Summer Reading the Word and the World: Preserving a spirit of hope and inquiry


My mind and soul feel like they are on fire right now.  This summer has been an interesting and fresh balancing act of attempting to disconnect and focus on quality time spent with my family and friends, while simultaneously struggling to stay focused and motivated to confront all of the realities of tragedy and despair that have become (or maybe more accurately have always been) “las noticias de hoy.”  It has been surreal and at times I have felt the despair set in.  Every time I feel this happening, I have to grab hold of something, a book, podcast, television show or documentary, album, ANYTHING that can jar my mind back into accepting the reality that the world is a beautifully harsh place, that can indeed be transformed through collective effort, into a more just and peaceful planet.  In trying to continue to be a student of life and all of its instructive stories, I have found it difficult to force reflection on some of these more difficult realities.  Yet I know that this is absolutely necessary for true understanding of what the hell is actually happening.  And so this is my attempt at a reflective synthesis.

In preparing for the upcoming fall semester at CSUMB, I have been reading Antonia Darder’s The Student’s Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  In redesigning my class for novice teachers to be able to rise to the occasion that, now perhaps more than ever, demands we teach for “liberation” and not merely for content mastery, I chose to use this text to help unpack Freire’s original influential text.  It is here that I have been prompted to think more deeply about what a liberatory and critical pedagogy actually mean.  Reminding myself of the necessity for time set aside for direct and intentional theorizing and abstraction, but never sacrificing action.  It is serendipitous that the new History and Social Science framework is intentionally focused on “civic action.”  Never mind that many history and social studies teachers are not yet fully aware of what this actually means for their classroom instruction, the architecture is now there to spark an authentic dialogue (which is another fundamental aspect of Freire’s text) amongst teachers who are in the position to have tremendous impact on the patterns of thought and eventual action of many young people.  On this note, I have been simultaneously excited and nervous to begin my new job as a curriculum specialist, which will help experienced and veteran (some expert) teachers collectively consider the implications for a type of instructive pedagogy that has civic action at its foundation, in particular at this moment in history. This text also reviews the history of many schools of philosophical thought and more importantly the historical context of authoritarianism, which is as stark a reminder of our current national and global epoch.

Aside from professional reading and pondering, I have been personally immersed in stories of the day that force the full act of humanity, that is to say I have been  intentionally reading, watching, and listening to things that recognize and acknowledge the human suffering of our brothers and sisters all the world over. It is not always easy to stare into the eyes of human suffering, but I know it to be necessary if I truly want to be part of movements designed to lessen and eventually end such oppression.  Enrique’s Journeyhas been an emotional slog for me. In the context of the mass separation of migrant children from the parents, this powerful narrative ha also harkened me back to the stories of so many of my students, undocumented minors both in Los Angeles and here in Salinas, who’s own journey’s were comprised of similar trials of tragedy. It also reminded me of many parents I have had the honor to work with, attempting to repair the often strained relationships between themselves and their children.

The Intercepted podcasthas been a summer staple, providing much needed journalistic context for the litany of crazy that is our current events. Two episodes that have had a lasting impression on me this summer have been these two. The show is unapologetic in its “speaking truth to power” style but what I appreciate even more is their journalistic commitment to contextualizing the stories of today through factual history, with a depth necessary for authentic understanding. Also appreciated is the hopeful chord always struck by interviews with activists and resisters. It has been on of my “go to” podcasts since the election.

Despite my steady summer media diet, which has also deviated into the realm of indulging pure entertainment in my attempt to not go insane, it was last night’s episode of Treme that really “struck a chord” in my soul. I have waited until this summer to watch this series from the beginning, knowing full well that I missed the metaphorical train on this. Truth is, I have not been ready until now. I remember the summer Katrina hit. I stood in disbelief as the events unfolded, the human callous out doing Mother Nature’s stormy onslaught. I remember feeling petrified, afraid of how I was reduced to a mere spectator from afar, gazing daily at the suffering of mainly black residents of New Orleans and the blatant disregard of our government. This feeling could not stand, so I along with my friend Daye and my future wife, signed up for a “disaster relief” course from the Red Cross. We were prepared to go to New Orleans and help in any way we could. In retrospect, relying on an institution to grant us “permission” and “training” to go help our brothers and sisters was unnecessary and ultimately futile, for it was not to be. The Red Cross said that there was a diminishing need for relief workers, as so many folks around the country had already been actively engaged and sent down to New Orleans. Historical hindsight being what it is, I never felt quite ready to see the deliberate destruction and designed despair that was to be the “re-building” of New Orleans. The neighborhoods left to rot while others were rebuilt. The closing and “charterization” of the entire public school system. I guess I was only ready to see this story dramatized on screen after the sobering reality of yet another disaster, Hurricane Maria, instructed me as student of history… this is the way of our world right now.

