I’m Sorry America, But Until Further Notice, This Is TOTALLY Us

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By Justin Cohen

When protestors and activists gathered around the country last Thursday, to protest the Trump administration’s depraved policy of separating children from their families, the mood was raw.

At the rally I attended in Brooklyn, the sentiment of the crowd ranged from disbelief to hopelessness to outrage. I have been to more protests than I can remember, including many in the months since the election of 2016. The mood was different last week. The strident calls for concrete political action were replaced by something more like, “Are you kidding me, you fucking maniacs?”

It appears that, for many otherwise ambivalent Americans, the imprisonment of children in cages is the proverbial bridge too far, a sign that a reckless administration had finally crossed the line.

And if the crowd at the Brooklyn event was any indication, a large portion of enraged are white folks, most of whom would self-identify as progressive or liberal. Glancing at the various protest signs, it’s possible to glean some important information about what motivates people to show up in solidarity with people who do not look like them. Amidst a variety of creative forms of resistance, I kept seeing one message, over and over, and it’s a plea that requires interrogation:

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“This Is Not Us.”

But what if it is?

For many Americans, particularly those who are neither white nor privileged, last week’s news was just another piece of evidence that the Trump administration is hell bent on imposing its narrow, nationalistic,racist definition of what it means to be an American. All in the process of reminding us that, until further notice:

“This IS, and Has Always Been, Us.”

If I’m the first person to share this information to you, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad, yet old, news. The definition of who get to be a human in America has always expanded and contracted, but that definition has always hinged on both defining whiteness, and manipulating the family structures of non-white people.

Consider the most obvious example, the enslavement of people of African descent. Maintaining chattel slavery as a system of racial and economic oppression depended on breaking up and systematically dismantling Black family structure in America. This tendency did not disappear after abolition, as White America’s commitment to obliterating the Black family seems to have intensified in the subsequent generations. The hyper-incarceration of Black adults, not to mention the under-education of black children, deliberately weakens families. In the meantime, conservative thinkers have erected an entire fantasy world, wherein the “failings” of the Black family structure are attributed to “cultural” phenomena, and not to the enforcement of white supremacy.

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Similar family-destroying tactics were used by the United States government in the 19th century to perpetuate the oppression of Native American people. There is a direct lineage from the American Indian boarding schools, where children were kidnapped to separate them from their native cultures, to the contemporary practice of imprisoning migrant children.

And let’s not forget, just two generations ago the American government held more than 100,000 people from Japanese families in internment camps, out of pure racial hostility at a time of global conflict. During the same period, the United States government refused entry to Jewish refugees, who were fleeing imminent death at the hands of the Nazi regime.

In each of these cases, the overt destruction of families was justified on the basis of protecting American identity. The inescapable fact is that this method of defining identity is bound to both the idea of Whiteness, and who counts as “White” at any given time. Given the Trump administration’s public flirtations with white supremacy, it is devastating, but not surprising, to see our contemporary leaders fall into a similar pattern of conflating American identity with white supremacy.

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It’s hard to know what to do in the face of state-sponsored family destruction. Protest seems inadequate. Civil disobedience comes in many forms, and the more assertive versions of such seem more enticing than ever. While the Trump administration may not be engaging in overt ethnic cleansing, it’s not hyperbolic to say that their current playbook bears shocking resemblances to those of genocidal regimes. How Americans react – both on the streets and in the polling place – will be critical to preventing the horrors from metastasizing.

Until the next shoe drops, there are many actions that folks can take. Protest, organize, petition, march, and most importantly, vote.

Before we do all of those things though, we should retire the idea that “This is Not Us.”

This IS us.

It has always been us.

And until we stop it, it will always be us.

 

Chronically absent students will graduate

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By Cheryl Coleman

The District of Columbia council has approved a measure that would allow chronically absent students to graduate from high school and allow chronically absent elementary and middle school students to not be retained.  As the law currently stands, students who miss 30 or more days from school are supposed to fail and be retained in their grade since/ Now under this new measure, students will get rewarded for not showing up to class - interesting right? DC has been under the radar for graduation scandals in the past, now this. The school system is showing students they do not have to follow the rules and they'll get rewarded for it. Is there a different incentive for students who do the right thing and show up every day for school or who miss few days? The answer is NO!

Please understand we can take the students that have a chronic illness out of the discussion, but even they have home schooling or tutoring.  I don’t understand how students can be absent for six weeks outside of a health issue. Regular school attendance is very important for student’s academic success.

Are they pushing them out the door to make their graduation ratings look good? I don’t understand how students could be absent that many days and be prepared for the future.  A student who graduates under this emergency law will possibly get a job, but when they don’t show up to work on a regular basis and get disciplined and or fired, they will not understand because they was allowed to do it growing up in school.

Luckily, this measure won’t be official unless Mayor Muriel Bowser signs it into law. Mayor Bowser, if you care about our kids, your signature won’t be found on this measure.

 

Ordinary Activists

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By Jada Drew

Communities around the world need activism because it is an integral part of the ecosystem. Without activism, democracies do not exist, systems are not challenged, and the moral consciousness of communities die.

The New Oxford dictionary defines activism as “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s more than one way to be an activist and activism is important for the longevity of societies.

