Betsy Devos and her “individualist” approach to eradicating our Educational System

Most days I try not to think about Betsy Devos and her inexperience and agenda driven running of our country’s Department of Education, who’s mission reads:

Our mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access

As a classroom teacher, serving over 140 individual students a day, I admit it is pretty easy to dismiss the reality that a billionaire who has never spent time in and around public schools before her ascendance to the highest educational post of the land, is actually the secretary of Education. But in the last two weeks, news of her past, sound bytes of her present, and her visions for our future have reared their ugly heads like a hydra fixated on maddening its victims.

First there was her recent announcement to roll back Title IX protections and universities’ abilities to protect sexual assault victims and hold perpetrators accountable. “Highlights” of her official statements can be seen here and the full text here. I admit that my initial reaction was that of a father of two daughters and that of an educator who for the last 2 years has dealt with more title IX infringements at the high school level than I would have cared to. This is also hot off my summer reading list where John Krakauer’s book Missoula (a book I think Devos should desparately read if she hasn’t already) was fresh on my mind. Since then I have looked a little deeper into the issue, and while my skepticism and book recommendations for Devos remain, I can see the legal dilemma that has arisen from the current circumstances. This New Yorker article makes some valid points. In the end however, I am uncertain if any of this will result in less sexual assault on our nation’s campuses or increased safety, and that is a huge problem.

Then there was this episode of This American Life. Listening to Devos’ privileged past experiences as a volunteer at a local public elementary school,shelling out kindness to individual students and their families was a hard stomach to say the least. But what I took issue with the most was this quote from one of her speeches to the conservative audience at ALEC.

This isn’t about school systems. This is about individual students, parents, and families.

She again this week double downed on this very problematic notion that “systems” don’t matter and that government should focus on individuals.

And like those western settlers, anyone who dares to suggest schools ought to do better by their students is warned off: It’s too hard. It’ll take too long. There’s not enough money. It can’t be done.

Today, there is a whole industry of naysayers who loudly defend something they like to call the education “system.”

What’s an education “system”?

There is no such thing! Are you a system? No, you’re individual students, parents and teachers.

What’s an education system?! Only the very thing you are charged with managing and improving for ALL students, parents, and educators who are part of that system. To be certain, systems are NOT individuals… AND systems should be designed to serve individuals within the system in the most equitable and efficient manner possible, continually being revised towards improvement. But a simple examination of the history of public education in this country would illuminate quite well that this has not always happened. I also take great exception to the assertion that “we defenders of the system” are saying “it can’t be done.” My daily existence and work as a professional, along with so many of the colleagues I have worked with for over a decade, is one of essential possibility. When it can be done, it’s because of our work and commitment to our students and their communities.

And it is individuals; policy makers, politicians, philanthropists and corporations who CREATE these systems… often to get the results as intended. How can one argue that “systems” don’t exist? Especially when one is at the head of such a masssive system?

I teach all of my social studies students the very important skill of analyzing and distinguishing between the institutions and the individuals that design and our impacted by them. We look at the political, economic, social, and cultural implications of systems designed to get both intended and unintended results. I feel like Secretary Devos could stand to visit my classroom for a review ok these concepts.

I think the answer to the previous questions posed: How can one argue that systems don’t exist?

Answer: when one believes that they shouldn’t exist and because of their belief actively tries to eliminate that public system.

And I think it’s pretty clear that Betsy Devos has this as her main agenda. And now she has even more capability to actually make that happen.

Queue the lesson on civic and political action and social movements. Secretary Devos, you have an open invitation to my class for that lesson as well.

Here and back again…


When I last was here, the California Central Coast of Monterey Bay (the other bay) I was 23 years young. A boy in all fairness. Feeling like a young man, but in retrospect only having the responsibility and constitution of an adolescent. I had two part time jobs. Both were working with youth… I remember those kids very clearly. I have printed photographs of them. Over the last decade or so I have often wondered what had become of them since our interactions in their early elementary years. The kids of the Neary Lagoon housing projects. How had they overcome some of the struggles? What experiences helped to shape them after I had gone?

