Sunday, May 10, 2015

#210 May 10, 2015- Education, Equity and Unity

The United States has always been a nation of stark contrasts. We combine the lofty words and ambitions of our founding documents and the national rhetoric that focus on freedom, liberty, justice and opportunity with the reality that while "all men are created equal" we certainly haven't created a society where all people are treated equally. While this has been clearly evident throughout our history, we are struggling to deal with the issues around equity and social justice in present day America. We are struggling to find ways to talk about significant issues, and certainly are struggling to find ways to combat the growing divides between different groups in our society.

Over the years we've fought wars, rioted, protested, organized, marched and engaged in various other types of civil disobedience, action and reaction to address the inequities that exist in our, and in every, society. Often we look back on our efforts and put them in a historical context that separates them from the present day reality we live in. We look with disdain at those we identify as villains in our past, and lift others up as heroes and examples of the best our society can produce. We talk about how misguided our societal ancestors were, and how we are more enlightened. We celebrate our successes and then suddenly are faced with events or circumstances that force us to rethink where we are as a nation in terms of progress towards social justice and towards achieving the goals of "liberty and justice for all."

There are many aspects of our struggle that make efforts to address our challenges difficult, and sometimes seemingly impossible to resolve. There are entrenched prejudices and beliefs that are perpetuated in ways that are often subtle and even outgrowths of efforts to address our societal inequities. Racism, sexism, religious intolerance and all other forms of prejudice don't exist in a vacuum and don't simply emerge out of the blue. They are a part of our societal fabric that goes through our history and that can't be erased or simply removed. We can make reparations, enact legislation and mandate practices and policy changes, but we can't remove the legacy that our predecessors have left us. If ending prejudice was as simple as passing a law, or changing a policy we would have been able to move forward as a society long ago.

We also must recognize that our nation is a special one in many ways, but at the same time it is a human creation that is just as flawed as any other society. To claim that America is a morally superior and more highly evolved society is to ignore the many examples of injustice and intolerance that exist in our past and present. While we may want to claim that America is a place where opportunity and achievement are not tied to class, race, gender or other demographic characteristic, the data tells us otherwise. Having a woman as a CEO, seeing recent immigrants achieve high positions, and even electing an African-American president doesn't change the status of the majority of individuals living in our nation.

In fact, that illustrates another barrier to resolving our challenges around diversity and opportunity. America is a nation that is highly individualistic in many ways, while ignoring the fact that no individual exists independently of the rest of society. When we tout the success of the individual without taking a more comprehensive view of what is going on to the majority of people we lose sight of the reason that we live in organized societies at all. The idea that the individual has rights is important, but the elevating of individual rights over the collective whole of a community is damaging and creates an unsustainable environment.

How a city where blacks are well represented among the city government and police erupted in riots not seen since Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.

Our focus on the individual also highlights a difficult aspect of our challenges. Each incident is based on an individual set of circumstances, each act of violence and each response is rooted in the facts that there are good people in bad situations or systems, and bad people in systems that could work. When an incident of horrifying, gratuitous injustice occurs we can clearly see the changes that need to be made, but at the same time these incidents create an atmosphere of mistrust and cause our society to divide along demographic and ideological lines. It is easy to see why so many people mistrust our existing systems, but much more difficult to find ways to create unity and cohesiveness.

Our diversity as a nation is one of our greatest strengths. Yet, at the same time it is a part of our society that has created significant discord and that has resulted in any number of troubling events and a checkered history around our respect (or lack thereof) for the rights and dignity of our own citizens. We look around the world and talk about the human rights records of other nations, while ignoring what is happening within our own borders.

This brings me to the final barrier that I see to our efforts to create a more equitable and socially just society. By making our conversations all about one group at a time we weaken our efforts. As a nation we tend to look at one group and their struggle and then move on to another issue. When we do this we ignore the fact that our most successful efforts to organize and improve our society were not focused only on a small portion of the population. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Civil Rights leader, but he was also a labor advocate and anti-war advocate and gave voice to many other issues. He also recognized the need to include many groups, in fact to make all groups a part of the effort. When we don't do this we end up creating divisions between efforts that might otherwise unite.

By Sudie Hofmann I recently came across a flier in an old backpack of my daughter's: Wanted: Committee Chairs for this Spring's Cinco de Mayo All School Celebration. The flier was replete with cultural props including a sombrero,...

