The Pot and the Kettle

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Last month Facebook revealed it had discovered 450 accounts and about $100,000 in ad spending Russia used during the U.S. presidential campaign. As a result, the company turned over a copy of roughly 3,000 advertisements identified on its platform as spreading covert Russian propaganda. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been investigating any connection Facebook had with Russia. The ads in question potentially caused racial, and other social political tensions during the election (ABC News) (NY Times).

If that wasn’t enough bad press, Facebook has also been scrutinized for encouraging fake news.  Rutenberg and Isaac (2017) wrote, “Facebook has faced criticism for giving too much prominence to fake news; for censoring as offensive an iconic Vietnam War photograph of a naked girl fleeing a bombing attack; and for allegations that members of its “trending topics” team, which is now disbanded, penalized news of interest to conservatives”. As such, the company has issued statements on their policy of publishing so called fake news. The policies prohibit ads that are “violent, discriminate based on race or promote the sale of illegal drugs” (Reuters)

A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One that sounds good, and a real one.    ~J. Pierpoint Morgan

In January, Facebook hired Campbell Brown, former host on NBC News and CNN, to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.  “The addition of Ms. Brown comes as Facebook is struggling with its position as a content provider that does not produce its own content — that is, as a platform, not a media company” (NY Times).

What many people may not know about Brown is she is the founder of The 74. From the website, “The 74 is a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America. Our public education system is in crisis. In the United States, less than half of our students can read or do math at grade-level, yet the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin. Our mission is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children under the age of 18 the education they deserve” (The 74).

It is no secret Brown has shown her disdain for teacher tenure and teacher’s unions, while supporting charters and vouchers. As the founder of The 74, Brown came out in full support of Betsy DeVos (The 74). Last fall she hosted a Republican Presidential Primary Debate  which was sponsored “solely by the country’s foremost group promoting vouchers, the American Federation for Children, and hosted by her then-new website, the Seventy Four” (Slate).

So much for non-profit and non-partisan.

Then this happened. The Network for Public Education wanted to purchase an ad with Facebook during what they were calling School Privatization week, instead of School Choice Week. According to Diane Ravitch, “We made it a Facebook ad. It was accepted and all was fine. Then, after a few days, Facebook refused our buys and blocked us from boosting any of our posts. We are still blocked from boosting or buying nine months later.”

Ravitch wants to know why Facebook algorithms don’t recognize ads that interfere in our elections but block criticism of School Choice? And why do Facebook algorithms ignore ads placed by Russian propagandists but block ads placed by the Network for Public Education?

Steven Singer, a teacher and public education advocate wrote a recent article called School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less. No sooner had Singer posted the article to his Facebook page, that he was told his story was blocked for one week, and he received a message saying the story “violating community standards.(gadflyonthewall). According to Singer:

This is just an examination of why charter and voucher schools reduce options for parents and students – not increase them.

It’s an argument. I lay out my reasons with reference to facts and make numerous connections to other people’s work and articles.

I don’t understand how that “violates community standards” (gadflyonthewall).

Do you see where this is going? Maybe this is a lesson in what is and what is not acceptable to Facebook. Or maybe it wasn’t acceptable to Campbell Brown because her new job, as noted above is to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.”  To work more effectively to do what?

On Singer’s ban, Ravitch wrote, “Steven Singer was censored by an algorithm. Or, Steven Singer was censored by the Political Defense team that tries to prevent any criticism of charter schools and TFA. Singer says he’s been posting similar blogs since 2014 without incident. It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg is a big fan of charters and vouchers.

Singer says he has no idea why this particular blog was blocked, and he may never know. I’m curious as to why all of a sudden Facebook is choosing what content will be available, and what will not.

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I’m curious as to the connection through all of this. Coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

These are my reflections for today.

10/13/17

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Be an Upstander

The Bully

The bully demonstrates aggression to a victim in the form of verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological abuse. In a bullying incident, there is an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim. The bully wants to subjugate the victim, who fears the bully’s power. The targets of a bully can be a single individual or a group of people. According to safe@school, “The males who bullied had greater tendencies to be abusive in their adult intimate relationships than those who did not bully, and the females who bullied were more abusive to their children. The research also discovered a correlation between bullying and a range of social problems, including employment difficulties, alcohol and drug dependency, and divorce.” The older a bully get, the more aggressive they become with verbal threats and abuse.