When I last was here, my role was primarily as a student. Even after I had graduated from CalState Monterey Bay as an “Integrated Studies” major… whatever that meant at the time. It means more to me know than it ever did. I learned from my students. I learned from the ocean and the trees. Looking back at old journals and notes before I knew how to or even cared for blogging, it was clear that valued my time to write and reflect, and that this time was in much more abundance than I find today. Much of my internal dialogue was processed outwardly through writing. A reality I hope to reinvest in with more frequency returning to the region.

When I last was here, our nation was reeling from an unexpected and unforeseen threat, preparing to respond through war. So many years later we are still at war and still insulated from the majority of the consequences of that war. But not all of us our so privileged and shielded. The impacts I see more clearly today than when my passionate critique of US history and foreign and domestic policy fueled my thirst to learn about it. I see the impacts more through the personal narratives of those around me. The students and families struggling to deal with the economic realities of unemployment, budget cuts to social service and educational programs.

When I last was here, I was beginning my journey to become awakened and conscious; politically, socially, professionally, and spiritually.

Now I am back again…

I am ready to teach young people with the same intentional purpose of making the world a better place by empowering youth to imagine the possibilities, to create the solutions to today’s challenges, and to learn from the inevitable mistakes all individuals and societies make. Today is the first time in a long time that I am teaching middle school and already I am in love again with the 7th grade energy, nervous and excited… in the midst of such radical change. It is in this shift where I see the possibilities.
Being back again, in Monterey, I am excited about my own personal and professional shifts. Having my own children now, I can’t help but see the world slightly different. I regret that it took me so long as a parent to bring into focus the young people I helped bring into the world. Being back again has allowed me the time and space to sharpen that focus and already enjoy more of the time spent with my kids. I know this is a disciplined practice I will have to continue to cultivate, because parenting isn’t always sunshine and hashtags (despite what Instagram would have you believe.) But it is amazing nonetheless and I am happy to have the opportunity to engage in parenting in a new and fresh context. I am also anticipating reconnecting with my best friend and lifelong partner and wife. Having been the rock on the homefront for the last 7 years or more has been difficult at times to say the least. I am very much looking forward to being a more substantial part of that work.

What will we do tomorrow? 

To be part of today, part of history… the amount of people and all our collective resistance, humanity… it was amazing. Here in Los Angeles, 750,000 were estimated to have turned out for the Women’s March. Those estimates are not over inflated (take note Trump.) 
And yet, even as the high of participating slowly drains from my body… my mind wrestles with a question. What will we all do tomorrow? And the next day? It is this question that I know matters even more to the Resistance movement. 

It is without question that we must continue to organize and push. But what does that mean? I know for me throughout the years it has meant being part of an organization, a community of people working to improve the world we inhabit in some meaningful way. There were so many of these types of communities that were present today, unified in our message of Resistance. And yet I know there were so many people there who came just as families or as groups of friends. And that is a wonderful sign of things to come, of what could be possible when folks organize themselves and build broad based coalitions of overlapping and supportive work under a framework of social justice and humanity. And it all begins with building relationships. But it also means extending yourself into the realms of real and often uncomfortable work of organizing. It is a sacrifice, but it is one born out of shared community and struggle.

It is this shared community that has been our struggle in the past. The factioning and fracturing off of many “left” and “progressive” and even “radical” causes who stay strong and continue to push for demands of equality, justice, and even reparations… but who do not stand united everytime. Today, for whatever reason it felt… different. Have we finally realized how to stand together? For more than one day?

As we take the fire of inspiration that many of us were a part of lighting today, let’s be clear of the commitment to action we are taking. Tomorrow, we should rest… and reflect. Pick up a book that helps prepare you for the fight that is necessary for the movement to succeed. Read or re-read some of the history that has gotten us to this point. Call someone and invite them to read these with you. Form a reading/study circle, or seek one out to be a part of… and rest. Monday, become an official member of an organization for the first time. Support public media with a donation, however small. God PLEASE support our public media outlets. Sign a couple of petitions online but then really research what those causes are all about… and then JOIN those organizations that are fighting for change. Call one of your representatives, just one and give them hell. Remind them that you were in the streets… and they may have been in the streets. Remind them that they work for us, and this is what we want.