That is of course, unless we are called to action. And this is I guess the main struggle of my summer. The continuing questioning of action. What can I be doing? Am I doing enough? There is no one answer. On any given day, at any given moment the answer, for me at least, can change from the negative to the affirmative. These are often questions of focus. As someone who often lacks focus, who wants to pretend to concentrate on everything, I have had to remind myself of a previously stated intentionality of focus at this time in my life: family. My wife is my daily reminder of the importance of parenting to any movement related to social, political, or economic justice. How we raise our children will indeed have impact on our future circumstances. No matter how many times I have marched, or contacted my representatives, or voted… there is nothing as powerful as cultivating the imagination of a child towards empathy and reflection. Reading my daughter’s book is just another reminder that my focus has to be on my children right now. And all of the other things we know we must do to stay vigilant in these times.

Organizing the Outrage 101

In the face of the atrocities that grow daily at the U.S. southern border, there is confusion about what we as the public can and should be doing. When those in power blatantly abuse their power only to demonstrate cruelty and the “checks” on that power in this “democracy” fail to even be acknowledged… what is a populous to do? Where is the resistance and outrage? To be sure it is there but what is missing is the mobilization. And this is the key problem.

Teachers and students across the country are out on “summer break” but it seems as if we might have to gear up and hold summer school for the nation. The mandatory course section our nation should be enrolled in? Organizing the Outrage 101. In our profession, as demonstrated by the recent waves of strikes in different states, teachers are constantly put into positions where we have to organize our colleagues, our communities, and now our entire nation. For those of us who have grown old and tired, we need to step into the instructor role of guide on the side, allowing for our students to remind us of the youthful energy often needed in defiance, as demonstrated all throughout history with student generated movements against war, state sponsored violence and neglect.

Other professions could aide even further in a mass mobilizing of the nation’s outrage and horror against this administration’s deliberate policy decision to monstrously and callously separate young children from their parents and hold them in detention center while mocking this very policy they are complicit in.

As Naomi Klein recently reminds us in her latest documentation of what she terms the Shock Doctrine, capital organizes much more quickly than people. The film industry could mobilize a mass of wealth and fame to go down to the border and confront these atrocities, using their bully pulpit to document, bring the mass corporate media with them, etc. God knows (as do you and I) that Congress should already be down there in their entirety, having cancelled their own “summer break” demanding that this practice cease immediately. But we also know that this won’t happen.

So it looks like it is up to us, once again. Teachers and students showing the nation what it looks like for truth to be spoken to power. While they organize and demonstrate their cruelty, we should all be organizing the nationwide response. Our unions should be contacting our members and rallying the war cry, the war for nothing less than the soul of our nation, which may very well already be lost. But that is not a reason to disengage. As teachers and students we know that to engage is to define the human spirit.

I am not sure that this will happen. And so I too am lost in confusion at this moment in time. But I am quite sure that this is entirely possible. And so I will write it as if it is so. To enroll in your mandatory summer course, please spread the word to your fellow classmates, the nation.

Sites of Encounter…


As I prepare to end the year with my 7th graders and embark on yet another leg of my professional journey in a new role outside of the classroom, I have been thinking a lot about the space of the classroom. A week long schedule of online testing definitely opens up space to reflect and do a little bit of my own online writing.

