantly, came back together as a whole group to listen to each of the groups offer their reflections.

Whole Children and Strong Communities

“Lunch Ladies” Are Tired of Being Underpaid and Overlooked

Nora De la Cour, Jacobin

Lunch lady code” dictates that you feed hungry kids regardless of the circumstances. Heather Hillenbrand, a public school cafeteria worker and union leader in Akron, Ohio, explained this to Jacobin, noting that she and her coworkers find ways to feed students seconds, even when bureaucracy, supply chain issues, staffing shortages, and the school administration are working against them. Mary Dotsey, a food service specialist in Indian River County School District in Florida, described processing the lunch numbers of children who she knows brought packed food so her program can claim USDA reimbursement for feeding needy children two meals. “I just really care more about the kids than I do about the politics of worrying about pennies and dimes and rolls and pieces of pizza and milk.”

Schools will stop serving free lunch to all students – a pandemic solution left out of a new federal spending package

Marlene Schwartz, The Conversation

In March 2020, nearly all U.S. K-12 school buildings closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal government’s National School Lunch Program, quickly granted waivers to increase program flexibility and accommodate the challenges of the pandemic. These waivers, which have been renewed several times, were critically important for school food service programs as the programs abruptly shifted away from serving meals in cafeterias and designed new distribution models to continue to feed students. Many school meal staff across the country created grab-and-go meals that families could pick up, which was particularly important in the spring of 2020 and the following school year. Another major change, which has continued during the 2021-2022 school year, is that school systems are able to serve meals to all students at no cost.

Better air in classrooms matters beyond COVID. Here’s why schools aren’t there yet

Maria Godoy, NPR

Not many people can say the pandemic has made their jobs easier. But in some ways, Tracy Enger can. “You know, it is such a hallelujah moment, absolutely,” says Enger, who works at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor Environments Division. For more than 25 years, she’s been fighting to improve the air quality inside of America’s schools. But there are lots of competing demands for limited school budgets. And in the past, getting school districts to prioritize indoor air quality hasn’t been easy.

Access, Assessment, Advancement

The Pandemic’s Effects on Higher Education

Hans Johnson, Kevin Cook, Marisol  Cuellar Mejia, Jacob Jackson, Olga Rodriguez, PPIC

The COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented disruptions for California’s college students and the institutions they attend. These disruptions have been wide-ranging, but the effects have not been as severe as initially feared. The rapid delivery of emergency aid from the federal government, along with robust budgets and funding from the state, provided direct support to students and allowed higher education institutions to weather the crisis without significant increases in tuition (as had occurred in earlier economic downturns). Even so, many students suffered during the pandemic and were unable to start or continue their education. Especially troubling, the past two years have highlighted and exacerbated inequities in access to higher education.

Heroic students who are also mothers deserve more support

Sonya Christian, EdSource

Every March, Women’s History Month prompts me to reflect on pressing issues facing women. This year, as vice chair of the California Community College Women’s Caucus, the issue of focus has been the support needed by our community college students who are also mothers. For much of the last decade, I’ve been part of a generation of women and men who’ve succeeded in bringing more females into the leadership ranks of our state’s community college system.

The University Cannot Be Decolonized

Karlos K. Hill, The Nation

Nearly two dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed bills banning public schools from teaching critical race theory (CRT). Conservatives claim CRT portrays US history, especially white people’s role in it, negatively. As a Black studies scholar, I am often asked what can be done to fight such legislative efforts: As Black history disappears from school curricula across the country, how should communities of color respond? In an interview I conducted with Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, he talked about Britain’s Saturday school movement as a counter to the absence of Black studies from the school curriculum in the UK. Since the 1960s, Black communities across Britain have organized weekend supplementary classes—held in Black-owned businesses, homes, and churches—to educate their children about their history and culture. Might a separate Black studies curriculum similar to the Saturday school efforts in Britain be needed in the United States?

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

In one heavily segregated city, the pandemic accelerated a wave of white flight

Bridget Fogarty, Hechinger Report

Sussie DeVeney’s first grader sat at a table in their West Omaha home with his hand raised. Staring at the tablet screen in front of him, he waited for his teacher to call on him, only to realize the class for the day was a pre-recorded video. DeVeney, a mother of four and a former Omaha Public Schools teacher, had thought about leaving the Omaha Public Schools district before the pandemic. Her oldest son experienced bullying, and she felt that her younger sons were falling behind in learning to read. So when OPS decided to keep classes remote in the fall of 2020, even as other public and private school districts in the Omaha metro area returned in person, DeVeney pulled her kids out of the district and enrolled them in a private school.