We. Want. Change.

And. We. Will. Fight.

What will you do tomorrow?

Rediscovery of Self Determination…

2016 Black Comix Festival: MLK Monday – SF

“Daddy…”
“Yes dear?”
“Can you snuggle with me?”
“Of course.”
“Daddy but first let me tell you something. Do you know before you were alive that Martin Luther King was alive and that they had separate restaurants for black people? And they called them colored? And they had separate bathrooms?
Is that right?”
“No…”
“Does the color of our skin matter?”
“No… ”
“Whats is really important?”
(pause) “Who you are inside.”
“Thats right.”
“But they had drinking fountains for white people and some for black people? And they tried to call the police but they didn’t move.”
“Many people, black, brown, and white organized together to change that. When people come together and work together and they know something’s not right they can fix it.”
“What can I fix?”
“Whatever you see is wrong. If you see something you know is not right, you can always try and fix it.”

…echo
… echo in my head
… let me please remember this moment. and follow up with these lessons revisited. for myself. for my children. for my students.

there are so many complexities to this. as a parent, how do you balance developmentally appropriate with historical accuracy? or contemporary reality? i didn’t have the heart to tell her that skin color still matters, to a lot of people. that systemic oppression exists, that it is real. that racial, class, and gender warfare are real and that these are some things that she should prepare to fix. but she’s 6.
6 years old. and i am so proud to be her father. proud and excited to see what little corner of the world she finds and dedicates herself to helping make better.

Re-entry… 2017

2016 didn’t see a lot of public writing from me. The various factors adding up to the sum total of struggle. Last year was definitely challenging on many fronts. As an educator (shout out to Katie Nisa), a parent (shout out to my wife Parisa) and as an overall human being (shout out to all of those who acknowledged on a level greater that their previous level of consciousness that humanity has a lot of work still to do.) From the deaths of iconic childhood figures, to the vitriol obsessed media coverage of just about everything horrible, suffice to say it was hard for me to focus on reflective writing.

This post, and hopefully others to come symbolize my re-commitment to this very important practice. I didn’t realize how important it actually was until I was presented with the possibility of losing all of my past entries, over a decade of reflections written down, in moments of pondering, responding, and at times reacting to the world around me as well as the one within.

As far what else this year and the near future have in store for all of us working towards education for change, I think it is safe to say that we have a serious fight on our hands. Last year around this time, one of my only posts to begin the new year was welcoming my last born child and only son into this world. I did so with a mixture of joy, concern, and uncertainty. A year has brought us closer to some of those concerns and has definitely presented us with much uncertainty in many different realms. One of the driving questions that has been occupying much space in my mind as of late is the question of action. What will be my course of action? How will others around me organize ourselves towards action? While many different people involved with many different organizations ask themselves different variations of this same question, for my own part I feel it important to reconnect with the practice of studying. Attempting to make more time for reading and hopefully discussing with others ideas that will help us face whatever uncertainty with dignity and action.

As we begin the next phase of American democracy and the educational system that has been an integral part of both sustaining and repressing democratic principles and practices, I keep my mind set on these few things:

Reading
Reflecting
Writing
Discussing
Dignity
Action

2017, here we go…

Obama’s last #SOTU

It has been a pleasure to watch this historical presidency. And although it has not been perfect, Obama’s administration has inspired, or rather challenged a younger generation out of cynicism and into political activism. I sat and watched tonight’s address with my entire family; wife, 2 daughters, and my newborn baby son strapped to me during dinner… Although they could not fully understand what was happening… We impressed upon our 3 and 5 year olds the historical significance of this #SOTU. Yea.. I know we’re crazy. 

Although I do not have the energy to completely breakdown and analyze his speech like too many will do, I did want to share some of my thoughts from tonight. But because I’m so tired I wanted to do it through other people’s live tweets, an activity I was clearly not in a position to do. 

Before I do that I will say that I appreciated his framing of the speech in terms of essential questions, for rather than prescribing opinions as solutions and answers, questions offer an invitation to dialogue… and it is always encouraging when politicians can commit to this.

…progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?

So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer – regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?

Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

Here is where we should all pick up. The rest of his address was engaging and thoughtful, contrary to the whack ass opinion of Donald Trump on twitter… but he offered no real answers… just a path. Dialogue. It is what he implored the citizens of this country to commit to doing.

The rest of this post will be a summary through the eyes of others who watched and listened and began this dialogue via Twitter. It’s a start…

These ones Cracked me up!

There was enough vitriol to follow as well. But as Obama eludes and hopefully continues to inspire our “better selves” to help change our broken political system.. the rest of us must understand it is on us to do that. Dialogue. Discussion. Democracy. One day the GOP might understand that. Here is to a great last year in what I hope is a great final year of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

My Y.I.R. – What was learned?

As the whole world reflects on the past year and begins to spew out “best of” and “review” lists for our consumptive pleasure… I figured I too, needed to “contribute” my own perspective on this 21st century practice, which by and large I believe is a worthwhile practice, rewinding the year to review it more closely, slowly, and critically.

Things I have learned or affirmed this year:

Crisis is real
Perhaps it is my lack of comfortability in my new role this year as an intervention coordinator (new age dean.) Or perhaps it is the fact that for the first time in at least 5 years I have completed more than one book, the contents of which reassure me of the above stated lesson. Reading This Changes Everything, The New Jim Crow, and Future Crimes (I am hoping to complete this by year’s end) has definitely raised my affective filter and caused me to think at great length about the role of crisis in our lives and our abilities to respond to such turbulent times.

Whether its the continual attacks on black folks, immigrants, poor people, muslims, public education or the very planetary systems we all rely on… this year has had plenty of examples of crisis. The longer I ponder and postpone this post, the more crisis there is to ladden my writing with depressing hyperlinks that demonstrate how far we have yet to go. From this week’s non-indictments of police officers in the shooting death of Tamir Rice or the alleged “suicide” of Sanda Bland, to the happenings in Chicago… if you are Black in our country, you are in a perpetual state of crisis, 24 hour emergency. A decade into teaching in the Black and Brown community, almost four decades of being brown myself (depending on who you ask… no stop it! ASK ME HOW I IDENTIFY!!!) and I am STILL trying to come to terms with how much crisis and trauma impact my students on the daily. This has to at some point account for the trauma inflicted by the very educational system I am a part of as well, but more on that later.

My students who have only been in this country for a short time, struggle with great challenges both here and back in their home countries. Many of them from El Salvador, where the current gang situation has reached levels of violence reminiscent of the country’s civil war and our own country’s current and perpetual war on Black Folks. Successfully navigating a new culture, language, and educational system while simultaneously coping with news of loved ones murdered or disappeared back home is too much to ask anyone, but particularly misaligned with the developmental capacity of young adolescents. Acting out is common and when one pauses to take perspective, completely understandable. But what is being acted out? The answer is the type of crisis that fills much of my work day; truancy, drugs, gang tagging… a lot of anger. Again though, anger is understandable reaction when your dealing with situations like this:

As I zoom out and think about the international and global geopolitical landscape, the crisis seems to loom more heavily on the horizon… just far enough over the horizon to feel momentarily safe and out of harms way, until tragedies like San Bernardino happen. In the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino, closing schools in my district for a day, the second largest in the nation, is not something I felt like criticizing then or now, but another clear example of crisis feeling globally and impacting locally.

To even give credibility to the notion that there is a climate “debate” at this point would be to betray my own convictions and belief in the environmental movement… and yet, returning to Paris once again, we witnessed leaders from around the world having to try really hard to reach an accord on something one would think should be easy to agree on… saving our one and only planet from irreversible, man made climate catastrophe. Whether that is what happened in Paris remains to be seen, but there was a real moment of crisis (probably several) when many did not think the climate talks were going to produce any positive mention in anyone’s year in review.

