No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed with bipartisan support during the Bush presidency and despite many attempts to repeal it, it’s still the law of the land. Its rhetorical promise, like the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program, is that the federal government will hold public schools accountable for their failure to educate poor and working class Hispanic and African American students. But the purported aim of increasing educational opportunity masks the real intent of these so-called education reformers to create a privatized system of public education that has a narrow, vocational curriculum enforced through standardized tests.
The “reform” rhetoric is enormously seductive to parents and low-income
communities whose children attend poorly funded, poorly functioning
schools. In predominantly Hispanic and African American neighborhoods,
schools are often incapable of providing children with more than the
rudiments of literacy because they cannot afford to recruit and retain
sufficient numbers of teachers. Schools that serve large concentrations
of recent immigrants are usually so underfunded and overwhelmed by the
number of students that they are compelled to use bathrooms and closets
Education “reforms” like NCLB and Race to the Top, however, presume that if children do not succeed at school, the responsibility rests solely with the school. Such an approach destroys the structure and organization of a publicly-funded and presumably publicly-controlled system of education begun more than a century ago. In fact, NCLB closely resembles the blueprint developed in ultra right-wing think tanks for replacing locally controlled, state-funded school systems with a collection of privatized services governed by the market. What NCLB chiefly adds to the original “free market” framework is standardized curricula and testing and the Christian Right’s “faith-based” interventions.
More than 40 years after the struggles for free speech and ethnic studies at the University of California Berkeley and San Francisco State, students on the 23 campuses of the California State University (CSU) system are forging a new form for this generation’s protest movement.
Students for Quality Education (SQE) belongs to this new wave of organizations rising to protest cuts in the budget for higher education, increases in tuition, fees, and class sizes, reductions in available courses, and irresponsible salary increases for top administrators.
Theresa Q. Tran is a youth program specialist at the Michigan
Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. She received her M.A. in Social
Work at the University of Michigan where she studied community
organizing with youth and families. Tran also serves on the board of
Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote—Michigan, working to increase
civic engagement of APIAs.
Youth are much smarter than adults tend to give them credit for, which is ironic since we were all youth once and know what being marginalized feels like. Youth know right away when something is unfair—they recognize it immediately but don’t always know what to do when they witness this unfairness. Or else, they’ve been socialized by adults to be complicit with the way things are.
At the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion's Youth Program in Detroit, our issues change each year with each new group of youth that join our program. One of our program principles is that youth should organize on the issues that they’re passionate about; that they are directly affected by. In our program, our youth decide on the issues they want to focus on as they are living those experiences. Last year, the group focused on disability justice, structural racism, strengthening alliance with LGBT communities, and immigration. This year’s group is focusing on Islamaphobia, educational justice, sexual assault against teen girls, and organizing youth to be better connected across the city.
The networked political and financial power of citizens on the Internet played no small part in President Barack Obama’s election, so it is not surprising that his administration has targeted more than $8 billion of the national recovery stimulus for broadband deployment in rural and urban areas on the short end of the “digital divide.” However, much of that money may not reach underserved African-American and Latino neighborhoods, because the cable and telecommunications giants that control up to 90 percent of the broadband lines will get the biggest hand outs. While the Media Democracy Coalition, made up of media activist and consumer groups, is organizing in Washington to ensure that the infrastructure is provided where it’s needed most, a growing number of groups are working at the grassroots to ensure full communications rights, seeing them as an integral part of a twenty-first century vision of community development.
The Search for Authentic Signs of HopeAny discussion of Brownfields revitalization, to be successful, must involve the participation of the youth in urban areas where Brownfields dominate. These youths will eventually be the decision makers for their communities in the future. Therefore, to avoid making today 's solutions tomorrow's dilemma for the youth, it is essential to get their input. Additionally, meaningful employment and career prospects rank among the central question facing young persons - in many ways defining young people's sense of identity& and connectedness to society.
Stark as they are, even these statistics cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, 90 to 95 percent of students are black or Hispanic. For the year 2003, only 3.5 percent of the more than 4,000 students at John F. Kennedy High School were white; at Harry S. Truman High School, only two percent of the 2,700 students were white; and at Adlai Stevenson High School, a mere eight-tenths of one percent of 3,400 students were white.
Americans are reinforced to believe that individuals are largely in control of their own destiny. Hard work, sacrifice, and personal effort, we are told, determine what happens to us. But increasingly, the fundamental institutions of American society function unfairly, restricting access and opportunity for millions of people. The greatest example of this is the present-day criminal justice system.
Let us start with the basic facts. As of 2008, one out of every 100 American adults is living behind bars. According to a December 2007 study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Race and Ethnicity in America,” in the past 30 years there has been a 500 percent increase in the number of Americans behind bars, amounting to 2.2 million people, which represent 25 percent of the world’s prison population. This prison population is disproportionately black and brown. As of 2006, the United States. penal population was 46 percent white, 41 percent African American, and 19 percent Latino. In practical terms, by 2001, about one out of every six African-American males had experienced jail or imprisonment. Based on current trends, over one out of three black men will experience imprisonment during their lives.
When we look at where we are in society on issues of race, regionalism, and segregation, sometimes it seems like we’re really going backwards. I want to talk about why I think that is so and how we can move forward.
As the landscapes of our cities evolve, school buildings remain a constant. Desperately in need of repair, modernization, and beautification, especially in the urban areas, schools are frequently called upon to provide essential support services for the families and communities of the children they serve. To meet the new dual demands of education and social service programming, urban school districts are beginning to invest in neighborhood revitalization and modernizing school facilities.
For over a decade I’ve been teaching my six-, seven-, and eight-year-old students to strike against me in the classroom. I drew the inspiration from “the Yummy Pizza company” labor unit1 and my own experience as a teacher and writer. Instead of producing pizzas, students at “Pepper Ink.” produce laminated bookmarks of the best poem they’ve written in a year-long study of the genre. This year, however, the experience took a different turn when one of our potential Pepper Ink. workers was forcibly removed from the school.
Students begin the year in my second grade two-way Spanish immersion class by comparing indigenous and first world points of view on the conquest of the Americas, go on to study Africa, women, and finally civil rights and labor heroes. They engage in internet and library research for their own books, questioning contradicting sources, and examining information critically. They sit in heterogeneous cooperative groups in which they rotate the job of teacher, who is to assist anyone needing help, if the group cannot. They can also file complaints in a box about one another’s abuse of power, including mine. From this process, my students develop a healthy sense of justice and participatory-style democracy. Students often refer to the Doug Minkler poster on our wall, which includes the slogan, “All of Us or None.”