Thursday, June 28, 2018

Diana's Story by Lina Montoya-Hussain

Trying to tell a story of an undocumented child from the perspective of a teacher is extremely difficult.  It’s difficult because there are many factors and nuances affecting the lives of students.  For many teachers the sense of empathy and the need to help often grips the instructional day.

Allow me to introduce you to Diana.  She was my student a year ago.  She came into my classroom as a 2nd grader.  She has been part of our school community for 3 years.  Many of her cousins and relatives are part of the school community as well.  As far as I know, her story is deep and painful.  I’ve gotten snippets of her story from her and some from the adults that have worked with her.  The school social worker and her caregivers have mentioned parts of her story too.  Diana has several older siblings, she is the youngest.  She is Guatemalan and Mexican.  We received her as a kindergartener.  Her older teenage brothers arrived with her.  They dropped her of with a traumatic story at the steps of her cousins in the US and left.  The story was at best, unbelievable, yet the trauma we began to witness as educators authenticated the difficulties this family was facing. 
Diana’s father had murdered her mother and killed himself in Guatemala.  Diana was in the home with the dead bodies for several days before being rescued by the older siblings.  Upon hearing of the deaths, family in the US requested Diana be brought to the US.   Diana’s teenage brothers packed up and begun the treacherous journey across the US border.  They walked and hopped on The Bestia, then carried her piggy back through the desert.  Diana has many sweet anecdotes of getting snacks and breaks during this trip.  Her brothers protected her
I noticed her in kindergarten.  She was tiny and seemed glued to the teacher’s side.  She was extremely fragile.  We weren’t all privy to her story then, but knew death somehow had wrapped itself around Dianita’s life.  Our school wrapped its arms around her and her family
The business of learning soon became the matter at hand, yet this proved a deeper problem.  She was retained in kindergarten, as a second grader, her reading was labored, and her physical growth was stymied by the trauma.  Though she is currently ten and going to 4th grade, she is not much bigger than many of our kindergarten students.   I believe that her growth has also been stunted because of poor nutrition and emotional health issues.

As a student in my class Diana experienced sudden bouts of intense crying and melancholy.  The situation was made worse by the negative political climate and her families’ issues with their legal status.  I recommended her to the guidance counselor who formed a grief support group.  It seemed that Diana’s entire trauma was surfacing.  This helped her cope.

She is still separated from her older siblings.  From what Diana mentions, this separation weighs heavy on her, as they are the closest she has to next of kin.  The Mexican cousins were able to apply for asylum for her, and act as her legal guardians.  The cousins care for her deeply, but the mother of the household has commented several times about how Diana prefers to be alone and how she often isolates herself rather than playing with the siblings.  Though they have phone contact, Diana always expresses the fact that she misses them.
Though Diana’s story is not one of detention or separation as we are currently hearing on the news stream, it offers a glimpse as to the reason for families seeking the safety of another nation.  Separation from loved ones causes irreparable harm to the psyche of a child. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


June 27, 2018

The Supreme Court's decision in the Janus vs AFSCME case has overturned a rule that is a blow to an educator's ability to effectively advocate for what is best for all students in this country.

We believe that this decision will lead to turmoil throughout the United States and within education, hindering professionalism from kindergarten through University. We believe it will now become easier to dismiss educators without cause because this decision defiles that hard-fought collective bargaining rights of a female-dominated profession. The motivation of the Janus case, funded by billionaires is to limit the scope of education unions to support their members, all to increase their own financial gains.

The Badass Teachers Association resolves to fight back by encouraging every educator to remain solid and active as union members, spreading the word throughout social media and in our communities that support for educator unions should go beyond paying dues. We are resolved to fight back against the anti-labor, anti-union forces that seek to exploit our profession.

 "Not only is this a blow to unions, it is a direct attack on the working class people in our country. Our history is rich with union battles and campaigns that gave us protections in the workplace that helped establish a standard of human rights for our society. Today's decision does nothing but widen the divide between the oligarchy and the people." ~ Melissa Tomlinson, Assistant Exective Director, BATs.

"It is a pity our courts uphold the bogus idea that corporations are people but workers are not. They have repeatedly issued tone deaf rulings to increase the power of big business while diminishing the voice of everyone else. The Janus decision is just the logical continuation of that trend. Our unions will continue to function even though the Supreme Court has worked to sabotage them. Workers will stay united and fight for our rights. Our power remains as it always has - in unity." ~ Steven Singer, Co-Director of BATs Research and Blogging Committee.