And what of education 4 change? I began this blog upon entering the teaching profession, more than 10 years ago… not exactly knowing what a blog was… but knowing that I needed a space to reflect on all the things that happen, all of the goings on that I saw all around me. From the personal to public, I have attempted to consciously think through my experiences in education in a manner that allowed me to continue asking questions of possibility… questions of hope. This year, public school teachers in Los Angeles have had to ask ourselves, “What if half of our district was rapidly converted into charters?” Some folks may feel they have answers to that question, as well as proposals to try and make that actually happen… but aside from possible answers in the form of extreme educational utopias and dystopias, this question begs many others: What would happen to the rest of the schools? Is intense competition the best way to innovate more effective learning for ALL students? How would this impact students and families? What would this mean for teachers? Or the entire LAUSD? One thing is clear, this would be a crisis.  Education in Los Angeles would change dramatically… and not necessarily for the better.

And so then what? How do we make things better when we face so many challenges, so much crises?

To continue with my lessons learned motif…. I have also learned AND reaffirmed that:
Resistance is real
and it is the only thing that gives me hope. Whether it was the Black Lives Matter Movement interrupting presidential “debatesshutting down freeways and megamalls, or black college students forcing the resignations of university officials, the continued resistance AND resilience of the black community continues to amaze me everyday. The amount of conviction and love needed to face such blatant and daily disregard for your life, it is truly instructive on how to live a life full of meaning, cultivating our collective humanity. It takes me back to one of the most powerful experiences for me this year, in the midst of a black community stricken with grief yet relentless in their faith and hope that we will, indeed be ‘alright’…. but not without a fight.

Resistance is not always transformational, as the above mentioned defiance, vandalism, and drug use of some of my students can attest to… and yet there are moments when we are fortunate enough to witness the awakening of young person to a calling, their calling. When a young person discovers the passion and agency they possess and align it with a cause they care about, there is no better lesson, no better teacher. For some of my Salvadoran students this happens not at school, much to my dismay, but rather in an alternative space. Being out of the classroom and working intervention has allowed me to become more familiar with some of these spaces and programs. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Alex Sanchez, founder of Homies Unidos. The work he and his organization is doing with some of our young people at Hawkins is nothing short of revolutionary. And while it is difficult at times to witness students traverse the different forms of resistance often self defeating and reactionary, I have internalized even more the importance of learning that must take place outside of the classroom and often in spite of schools for some of our young people. One of our students testifies to that below:

Earlier this week I came across a blog post from a young man, Timothy Phan, I met at last year’s Civic Innovation Lab. His year end reflection had him thinking about his past convictions, passions, and the commitment at which he used to lead a life centered on these things. As I read on I began to identify with some of what he was saying. While in Portland this summer, a city that once served as a frequent summer hub at a time when my life’s work was centered on environmental awareness and activism, I was reminded of the power of this time in my life. Hanging suspended from many a places high up with young people, learning about our natural world while being fully immersed in it, and helping them to realize that this world was worth taking care of… worth fighting for. It reminded me of some of the feelings I had while reading This Changes Everything. Seeing those activists suspended from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, I remember feeling a tremendous amount of pride for the stance they were taking, but it was tinged with a little guilt and confusion. As someone who very much believes in the science of man-made climate change and that we are abusing our planetary systems, beckoning very serious and irreversibly dire consequences, I had to ask myself, was I doing enough? Had my convictions waned with my youth? Was my contribution to the building and necessary resistance movement to stop climate change, the work of activists in Paris and the world over, even enough anymore? I could feel Timothy’s pain, his uncertainty about whether he had chosen the right path. And yet I came to realize that my involvement in environmental and social justice movements has always been about my role as the educator more so than an activist.

As I have grown to accept the role that has afforded me the opportunities to increase my level of activism in many ways on many different fronts, the guilt and uncertainty disappeared with little mention. I once again was filled with pride and a renewed sense of resolve. This time the feeling came sitting in the LAUSD school board meeting room. Our union, along with several others had organized a contingent of speakers to address the board in protest of the Broad plan to convert 50% of our district to charter schools. As I sat in the boardroom with colleagues from around the city, I heard parents and students testify to the importance of supporting their current public and neighborhood schools. Then, my dearest Jackie Goldberg, who has been frequenting my classroom for the last 2 years, collaborating around the development of our future Bruin teachers, got up to address the board that she once led as president. Her words and message was so powerful and direct that I had to share the entirety of it here below. If you have made it this far in this post, I implore you to click play and listen to her deliver what is the most concise and comprehensive summary of how public education in this country is being attacked… and more importantly watch her demonstrate how we can and will resist. It was during this that I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The Battle for Los Angeles public schools is heating up and allies like my aunt Jackie Goldberg are out to stop the giveaway of public schools to the billionaires.

