we're doing it all for the black kids: joining #optout and #blacklivesmatter movements

I have transcribed an important talk and discussion  by Jesse Hagopian and Rita Greene, held at the NPE Conference. The Seattle teacher who refused to test, Jesse Hagopian, and Rita Greene, with the Seattle King County NAACP, have both shown great leadership and a deep grasp of the issues and they discuss how the #optout movement and the #blacklivesmatter movement could work together. The Q and A discussion is also transcribed, further below, and also worth viewing, great questions and answers.

JH: The #blacklivesmatter movement has reshaped politics in America today and so has the #optout movement. We want to talk today about seeing the important connections between these movements and how we can build off the momentum of both of them. My name is Jesse Hagopian and I'm a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle. I'm an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. I'm the Black Student Union advisor there at Garfield High School. I've been active in both the #blacklivesmatter movement and at Garfield where we refused to give the MAP test and helped to lead a boycott that defeated that test and spread resistance around the country. And I'm really excited today to introduce Rita Greene. She is the Education Chair for the Seattle King County NAACP and it's really exciting to see the Seattle NAACP chapter take a stand in this fight around the new Common Core tests and smarter balanced testing in Seattle. And so I want to give the floor to Rita and let her explain why she's done this and a little bit about her perspective.

RG: I first got involved advocating ... because of my son. My son has epilepsy and he has an IEP. My kids went to private school but then there was a change in the law and no longer could the services be received in the Christian-based school and so we put them in public school. I used to be just a parent but now I am an authentically-engaged and empowered parent. ... So when Garfield first boycotted for the MAP test, me as a parent, I actually liked the MAP test because it gave me the opportunity to see this is where my child's strengths were and this is where his weaknesses were. At that time I had no idea how many tests students actually took. Soon as I started reading more, learning more, talking more, that's when I'm like, wow, this is ridiculous. Then when I saw how much money is spent on testing, and we know that money is going to private organizations, that's when I'm like, ok, this is really bulls**t. ... And the other piece of that is ... How do you expect teachers to be graded on test scores when the kids don't have all the services they need? So that again, is not right. And I just think that we as parents don't know all the details. ... So I asked Jesse, let's meet, to educate me more on what the whole story is. We met and then I'm like, ok yeah we're on, so then I went to the President ... and I'm going to write a Resolution and I'm going to write a Statement. That was the beginning of this venture.

Basically on the statement I just talked about ,private schools don't have to take the test, why is that? So the 99% have to take it but the 1% do not. The amount of money that is being spent on it and it is really targeted toward kids of color, so that ties into the #blacklivesmatter. And you're trying to fund private organizations which is another problem that I have because public dollars should not be spent privately. My pledge is to really hit the ground with the NAACP branches and really to help you guys reach out to civil rights organizations because they really don't know the full picture and that's the piece that's missing. They only know the sound bites. But if you really talk about 60 days out of the school year is spent on testing. When third world countries go to school more days than we do in the US. That's what I'd really Those are the things I'd like to see us teachers reaching out more to the civil rights organizations to help educate them so that more can join in on the fight.

JH: Thanks a lot, Rita. It was one of the most exciting moments in this struggle for me, when called a press conference last week with the President of the Seattle King county chapter and Rita. We held it in the Seattle office of the NAACP. And they kicked it off by saying that the #optout movement is part of a #blacklivesmatter struggle and that they're calling on all parents to #optout of the Common Core testing. It was electrifying and it has shifted the political terrain in Seattle. You can begin to see the power ... that this movement can have. We saw it at Garfield when the entire staff refused to give the measures of academic progress test [MAP] and the school district had all those Gates groups in to their offices them, telling you can't lose this fight, it's too important. And then the Superintendent issued a 10-day suspension without pay warning and none of the teachers backed down. And everybody knew that this test was harmful for students, they knew that it wasn't even aligned to our curriculum, they knew that this test was shutting our computer labs down for weeks at a time, they knew that this test wasn't culturally or linguistically appropriate for our English language learners, they knew that this test was reducing our kids to a test score and not measuring the many different important qualities and intelligences our kids have. They stood strong and it helped launch a wave of resistance in 2013 spreading across the country as teachers began to refusing to give tests in Chicago and New York. I mean the #optout wave in New York right now is just breathtaking with hundreds of thousands of parents refusing. I'm really happy to say we are in the middle of the largest uprising against high stakes testing in ... US history. The largest walkout of students in US history against high stakes testing happened in Colorado earlier this school year with thousands of students refusing to take exit exams. And then many hundreds of students walked out of the PAARC exam in New Mexico refusing the Common Core test there. The resistance is just growing and spreading.