The School-To-Prison Pipeline Is Stealing Florida’s Black Girls

Ramona Flores, Ms.

Though the social media hashtags and corporate branding for Black History Month may have ended, Black girls in Florida continue to be criminalized by harmful policies, and ultimately left behind. Despite Florida Black girls making up only 21 percent of the state’s female population ages 10–17, they account for 45 percent of all girls arrested, according to a recent study from the Delores Weaver Foundation. Moreover, 36 percent of Black girls in Florida’s middle and high schools don’t feel safe at school. The Weaver report made recommendations on three immediate actions that should be taken to counteract the disproportionate harm Black girls experience: Pass public policies that improve well-being and address the disparity in justice system entry points.

Use community data specific to the experiences of Black girls to inform local decisions. Identify and implement best practices and solutions that other states and jurisdictions are using to reduce systemic disparities for Black girls.

Report finds schools in L.A. County’s youth justice system lacking

Betty Marquez Rosalez, EdSource

Poor and inconsistent teaching plus student apathy were among the findings of a citizens review of the education offered to youth held in Los Angeles juvenile facilities. A recently released report described a setting that did little to foster learning and where students were more interested in getting a high school diploma than in learning. “The attitude of most students was either apathetic or antagonistic towards learning activities,” the authors wrote in the 14-page report.

Democracy and the Public Interest

A lesson in hypocrisy — what’s really behind the ‘parental rights’ movement

Liz Willen, Hechinger Report

Discussion of parental rights in education are everywhere these days, but they all depend on which parents are being pandered to by politicians and educators. I was struck by this built-in hypocrisy while listening to yet another back-and-forth on the so-called culture wars last week.

A prime example emerged from Texas, where a new bill targeting parents of transgender children reveals a deeply cynical layer to the parental rights debate: instead of protecting parents, the bill aims to prosecute them. It’s a far cry from promoting parental rights.

States With the Most Protections for LGBTQ Youth

Sharon Lurye, US News & World Report

Two recent, high-profile actions in the South have led advocates to fear that some areas of the country are becoming unsafe for young people who don’t conform to norms of gender and sexuality. First, on Feb. 22, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas ordered child welfare agencies to investigate parents for child abuse if they help their transgender children to medically transition. Second, on Tuesday the Florida Senate passed a controversial bill, called “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, that bans educators in younger grades from talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.


Notes from the editors

Monthly Review

Public education—both in the United States and the world as a whole—is now experiencing a combined assault that in sheer scale, level of organization, and long-term implications is unlike anything seen before in this sphere. Not only are we witnessing the digitalization and marketization of schooling via the educational technology industry, but also accompanying attacks on academic freedom. The emphasis in education is increasingly on data collection via ubiquitous standardized testing and other means aimed at constantly assessing and altering the behavior of students while seeking to reduce teachers to appendages of artificial intelligence. This is closely linked to the penetration of surveillance capitalism—a term that first emerged in this magazine—into public schools.  These changes are being ushered in politically by a broad neoliberal-right-wing alliance aimed at removing all ideas that are seen as standing in the way of existing realms of power and privilege, leading to repeated attacks on the autonomy of teachers and on teachers’ unions.

Other News of Note

‘My heart radiates for queer youth.’ Mass. students walk out of class to protest anti-queer legislation in Florida and Texas.

Gal Tziperman Lotan and Stephanie Ebbert, Boston Globe

Hundreds of high school students in Massachusetts and across the country walked out of their classrooms Friday afternoon to protest a wave of anti-queer government actions in Florida and Texas. “We’re trying to get people talking about the issue,” said Alia Cusolito, a student at Old Rochester Regional High School in Mattapoisett and a member of the leadership of Queer Youth Assemble, which organized the protest. “When you have the public having conversations about it, and the press getting involved, there is more pressure on legislators to rethink their own states’ actions when they see people fighting back.” The protest comes in response to anti-queer legislation and government action happening in multiple states, as Republican politicians seek to rally their conservative voting bases.

50 Years After Recording “No Knock,” Gil Scott-Heron’s Protest Song Contains a Prescription

Daniel King, Mother Jones

No-knock raids are in the news again after last week’s police killing of Amir Locke, but the tactic and its impact have never left the minds of artists and activists calling for its end. As you follow along with our colleague Eamon Whalen’s reporting on the Locke case, take a listen to Gil Scott-Heron’s “No Knock,” recorded 50 years ago. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” gets more plays and shares, but “No Knock,” from 1972, is more freshly resonant. Scott-Heron’s poem is rapped over a pulsing beat. It’s concise, with tight lines. It’s spare, with minimal instrumentation. And it’s specific: It names names, closing in on “one of our unfavorite people,” John Mitchell.