Posted by CTA David Goldberg on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

So what now? This is a question I would often ask my students. If crisis is real and resistance is real… then what does that mean for me? What can I do with this knowledge that the year 2015 has afforded me? The tension between crisis and resistance brings about a sense of agency, of power. And I speak of power not in the absolute or corrupt corporate sense of the word. But as the ability to act in one’s own self interest. What most of us are beginning to realize, despite the 1%’s efforts to convince us otherwise, is that our own self interests are aligned with a great majority of people on the planet. It is this collective interest that we have, a collective interest in justice, humanity, and peace… that collective interest is where our agency and power reside. As I prepare to become a father for the third time, I know that the lessons I continue to learn about the world, about crisis and the human response will help guide my parenting and the raising of all my children. I know it will guide the way I continue to teach and support young people. I know it will remain a central piece of both my pedagogy and andragogy in helping to prepare the next generation of educators. It will be a foundation to call upon to help build this movement and continue to fight.

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will – Fredrick Douglass

See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/1857-frederick-douglass-if-there-no-struggle-there-no-progress#sthash.EVhKVwl9.dpuf

Terrorism is Winning: Thoughts on Chicago and Minneapolis from LA

this morning i was listening to Democracy Now cover the unbelievably “non” shocking story about another young black man, Laquan McDonald, who was shot by police over a year ago. what was slightly more surprising was the level of cover up the city engaged in to keep this out of the mainstream media and public’s awareness that this was an execution style response by police officers, responding to a crime by committing more. As journalist Jamie Kalvern puts it:

So, at every stage I mean, I think what we’re going to start talking about once we’re past the video is really how the institutions of the city have responded to this event. That at every single stage, at every level of the city from officers on the scene as Laquan McDonald was bleeding out on the street to the mayor and the senior officials in the city, the dominant controlling impulse has been to circle the wagons, has been to contain information and suppress public information about this crime. And, really, to maintain and enforce an altogether false narrative that they had to know from day one was false.

and only 4 days back from my Minneapolis trip, i was further disheartened to read about the shootings of protestors in front of the police department, exercising their constitutional right to free speech and public assembly, only to be targeted by the warped and racist interpretations of the second amendment by cowards emboldened by the tragically comical but all too serious candidacy of he who shall not be named on my blog.

to right my mind and spirit around such hatred and ignorance i happened on the two great examples of music and art.

the first, from the musical that was recommended to me by the great Daye Rogers is lighting up Broadway, Hamilton:

the second, a heart felt track by Mos Def, off the Black on Both Sides Album… i remember running to buy this album on the day it came out with a friend. we were both so excited, much anticipating the sequel to the infamous Blackstar album. my friend was disappointed, not understanding the anger and passion this album came from… here we are almost 20 years later.

if it is still unclear to see the institutional systems and structures that are built from white supremacist ideologies, that differ from Hitler’s Nazi only in the notions of time and scale, then you are willingly trying NOT to see it… because it is all too real. and has been for far too long. here’s to more of us shining our light on this world… solidarity with all those in Minneapolis and Chicago.

Writing as Healing, Finding Inspiration from NWP annual conference

  
the last two weeks, scratch that month, well… the entire academic year so far has been a whirlwind… so many highs and lows, often in such rapid juxtaposition throughout the course of a single day that there isn’t adequate time given to written reflection. as such, i decided to take on some inspiration from this morning’s sessions and key notes from the annual National Writing Project conference in Minneapolis. as we often suggest to our students and colleagues, engaging in the reflective and therapeutic power of writing can often help us heal. repositioning ourselves as “producers” of ideas and content rather than mere consumers is an empowering practice in and of itself… and yet too many conferences are laden with workshops, panels, and breakout sessions structured with passivity and consumption in mind, as our colleagues and partners try to “report back” and “share out” the amazing work we have all been “consumed” by since last we conferenced.

