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A white teacher says it’s ‘Time to sit down’

The issue of race continues to surface in all areas of American life. As Americans are confronted with real expressions of racial strife coming from a new generation of protestors, educators must be the first to dig for understanding and meaning in their profession. In this guest post republished from Tom Rademacher, an English teacher in Minneapolis, MN., he thoughtfully considers the power of white privilege in difficult times. In May of 2014 Tom was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching at Mr. Rad’s Neighborhood.


tomradI’m a White guy. I see White people, especially White males, say that talking about race is what perpetuates racism. I see males, especially White males, threaten rape and murder or encourage women to kill themselves who have spoken out. I’ve been thinking about how the privilege those guys are so aggressively protecting is the same privilege I benefit from. I’ve been thinking about how badly I don’t want to be one of those guys, about how to be a better ally than I have been. I’m working on that, doing work on that. One of the first steps I’m taking, and it is a challenging one for me, is to understand that there are many places, times, and situations where the most important thing I can do is shut up and sit down.

As a White, straight, cis-gendered male, I am so often treated as precious. I am thanked for being there, for trying at all. My struggle, my emotions at addressing my role in receiving privilege, are often valued above those actively expressing the pain they feel in being denied it. This is encouraged and enforced again and again in conversations by the tears and anger of White women and men. This is obvious in the frequency with which we turn conversations by and about people of color into conversations about us.

In the days and weeks after Eric Garner and Mike Brown’s killers were not indicted, there was a telling duality of stories on Twitter. #AliveWhileBlack told the stories of Black people encountering the sorts of violence, dehumanization, and oppression that has led again and again to tragedy and death. They were evidence of the need for healing, the need for anger, and the need for action being demonstrated in the national movement of protests. The second story, #CrimingWhileWhite, showed the stories of White people recognizing their privilege by recounting stories of getting away with behavior that would often have ended in the arrest or death of Black people.

I know some people loved and supported the #CrimingWhileWhite stories, but to me, it was at best ill-timed to talk about how easy life can be while white in a time of deep grieving over the loss of black lives. At worst, and I certainly took it at worst, it was another time that White people centered a conversation that is not about them to be as much as possible about them. It was a celebration of White people moving just slightly further than the starting line on understanding racial privilege while people of color are dying. During a period where so many people were expressing profound pain, I saw conversations loop around to pat the backs of white people who were involved for “being there,” for engaging at all.

The privilege to ignore the conversation is real, and so we often accept the privilege of only hearing enough of the reality of racism to get us involved, but not so much that we turn away. We push the conversation away from anything that will truly challenge us, especially those of us who feel like we already “get it.”

We want to understand only enough to feel like we understand, but not enough to really feel it.

We need to stop only talking about White privilege so we can congratulate ourselves for saying we have privilege. We need to talk explicitly about the privilege not to be murdered, to not have a member of your community murdered and be asked to make space for a conversation about whether or not they deserved it. The privilege to have children without the weight of bringing them into a world that will see them as a threat. The privilege to not have to protest to have your life matter.

I say “we” intentionally. I mean me. I mean all White people. If we are already talking about those things, we need to talk about them more. We need to take responsibility for the fact that very few White people truly engage in the conversation, very rarely talk about race in spaces that are all White. We need to talk about race in groups of White people where it is uncomfortable to talk about them. We need to use our privilege and protection to promote the voices of people of color. We need to call out White people who are abusing and marginalizing people of color. We need to step into conversations without first waiting to make sure it is advantageous for us to do so.

I’m saying “we” because it’s uncomfortable for me to do. I so badly want to say, “most, but not me, not all of us,” but when the voices of people of color are being minimized and marginalized, when their experiences are being questioned, when their lives are being devalued, it is by White people. When conversations about race are being derailed or dismissed, it is by White people. When someone is saying, “I know your children aren’t being fairly educated, I know they’re being unfairly arrested, I know nearly every image they see of themselves is a negative one, but this isn’t about race,” it is a White person. It is White people, and it is arrogant, selfish, and ignorant for me to pause those conversations for one minute to say, “but not me.”

White privilege is not polite, is not sterile. It is a dangerous, messy, frighteningly powerful piece of my experience, of my daily experience.

Still, we turn away from the voices of people of color who challenge us too much. We value voices, primarily white voices, who will frame the conversation for us gently, who make us feel valued and empowered in a conversation that is about us already being unfairly valued and empowered. We flock to the picture of the cop hugging the kid, huddle around the warm fire of twitter hashtags that make us feeling like we are doing something, doing enough. We wear hoodies and hold signs that say “I AM TRAYVON” because us too, because we get it, because we don’t want to stand with the thing others are fighting against or admit we are complicit. We are willing to talk about race, so long as it’s on our terms, and so long as we are included in every possible solution, every list of heroes, every possible space and conversation, so long as we get to talk first and last.

A few months ago, there was a huge protest of the Washington team name in Minnesota. The event was planned by Native people and featured a slate of predominantly Native speakers. During the protest, there were a few men near the back of the crowd trying to direct people away from the stage, tried to get them chanting and “occupying” parts of the sidewalk. These men, all White men, were shouting things like, “let’s make this a real protest.” At a protest that was specifically about fighting the marginalization of Native people, these white men were actively trying to push their voices above those on stage, were actively criticizing the demonstration organized by Native people for a Native movement.

The same behavior has been repeated again and again by white “allies” in response to the national fight for Black lives. White people are criticizing, translating, and co-opting a movement that is not theirs, weighing in and “devil’s advocating” about how Black communities should properly react to the shooting of Black children. We talk about the number of times we’ve watched the Eric Garner video like it is currency for our caring, and then jump on our soap box to tell anyone who will listen what should happen next, what will “fix” it. We speak to Black people who founded, organized, and inspired the movement like they don’t understand what it means to protest. We say, “Let us help by telling all you Black leaders what you obviously don’t understand, let us tell you how to create a movement centered on the lives of Black children.” We say, in so many ways, “let White people talk.”

We feel that our anger at oppression entitles us to an opinion, but our entitlement is that oppression. White people need to support this movement without leading it, need to amplify voices other than their own. White solidarity shouldn’t erase the voices of Black people who are telling us exactly what we’ve refused to hear for so long. It should alarm us if White writers and thinkers are the primary voices of the experiences of color in our lives, telling us of something they’ve read, of a story a friend told them.

It should make us uncomfortable if nothing we read about race makes us uncomfortable.

We police Black voices with calls of being impolite, for being “unproductive” to White listening, for showing a fraction of the anger for large offenses that many White voices show for very small ones. We accuse them of being racist for conversations that name race, that don’t make room for the devaluing of their children and coddle grown-ass White people who haven’t found a moment in life yet to really think about race. We let White people not listen by attempting to translate for messages that need no translation.

I will keep saying “we,” because I am a White male, and because we have a problem. We have a problem listening, we have a problem not talking, we have a problem not being in front and in charge. We have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it without celebrating every small step we take, we need to do it with an understanding that the work is necessary and we are behind. It’s time we sit down, listen, and be led.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.

And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.

“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.

Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.

The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.

And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.

And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.


In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.


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