What better way to kick off Cinco de Mayo celebrations than with a free biscuit taco?|By Press Release

By saying that only certain groups are struggling, or that only specific groups are targeted is to ignore our long legacy of inequity and the efforts of those who hold power to maintain their control of our society through political, social and economic means. Brutality and force have been employed on a regular basis here in America whether directed at a specific racial group, a wide range of organizations or as a means to control the general population. Whether it was George Washington leading the effort to end the Whiskey Rebellion, the multiple uses of brutal force used against organized labor, or the continued targeting of specific neighborhoods or racial groups by law enforcement officers our history is far from peaceful.

I should make myself clear, our issues around racial inequity are deep and should not be ignored. None of what I am saying is intended to deny that we have issues around race in America that need to be addressed. I am not arguing that groups that focus on these issues should stay silent, or that slogans like "Black Lives Matter" should not be a part of our national dialog. What I am saying is that we need to find ways to unite our efforts and to change the trajectory that our nation is currently following.

Places like Wisconsin, or more specifically Madison where I live, are becoming more and more divided and volatile. Our public dialog is increasingly hostile and filled with rhetoric that serves to create dissent, fear and antagonism towards others. Unless we change this we face the prospect of losing our ability to talk civilly about these important issues. We know from both distant and recent past that this is dangerous for our entire society. Whether it was the increasingly divisive climate of the 1920's which led to the incredibly challenging times in the 1930's and 40's, or the more recent examples of the struggles that have gotten us to where we are today, fear and anger are not effective ways to create a more socially just society. They may create the climate that fuels radical change, but they also create a climate that is dangerous and unpleasant for so many.  

Gentrified cities, the fall of manufacturing, the filling of jails with black men - all fuelled the violence that followed the killing of Freddie Gray|By Ed Vulliamy

Once again, our problems around racial inequities are significant and must be addressed. The racial data around incarceration, poverty and any other social indicator demonstrate inequity on a massive scale. They are also problems that have existed throughout our history and ones that we simply don't seem able, or willing to address in meaningful ways. While other demographic groups tend to see some improvement in their overall status, our African-American citizens continually struggle to achieve measurable success in our society.

By Joe Pettit | Originally Published at The Baltimore Sun. February 22, 2012 | Photographic Credit; Chris Ryan/Getty Images Imagine a report that reached the following three conclusions: In Maryland, 35 percent of males passed Advanced...

Yet, at the same time we are seeing trends towards a society that is increasingly stratified on all social, political and economic levels. This is disturbing, but also can give us some hope for a future where we work cooperatively to address inequities for all of our citizens. 

Powerlessness comes from a lack of meaningful choice. Big institutions don't have to be responsive to us because we can't penalize them by going to a competitor. And we have no loud countervailing voice forcing them to listen....

With more mothers working, women suffer most from failure to give workers control over their workdays|By Caroline Fredrickson

We can see that the potential for a more widespread and unified coalition that is actively seeking to create a socially just society is threatening the existing power structure. A structure that is based on "divide and conquer" strategies that serve to direct our discontent towards others and not towards creating a more equitable society. This isn't to imply that there is a "conspiracy" or some other clandestine force at work that seeks to subjugate the majority of people. Rather it is a recognition that those who achieve success and power in any group seek to maintain their hold on that success and power. This is why we are seeing efforts to restrict voting, control media outlets and to change our system of public education increasing. The end result is a distorted view of "reality" for many of us. If we continue to blame individuals (Scott Walker, Koch Brothers, etc.) we may defeat their efforts, but they will simply be replaced by others with the same goals and objectives. The cyclical nature of history often exists because we don't seek to really change our reality, but rather settle for short term objectives that don't deeply impact our society. 

"The revolution will not be televised."|By Baltimore Sun

Baltimore teachers and parents tell a different story from the one you've been reading in the media.

Because education is one of the most important tools that individuals and groups can use to try and achieve upward mobility, public education has become one of the most intense battlegrounds in recent years. Whether it is by attacking educators and limiting their ability to influence their professional world, or by promoting "reforms" that actually increase gaps and divide our communities, the attacks have been relentless here in Wisconsin and around the nation.

Presidential hopefuls have been outbidding themselves in touting school vouchers but racial integration was never part of the original design, which was cooked up out of hostility for public schools and first used evade desegregation.

As the Obama administration asks Congress to increase funding for charter schools by almost 50 percent, a new report claims charter schools are...

Michelle Rhee's group is sneakily trying to rebrand itself to advance its anti-union agenda.
The Chicago Teachers Union said Tuesday the district is asking its members to take a seven percent pay cut in its next contract.|By Chicago Tribune

Your child sits in their high school 10th grade Civics and Economics class. The teacher, dressed in a...