i am happy to report that this year’s NWP conference (not that i would be able to tell the difference as it is my first ever) is seeking to change all that. as a participant and presenter in this morning’s No Bells, No Walls session on sharing out the work done at several school sites and informalized learning spaces around the country per the LRNG and Educator Innovator grants, passivity was not the case. nor was it the theme of my colleague’s Cliff Lee’s keynote presentation on the great work that organizations like Youth Radio out of Oakland are doing. nor will it be the modus operandi of tonight’s game jam co-hosted by my nemesis and frequent collaborator Antero Garcia. and yet i still had to step away from the sessions to gather myself and take our own advice as critical educators… i needed to create time and space for my own personal reflection, to help sort out all the things that have been going on around me so that i may process how they are affecting me.

in a sense this is a continuation of a dialogue i have been having internally and with others as of late. shortly after this last conversation with Antero, another round of violence struck our community and school. 3 young people were shot right outside of the middle school i first began teaching at. in this most recent outburst, 1 Hawkins student was shot in the arm, another former student in the back, and 1 other current student narrowly dodged being hit. they were all sitting in a parked car after school. fortunately the two students who were hit are alive, though one may be paralyzed from the waist down and the other returned to school just this morning, with both arms in a sling, with parts of his arm and shoulder bones shattered, visibly in pain. the third student came back this past Monday, and returned home shortly after, realizing he was not in the mental space to remain in class. beyond the violence, the normalization of such occurrences, in particular gun violence, has caused many including myself to have lamented at length over the real challenges it presents when working with young people. these two students and their parents have also been impacted by the normalization, which presents as a cultural phenomenon of dismissing and disregarding truly traumatic events as trivial. this creates a unique set of challenges for me as an intervention and support coordinator. how do you intervene in the face of denial? how do you support someone who refuses to or can’t acknowledge the significance of a traumatic situation? what can you do when a parent refuses counseling for their child and themselves after their child has been a victim of gun violence?

these questions are the ones that dance around my head but are often pushed aside throughout the course of the day, because another mini or major crisis presents itself. these are the questions that i fear i will never find the time to fully examine and attempt to answer. and yet when i come to spaces like this NWP conference, i am reminded of the power of learning and teaching thru the lens of true experiences. i am re-inspired to hear and see the work of educators and students who collaborate together to respond to narratives of dominance by telling their own stories, learning valuable and transformative skills in the process; building critical media, literacy, and civic skills that offer them agency in a world filled with systems designed to take voice away from our young people.

luckily i work at a school site with a critical mass of educators who understand this approach and have a ton of experience teaching and learning from this framework. i am also part of a very capable and supportive out of classroom leadership team that continues to help cultivate this philosophy on our campus. and yet, our team is struggling greatly at the moment, trying to forge a sustainable model of authentically democratic and distributive leadership in a highly hierarchical structure… the usual suspects of personality, communication, and exhaustion brought on by overworking have complicated our efficiency as a team. but real issues of equity, transparency, and voice complicate the dynamics of highly capable individuals collectively trying to work and be adaptive leaders for our schools, which often are already going against the grain of the nation’s second largest district, a district being entertained by the plans of privatizing philanthropists. how does a team truly and effectively work through professional dynamics and interactions that inadvertently cause some members harm? how does a group of leaders learn and systematize inspiration and capacity building that empowers all stakeholders to be resilient through current states of reality and hopeful enough to keep working towards that desired state? how does a leadership team communicate and internalize the mission and vision of the work? how does a team repair harm to members and address real human emotions and concerns? at our school site, restorative practices such as engaging in courageous conversations in harm and community building circles is what we are trying to build into our toolbox. and yet after a 3 1/2 hour circle with our leadership team this past Monday evening after a full day of work, we left with many of these questions still unanswered for our team.