This attack on unions and the working class cannot be ignored but met with a renewal of true union values.

"This court case was an attack on the working people in America in an attempt to legitimize the imposition of a social system where the privileged and the powerful will practically hold absolute control over labor. In matters of public education, this court decision will indeed legitimize the powerful and privileged ruling over every educator entering the labor market. At this time, every leader of every education association must become a true unionist, invoke and be proud of their unions, their principles and their accomplishments; work resolutely to educate, promote, and strengthen the culture of unionism among all members. This time, the outcome of the decision affects millions of workers not only on how to negotiate salaries, benefits, or working conditions; this time, the decision gives value to the neoliberal vision of a society. Saving our unions is a must." ~ Sergio Flores, BATs Board of Directors.

"We face a continuing professionalization of women and men who have committed their lives to the education of our future, embedding anti-unionism and fear more deeply in order to undermine public education. Janus validates that "one percenters" want to silence opposition to their quest for financial gain by stopping union participation by all means possible. Jim Crow will have a new name, injustice will be raised higher than ever, and sly tricks will replace transparency as the way public policy is engaged." ~ Sue Goncarovs, Co-Director of BATs Meme Team.

We believe our members will continue to be an integral part of our unions as active and engaged organizers. We encourage all educators to continue to value their membership in order to protect their educator voice. 

 Sign the pledge: I am sticking with my union!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Republicans Are Trying to Politicize Michigan’s Social Studies Standards: Do Not Let Them Alter History by Renegade Teacher

One of my favorite things about being a Social Studies Teacher is getting to talk about the controversial topics. Some of my favorite teaching moments have been lively classroom debates about President Trump’s wall, NFL players kneeling for the national anthem, and Malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King. I pride myself on facilitating open and honest dialogue, getting students to think critically about the issues of our society, and pushing students to listen to other points of view. this encourages students to have empathy for others who do not look or think like them. Rather than avoidance and suppression, thinking and honest dialogue are essential attributes in a free society.
In order for this dialogue to occur, students need to learn about our history, even if that history makes us uncomfortable.
First reported by an article from Bridge Magazine, the review committee to revise Michigan’s Social Studies state standards eliminated or downplayed concepts including core democratic values, the KKK, Roe vs. Wade, climate change, gay rights, and the NAACP.
Outrageously, the committee had clear partisan connections to conservative causes and the Republican party, particularly with the inclusion of 5 well-known conservative activists/politicians on the committee of 21 people, to go along with 0 liberal politicians or activists.
The inclusion of State Senator Patrick Colbeck is the most unforgivable, as he has downplayed the KKK’s racist roots and promulgated conspiracy theories about Islam. Colbeck is running for governor and is an overall intolerable politician. He has worked tirelessly to roll back teachers’ union protections and to proliferate terrible cyber schools, and he is a former charter school board member who believes wholeheartedlyin the school choice policies that have further decimated Michigan’s public schools. With his connections to charter schools, cyber schools, and the fact that he attended catholic schools while growing up, it is interesting that State Senator Colbeck suddenly wants to interfere so voraciously in the content selection of public schools.
In response to this egregious right-wing intervention on our classrooms, I attended a public comment session for the standards revisions along with dozens of other teachers, students, and community members. As a group, there was huge dissatisfaction with the downplaying of the word “democracy” just because it is close to “democrats.”
Here’s a video of the public reacting to this justification (hissing done by yours truly):

The panel of MDE board members who took the public’s questions made sure to give very “political” answers that alleviated themselves of any responsibility, and Colbeck and the rest of the conservative activists were not on the panel to answer questions. However, the panel did note the need to revise the standards. Video:

Many thoughtful and intelligent people in the crowd asked questions of the panel or made profound comments about the narrow-mindedness of the standards or of the biased editing process. One very passionate speaker for more inclusion and diversity was Kaitlin Popielarz, a Wayne State ph.D student:

What I loved to see was a student ask a hard-hitting question about why there is no Michigan Social Studies Standard for teaching students how to vote. (Gee, it’s almost like Colbeck and the other conservative activists don’t want the people to vote! ) I agree with this student! Video:

Then, I took the mic and asked a question to the panel: “why were 5 well-known conservative activists and politicians allowed on the committee to revise our Social Studies standards and will they be allowed to revise them in the future?”
The panel did not give me a firm answer, and in fact confirmed that some members of the previous review committee (and LORD KNOWS State Senator Colbeck will make sure he is one of them) will get to review and edit the standards again in the future. Despite the cathartic process of democracy playing out, teachers and citizens will need to stay vigilant about additional standards edits and who is on future committees.
Here was a speech I wrote that I was prepared to share at the meeting (due to time constraints, I was unable to share the full speech):
“I read these proposed Social Studies standards last week and a single idea came to mind, “ignorance is strength.”
This quotation is from the famous dystopian book 1984 by George Orwell, and I could not help to think that this committee is trying to strengthen our state by disappearing or downplaying such concepts as the KKK, Roe vs. Wade, gay rights, climate change, the NAACP, and core democratic values.
Just because you are uncomfortable with how history went, this does not mean that you should alter it. Instead, you should encourage teachers and students to ask questions, to debate, to critically think, to engage in the process of inquiry and to thus care about the world.
To care, to know, and to think are ever-important in our world today, as our society has many problems worth solving and questions worth debating. But we are currently failing at our jobs. Did you know that 11% of Americans (22% of millennials) have never heard of the Holocaust, and 31% of Americans (41% of millennials) think that less than 2 million people died in the Holocaust.
And this is where the downplaying of the word “democracy” by this committee becomes more obscene. Yes, we also have a republic and that should be highlighted, but to delete phrases like “core democratic values” loses our American connection to the famous Greek system of “rule by the people” which differentiates from autocracy “rule by one”, and oligarchy “rule by a small number of people.”
These connections are ever-more necessary in a time where the median wealth of white families is $171,000 while median wealth of Black families is $17,600 and median wealth of Hispanic families is $20,700. In a time where the richest 1 percent of American families owns 40% of the country’s wealth. In a time where just 61.4% of voting aged Americans vote in elections. Students should critically think about how we can better strive for democracy in America, not turn away from the word just because it’s too close to “democrats.”
Freedom, government, war, racism, police brutality, potholes in the roads, wealth inequality, capitalism, guns, gun control, abortion, immigration, privilege, global warming, taxation, welfare. The issues of our time should be debated and discussed in Social Studies classes, not ignored and obfuscated with politically interfering standards.
In a time where students see the realities of our world in front of them every day, ignoring those realities in favor of pre-packaged political goop means creating uninformed citizens who don’t care.
With standards like these, written by a committee that includes 5 well-known conservative activists, including a politician running for governor (without political voices from the other side), students are being blinded from a part of history and debate that goes against the world view of the committee.
We need to have truly politically neutral standards that also shy towards controversial topics in our world today and in our past history, not away from them. We are not strengthening ourselves by being ignorant to the KKK, core democratic values, the NAACP, gay rights, or Roe vs Wade.
Instead, with these proposed standards, we are moving towards George Orwell’s completed warning in the book 1984, “War is peace, Freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.””
If you would like to take action, here are a few easy steps you can do:
1) Fill out this online survey for public comments:
2)  Attend one of the remaining public comment sessions on the proposed Social Studies standards:
June 26- Eastern Upper Peninsula, Sault Ste. Marie
June 27- Michigan Library & Historical Center, Lansing
June 28- Kent ISD, Grand Rapids
3) Read more about the proposed standards changes here:

Dos and Don’ts of Teaching American Slavery (for White Educators) by Aaron Michael Baker

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Teaching Tolerance recently released a report entitled, “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery.” It is essential reading for all teachers; all subjects and all grade levels. The companion podcast series of the same name is equally valuable for educators. For U.S history teachers, like myself, that teach American slavery as part of our curriculum, the release of this report represents a watershed moment. This country has never even attempted to face the reality of nearly 250 years of enslavement of black people. What we need is a groundswell of history teachers willing to comprehensively teach the hard history of American slavery in the classroom.