The Victim

Victims of bullies may develop a fear that the bullying will get worse if they report it to someone, or tell someone about the bullying instances. They are also unable to remove the stigma attached to them by the bully and this results in isolation. As with bullies, victims develop antisocial behaviors as this undermines their sense of self. Those who become targets are more sensitive, cautious, and quiet than other kids (Psychology Today).

The Bystander

In a bullying situation, a bystander is the person (or people) who stand by witnessing a bullying incident. Bystanders do not take part in the bullying, but do nothing to intervene as they witness the incident. Bystanders can be affected by what they witnessed. They are often bothered by the experience, often aligning themselves with the student who bullies. They may blame the victim, or accept their own implicit failure by failing to intervene. “A general lack of adult intervention can lead them to believe that those with power are allowed to aggress against others and achieve added status as a result of their behaviour. They may even take advantage of opportunities to adopt the same antisocial behaviour” (safe@school).

The Upstander

In a bullying situation, an upstander is the person who witnesses the incident, knows it is wrong and does something to make things right.  It takes courage to speak up on someone’s behalf. “The word itself has the ability to empower… to make an active change…, in an effort to build communities that support difference and unify against intolerance(NIOT.org). Being an upstander means standing up for what is right to support and protect someone who is being bullied. In many ways, this is another way of saying someone is being socially responsible. Two ways to become an upstander are to help others who are being bullied and to stop untrue or harmful messages from spreading (The Bully Project).

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There is no better time to understand the dynamics of bullies and to take action.  What do you do when you witness (or read about) an incident of bullying? Are you a bystander or an upstander? We’ve become complacent in a time when we should be showing our discontent. Every one of us has a responsibility to be an upstander, to stand up against bullies and the injustice surrounding bullying incidents. This is essential if we want to change our communities, our country, and even our world. Shifting from a bystander to an upstander can support the need for our society to not only understand the dynamics of a bully but to also change it, That’s on us.

Martin Luther King said, “In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

These are my reflections for today.

10/6/17

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Lunch Shaming

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Michael Padilla is a state senator from New Mexico. As a child, he spent many of his school days mopping floors so he could have lunch. He befriended cafeteria workers for a piece of bread or a left over sandwich. Padilla grew up in foster homes where lunch money was an exception (NPR).

Della Curry made national headlines a few years ago as a cafeteria worker in Aurora, CO who gave lunch to a child who was crying because she didn’t have lunch money and she was hungry. The act of a good Samaritan  was defined by district and federal policy as stealing. Curry was fired (NPR). Scott Simon wrote, “The school district says students from poor families can qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Curry says those programs overlook students from families who may struggle, but don’t quite qualify — if that’s the word — as poor” (NPR).

Stacy Koltiska was a cafeteria worker in Pittsburgh, PA. Last year she quit her job when she was forced to take lunches away from two students and replace them with sandwiches because the families owed more than $25. These were elementary students. High school students don’t even get the sandwich. Koltiska posted to facebook her experience with the school district. Remembering the day, she said “His eyes welled up with tears. I’ll never forget his name, the look on his face” (CBSnews)Koltiska said what these children experience is humiliating and embarrassing, and she fought for this practice of so called lunch shaming to stop.

Earlier this year, Padilla introduced legislation in New Mexico which would prevent any child from being lunch shamed. When the bill was introduced, he read about other schools and policies of lunch shaming.

Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich. Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together (NPR).

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       School districts practicing lunch shaming would use this stamp on a child’s arm.                                It says, I need lunch money.

Padilla’s bill – the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, which became law in April, requires the USDA, which administers the federal school meal program, to require all school districts have a written policy on how to deal with students who can’t pay for their lunch, or have an outstanding balance with the district. Since the introduction of this bill, Padilla has heard from lawmakers from other states who are interested. California state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D) introduced the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act.

New York took a different approach to the problem. Beginning fall 2017, free lunch is available to all 1.1 million students, regardless of income level. Seventy five percent of students in NY already qualified for free or reduced lunch (NY TImes).

The new initiative reaches another 200,000 children, saving their families about $300 a year per child. These additional lunches are not expected to cost the city more money, thanks to the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, under which schools that offer free lunch and breakfast to all children are reimbursed based on students’ poverty level. By taking advantage of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, schools can increase reimbursement for meals — thus wiping out meal debt — while they improve nutrition, eliminate stigma and cut administrative costs. (NY TImes).