I was first introduced to the concept of “sites of encounter” by one of my mentors in the profession, the wonderful Emma Hipolito (who is now the awesome director of UCLA’s TEP program… so proud!) She helped to walk me through the new history framework in order to prepare my return to the 7th grade classroom. Sites of encounter was a different way to think about historical events and interactions between different peoples that departs from the more traditional culture hopping one tends to do when teaching medieval world history. But in this post I want to use the conceptual framework to try and reflect and understand more my own historical journey this past year.

The site largely driving most of my professional encounters has been La Paz middle school. I have written before about the initial feelings I had about arriving in this new space, feeling like an outsider but not really. But I have not focused on the immense kindness and generosity I was welcomed with upon arriving here (as evidenced today by the heaping plate of homemade chilaquiles I was so graciously offered this morning.)

And yet within this overwhelming kindness from every single individual on campus, from custodial and grounds crews, to office and clerical staff, to teachers (both in and out of the classroom) and yes… EVEN the administrators (I purposefully stress this group of folks on campuses, as I know they often get a bad wrap from the teachers they support and “manage” even though their jobs are just as thankless, often times even more), I have come to understand some of the particular complexities and inner workings – collaborative and contentious – of this site. It is these complex encounters that have really occupied my mind of late, for they often defy traditional or conventional ways of thinking about concepts like professionalism, effectiveness, struggle and progress. We often hear people talk about the “soft skills” and how things like communication and reflection are more central drivers to the work we do than other professional capacities. In any case, this site – like any other I have ever worked at – has its productive and nonconstructive modes of approaching the sometimes seemingly impossible task of teaching adolescent youth…

Which brings me to the focus of what has been on my mind for the last couple of days: the classroom AND students. Every teacher, even those who burn out of the field long before their due time, has had students that they struggled to reach, let alone teach. I finally learned long ago to not take it so personally when I come across a student who for whatever reason under the sun, I just cannot “get through” to… they are not interested in further developing a necessary relationship with me to predicate the remainder of our work on basic things like respect. This is particularly possible when teaching middle school, that tumultuous time of life in the same type of system that often produces unintended and unforeseen consequences (positive or negative) but always changes a kid and often us adults who interact with these students.

Every year I have had students who fall into this category and this year has proven to be no exception. And of the handful of students whom I struggle with this year, there has been one who has confused and frustrated me just a little more than others. That one student you wish and tried to connect with more to achieve some breakthrough… but it was not to be. Some of the details are familiar; challenging homelife, instability, lack of parental involvement, economic hardship, propensity for violent outbursts, defiant… brilliant, charismatic, and young. Despite these common traits that many of these young people share, I am always intrigued how each individual materializes their own destinies, exercising both agency and free will, while simultaneously succumbing to the institutional realities that often dictate the availability of these choices. And in reflecting on this, I have been thinking about the classroom as the site of encounter for these students.

In the case of this student in question, she began the year challenging my authority in the classroom. It was clear that this would be a continual event throughout the year. It was also evident that she was very bright and that if I could help direct her propensity to create problems in our classroom towards actually solving problems, she could become quite the student. I must also state a couple of things at this point. One, I definitely held back this year in terms of cultivating the types of relationships with students that I am used to building. And I think I did this intentionally, recognizing the time and space I needed to take to begin to process and heal from some of the trauma I had been experiencing in my out of classroom role at Hawkins. Two: she did not present an existential challenge for my teaching practice, in other words she was not the most difficult student I have worked with in the classroom. For instance, my student this year quickly proved to be challenging, but nothing that ground the development of the class culture to a complete halt. I did suggest that she switch into another section of mine halfway through the year as to get away from a peer group that was serving more to distract her from achieving academically.

And yet despite the level of “offenses” being minimal to mild (yet on the daily) she was not able to engage in a productive manner in our classroom space. This was not the central problem for this student however. The social drama of middle school, in the end proved too much for her to handle. Overwhelmed by negative peer relationships and an inability to resolve conflicts without escalating to the point of violence outside the classroom helped to create a deeper disconnect within the classroom space which was irreversible. At least in the sense that she was not allowed to remain in my social studies class.

I did not have a say in this. In fact, I worked hard in the last few weeks to avoid this seemingly inevitable fate. You see, in our district and at our school site we have am option for students who continue to face difficulty in the classroom or on campus and it is called modified scheduling, which in essence reduces the course load and time spent on campus effectively by a third. Students thus identified are given “opportunity” to focus on a limited amount of classes and are sent home after 4th period. In my two years of intervention work in Los Angeles I had never come across this method of “intervening” and remained unconvinced of its merits in helping move a student like mine from beyond the margins and into a space where they can begin to re-engage with school and the classroom. Nonetheless it is a real intervention here, and one that this student in the end was purposefully trying to achieve. So much so that she would come into class and purposefully try to get removed, as to end up in the counselor’s office just one more time, thus triggering this “opportunity.” I refused to comply in this game. But I was not, in effect teaching her anymore, despite her presence in my classroom space. Our relationship had reached its low.

Until yesterday… when she attempted to sneak back into my class after morning testing had concluded. Despite doing this in a very nonchalant way, I pulled her aside and naively questioned what the deal was, knowing that she had been removed from my class administratively and was no longer on my roster. She momentarily played coi, revealing a bright smile that simultaneously communicated that she had been caught but that we were “cool” enough to have a cordial conversation. I let her know that she was no longer on my role sheet and then she relented on her efforts to enter the class with her friend, the sole reason for her wanting to gain access to our classroom space I suspect. And that essentially, would be the last time I encountered her in my classroom as her teacher, so it would seem.

And then I ran into her in the office, in her usual spot.. waiting outside the counselor’s office, even though her favorite counselor was on maternity leave. This site of encounter, often very different from the classroom space, has the potential to invite different interactions with students. I know this from many firsthand experiences with students in offices these last few years. This juxtaposition is rather fascinating when you come to think of it as I did. For this interaction was markedly different. Although we only exchanged a few words and a cookie, the feeling of formal authority and traditional scripts of interaction was waived for a less tense and common understanding. I told her that I wanted for her to figure things out and “get it together” so I could eventually see her at her high school graduation.

I plan to stay in this district as long as that would take but I also realize that even if that were true, the chances of her and I being in a classroom together as student and teacher were very slim. And I believe she realized that in a different way. And it is this the thing – long wait I know – but this shift in context and space drove a completely new interaction. Animosity ceased to exist in that moment. For there was nothing left for her to fight towards, as she had expressed her desire to be on this modified schedule and not be in my class any longer. She had “won” and I was left with yet another student whom I could not, for my part “reach.”

We passed each other on the way home at dismissal. I again made a simple joke. “Stop following me.” And she played along and laughed, “YOU stop following me.” We parted ways. Our last site of encounter… for a little while anyway. Whatever happens, I know that I will remember this particular student and all of our encounters, no matter how ineffective they may have been retrospectively rendered in a traditional sense as ineffective. And like all my students, even those I personally could not reach, I wish them nothing but the best until our next encounter no matter where it may be. And as I prepare to depart the classroom setting once again, I look forward to seeing from a different vantage point the successes and learning opportunities of my colleagues and our students that lie ahead.

Institutions and identities…


Over the last week, every aspect of my identity  has undergone some sort of institutional attack by the Trump administration.  What’s even more saddening is that so many more people; friends, family, and strangers (fellow countrymen and fellow global citizens) have experienced the same attacks and yet have had to feel them on much deeper levels. To realize this suddenly Saturday morning with my children, while attempting to shake off the remnants of a difficult work week by reading a friend’s tweet… it is all surreal. 

My identity as the child of an immigrant mother who came to this country at 19, newly married to my father… a soldier in a semi occupying army in her native land, this part of me is under an old but vigorously renewed assault by the same country that welcomed my mother with open arms. I’ve always had to deal with prejudice and misunderstandings of one of my home cultures.  It is hard to read stories like this and not feel the impact at the core of your soul when you juxtapose those with the memories of waiting anxiously outside of customs to be reunited with your family once again.  Being a Panamian – American is not as hard perhaps as some other minority bi-cultural groups, but that identity is questioned and challenged for basic legitimacy and dignity nonetheless.  As is my Mexican heritage.  How should one respond to the building of a wall to keep separate the people on the other side you call Tio and primo?  I have a few choice responses swimming around my mind right now. 

