This summer, the Coalition to Defend Public Education here in Rhode Island is holding a book discussion on the new book Education and Capitalism, published by Haymarket Books. The discussion is taking place in five sessions—details on the discussions can be found on the Facebook event. What follows is a summary of the discussion, followed by some of my own thoughts that I did not get a chance to bring out in the discussion. This discussion actually took place on July 24. Please feel free to add your own comments below!
Chapters 2 & 3 (pp. 41-107)
Anti-Racist Curriculum and Teachers
- Teachers in New York City actually wrote their own anti-racist curriculum in 1951! Why can’t we treat curriculum as a working condition, subject to contractual negotiation? One union rep actually told me that it will never happen.
- The union has never had the mindset of being hands-on when it comes to actual pedagogical issues. They never touch anything that affects academic matters.
- But isn’t that precisely the point? Our “working conditions” are being very adversely affected by all the pressure to teach to the test.
- And isn’t it striking that the tests go back to the racist IQ tests that were imposed on education by the eugenicist movement prior to the rise of Hitler? I was also struck by way that Blacks (and other racial minorities in the US) were often pushed into what were called “vocational” schools, but which were actually “menial” schools, i.e. schools that prepared children not to be well-educated citizens but rather obedient workers at menial jobs. This seems much like what certain sections of the charter school movement are pushing today.
- One teacher in the discussion was actually marked down on an evaluation because her students were actually engaged in a lesson, and not properly submissive and obedient.
Generating Resistance to Racism
- How do we generate the kinds of resistance to racism that the chapter describes in historical terms?
- People in the Black and Latino communities are so busy struggling to survive that they often don’t struggle for education.
- Perhaps, though there are plenty of counter-examples in the book. It’s important to go back to these examples because of the racist myths about Black parents—that they don’t care about their children, aren’t responsible, etc. The astounding thing is when these same myths are expressed by Black activists about Black parents!
- How do we change the attitudes and get the struggle going?
- Let’s (i.e. the mostly teachers in the room) collectively deviate from the curriculum to instead talk about anti-racism and the need for resistance. But it has to be collective in order for individual teachers not to be singled out and punished.
- Teachers have to be out in the community, for example doing home tutoring, to really get a clear understanding of where their students are coming from, to overcome their own racist preconceptions of their students, and to build the solidarity with parents that is needed.
- What do we think of the movement for community control, outlined on pp. 63-64 of the book? This movement was stupidly opposed by the UFT in NYC on the basis of narrow economic demands, and this opposition (including a strike) was a big setback in fighting racism in the schools and in building teacher-parent solidarity in urban districts.
- The Mission District in San Francisco is full of murals depicting Mexican history, and it really had the feel of being part of the public patrimony. What if we had murals on public schools in Providence depicting anti-racist struggles?
- Stopping racism in the schools requires a mass movement. It took the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Chicano Movement, etc., to make serious anti-racist changes to education back in the 1960s. We don’t have that now—we’re not starting from the standpoint of having a civil rights movement that’s been going continuously for the last 15 years. But perhaps given the resistance to racism shown in things like the case of Trayvon Martin, the protests against police murdering innocent people in the community in Anaheim, etc., maybe these struggles will give us a starting point, and we should connect our work with these issues.
OK, but we’re a group that is mostly white and mostly teachers. How are we going to seriously take up anti-racist struggle?
- We need more people of color in our group in order to connect with the Black and Latino communities. They’re going to look at us as part of the problem, part of the institutional structure of racism, unless our group is truly inclusive, not just in word but in deed, of people of color.
- But the approach has to be not, “we’re going to serve you”, but “we’re going to listen to you and take up your demands, because we’re in the same position.”
- But we aren’t in the same position. We as mostly white teachers do not face the same oppression as Black and Latino students and their parents.
- We need to take on the propaganda around charter schools. Here are schools that boast about how almost all their students are Black and Latino—schools that isolate students of color, increasing segregation—schools run by white people with a method and purpose not far different from the “menial schools” that W. E. B. Dubois criticized.
- We also need to take up directly the struggles that students and parents of color face: racial profiling in the schools, the school-to-prison pipeline, opposition to cops in schools and police brutality, etc. White teachers simply mouthing sympathy for these issues to their students is not enough. (OK, it would be nice if that happened universally, as a first step!) It requires us, radical white anti-racist teachers, to be activists in the community, to be on the front lines shoulder-to-shoulder with the community in these fights.
- We need to connect with the Black and Latino churches in our work.
For lack of time and given the delay in putting together this report, I’d simply like to close by saying that we did not really get to discuss Chapter 3, on Linguistic Justice. But I’d like to put in a plug for this chapter: the question of the challenges the system throws at our students whose home language is not English are quite daunting, and I think we as teachers need to develop a clear understanding of those challenges, how much deeper they are than the shallow framing given them by racist, anti-immigrant boneheads, and what we need to do both pedagogically and as movement activists to address this question. To that end, I will review Chapter 3 specifically in a future post. Stay tuned!