Sunday, August 17, 2014

Why Michael Brown’s death is important to BATs

Since BATs’ inception both its detractors and would be supporters have continued to ask, “If not the reform agenda, then what?” And it is a valid question, not because teachers have done anything wrong, or because schools have not provided content knowledge and thinking skills, but because not all our children have been getting equal access to the same education opportunities; and by far the higher proportion of children in poverty who have not been getting equal access are children who are brown or black.
(Please note, I am not saying the poverty or challenges of poor white children should be disregarded, or that growing poverty in all areas of our population is unimportant, only that black and immigrant children tend to be represented in higher proportions among those affected by poverty, and that disproportionate representation needs to considered and addressed.)
For years before the reform movement, we as a whole society framed the issue of equal access to education as an issue of poverty, and tried to avoid or gloss over the ways in which poverty is related to the racial divisions among us. Almost no one has wanted to examine how desegregation of schools, which was the hope of the Civil Rights generation, has not done away with the inequalities among us as so many hoped. Idealists truly thought Integrated schools would bring our whole culture into equilibrium and our nation to complete fulfillment of its promise for all.
It was a staggering responsibility placed upon education and teachers in particular; to bring about an equal and just society in a single generation, or maybe two, after 350 years as a deeply divided and unequal nation. Yet, that was the great expectation placed upon us with the assumption that we would be able to achieve this miracle in spite of no special resources or preparation.
It is no wonder that we are considered failures against the measure of such a task. Yet, that is still the charge- confusingly articulated and impossible though it be. Though reformers are ignorant of the complex details of what it means to be able to help children and young people learn and become, they are in part expressing the disappointment which is echoed by parents and communities of color, that the promise of an equal and just society has not been fulfilled, regardless of our efforts, or who is president, or the legend of a color-blind society.
So, we find ourselves in 2014, a nation still deeply divided by race when it comes to education, income, and life opportunities; divided from one another and still prey to the prejudices and biases of the last 400 years; our schools’ attempts at integration more or less abandoned and our schools of color being labelled failing and then closed in favor of for-profit schools; with a school-to-prison pipeline that is depriving our entire nation of the talents that might have come from a fully empowered generation of young black men and women.
Reform has made this problem of inequity worse, and certainly the artificially imposed and misguided standards and testing from the reform agenda will continue to make it worse if we do not come up with ways we can at least begin to change the systemic problems. Though it is clear these are societal problems, not just school problems, as teachers we are the largest group of trained, organized and engaged people who can affect the changes in our culture and society for the better.
Michael Brown is not just the young man shot down in the street in Ferguson earlier this week, he is the little boy reflected below in the story from his kindergarten teacher. He is also one of many young unarmed black men who have died in police incidents in the last several years. Each of them stands as an indictment that the efforts of the last 50 years to improve equality and race relations has not succeeded. His death is also evidence that even when young black men grow up in stable families and reach the goal of graduating high school and achieving “college and career readiness,” the effects of racial bias can still haunt and destroy their futures and possibilities and destroy our faith in ourselves as a nation of opportunity and equality.
Though it is still a task against improbable odds, we as the teachers of the nation have the best chance for affecting positive change because we can educate ourselves, our school families, and our students, even our whole communities toward a more egalitarian and just model of community and relationship.
An Inter/Multi-Cultural School System which is integrated into our communities and goes beyond tolerance to appreciation and understanding is among the best answers to the question so many people ask about "what would you replace school reform with?"
Not only must we create that Inter-cultural system, we must also urge the adults in our communities to change the institutionalized systems and sources of inequality in our policies, laws, and organizations that continue to contribute to disastrous practices that are destroying the hope and peace of our society.
Michael’s life and his death asks the question more strongly than any reformer can, and gives us the clue to the answer of ...what then?
 ~ written by Cheryl Gibbs Binkley

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Deidre Sealey
August 12
I'd like to take this opportunity to tell MY story about Michael Brown. I taught Michael when he was in Kindergarten. Michael was one of the kindest kids that I have taught. Michael was quiet, yet funny. He had an infectious smile. Some things I remember most was how Michael's grandfather or dad picked him up from school every day. His mom, dad, and extended family were fiercely protective of Michael and at that time, his only sister, Déjà. They were active in every aspect of his education, conferences, school performances, et al. I hadn't seen Michael in some time and in June, I saw him walking in our school parking lot with a friend. He asked me, "Mrs. Sealey, do you remember me?" I answered, "Yes, Michael Brown, but I am amazed at how tall you've gotten." He gave that shy grin and informed me that he had just graduated and had intentions of attending Vatterott. I asked about his mom and sister and he told me that they were well, and he went on his way. Each of my colleagues, who had the opportunity to teach Michael, have echoed my sentiments. I guess this is why it is so very hard to fathom that Michael's demeanor would change so suddenly as to wrestle with an armed police officer. While I am unsure of all of the details of Michael's untimely death, I can answer with certainty, that this was NOT his nature. Those of you who watched the interview with Michael's mom and dad, you saw a glimpse of Michael's demeanor in his dad, very quiet but proud. I saw the man that Michael will never get to be. I saw his mom two weeks ago and she was excited about his future.She has ALWAYS been her children's biggest cheerleader. I ask that we continue to keep Michael's family in prayer. I understand the anger. But, please don't allow anger to turn into bitterness. Out of anger comes CHANGE, bitterness destroys. Please stay in Peace.

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