New York City joins other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit who have put an end to lunch shaming. Unfortunately there are still too many districts still employing barbaric practices of lunch shaming. Humiliating a child for being poor is a horrific practice. I applaud districts for working with district, state, and federal policies to eliminate such practices.

These are my reflections for today.

9/29/2017

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Even More Charter Scandals

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LOS ANGELES – Over the summer, I wrote about the Los Angeles School Board Elections (Philanthropy and Politics in Education).  With the financial influence of such people as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, there was a lot of purchasing and positioning charter  advocates to the LA School Board.  According to a report in the LA Times this week, School Board President Ref Rodriguez was arrested and charged with three felony counts, “conspiracy to commit a crime, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, and he faces 25 misdemeanor charges, one for each donor he allegedly reimbursed.” Rodriguez apparently cashed out on an investment for $26,000 and instructed his cousin Elizabeth Melendrez to deposit the check into an account under his parents name. The complaint in the file claims Rodriguez’s mother “then wrote checks to her son’s friends and relatives, reimbursing them for donations to his campaign” (LA Times).  His first fundraising statement indicated he had raised roughly $51,000. However, prosecutors say 25 of the donations were reimbursed, and that of all the money raised, $24,250 actually came from the candidate himself.

Rodriguez had been under investigation for two years, but apparently nobody on the board knew until last week. News of Rodriguez’s arrest sent shock waves through LA, especially school board members. As we have learned in countless other charter scandals, an indictment does not require anyone to step down from their positions. As one board member said, “To be accused of a crime does not preclude from being able to serve as a board member” (LA Times).  Opponents say this is just another example of the failure of reformers “and their billionaire allies [who] have often been allowed to act with impunity, and above the law(LA Times). If convicted, Rodriguez faces up to four years in prison.  Days after his arrest, Rodriguez stepped down as president but remains on the board.

ALBUQUERQUE –  This week Tim Keller, the New Mexico state auditor released results of an investigation into a likely fraud-embezzlement scandal with the La Promesa Early Learning Center. According to the report, “a half a million dollars was diverted from the School into a former employee’s personal bank account between June 2010 and July 2016. Keller reviewed bank statements and school records and “discovered an apparent forgery scheme that funneled over $475,000 from the School to an employee’s personal bank account. As a result, hundreds of kids were defrauded of funding that should be going to their education. (krwg.org).  The report can be found in its entirety here.

NASHVILLE – According to The Tennessean, a lawsuit was filed against RePublic, a Nashville based charter network. The lawsuit alleges that “RePublic violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending messages through a commercial auto-dialing service without the consent of recipients The Tennessean. One text read: 4th-grade parents, your child is eligible to attend Nashville Academy of Computer Science next year. Please call us at 615-873-0484 to tour our facility! The Tennessean

This is just one example of what happens when student information becomes public record. School board member Will Pinkston said, “The RePublic lawsuit underscores, in real time, the reason why our district needs to get a long overdue handle on student and family data security”The Tennessean.

ATLANTA -The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that criminal charges were filed against Christopher Clemens, the 38 year old founder of Latin Academy. Charges against Clemons include 55 counts of forgery and theft of at least $1.3 million after a Fulton County grand jury indicted him on seven additional charges.  One charge claims $800,000 theft from the school which later closed. Another charge is for thefts of more than $500,000, including money allegedly taken from Latin Grammar School and Latin College Preparatory School (AJC). Clemens is also accused of using the school’s credit card for “dinners, non work-related travel expenses, bonuses to employees, ATM withdrawals and personal entertainment at night clubs” according to the Atlanta police (CBS46).

BATON ROUGE – In an ongoing investigation, police in Baton Rouge have charged Laurel Oaks Charter School principal and founder Shafeeq Syid Shamsid-Deen with cruelty to a juvenile and false imprisonment (The Advocate). “The child told investigators that Shamsid-Dean, 31, told her to ‘go into the closet with the spiders, and if she screamed, he would turn the lights off’ (The Advocate).

One of the teachers who found the child told police that she was “weeping hysterically” when they opened the closet door. The closet contained paint, other supplies, and a small chair that appeared to have been placed there recently because of its cleanliness, police said.

When one of the teachers emailed Shamsid-Deen with objections about the punishment, he responded that the school “will work to make sure we have a proper time-out area for scholars to reset in the cafeteria,” the warrant says (The Advocate).