not all of the last two weeks have been a struggle. last weekend i was elated to work with some of our Hawkins students, our seniors who have been with us since the beginning, since the doors opened. 7 students from RISE, CHAS, and C:\DAGS collaborated with UC professors and graduate students from the UCLA REMAP department and Digital Cultures Lab to host the later’s first ever community event. my workshop was brought to life by the reflections of students poised to leave the high school space, looking back on their journey and articulating the lessons learned on the way. they helped to illuminate the power and impact of internalizing concepts like “designer”, “entrepreneur”, and “advocate.” they were able to collaborate on a 3D interactive mural that visualized their profound thoughts on the nature of the education they have been a part of and what the possibilities are for such expereinces. even more so they were able to share the lasting impression our young but emerging educational insitution had on their individual identities, in turn further validating the collective identity we are trying to create at Augusutus Hawkins Schools for Community Action.

as i sit and try to create a space of reflection and restoration for my own sake (a version of R & R in the educational sense) i realize that the all to real series of highs and lows may take on a tone that has me sounding depleted. and it is true that i am tired. tired enough to sit out of important sessions like my colleague Nicole Mirra and guests discussing why #blacklivesmatter in all of our classrooms. but it is the type of tired that makes me want to keep sharing out the good work our students and schools are doing. a tired that makes me want to keep on sleeping, so that i may continue to dream with those around me in building towards a more just, empathetic, equitable, and sustainable society.

Community + Resilience = Transformation


LETSGOHAWKS! photo cred: Luis Solis

Last night was one of the greatest Hawkins football moments in the short history of our program. I remember the first game we ever played as a program. I was thrilled that the first ever recorded touchdown was ran in by a young named Brent Hawkins. We lost that evening, pretty decisively. 

Fast forward 2 seasons later, a battle for the ages. Crosstown rival LA high hosted the Hawks as the last regular season game for the second year in a row. Last year we lost. This year, our Hawks, who has nothing to lose, laid it all on the line and in doing so illuminated some very valuable lessons. 

I’ve always had a special place for football. As a player, my best childhood friends were also my teammates. As a coach, my players were always my teachers. The game itself has a powerful way of instructing those who are around it, mainly young boys and men, the power of team over individuals.  Last night this lesson seemed to resonate throughout the entire stadium, as the cheers from our Hawkins crowd began to grow louder and louder. Part of this was the complete frustration with the referees who were clearly not ashamed to grant home field advantage by way of excessively flagging our team. But more than that, there was a collective power that our crowd knew we had to amass and utilize for the benefit of our boys, our team.  I think our players felt this palpable support and I believe they used it to mount a comeback that was inspiring on many levels. There was a moment of synergy, when it was clear to all who were there wearing green, white, and black that we were all in this together, no matter what. 

This lesson on the power of extended communities helped our kids unlock the second valuable lesson: resilience. This is one of our campus wide norms. It’s not just an expected behavior we try to teach students to model in their lives.  And it’s not of the brand that promotes continued tolerance of the status quo just because you can take it.  It’s a power they often already come to Hawkins with and yet it is a skill that is often overlooked and not as easily transferable as many would hope. This is one of the reasons I absolutely adore this sport. There are many opportunities to test the mantra “never give up” and transform it into something more than a cliche. Last night our team did exactly that.  They didn’t give up on themselves, each other, and our crowd never gave up on them. 

As the sun and dust settled, it was clear that each and everyone of us were collectively trying to take our own fate into our hands. Self determination; It is what great football is made of.  From the moment I entered the stadium and we were down 24-7, to the moment I was running alongside one of my favorite students #3 Greg Johnson towards the tying touchdown and subsequent 2 point conversion… I never stopped believing in their ability to achieve and our ability to support. 

Football for me often reflects life, both the best and the worst of it. The brotherhood, the violence, the commercialism, and the liberation. It is like war, but a more internal one for the players. A war against doubt, fear, and individualism. Last night Hawkins battles with a great rival. And despite the 31-31 score as the officials called the game, applying the sundown rule to their 23 flags and 225 yards of penalties already ruled against the Hawks. Nevertheless, we knew we had won the battle. We had learned these valuable lessons. 

#community #resiliency #nevergiveup

Even though my favorite sports season is over for our mighty Hawks, I know we will continue to work hard in creating opportunities to utilize these lessons learned on our campus, our classrooms, and in our communities. We need to… For it is essential for our continued transformation. 

#LETSGOHAWKS