And why is this happening? Well, let's hear from Arne Duncan, what his explanation for why this is happening. You remember what Arne Duncan said, he said, opposition to Common Core has come from "white suburban moms" who all of a sudden their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were. I find that highly offensive for a couple of reasons. One is, I think that even white suburban moms have a right to have their kid not be reduced to a score and have a meaningful education. But I also think that that comment actually hides the really important leadership of the #optout movement that's happening from black people and people of color. It's actually their families that these tests are designed to punish the most. We've seen that right here in Chicago where with the stroke of a pen, they closed 50 schools. And it's not just random which 50 schools they close. It's the schools in the black neighborhoods which they use these test scores to close them. They reduced the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single number so they can punish and then turn them into privatized charters. Same story in Philadelphia and Detroit, we've seen the labelling of communities of color as a score and then the punishing of their schools. And it's part of a school-to-prison pipeline that's being built from my city in Seattle across the country to Washington DC and everywhere else. When students reject the classroom, that's not just bad behavior, right? That's actually informed disobedience to a racist curriculum, right? But then what happens? There's a zero tolerance policy waiting to scoop them up and push them out of the school. So they get pushed out into the street, they don't graduate, and they end up disproportionately in jail. I would say that high stakes testing is one of the key components to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Educators have known this for a long time. A study came out of Boston University recently from Kevin Lang. He looked at all the various possibilities, the way that exit exams could impact students. Did it bring them better jobs? No. Did it raise pay for them? No. What was the only thing, the only outcome of exit exams was increased incarceration rates. That's the only thing he could find. So we've known about the school-to-prison pipeline for some time. But I think increasingly, we need to start talking about a school-to-grave pipeline. When you look at what happened to Michael Brown ... or you look at what happened to Tamir Rice ... Young black people just being shot down, everyday it seems like there's a new name. And there's no accountability and there's no justice for police who are doing this. How do they get away with that? What is it that goes through their minds? Do you remember what Darren Wilson said in the testimony to the grand jury, did people read that? He called Michael Brown a demon and a hulk, just dehumanized him. And that's how he could take his life. Because he didn't see him as a human being and it's easy to take that life. And so why didn't he see him as a human being? There's a lot of reasons. We have this war on drugs culture that has criminalized being black and it's perpetuated in the media all the time with the predator narrative of African-Americans. But I think a key component to the dehumanization of African-Americans and people of color is the labelling them as a test score.

Today we are told by the testocracy that these test scores are the key to closing the achievement gap: that we're doing this all for the black kids. I mean never mind that a thermometer can't cure a fever or ... especially a broken thermometer, but these are the key to closing the achievement gap. But if you know the history of where standardized tests were created, how they were created, and when they entered the public schools and why standardized testing entered the public schools, you will never buy that line again. Because standardized tests were created in the early 1900s by open eugenicists, people who were very proud that they were white supremacists. It wasn't something to hide then, it was something to show you were an intellectual. This was the scientific reasoning of the time. And there's man named Carl Brigham who was a Princeton University professor and he went into the military and when WWI broke out and he designs the IQ tests that are going to rank and sort the troops. So who's going to be the grunt soldiers who are going to go die in the trenches and who are going to be the officers to oversee it. And when the war was over, he came back to his post at Princeton and he adapted his tests into the SAT. That began the explosion of the use of these tests, mostly for tracking purposes. So once you know the origins of these tests ... it wasn't just to prove white supremacy, it was also about proving male supremacy. They wanted Princeton to be white, wealthy, male. And so they wanted to show that men were smarter than women with these tests. They wanted to show that native-born were smarter than immigrants with these tests. They wanted to show even that the Northern, lighter Europeans were smarter than the swarthy Mediterranean. 