The teaching of American slavery should not be standardized or trivialized. It should be prioritized. At the very center of the story of Colonial America and the first 100 years of U.S. history lies the “peculiar institution” of American slavery. Textbooks and curriculum standards treat the issue much more fairly than ever before. There are remnants of the Southern “lost cause,” but by and large secondary level textbooks want students to see slavery as a horrible and tragic historical reality. While today’s students are familiar with the violence of American slavery, they are often taught that slavery was a reality for which no one in particular was to blame. Textbooks and standards consistently portray American slavery as a single blemish on an otherwise perfect track record of “the greatest nation in the world.” American slavery is not often portrayed in curriculum standards as the single most defining characteristic of Colonial America leading up to and during the struggle for independence from Great Britain. Browsing through many U.S. history textbooks, it would appear that American slavery had its origins in the early seventeenth century, but then did not exist for perhaps 200 years until the early part of the nineteenth century as a contributing cause of the Civil War. In many textbooks, there are long periods of U.S. history where the continuing impact of American slavery is not brought to bear.
The teaching of American slavery should not be standardized or trivialized. It should be prioritized.
Teachers are responsible for teaching the curriculum standards for their given content area and, to a lesser degree, the textbook that has been assigned to them. Every day, however, teachers make a multitude of decisions on what material to emphasize and de-emphasize. Curriculum standards should be taught in their entirety, but they are not intended to be the only material a teacher can teach. History teachers can responsibly teach all the standards, while creating specific emphases on hard history like American slavery. With a view to the importance of this particular subject matter, I humbly present my “dos and don’ts of teaching American slavery.” I cannot separate my pedagogical practices from my experience as a white educator. Teachers of color will no doubt approach many of these practices with a different perspective and perhaps a markedly different list of dos and don’ts.
Do have students draw people of color. Stick figures should not be all white.
Do use humanizing language like “enslaved people.”
Do include a full study of 19th century African American culture; a culture that thrived under the brutality of slavery.
Do reclaim the power and legacy of Alex Haley’s “Roots” to help humanize enslaved African Americans.
Do teach the experiences of enslaved African Americans at each stage of U.S. history beginning in 1619.
Do allow black students to feel angry.
Do allow white students to feel uncomfortable.
Do teach the multitude of ways that African Americans resisted slavery.
Do allow students to see and hear film dramatization of white people saying the “n” word.
Do implicate the North in the profiteering from and perpetuation of slavery.
Do utilize films that portray black agency like “Amistad” and “Glory.”
Do teach Abraham Lincoln as a flawed individual who never fully embraced the tenets of abolitionism.
Don’t have students draw enslaved people being whipped, hung, etc…
Don’t define and restrict enslaved people by calling them “slaves.”
Don’t play academic games related to slavery.
Don’t use euphemisms that derive from American slavery like “sold down the river” and “cotton-picking.” And don’t ever play “Hangman.”
Don’t recreate, simulate, or role-play slavery.
Don’t have students imagine themselves as enslaved people.
Don’t overemphasize white figures like John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Lloyd Garrison.
Don’t say, “You couldn’t do this” or “You couldn’t do that.”
Don’t intentionally make white students feel guilty.
Don’t say or read aloud the “n” word. Don’t allow students to say or read aloud the “n” word.
Don’t teach Confederate myths like kindly masters or black Confederate soldiers.
Don’t celebrate “Colonial Days.”

Antwon Rose’s Life Matters by Steven Singer

Antwon Rose could have been my student.

I teach 7th and 8th grade language arts in a district located minutes away from where the 17-year-old was shot and killed by police.

East Pittsburgh, the neighborhood where his car was stopped and where he ran from officers before being shot three times in the back, is minutes from my house.

He went to Woodland Hills School District, minutes from my house.

Michael Rosfeld, the officer who just started working at East Pittsburgh less than two hours before he shot and killed Antwon, had been fired with cause from his previous job as a security officer at the University of Pittsburgh, where I got both my graduate and undergraduate degrees and where my wife works.

The poem Antwon wrote about not wanting to become another statistic that was read aloud at a protest was the product of an assignment I give my own classes.


So I say again – he could have been my student.

I have had many children like him.

Most of my kids are like him.

Promising, smart, burdened by fears no teenager should have to face.

When I look at the smiling picture of Antwon released to the media, he looks like so many others I have known and loved.

How many kids have passed before me worried that they’ll be the victims of police violence?

How many kids have sat in those seats trying to concentrate on my work while anxious about the reality of the streets they have to walk just to get home?

How many kids have been afraid that if the worst happens, the rest of us will forget their humanity?

I am a white teacher. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a black person in America except by extension of what my kids and others tell me.

When my daughter goes to school or plays in the yard, I don’t have to worry the police will consider her a threat simply because of the amount of melanin in her skin.