As a side note, Samsid-Deen has a BA in history and political science and after college,  worked for the Teach for America. He then spent three years with New Mexico’s department of education, overseeing the development of a new teacher evaluation system.

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I recognized that I preach to the choir as many of my readers are connected to public education in some way.   Please share this blog with others who may not be aware of these horrific scandals plaguing so many schools and children across the country. Ignorance is no excuse.

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These are my reflections for today.

9/22/17

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Finding Common Ground with Teach for America

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As a teacher educator, my stomach roils at the very mention of Teach for America (TFA), yet for some reason it keeps coming up in my life. My argument against this organization stems from my belief that the most effective urban teachers come from traditional teacher preparation programs, which include a solid foundation of theory, pedagogy, and fieldwork experiences in urban environments. Training effective teachers to work in urban classrooms may bring sustainability to these schools, and bring teachers who understand how to narrow the achievement gap that exists between high and low income schools. Staffing schools with college graduates who aren’t required to have a degree in education or a teaching license, and have only five weeks of training, as is the case with TFA is a disservice to students in urban schools. This is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

About a year ago, a former student who was about to graduate from our teacher education program asked if I would serve as a reference for TFA as she was beginning to seek employment after graduation. I told her I would, but she had to listen to me for five minutes while I explained why I wanted her to have a very clear understanding of the organization before she applied. She came to my office and before I even spoke, she said, “I know you don’t like it, I know it’s not good for urban schools to hire inexperienced teachers, but I think I can do this and I would like the opportunity to try and change their approach.” Knowing my opinions should not impact her choices, I found the common ground and agreed to write a glowing recommendation. I completed the online recommendation, and being a good sport, on the form I checked yes they could contact me with additional questions, but no they could not contact me for networking opportunities. I’m all about supporting my teacher candidates, even if they feel strongly about pursuing employment with an organization I do not support. But discuss networking opportunities with TFA? No, thank you.

This student accepted a position in New Orleans, and came back to campus to visit me at Thanksgiving. I asked how it was going, and her response was, “It’s worse than you think.” I was disheartened, but not surprised.

Last spring I attended accepted students day with my son at the university where he would attend. During the day, two people from two different programs offered this to parents and students, “We encourage our students to take advantage of service opportunities, such as Teach for America.” Each time, my son looked at me as if to say, “Mom, please don’t stand up and debate this.” The voices in my head are screaming, don’t those children deserve the best trained teachers, and not just college students looking for service opportunities?” But for my son, I swallowed the urge to stand and scream in protest, and mentally began writing a letter to the president of the university.  The letter is written in my head, but that’s as far as it’s gotten.

The next encounter was while I was attending a post-memorial service luncheon in honor of my godfather. I was introduced to one of his granddaughters. In casual conversation I mentioned I am a college professor. She asked what I teach, and I told her I am a teacher educator. “You’re not going to like me very much, then,” she said. I tell her I’m sure that’s not true, and she goes on to tell me she was a TFA corps member for two years, worked in staffing for a while after that, and now is co-founder of a program bringing early childhood education programs to urban children in a large metropolitan area. I begin pontificating on the research my colleagues and I have done, our recently published book and how we feel so strongly about our work. I tell her the book comes from work each of has done in providing urban field experiences for our students, paralleled with course work, and activities, which support how our students need to first understand themselves and the cultural lens through which they see the world. In order for teachers to be effective in an urban classroom, they must also understand the students and the environment from which they come. It is only then they can begin to understand their students, and how the culture of these children differs from their own upbringing. She appears to be intrigued by this. Sadly this was news to her.

Somehow what happened next even surprised me. We found a way to reach common ground. She left TFA because she didn’t completely agree with the organization’s plan, said she didn’t need to read any of the exposés written by disgruntled former corps members who admitted to being ill-prepared to teach these students, and in this environment. She already knew about it first hand. I was happy to hear this. She made a point of saying not all corps members are horrible teachers, and I agreed, but countered with why our most needy students deserved our very best teachers. She agreed. We agreed that suburban schools would never be staffed with TFA corps members, and we recognized the issues surrounding why only urban schools employ them.

At the end of the conversation, she told me she would read the book on the flight home. She mentioned a friend who is the Director of Corps Member Development and after reading our book would speak with her friend about our conversation and the book.