If you know that history, you shouldn't be surprised that some of the first testifiers, I like to call them, test resistors were black intellectuals. W.E.B. Du Bois who founded the NAACP, one the founders of NAACP was one of the first, most outspoken critics ... and I just want to grab my book out so I can read this quote real quick, because I think, when you hear his quote, you'll understand why he opposed these tests. Du Bois wrote in 1940:

It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the first World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.
JH: He was joined by a cadre of black activists and intellectuals who were able to debunk the myths of these standardized tests sand talk about what we're still talking about today. What these tests measure is not your intellect but your access to resources. Horace Mann said this:
But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of a crude and inaccurate generalization, so long we must continue to cry hold [stop]. To compare the crowded millions of New York's East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [then a really wealthy neighborhood] indeed involves a great contradiction. And to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups drawn from such varying strata of the social complex are in any way way accurate, is to expose the sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.
JH: The environmental factors, like poverty, that impact these things. Like they're asking our kids to take these tests on computers and they don't have computers at home and they don't know how to use a mouse and now we're going to judge their knowledge based on this test. We're still fighting for that very ideal that they revealed back at the beginning of these standardized tests.

We know that these tests reproduce institutional racism in several ways: we know the zip code effect. That these tests are better measures of your zip code than your intellect, because they measure your access to resources. That's just been shown by researchers over and over again but that research just falls on deaf ears to policy makers and profiteers in the testing industry. We know that there's numerous examples of culturally-biased questions on the test all the time. I was just talking to one of the English language learners teachers at Garfield before I came out here who said there was a test [question] about the roller coasters for her students who just came here from Ethiopia and had no idea what that was and yet they're going to be judged and punished by this test. In Washington state, there are glossaries provided for taking the smarter balanced Common Core test for English language learners so they can know various terms in their own home language. But there wasn't a single glossary in any African language provided in Washington state. So that meant all of our Somali kids, Ethiopian, Eritrean kids, which are a significant part of the population, are out of luck. 

And the last thing I want to talk about briefly is how do they come up with the test questions that are on the test? A lot of times how it works is, kids take the test and in the course of that test, test makers put a few questions, scattered throughout, that they're using to basically vet to see if they're going to put those on the next test. So how do they decide if those sample test questions were reliable? If people do really well on that sample test question, then it's an anomaly and you have to throw that out. So why would more people do well on that question? Well because more low income, more students of color, more black children are doing well on that test question, it's obviously invalid, we gotta chuck that one out and find one that gives us a nicer bell curve. So there's so many ways in which these tests are fundamentally unfair and biased and punishing our schools. And then you see desperate educators fixing the scores in Atlanta, right? And, nobody sees that as a solution to this crisis, nobody condones that. But to see black educators being marched off in handcuffs when there isn't a single banker who sabotaged the global economy arrested yet, is a little too much to take. You know, you see these unaccountable police just walk free or the people who are cheating our kids out of a meaningful education everyday, are just free to go about their business. That's a contradiction that I think we have to oppose and I think we have to fight to completely redefine what the purpose of education is and I think that we have to wrest it away from people who would say that it's about preparing businesses to compete with each other.

I was at my son's ribbon cutting ceremony for his school. He entered kindergarten this year and so I began seeing this from a whole new perspective as a parent. And it was a wonderful ceremony because they began .. they changed his school to be a Spanish immersion and a Mandarin immersion bilingual school and so they renamed the school and they had all the students come out on the front lawn and sit down and these wonderful cultural performances and all these politicians were there to celebrate it and The principal gave a great speech and then the governor's education aide came out and she leans into the microphone addressing all these kids sitting out on the lawn and she says I want to congratulate you all for coming to this school because now you'll be prepared to compete in the global economy. Cheers did not erupt from the third grade section. I wasn't, like, yes! my kids gonna be able to hold down some other father's son in Mexico and get over on them. I wanted him to go to that school so that he could communicate with other human beings on the planet and work together with more .... (applause) Let me read this quote to you from Edward B. Russ, Jr., the CEO and Chairman of the State Farm Insurance Companies who proclaimed, this is on the Common Core website, this is a big pullout quote about why we need Common Core and the tests:
State by-state adoption of these standards is an important step towards maintaining our country's' competitive edge. With a skilled and prepared workforce, the business community will be better prepared to face the challenges of the international marketplace.
And so it's not about our kids learning to be creative or imaginative or if someone has a bad day, my son learning how to help that kid out and empathy and creativity ... these things are pushed off to help businesses compete. And I think we need to reclaim the purpose of education in a society that's so deeply as troubled as ours. When we have endless wars and ... use trillions of dollars that could have gone to lowering their class size and wraparound support services .. to bomb children halfway around the world. We have the greatest level of income inequality in US history, where you have 85 people that have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people. 