The working lives of teachers have become “unbearable” because of constant monitoring and as a result they are quitting in such numbers that the profession...
We've seen standardized test scores used as a weapon to control our public education system and to manipulate public opinion about our schools. We know there are gaps in our students' achievement and their access to opportunities, but standardized testing isn't an accurate way to identify these issues, nor is it a useful way to address the concerns. 

Test makers rake in bucks, students and teachers chafe under the strain. Here's a better way forward for everyone|By Dr. Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

A reader, Charlene Williams, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, sent the following comment in...

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, 44 percent of school administrators admit that they've cut PE or recess to focus on test prep|By Eleanor J. Bader

Kim Abler, an arts curriculum specialist, has helped garner multiple federal grants for MPS and also launched a nonprofit that’s exposed thousands more district students to the arts.|By Erin Richards

The Madison School Board member says that opting out of standardized tests is a reaction to a problem that does not exist in local schools.|By Pat Schneider

Standardized testing also gives us an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see who is really driving education "reform." Whenever we try to identify the powers behind any societal initiative it is useful to "follow the money." 

Corporate thieves and hedge-fund parasites are working with political leaders to impose a school "reform" agenda that will privatize public education.

Congratulations to the Democracy Campaign for shining a spotlight on the "legalized bribery" in the Legislature.|By Cap Times editorial

The bids are being sought because of Gov. Scott Walker's proposal in his 2015-17 spending plan to abandon the Badger Exam.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

Microsoft last year announced a testing and certification partnership with Pearson, using the cloud to make exams accessible.|By Claude Solnik

All of the challenges and the scope of the problems we face may seem insurmountable. Yet, there is hope for the future, if we are willing and able to put in the hard work and commit ourselves to the struggle. One thing we should always remember is that our society is changeable and we can see this in the attitudes and opinions that are expressed on a larger scale. 

As the Supreme Court considers extending same-sex marriage rights to all Americans, we look at the patterns of social change that have tranformed the nation.

We also can't forget that "without struggle there is no progress," and that all our achievements come as the result of concerted efforts to make change happen. While I'm certainly not advocating violence, neither am I advocating meek silence. As part of a larger group, Wisconsin public employees, that took to the streets in 2011 I fully support those who demonstrate and advocate vocally for issues of social justice.

Officials calling for calm can offer no rational justification for Gray's death, and so they appeal for order.

Class were canceled at 18 Detroit public schools on Thursday after Governor Rick Synder’s plans for struggling district prompted teachers’ absences

By Juan M. Thompson | Originally Published at The Intercept. May 3, 2015 | Photographic Credit; David Goldman/AP After prosecutor Marilyn Mosby charged six Baltimore police officers with the killing of Freddie Gray, this city, which had...
In the end our efforts must be based on a cooperative and organized coalition that incorporates a respect for the concerns and struggles of individual groups with a desire to elevate all members of our society. We can't allow our efforts to be derailed and our coalitions to be divided. While our experiences and our conditions may differ, our end goal should be the same, a socially just society where freedom, opportunity and equity are the norms for every member. 

But making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that assessments make sense, guide...|By David Leonhardt,

You could start with the term “achievement gap.” This article names what's really going on, and it's much more damaging than that.

Authored by Jesse Hagopian and the NPE Board of Directors Today several important civil rights organizations released a statement that is critical of the...

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . There is some great potential for Senator Sanders to inject some reality into our next presidential race.

Sometimes it can be scary and confusing for kids when they’re faced with an unknown, like a politician who actually repr…|By Kimberly Harrington

Her campaign isn't saying whether it will reveal the bundlers who are raising huge sums of money.

The Bad . . . While the Wisconsin legislature debates our next state budget and tries to claim they will fund public education, the reality is that our system for funding public education is inequitable and inadequate no matter what is finally decided.  

STATE BUDGET FOCUS 2015-16 CUTS TO PER PUPIL FUNDING, BY COUNTY To find your county, pass your cursor over the charts. Click to enlarge. For more information on these charts, click here .

The Ugly . . . While our governor travels around the country talking about how his reforms have helped Wisconsin, and how he's taken the tough stands that will make Wisconsin's future better the citizens of his state are left to cope with the mess that he is creating. It seems that every day a new element of his agenda is revealed, each one more damaging to our state than the last.  

State tax funding for Wisconsin’s state parks would be zeroed out and user fees would go up under a plan approved by Republicans on the Legislature’s budget...


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