I begrudgingly acknowledged I would be willing to discuss the book with her friend, and how it might be implemented in TFA training (still only 5-weeks, but whatever).  In this conversation I learned how something good came out of her work with TFA. I would like to think something good might come of my conversation with her. This got me thinking further. Perhaps the common ground is more approachable, than the defining line in the sand. Am I selling out by agreeing to have a conversation with TFA? Could I be like my student who believes maybe she can affect change within the organization in New Orleans ? I don’t know. But the fact that I found common ground and we could agree, disagree, and agree to disagree was tremendous growth for me.

My most recent encounter was last month when I reached out to TFA looking for data on the growth of charters in New Orleans pre- and post- Katrina – specifically the number of TFA corp members were in the New Orleans Schools. Honestly, the information I was looking for was for research purposes only. I got a response from the Managing Director of External Research asking me to complete a research partnership request. “Once you’ve submitted this request, we will review the information provided and make a decision as to whether or not to release the data.” On the same day I submitted the form, there was a lot of search activity on my research publications from…. guess where? New Orleans. Not sure how they felt about my research, but I guess I can understand the hesitation to provide the data to anyone, as most of it is used against the organization.

This week I got a response. “We are happy to provide historic placement data for TFA in New Orleans.  I am working to assemble those numbers now and should have them to you soon.” 

I will only use the information I receive for the intended use- research for a book. For as much as I take issue with TFA, it keeps coming up in my life. Maybe some day I’ll understand why.

Sun-Tzu wrote, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

These are my reflections for today.

7/28/17

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Staring in the face of segregation – again

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While there are charter schools which are extraordinary and diverse, most are neither. We are reading more of their failures, and less of their successes. Moreover, what’s being reported is an increasingly high level of corruption and misappropriation of funds nationwide. Additionally, studies are finding an alarming increase in segregation in urban schools resulting from charters. Why? Charters are handing admission tickets to students who fit a profile, and that profile does not include English Language Learners or students with special needs. While public schools must accept and teach all students, charters (because they are unregulated) can pick and choose students. This reminds me of the blueberry story about the teacher who schools the businessman about choice.

School choice. DeVos says it’s what parents really want. What is the real danger in school choice?

In 1954, after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, parents rallied to create private non-religious schools where their white children could attend without forced desegregation. These so called ‘segregationist academies’ popped up mostly in the south, where desegregation was slow to implementation. Parents could choose to send their students to inexpensive private schools and ignore the law. While many died out in the 1960s and 70s, some still exist. Rather than desegregate, parents and families left and created their own schools. Between this and white flight, public schools were more segregated than before. What is most frightening is – since 1954 not much has changed.

Are charter schools the new public segregationist academies?  The very students charter schools were created to support are getting pushed out. Millhiser (2015) wrote that “American schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968.” Camera (2016) wrote in U.S. News that, “While much has changed in public education in the decades following {this} landmark decision and subsequent legislative action, research has shown that some of the most vexing issues affecting children and their access to educational excellence and opportunity today are inextricably linked to race and poverty.”

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What comes from publicly funded, unregulated charters and vouchers? to In a study conducted at Stanford University, Reardon (2016) found that “racial segregation is inextricably linked to unequal allocation of resources among schools; and  policies that don’t address this will fail to remedy racial inequality. In sum, racial integration remains essential for reducing racial disparities in school poverty rates” (Rabinovitz, 2016). This is the real problem.

In 2014, The General Accounting office was tasked with studying racial and socioeconomic isolation in the US. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) was part of the committee  requesting the study. After reading the report, Scott said, “The GAO report confirms that our nation’s schools are, in fact, largely segregated by race and class. What’s more troubling, is that segregation in public K-12 schools isn’t getting better; it’s getting worse, and getting worse quickly, with more than 20 million students of color now attending racially and socioeconomically isolated public schools” (Anderson, 2016).

In a study conducted by The Civil Rights Project , the executive summary noted, “Our analysis of the 40 states, the District of Columbia, and several dozen metropolitan areas with large enrollments of charter school students reveals that charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”

“School choice is not really about freedom. Freedom, of course, is a bedrock American value. But the kind of “freedom” associated with the flight away from integration and toward racial isolation will never lead to a more truly free United States” (Wong, 2017).

These stories came out just this week:

Diane Ravitch reported this week that the head of a now-closed Los Angeles charter school was charged with embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds, and money laundering.  This charge came the day after the election that handed control of the Los Angeles school board to charter promoters.