And for the first time, we have now more than half of the children in the United States school system are in poverty. We have an epidemic of violence against women and sexual assault so that 1 in 4 women report having faced sexual assault and a flourishing rape culture in our media, on college campuses that goes unchecked. We have a broken immigration system that's deporting the children in our classrooms at unprecedented rates, splitting up families ... mass incarceration system where you have more black people behind bars on probation or on parole than were slaves on plantations in 1850. That's a social catastrophe that education has to have something to say about and to address. And climate change I think is the one that really grabs me because none of the other problems can be solved if we don't fix that one. And those are the real high-stakes that we face in this struggle for education. And none of those problems can be solved by bubbling A, B, C, or D. If ending police terror was on the test, you wouldn't have to ask me to give it, I'd be the first one handing out #2 pencils.

We have these two great movements in our country today, the #optout movement that's become a truly mass phenomenon with hundreds of thousands of parents across the country and the #blacklivesmatter movement that is addressing this systematically, institutionally racist country, as Michelle Alexander says, the New Jim Crow system of mass incarceration. And they have so many advantages in this fight but they're worried, though. They're already worried. The fact that they're resorting to threats ... they're going to revoke teaching certificates, or .. Title 1 schools that just said in Washington state will lose funds because of all the boycott activity we've had, and the #blacklivesmatter movement deeply troubles this establishment as well. Can you imagine the immense power we would have if those two movements were to find common cause? If the #optout movement was on the marches for #blacklivesmatter so that African-American families knew that these activists stood with you in your movement so that when we call for #optout, the #blacklivesmatter movement understands that it's part of the same struggle to value all of our children. And that would create a truly great social force that could not only remake education and the education system but could retool society to be put on the basis of social justice. And that's the fight I want to be in with you all. So thank you everybody.

Q and A Discussion 
Also in this Q and A Discussion are Monty Neil of FairTest, Diane Ravitch, and some great activists, teachers and parents. The whole thing is worth watching right through to the last question.

Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School Teacher and Rita Greene from the NAACP Chapter in Seattle answer questions about the issues binding the Black Lives Matter and Opt Out Movements at the Network for Public Education Conference held in Chicago, April 25 and 26.

Q: I guess for me right now, and this is a NYC lens, there is a conversation going on about ... charter schools that have found the solution to help children of color to do better on these exams and that is their path toward social equity. And of course some of us who dissent say ... there is something inhumane about that and I guess my question to you would be how do we ensure that our classrooms and our pedagogy address social justice, which I think is the next critical element in the elevation for that meeting between #optout and #blacklivesmatter?

JH: I am really glad you asked that to kick off the conversation because there's a deafening silence, right, from the corporate reformers they don't say anything about what is good pedagogy, what that looks like, they just say if the test score raises, it was good. And we have to come in as the practitioners and actually explain what culturally relevant, anti-racist teaching can look like and can be to empower our students and that's gotta be, that has to be it ... if the classroom isn't helping kids to solve the problems they face in their community, then they're check out, right? When we have such levels of mass incarceration and other problems in black communities, then the classroom has to address those issues if they're going to be effective. There's a lot of different tools we can use. Rethinking Schools has a lot of great materials like Rethinking Multiculturalism is one I would highly recommend. But I'll just end by saying that, at Garfield, the work I've done teaching that kind of anti-racist curriculum has really paid off. The Black Student Union at Garfield has just erupted ... they led several marches and walkouts and forums at Garfield and they just won the city's Human Rights award ... that was a huge victory and they've taken leadership not only in the school but in the entire city and they are actually connecting these issues of testing and #blacklivesmatter. When you bring that anti-racist pedagogy to the classroom the students will take the lead and they're hard to silence.

RG: The other really fascinating thing about the issue of students ... there's are a lot of white kids that are participating in the marches and that to me is very powerful because we actually don't have enough black people that live in Seattle ... so we really can't do it alone. So it's great to see  ... over a 1000 white students that participated in the #blacklivesmatter march, that's really good.