People have said to me before that I’m a great activist. I disagreed because my understanding of an activist did not align with me. I viewed activist as those brave people who were out in the streets protesting, becoming political prisoners, or arrested because of civil unrest. I’m not big on being in the spotlight and I’m really not the protest type. I’m a systems changer and systems creator.

After all, most of the well-known activists in the world like Angela Davis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Assata Shakur, Caesar Chavez, Malcolm X, Dolores Huerta, Bussa, Sitting Bull, and Mahatma Gandhi sacrificed much or all of their lives to catalyze or continue national and international movements.

It’s the everyday activism that keeps that moral compass of our nation steady. From teachers including justice history into curriculum to political advocates on capitol hill, it’s is necessary to disrupt the society when policy and practices create inequality for people.

It’s the everyday citizen who makes an intentional decision to alert millions of people when there are acts of injustice. It’s people like Jamarl Clark of the We Inspire Movement, who involves hundreds of people each year on June 2nd to perform an act of inspiration and to contribute to the movement yearly.

I realized that art is a huge catalyst for activism too. Christopher Everett raises awareness through his vivid storytelling through film with the award winning documentary Wilmington On Fire detailing the organized governmental destruction of a prominent Black business district in Wilmington, NC. Now thousands of people are hosting viewings and seeking ways to reconcile the brutal genocide.

Activism challenges our current narratives of how we view and experience the world. To keep it real, there are those of us who don’t want to see things differently sometimes, including myself. And there are those of us who are constantly finding ways to help our diverse communities see what may blind us. I’m grateful for being surrounding by people who help me see past my perspectives. It helps me to use my awareness and pair with innovative and creative ways to create more inclusive and equitable organizations and communities.

 

Parents Value Safety. But Do Education Journalists? That Depends

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This article was first published on goodschoolhunting.org

By Erika Sanzi

Education writers and journalists seem to jump at the chance to write about school safety and scared parents when the story is school shootings and student activism around gun control but so many fail to demonstrate that same passion for safety when parents cite school vouchers or the larger concept of school choice as the antidote to their fears. 

This appears to be the case with the coverage of a new report released by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education by Arianna Prothero at EdWeek, Perry Stein at the Washington Post, and Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat. The report looked at the impacts of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program on students two years after they applied. All the headlines and story ledes predictably focus on the lower math scores and only make brief mention of the findings around safety. Something else of note is that although the actual name of the program is the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, Barnum of Chalkbeat does not refer to it by that name even once in his piece. He refers to it more generally as a “private school voucher program.” 

The Associated Press version of the story only mentions math scores and completely ignores the safety findings. According to Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s non-voting delegate to Congress and a known opponent of vouchers, the study shows the Opportunity Scholarship Program is “ineffective.”  

“If Congress is interested in putting money in schools, it should be putting that money where the results show the money should be.” – Eleanor Holmes Norton

Either safety be damned for Norton or she has only seen the headlines and heard the sound bites about math scores. 

In an honest and more sane world, there would be greater focus—and celebration—of a study that shows a 19.5 percentage point difference in parents’ perception of their child’s school being “very safe.” According to the report, 74.2 percent of parents of scholarship users rated their child’s school as “very safe” compared with 54.7 of parents of students who applied for, but were not awarded, a scholarship. 

The math scores are ten points lower. The safety perception numbers are 20 points higher. Both data points matter. 

Education writers know that parents prioritize school safety over standardized scores. They also know that low income parents are far more likely to believe that their assigned or zoned school is not safe enough. But somehow this isn’t the most important finding in the study at a time when school safety stories related to guns are published daily. 

Instead, math scores rule the day. 

One has to wonder if the fact that, by and large, most education writers have never experienced a dangerous school first hand—as a student or as a parent—contributes to their tendency to dismiss or minimize the significance of the increased feeling of safety parents and students report in the DC scholarship program. Or maybe it’s their politics. Either way, it’s a problem. 

If the fundamental belief in the right to feel safe at school is truly the driver of the activism out of Parkland, the former Secretary of Education’s call for a school boycott, and the Democrats’ universal call for better and stronger gun legislation, why aren’t these same folks celebrating a program that actually allows parents and students to feel safer?

Progressives and high profile anti-reform folks are most known for the mantra that children are “more than a score” and that we must focus on the “whole child.” Well, that seems to be exactly what is happening for DC scholarship recipients and yet, somehow, vouchers remain the enemy in most progressive and Democratic party circles. And in the spirit of total cognitive dissonance, some of the folks who have spent countless hours dismissing the value of tests suddenly want to use them to say “I told you so” about a school choice program that exclusively serves low income children in Washington, DC.

But if scores are suddenly the end all be all for school choice critics, surely the recent study of the Opportunity Scholarship Program in North Carolina and its participants’ higher test scores will have them supporting vouchers in no time. Oh wait. 

The truth is, children do deserve to feel—and be—safe in school and their parents deserve to feel confident that they are. It’s a fundamental expectation worthy of bipartisanship that should be free from partisan orthodoxy. Gun legislation may be what gets some parents there and opportunity scholarships (yes, vouchers!) may get others there. We owe it to parents to be open to both.