The Miami Herald reported this week that the Florida legislature, which has many members with direct connections to charters, passed HB 7069 which is a damaging piece of legislation that will benefit charters and harm public schools. Parents of public school students have been writing Governor Rick Scott and urging him to veto the bill. According to Clark and Gurney, “At least two privately managed charter schools in Hialeah — publicly advertised this week that they would give parents five hours’ credit toward their “encouraged” volunteer hours at the school, so long as they wrote a letter or otherwise urged Gov. Rick Scott to sign HB 7069.

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Corrupt. Misappropriating funds. A mirrored image of the segregation problems of 60 years ago. This is discrimination by race, economics, and in many cases language. This should sound the alarms. We learned from history segregation wasn’t constitutional, or ethical, and didn’t have a place in this country. There was resistance, but there was also persistence. Segregation still has no place in this country.

If we don’t understand the problem we cannot work toward a solution. I often feel as if I’m sitting by the tracks waiting for the train wreck everyone expects. Trump and DeVos are very much a part of the problem, and will never see viable solutions, largely because their solutions do not address the problems – rather they make the problems worse. As a nation of educators, students, graduates, advocates, activists, concerned parents, concerned citizens, and elected officials it is up to us to speak our opposition to the failing practices that are supported in Washington and in most State houses across the country. Someone needs to pull the brake to avoid the collision we all know is coming. Not if. When.

These are my reflections for today.

5/27/17

 

 

DeVos: HBCUs “pioneers of school choice”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were created in response to the Jim Crow laws in the South that mandated enforced segregation. These laws institutionalized educational disadvantages, resulting in shutting out black students from traditionally white schools. They were created in slave states after the Civil War.

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Last week I watched the video of Betsy DeVos giving a commencement speech at Bethune- Cookman University which is an HBCU. In the video, students stand and turn their backs to DeVos in peaceful protest. This controversy arose over statements DeVos made in February to a group of HBCU leaders. According to Douglas-Gabriel and Jan (2017) of the Washington Post, after a meeting with HBCU leaders, DeVos praised their schools for identifying “a system that wasn’t working” and taking it upon themselves to provide the solution.  DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”  She said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality” (Washington Post).

Tweets poked fun of her characterization of HBCUs as about school choice— “as if white/colored water fountains were about beverage options” and comparing the Montgomery bus boycott to “pioneering new scenic walking paths.” (Washington Post).  

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Selena Hill of Huewire said, “This display of public outrage should serve as a wake-up call to DeVos and the Trump administration: It’s going to take a lot more than photo ops and empty speeches to win over black students. Black institutions deserve protection, more federal funding, and better public schools that prepare students of color for college. Anything less is unacceptable” (Huewire).

Some say the protest was appalling, disrespectful-saying students should have their diplomas taken away, and should have used this as an opportunity for engagement and discussion with the Secretary.

I’ll play devil’s advocate. What if what DeVos was saying is that HBCUs were “pioneers of school choice” because black students weren’t afforded an education due to segregation so they found a solution to a problem and created colleges and universities with opportunities for learning. She might think they were pioneers, but at the same time she has  oversimplified racial segregation, the Fourteenth Amendment and discrimination.

Putting the past aside is one thing – understanding the past is another. Equating discrimination and segregation to pioneering choice fails to acknowledge the discrimination in the first place. Blacks were forced to create their own schools because the laws of this country did not protect them- in fact Jim Crow Laws supported discrimination and segregation.

I’m reminded of recent comments by HUD Secretary Ben Carson who said slavery was considered “hope for freedom”,  and slaves were “immigrants coming to a land of dreams and opportunity.” If I remember correctly, slaves were forced into a life of servitude-often abusive, always inhumane. They were not here by choice, nor did they have much opportunity. DeVos’ statement about choice and Carson’s statement about slavery ignore  reality. From their perspective, DeVos and Carson thought they were speaking the truth. It’s hard for me to interpret their words as anything other than ignorance. George Santayana said it best, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

My guess is the Secretary was not randomly selected to give the commencement address at Bethune- Cookman, nor was she shocked by the reaction from the students. I would bet money this was as contrived as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. This was a planned visit, a canned speech, and likely nothing more than a publicity stunt. I would also guess that DeVos had no idea what an HBCU was before taking office-but maybe was schooled just after she learned she was giving the address.

The #1 rule of public speaking is to know your audience.

These are my reflections for today.

5/24/17