MN: So I think one of things that I would challenge all of us folks here who are white folks like me, is to do a couple of things: one is very explicitly support the struggles in the communities of color to make ... certainly the #blacklivesmatter but also the #optout which is tougher in low-income communities and communities of color because the threats are coming down, we know that for a fact, it's not political surmise. We could have guessed it ahead of time of course but we now know for a fact in NY, in Chicago  and in other places, it simply comes down heavier. So the support for them is critical. The second thing is that the #optout movement brings the possibility as Jesse has said, through the #blacklivesmatter but also very directly through schooling itself... that if we are going to unite to defeat the tests, we also have to address the reasons why the testing was attractive and remains in some cases attractive despite the evidence of failure, that it will lead to improvements ... we'll use the test scores to make things better. Well they didn't. It has not happened even according to the test scores, never mind anything else.  

But the underlying issue of underfunded schools, schools unable to deal with the consequences of poverty AND provide a high-quality education are not being addressed. The whole testing thing also becomes a cover for the unwillingness of society to address all all the other issues and, quite bluntly, many civil rights groups have not challenged that so there's issues there, too. But the issue is primarily one of what the white communities will do because we're the problem that causes the racism and the class bias that also shoots through all our communities that has to be dealt with because it's the poor people of color that are the bottom of the bottom. But all of those need to be addressed and can be addressed by this movement simply on the practical grounds that we want to win on testing and also because the issues of the destruction of public education is slowly creeping into the suburbs as well. Maybe not the richest ones, but certainly the lower middle ... ones and there's a lot of them ... because there's only so many rich people, right? Those issues have to be brought on the table and it's us as white folks who have to take a strong stance and that includes my organization FairTest cause I think we've done some and we need to do more.

RG: I just want to tag on ... as I said earlier, this is why it's very important for you guys to work with the civil rights organizations because they don't know. So me, as the Education Chair for Seattle King County NAACP, that's one of the things that I'm working on is contacting the NAACP branches that I have to explain because again, we don't ... because we don't know all the things that are happening in all the school buildings, some of us aren't there, so if we reach out and explain ... I guarantee you're going to have more input and more of us joining forces ....

DR: One of the biggest problems with the re-authorization of NCLB/ESEA is the fact that 20 civil rights groups came out saying our kids need annual testing ... we cannot have our our civil rights validated without having annual standardized testing. So I want to add a footnote to your discussion, after WWI, after all these psychologists has been involved in creating IQ tests, to sort the people who would be cannon fodder from the officers, ... they then went on to create IQ tests that were distributed throughout the public schools. The thing that was a real problem for them, that they never addressed but that some of their critics addressed was that urban blacks had higher IQ scores than Southern whites which if you were thinking, if you had a high IQ you would conclude that what they were measuring was access to opportunity. But all the psychologists of the time... they believed that IQ was innate, that it was fixed, that you could measure a child's IQ at 6 and you would know what that child would be as an adult so you could track them beginning in 1st grade. This is what these civil rights groups don't understand is that we are dealing with an instrument that is a measurement of opportunity to learn and those kids who don't have opportunity will have lower scores. And it's not a civil right, it's a civil wrong.

RG: ... so the reason why ... the national NAACP has said that they support testing as long as all things are equal, right? But we know that all things are not equal.  So the other piece of that is ... for the long standing history of me, as a black parent, I don't have a good relationship with my child's white teachers, so civil rights organizations view the testing as a way to hold teachers accountable, they don't have all the inside facts that schools aren't fully funded, we don't go to school full days ... there's all those other issues that they don't know and that's why we have to educate them in the details.

JH: And I think that there is a side of this ... when there's such uncultured competent teaching happening in some of the classrooms and ... the parents are, like well, this isn't working, we need something else and then the corporate reformers come in with the something else ... they're exploiting a situation but we know that our schools aren't setup the way they need to be and we need to acknowledge that and ... when our movement acknowledges that and claims that and says we're going to be the ones to fight to undo the institutional racism and to teach the culturally competent teaching, then we'll be able to bring in your black families and parents and civil rights organizations a lot easier ... if we can work on that as a national movement, I think we'll make a lot of headway.

Q: Here's my questions. I need help, especially in my district. We have a sleeping giant, of course, who are the parents who don't know in our inner city and I can't go in there as the little white teacher and raise this awareness. I need your help, how do I contact? What chapter of the NAACP can I get in there to help me? I want to get into the churches, into the communities, because we are not opting out and we have a superintendent of the Broad Academy who ... has sent out a letter to the parents not to optout, they'll have to sit and stare. We have so many different levels of the onion to peel through ... most of our constituencies within the building don't know what's the hell's going on. I need your help.