If he hadn’t been in that car, he’d still be alive. If he hadn’t run from police, they wouldn’t have shot.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But being in the wrong place at the wrong time shouldn’t bring with it a death sentence. Running away shouldn’t bring with it the finality of the grave.

But plenty of questions remain.

Rosfeld is still on unpaid leave. Why hasn’t he been arrested?

Civil rights writer Shaun King reports that when Rosfeld worked at the University of Pittsburgh, he had a history of harassing black students and was only let go after he harassed one of the chancellor’s own children. If true, was that reported to East Pittsburgh before they hired him?

Why is it police can apprehend white shooters with no violence, but when a suspect is black the rules of engagement start and end with bloodshed?

And I’m glad.

We need answers to those and more questions. We need justice for Antwon.

But more than anything we need to recognize that he was a human being.

He was a little boy with his whole life ahead of him.

His life matters.

I don’t say “mattered” because even though he’s gone, his life still matters.

We can’t bring him back, but we can honor who he was.

We can recognize his common humanity is the same as anyone else’s.

And we must – we MUST – make sure that things like this don’t happen again.

At absolute minimum, the hand holding it shouldn’t belong to someone tasked with the job to serve and protect.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Public Schools Are Not ‘Government Schools,’ Not Yet by Aaron Michael Baker

A favorite talking point of school privatizers and education reformers is to refer to public schools as “government schools.” When free market ideologues and politicians do this, they are primarily appealing to the libertarian tendencies of middle and upper class white evangelicals and Catholics. Right wing politicians rarely use the word “government” positively as an adjective; government spending, government waste, government overreach. To the ears of Generation X white America, “government schools” sounds an awful lot like “government cheese.” In the 1980s, the term “government cheese” stood for poor quality, generic packaging, uniformity, and the stigma that went along with being a recipient of food stamps. This is the image that devotees of economist Milton Friedman want to conjure. They want us to believe that public schools are bland, monolithic, and a means to publicly identify and ridicule poor people.

Imagine nationwide standardized school uniforms, 100% scripted instruction, closed-circuit television cameras in every classroom, and absolutely no extra-curricular activities. That is perhaps what “government schools” would look like in the United States today. The truth is that every public school in America has its own unique characteristics, continues to operate with a surprisingly high level of autonomy, and is distinctly connected to its local community. If this country had “government schools” there would be no such thing as school pride, school mascots, or class reunions. There certainly would be no need for elected school boards. There would be no Parent Teacher Association and no parent teacher conferences. Students would be nothing more than products. Public schools are not factories that push out generations of identical young adults. Public schools are localized communities that incubate our society’s progress toward justice and tolerance.
The truth is that every public school in America has its own unique characteristics, continues to operate with a surprisingly high level of autonomy, and is distinctly connected to its local community.
It comes as no surprise that the desire to dismantle public schools falls near on the political spectrum to the bigotry, xenophobia, and intolerance coming out of the Trump white house. The irony of public schools promoting a progressive society is that progressives do not control our national government. And in deeply red states like Oklahoma, they do not control state government either. So when the political right calls public schools “government schools,” they are referring to the government that, for the most part, they control.
The irony is that some of the same politicians that cry “school choice” year after year are the same politicians who sponsor legislation that results in more government control of public schools. One of the favorite pastimes of Republican lawmakers is to mandate patriotism in public schools. The presence of compulsory pledges and posted national mottos reading “In God We Trust” inside public school classrooms is a decisive step toward rightfully earning the title “government schools.” After the failed policies of “No Child Left Behind,” it is clear that standardized testing is not a way to lift student performance but to homogenize our education system in order make it more susceptible to criticism.
The irony is that some of the same politicians that cry “school choice” year after year are the same politicians who sponsor legislation that results in more government control of public schools.
The motivations behind legislators playing it both ways in regard to education policy vary. At best, some policymakers are simply ignorant of the contradiction between labeling a neighborhood school a “government school” and promoting heavy-handed regulation that they like to call “accountability.” At worst, the “government school” mantra is a well calculated self-fulfilling prophecy. Here is how it works.
Step 1: Refer to public schools as “government schools.” Repeat often.
Step 2: Heavily regulate public schools at both the state and national level. Standardize everything.
Step 3: Keep calling public schools “government schools” until it becomes true.
Step 4: Defund and privatize public education.

Step 5: Leave a few highly scrutinized “government schools” open in urban centers for poor students of color to attend.