As a husband to my wife, a woman who’s entire family lineage is born of a Muslim land where people are currently being barred from entry to the country we both call home… the attack is real. Like me, she can vividly recall the beginnings and endings of summer travel to our other homelands at the Tom Bradley international terminal… immerging from the tunnel to warm smiles greeting us. Attempting to imagine what other have been greeted with as of yesterday’s America is traumatizing. 

I’m infuriated by the attacks on women in general, as a father of two young girls who will be growing up in a “democratic” society that attempts to legislate and politicize their own bodies. Incensed by the economic and social inequities imposed and emboldened by this administration’s view on a women’s worth in the work place.  I’m sick to my stomach. 

I’ve already lamented about the attacks on my profession in recent posts. But I found this UCLA interview with public education champion Pedro Noguera to be informative and semi hopeful. Yet it is clear that Inand others will have to fight for the very right to envision our work through the lens of justice. 

And what of our work?  And that of others. While this new administration, like those of the past, asserts that they prioritize job creation and expansion of the middle class, they are about to enact policies that will completely decimate it. At the same time, they are drastically attempting to limit the power of labor organizing, lying to union leaders, placating them with overinflated estimates of infrastructure jobs to be created and squeezing out any real sense of union strength that will be necessary to preserve the working class. 

These are some of the identities that make up my daily existence.  And while I won’t quite adhere to the sentiment that my existence is being completely challenged… I know enough about history and contemporary society to understand that many people are feeling the pressure of these encroachments by the political apparatus in a way that brings on a type of existential and identity crisis that typically results in two outcomes: 

 1.  You become paralyzed with fear, afraid of the possibility that your existence is no longer welcome or sanctioned by the state… and you conform, playing along with the insanity in the hopes that you will get by until the next “transition of power” wishfully thinking it may be more merciful in the future. This option unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately is only viable for a few. 

2. You fight. Fight like hell to be recognized, never apologizing for who you are and where you are from. Because your whole life you’ve known to one extent or another that your identities, complex as humanity, were never fully accepted by the state. Your existence has always been challenged one way or another. 

It is the fight that has become unclear to many. And for those who are coming out of the privileged consciousness of false peace, it’s quite a cognitive dissonance to make the leap into war, even if that war is to be waged for your own self preservation. Because you have never really had to fight. But for those who have lived their whole lives under attack, there is nothing else but the fight. 

To be clear, if we are going to come out on the other side of this ok, we are going to need both types of folks. And the fight can take on many tactical variations and iterations. But fight we must. These words are one extent to the fight I will continue to be, for these words are me. And my government has not stolen them from me. Not yet… 

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?

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…

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

Summer book report… I know it’s Fall

Book reportIt has been awhile since I have written a book report. What used to be the bane of my existence in elementary and middle school English classes. I realize now why, having always enjoyed reading but never fully embracing the reporting out on what you read.  Partly because the book report models I was forced to use never really prompted me with an inquiry of any depth and meaning. They were summaries of plot and never really asked for critical literary analysis or personal meaning making. But more than that they were assigned at such a rapid rate that they rarely gave a student a chance to digest, reflect, or contemplate any deeper meaning. A reflection of our consumptive educational models set to the Reaganomics era of the 80s I guess. 

I half joked with teachers in welcoming them back from summer break to begin our fourth year of the Augustus Hawkins Schools for Community Action startup adventure, that I had finally finished a book for the first time in years (I’ve started quite a few) and was very excited about the connections I saw to our small schools missions and the curricular direction of educating young people towards a sense or urgent agency, critical thinking, problem solving revolutionaries. And what better project to tackle than climate change?

Hence my book report on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Climate vs. Capitalism. I’ve been reflecting on this very powerful read since I concluded it the day before school started. I’ve had the time to process and connect some of the ideas in the book with my own ways of thinking about parenthood, teaching, organizing, and just living as an individual human being connected to so many other individuals and systems that are continually facing the threat of true violence at the levels of extinction; permanently altering all ways of life that have come before us, before now. 

I began this book on a plane ride to Denver, attending a conference engaging in similar dialogue. Writing this post at 40,000 ft. and having the imagery to support some of the walk aways from the book helped to inspire a semi comprehensive share out of this very important piece of writing. 

First off I was impacted greatly by Klein’s framing of the entire book around her experiences and struggles as mother, sharing a solidarity with Mother Nature that I could never fully realize as a man, but have on numerous occasion attempted to relate to, a communion with and within nature that helps me understand the deep interconnection and pure magic of the life giving and sustaining force we are all part of on this planet. Her honest, personal reflection and cathartic sharing of the insights of multiple miscarriages resonated with me as well, having similar experiences with my wife. Thinking about what mothers go through, as I fly towards Portland to reunite with my pregnant wife and daughters (who took this same trip days before by themselves… Imagine that scene for a moment; single pregnant mother with two toddlers navigating LAX) and looking down at the islands, farmland, oil rigs, wildfires and ocean… The power of Naomi Klein’s words settled in a little more. 

Klein begins with honest admittance of her own denial to face the reality of climate change head on, and articulates the moments of clarity and transformation that led to her book with a refreshing and very relatable view. She breaks down the psychology behind all of our collective denial in the Global North/West through a blistering and critically comprehensive unpacking of the history of our global economic model and its current day presence as the largest obstacle the planet’s life systems have ever faced. 

Her chapters on billionaires and their disingenuous claims of environmental heroism and hope, juxtaposed with chapters on the environmental movements own complicity and direct involvement with life extinguishing capitalistic practices painted the clearest picture I’ve come across, showing in one volume the interconnected ways humans are involved in our own demise. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the Nature Conservancy star in these instructive and enraging sections. 

Her chapters on debunking the mythology of quick and easy solutions to the biggest problem our species and all others have ever contemplated also extends to a dialogical confrontation of scientific and technological world views that continue the western centric cultural model of dominance over people and places not western and rich. Her exposure of geo-engineering projects to “dim the sun” offer sobering  look at the power of our “most powerful and talented” minds examining the problem from the wrong end of the equation and proposing grandiose solutions left unscrutinized by any percentage of the populist worth deeming their ideas “peer” or people reviewed. 

It’s worth the wait of the last chapters to feel, as I did, thru the disillusionment and despair, a growing sense of rage mixed with hope. Both feelings were present from the beginning. Klein’s thoughtful ethnographic style research and storytelling puts the voices of indigenous communities and the most hard core climate activists front and center. Entire chapters are dedicated to the clear message that there are many (way more than we think) people dedicated to the daily war against corporations hell bent on ignoring or actively lying about their destruction of our planet in the pursuit of profits. She offers many examples of how this daily war is waged, from the revisiting and utilizing of treaties signed by generations past, to the divestment strategies of educational institutions, to the direct tactics of native communities and climate activists engaged in an all out “Blockadea” movement (while I was in Portland, the repelling Greenpeace activists were in the middle of their direct action to block Shell from sending their ice breaker to the Arctic… they were forced to move by the time I had left) to disrupt the supply and distribution chains of energy multinationals. She takes this contemporary hope and harkens to the history; the great and revolutionary struggles of the abolition movement in the face of a global system of human slavery, making it very clear that despite not having a precedent of human resistance on the scale that will undoubtedly be needed to make the necessary changes in time to avoid catastrophic global impact, abolitionism was the closest thing to a mass mobilization and resistance worldwide. If we are to have a chance to slow down the warming climate and all its consequences, both projected and unforeseen, then we MUST engage this type of defiance, refusing to accept that the current corporate and capitalistic model is the only way to live… for it is surely not.

This is easier said, obviously, than done… particularly for us in the global north. Yet it is a parameter for the continued global life systems that are under such stress, many of which are unable to adapt to the changing climate in time to avoid collapse. And what is clear at the conclusion of this must read book is the notion that if we are to rise to the greatest challenge to ever face humanity, we will have to change everything… but perhaps more comprehendible and less daunting is to realize that we will have to change… ourselves. The universal inevitability, we have the potential to do always. My hope is that we do this using our “response” ability rather than blind reaction. And that we do this in time.