JH: Think about doing a reading or a movie showing. Thinking about ... reading something from Michelle Alexander's book or her interview in Rethinking Schools on the school-to-prison-pipeline or showing the film that she's interviewed in as like ... teachers at the school talking about fighting institutional racism and inviting the black parents to come and then making the connections to the optout movement. That might .be a good .. beginning to build relationships and then raise the consciousness of some of these issues.  My website is iamaneducator.com and on my website there's the statement that the NAACP wrote calling for all parents to #optout of Common Core testing and that could be a document that you share at an event like that.

Q: What can parents do that are willing to go out and try to bridge with other people in communities of color?

RG: I think one-pagers is what I say because people don't like to read so really short, just the clear points. ... if you're in a public school, you have to take the test ... private school kids don't have to take the test. Why is that? If they need all this data, then why do you need data on my child but you don't you need data on the child that's at the private school? So when you start explaining some of those clear details ... that's when they're like .. that's not fair ... that's not right ... and that 200 million dollars or how-many-ever million is being pent on the tests, what would happen if your school had an extra 2 million dollars, what could be provided, what is your child not getting that they could get if those dollars were put in our classrooms instead of given to these test developers? So it's explaining those kinds of things that's what going to get people to say that's not right and we're not going to take these tests.

Q: My question is, as a teacher, at my school ... just a quick background, I am one of the only black teachers at my school and I teach in Baltimore city. So all of my kids are black. I have two white children ... this school year I started my unit with everything, with Eric Garner, with Mike Brown, all of these things, I even showed Do the Right Thing, I cut out the sex scenes, but I wanted them to really analyze art. It was all about art and ... we did all of these amazing things and I got an email that said: we don't want you to be doing what you're doing because we have always been very careful about this, we don't want you to be breeding angry black children, from my administration. ... So what I want to know from you, guru, is ... I want to know as a young teacher, as a young woman of color, how do I get around it because I am not going to stop teaching black stuff. I am never going to stop... our classroom has to address it ... I understand that cultural relevance is hard for a person who is not from our culture ... even if you read and you know everything which everyone else reads so much about us, people know more about us than we know ourselves ... How do I combat that without getting fired?

JH: That's a really important question. If you're teaching your students to combat injustice, there are real consequences that come down. You don't get away with reproducing the levels of inequality and racism in our society by accident, it doesn't just happen, you have to make sure the schools are designed to do that, right? And so having you in this fight is so important and people to support you. You're teaching high school? [middle school]

RG: What I think you need to do is actually reach out to your students' parents. And you tell those student's parents to contact the school and tell them they want their kids to learn that curriculum because understanding their culture is very important to helping them being productive citizens. That's why a lot of blacks aren't productive citizens because we're only told negative things about ourselves. Parents are very powerful, we can say things that you the teacher can't say and the District can't fire us.

Q: I'm just up the road a piece, I'm in Evanston, home of Northwestern University,  so the context is ... white, liberal, we have students of color in our public schools, I'm the librarian in an elementary school. And they're primarily poor and the ones who struggle and thinking about schools opting out and that whole ... 100% teacher, like, we're not doing it, how did you guys get there? Because our unions, we have two unions because we're two districts ... both the unions are really silent and it's really amazing, in such an educated community that appears to be liberal, appears to want to do the right thing.

JH: Over the course of years ... I held union meetings every month where we would discuss the littlest issues to the biggest policy issues and that community we built was a community of teachers that trusted each other, that knew we saw the attack on our jobs similarly, and it was through building that that the entire staff was willing to take this stand together and we didn't wait for the union. They found out after we announced it and got on board once thousands of people were sending us letters of solidarity from all over the country and gave us some important support. But the power of it was that it started at our school with the teachers who were fighting for their own livelihoods and their students' livelihoods. That's really where you have to build your power, right, at the building level ... and that starts with doing a study group or a film showing, right? Documenting what the abuse of these tests does, right? Like having everyone write down what it looks like when kids are under extreme stress and pulling their eyelashes out or wetting their pants or not sleeping at night and documenting those cases and talking about it as a staff ... at the building level and then you can take that power and try to project it throughout the union and ... from that way you will actually find more support from the union when you take that initiative.

