February 19th, 2017
“As an organizer, I was taught to recruit people into the movement and to support them to stay involved. But I wasn’t taught how to repair relationships or to prevent harm. Many of us aren’t taught these skills.”
Thinking for Ourselves
Thanks to Jackson
This week a group of us from the Boggs Center attended the North Dakota Study Group’s (NDSG) 46th annual gathering. The NDSG is a loose collective of progressive educators, artists, activists, authors, teachers and students who “come together annually to engage in an ongoing seminar on democratic possibilities in the U.S. and world education.” Its members have persistently and consistently pressed for deepening democratic theory and practice in education and in our communities.
This year we gathered in Jackson Mississippi and will do so again next year. The decision to go to Jackson was deliberate. It marked a commitment to our collective journey to eradicate white supremacy. We understand white supremacy is destroying our children and distorting our humanity. We turned consciously to Jackson to draw on its strength, wisdom, and rich history of struggle as we face forces that are intent on destroying our children’s minds, hearts, and spirits.
What could we learn from those who struggled over centuries for full humanity and the possibilities of controlling their own lives. What do learn in a place steeped in violence and tragedy as well as triumph? How will these lessons help us move our country forward? What do we need to do individually, collectively in this moment?
In his opening letter to the gathering Albert Sykes, Executive director of IDEA and co-chair of the gathering challenged the nearly 150 participants. He said this would not be a typical gathering. He explained, “Beloved communities do not just appear; they have to be built. We are asking you to commit to building one. Jackson will not be easy. The history will not be diluted to ease the conscience of the guilty; the work will not be diverted to comfort the fragile and the urgency of this work will not be tempered. As time and the country changes, we much challenge ourselves to change as well. We ask in love and have faith that participants will be receptive to much needed growth.”
Mr. Sykes explained, “Mississippi’s history is not limited to a single person or story. We will be greeted, introduced to and addressed by various individuals who have made life-changing contributions for the greater good for all. We will explore the confederate flag and other symbols of hate; explore the mechanisms by which racism is carried out and explore the places, where many sacrifices have been made in Mississippi. Our conversations this year are designed to be both hard and healing. There is no intent to shame, silence, ridicule, disrespect, or demolish any person who participates with us.” Mr. Sykes and the other volunteer organizes did their very best to provide this opportunity for all us. All too often many of us fell short of meeting his expectations of us and our own. But often too, we found our way to courageous conversations, deep insights, and the capacity to continue to challenge ourselves and one another.
I was deeply and unexpectedly moved by this experience. Approaching the home of Medgar Evers I found it difficult to step onto the driveway. This is the place where he was shot, where his blood flowed as he crawled to the door to reach his wife and children. I know that blood is still in the dust rising as we walked. My tears of gratitude and sorrow now mix with those of countless others there.
Mr. Sykes gave us this charge, “We invite you to open your heart and mind, to lock your arms and hands in order for us to walk into a reckoning and walk out together on the other side of a renewal.”
This is our hope not just for the gathering, but for our country. We have much work to do. Mayor Chokewe Antar Lumumba called us to believe that “Together we will make (Jackson) a symbol of unity, prosperity and progression.” In the process, we have the opportunity to change our people and our country as we change the places that hold our lives.
“We must make a preemptive strike to replace the job system with a life system.”
February 12th, 2017
Thinking for Ourselves
The Year with Betsy Devos
Betsy DeVos has completed her first year as the head of the Department of Education. Some have argued that she has been ineffective in carrying out her right wing agenda. Some take comfort in her foolish public statements; arguing for guns in school in case a bear wanders in, comparing schools to taxicabs and food trucks, and claiming Margaret Thatcher as her idol.
But Devos is not naïve. She has a relentless political agenda that she has been advancing in Michigan, in states around the country, and now on a national scale. Given the fact that the federal government only contributes about 10 percent of the cost of running schools, her impact will not be on visible issues of funding. Rather she is subtly changing the foundations of education through shifting priorities within the Department of Education and stripping away federal protections of all kinds. She is accomplishing this through sophisticated and subtle changes that are largely happening outside of public scrutiny.
First consider the case of vouchers, a funding mechanism designed to provide families with public funds to subsidize placing their children in private schools. These have long been sought by DeVos as part of the right wing agenda of shifting public money to mostly white, right wing Christian schools. Vouchers have been resisted at state and local levels, including here in Michigan. They violate fundamental concepts of the separation of church and state. They are a central strategy in undermining public education.
Now, with barely a public comment, the new republican tax bill passed last December gives parents the ability to use college saving plans for private k-12 schooling. It allows $10,000 tax free withdrawals every year per child. As a recent article in the Atlantic explained, “This new provision effectively operates the same way a voucher program would, but without the name: While vouchers distribute funds directly to parents to pay for private school, the new law uses the tax code to facilitate private-school attendance.”
The National Education Association estimates that over the next 10 years, this provision will take $150 billion from state and local revenues for schools.
DeVos has slipped in legislation to promote and finance her dream of “schools of choice” without having to debate or defend the idea. She simply provided enabling taxing mechanisms.
As the #MeToo movement brings welcome attention to widespread sexual violence in our culture, DeVos eliminated protections on college campuses for victims of sexual assault. Echoing Trumps recent tweets, she has stressed concern for the men being victimized by false accusations. She has increased support and counseling for them. She has also eliminated guidance aimed at protecting people based on gender identity.
She has sided with banks and business over student interests. She has made it more difficult for students who have been defrauded by for profit schools to seek loan forgiveness. She has appointed Carlos Nuniz to be General Counsel for the department. He is most famous for having argued that his home state of Florida should not participate in legal action against Trump University for fraud.
Sometime this week her latest nominee, Kenneth Marcus, will likely be confirmed as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. He is well known for “threatening academic freedom generally, as well our civil rights as women, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.”
DeVos is not ineffective. She is patient, persistent and deadly. She has no respect for students, teachers, or education. She is dedicated to schools of choice as an essential element of a broader right wing strategy to protect power and privilege by undermining democracy.
All of us who care about the importance of education need to look beyond her rhetoric. More importantly, we need to create places and where our children can grow in their unique capacities for creativity, critical thinking, and social responsibility.
“The stories of women in the Subcontinent are often neglected and they are often relegated to the background – the doting wife, the supportive sister or the encouraging daughter. Our history is the tale of his story, not her story.”
“In the USA privatization practices contribute to increased water bills and jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents’ most basic needs. We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In Lebanon, mismanagement of infrastructure has provided ample opportunity for privatization to proliferate. In both cases, the pursuit of privatization comes from cash-strapped places prioritizing cost-cutting over resource conservation and quality.”