Q: The three issues that I would like you to comment on are: the first one, I started in 1972 when the war on poverty ... the money was there for our children. When I walked in that first day it was like I was in heaven,  you were there to teach, everybody loved the children. Ok we know what happened with that. Right now principals are ... they're drawing principals, unless you're a maverick, who really push parents out in black schools. I mean I saw it, I retired in 2011,  but they're pushed out, so a lot of the things we're saying, are not going to get to them. ...  If parents could get in and see what was going on in my school the last year I was teaching? Parents love their children, I don't care if they have an education or whatever, this would be totally different. I think Chicago is the northern plantation politics capital of the world because they draw people in, give them their little tidbits, and then hurt the people who need the help. So my question for that one would be what can we do to drive that because it would be totally different if these parents really knew what was going on. That's the first one. 

The second is ... Urban League and NAACP. 2007, 2008, I mean we tried to get ... I went to my Congressperson I went to NAACP and hey all looked at me like I was crazy, NAACP was almost hostile ... with these things we're talking about right now. Urban League now has commercials, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Mark Morial, for the Common Core, ... I want to know how do we get these national organizations to truly stop taking whatever it is they're taking ... and uprising among us to stop them ... And then the third thing is Linda Darling Hammond has made it ... very plain to see that the gap was being closed. And I was there so I know what was going on, ... those were some days. But she documented it. It's clear but they still get away with that myth that they're saving the schools but the fact is we know that poverty is the problem. So we were attacking poverty, the gap is documented as being closing at that time, they came in to take the money away and it's widened. ... If that were made known to people even people who innocently grab on to ... innocently follow charter leaders ...  if they saw that and they'd say, well, they've been lying to me all the time because how can we get that message out? Because I agree with what Monty was saying earlier. I live in a suburban area... I live in Oak Park Illinois, we have one of our school board members, just re-elected, is one of the co-founder of KIPP ....

JH: Now that there's an example, now that Rita has stepped out and taken the lead, it's a new situation where you're not just going there cold. You're saying join this movement now of civil rights groups and here's the statement. Is this statement wrong? Is the Seattle NAACP wrong? ... I am working with some folks nationally to try to get as many prominent black leaders as we can to have an alternative statement that we put out and any help that people can be with that, contact me on my website if you know folks. .... But there are a lot of folks who were a part of the last civil rights movement, who led Freedom schools, right? and know what real education looks like and had alternative forms of assessment. You think at the Freedom schools they were using standardized tests? The test was can you go register to vote? Can you go organize a march and a protest to change our society, right? So if we can get some of those people who were part of that movement to help provide some political clarity ... counter some of these groups that are making money. And the last thing about parents, they were the key to us ... at Garfield when we were threatened with the 10-day suspension without pay, that would have gone through if the parents hadn't joined us. ... The PTA voted unanimously to support us. And it was also because I was running the Black Student Union that the black parents understood that this wasn't something separate from their concerns as well and joined us as well.

RG: I actually filed a civil rights complaint because I was told I had to pay for extra math something for my son and I thought, ok, I can pay but I know all these other kids in here, they can't so I filed a civil rights complaint.  Then the lawyer from the District sent me a nasty letter and I said ok, you may send other parents that but not this parent. So I sent a nasty letter back, I filed a harassment complaint, she was fired. Then, the next day, they gave me access to the math thing that I needed for my son for free. We need to have parent engagement coordinators out in the community that teach parents how to navigate the system .so now when I go to the District and they see me coming ...

Q: I have two daughters, I am Dominican, a person of color, my ex-husband, their father, is Irish. I have two daughters who are one year apart. One is Irish-looking, and the other looks just like me. Like I said, one year apart, they both went to the same school, from kindergarten all the way to ... high school. My white-looking daughter got into the gifted program, always got into everything ... what I'm saying is that they both got at home ... we took them to the library .. we travel a lot together ... they both got the same home... but in school, Joselina who looks just like me, she was geared toward sports but my white-looking daughter, today she is a lawyer ... she is a civil rights lawyer with the AFL-CIO ...

JH: I want to thank everybody for starting this conversation ... this is the very beginning, right? But if we can go out into our communities and begin to make these connections more diligently and expose them more, I think when we meet again next year, we're going to have a lot more stories to tell about black and brown communities organizing in the optout movement and white communities coming out and supporting the #blacklivesmatter movement. And those are the stories that I want to hear from you next year in this struggle. Thanks everyone.

No comments: