Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rejecting “Testing our Way to Success”: Washington State Tribal Leaders Speak out on Standardization

Editor: Our blog has been following events in American Indian educational reform in Washington State for some time.   See the links to the newly developed  Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum” in our section on EDUCATIONAL UPDATES FOR THE STATE OF WASHINGTON: POLITICAL, LEGAL, AND SOCIAL ISSUES.  We also have some discussion about it in our April 8, 2014 video with author Jioanna Carjezaa, who talks about the work they are doing in Montana through a constitutional mandate called “Indian Education for ALL.”  Below is an interesting post (July 27, 2015) from the blog, “TeacherTalks Truth.” We thank Kathleen Hagans Jeskey for permission to reprint it on our blog.

 

Washington State Tribal Leaders Speak out on Standardization

By Kathleen Hagans Jeskey
 
Standardized education for Native youth: Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania (c. 1900) one of many "Indian Boarding Schools", where official policy was to attempt to strip children of their Native language and culture, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Earlier this month I posted a letter written to Senator Patty Murray by Robey Clark, a fellow member of Oregon Save Our Schools, regarding reauthorization of ESEA. Today I am posting a letter he shared with me that was sent to Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn by the governing tribes of the Washington State Tribal Compact Schools on June 5th, 2015. Mr. Dorn has yet to respond to the tribes.


The sentiment in this letter can be broadly applied not only to Native students but to all students.  Our public schools are diverse. Students deserve to have their cultures recognized and respected. They deserve lessons that engage and speak to them, and they deserve to be evaluated in an authentic way. We must bring the humanity back to our schools.


 Big thanks to Robey Clark for sharing this with me and for fighting for the schools our children deserve.

 
WASHINGTON TRIBAL COMPACT SCHOOL POSITION STATEMENT:


We, the governing tribes of the Washington State Tribal compact schools, hope to break the chronic cycle of failure among schools serving American Indian reservations. We intend to capitalize upon the opportunity presented by this new Tribal Compact School law by promoting the adoption of teaching practices which we believe to be more congruent with tribal cultures. In support of this effort, we intend to foster some important reforms in educational accountability methods that will encourage and reward a change in practice.

In recent decades, state and federal educational policy has focused on raising test scores for poor and minority students up to the general population average by the third grade (or soon after) in an effort to minimize the dropout rate. This policy has been a particular disaster for most public schools serving Indian reservations. The result has been a system that labels Indian children early; subjects them to continued remedial instruction; and fails to keep them engaged after the 4th grade. The over-emphasis on early grade test scores has evolved into a self-fulfilling (and self-perpetuating) prophecy of failure for Indian students. We believe it is this labeling effect, coupled with limited instructional methods that cause many if not most dropouts.
 
The Iroquois Sachem Canasatego once said to the English colonists of his time, “...you who are so wise must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things and you will, therefore, not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some Experience of it...”.

Our experience has been that our schools have diligently tried to adopt “research based” models and “data based decision making” as primary methods for school improvement for years now. For the past 15 years, federal policy has placed more and higher stakes on test results. So much weight has been placed upon them that, standardized tests have become an end unto themselves. Something must change. We do not accept that standardized testing defines the potential or truly measures the growth of our children in any meaningful way. Therefore, as sovereign tribal governments, shouldering the new responsibilities under the state compact, we feel it is our duty to make a change toward authentic assessment and accountability. If Indian students are motivated, they will succeed. It is our goal to create places where our children and young adults wish to be and where there is an inherent expectation and tradition of success.


In recent years, the state has commissioned and adopted assessments, such as the High School Proficiency Test (HSPE) and End of Course (EOC) exams, which have only served to make the student disengagement and dropout problem worse. Now, with the coming adoption of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) testing will take a quantum leap toward becoming much longer, more difficult, and demanding even greater attention. We believe that we cannot test our way to success. We have walked far enough down this path and are determined to change direction. Therefore, we are proposing a five-year moratorium from standardized testing in Tribal compact schools. During this time, we propose to develop a new evaluation paradigm based on applied learning and public demonstration. During this development period, we will use formative tests and/or other tools chosen by our staff to monitor progress and assist in teaching. We will develop a viable alternative evaluation system equaling or surpassing the rigor of state adopted testing. In addition, we will demonstrate American Indian student attendance and graduation rates that match or exceed state averages. Although intended for reservation-based districts, we hope such a system might be used by any district experiencing this chronic syndrome of failure.

We will call upon our schools to develop ways to teach content and to hone student academic skills through authentic work for real life purposes rather than to depend mainly upon passive and abstract classroom instruction. These methods may further enhance Indian student learning as they more closely resemble historical tribal teaching practices. Traditionally, our children learned specific skills within the context of an immediate and worthwhile task. As students progress toward later grades, authentic instruction should increase and passive classroom instruction decrease. To support these proposed reforms, we intend to provide our schools an evaluation model based upon public demonstration to the community. We will give our professional educational staff the flexibility to re-organize as necessary and to experiment in developing more deeply engaging educational experiences. In addition, we will find new ways to evaluate and award credit for the work completed outside the classroom. The teachers will work in teams to share the burden and include high school students in yearly planning.


We will require our schools to initiate formal public demonstrations of student work that meet the highest level of state standards, so that the tribe and community may appreciate the quality and value of the school. The demonstrations may include but are not limited to: individual or group projects in science and applied math; performance in music and dance; displays of art and literary work; student enterprises and worthy deeds for the school, tribe or community. The demonstrations will be challenging enough to show high skills and/or thorough understanding by students. Such demonstrations will also serve to help WOSPI to evaluate student accomplishments in terms of the state standards. We anticipate that the institution of such events will not only serve as a new method to evaluate student work but will also help rally our communities to support their schools.

To us, making sure all students graduate “on time” is not as important as making sure that all do indeed graduate as mature capable individuals with knowledge and skills to go forth in their chosen path. Our students will receive a diploma when each is ready to present herself or himself before the community with a portfolio that shows she or he is ready for college, skilled career training or the everyday work world. By the same token, this also means a student may graduate early by petition if they demonstrate extraordinary ability or talent and can meet the standards. As the vision stated in: From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the Educational Achievement of Native Americans in Washington State--Delivered to the Washington Legislature, December 30, 2008--"Indian education dates back to a time when all children were identified as gifted and talented. Each child had a skill and ability that would contribute to the health and vitality of the community. Everyone in the community helped to identify and cultivate these skills and abilities. The elders were entrusted to oversee this sacred act of knowledge being shared. That is our vision for Indian education today."
 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Washington State Supreme Court to State Legislature: Fix Educational Funding or Pay $100,000 Daily Fine


This blog has been following the McCleary decision on educational funding in Washington State for some time.  See the earlier court decisions in our section on:  EDUCATIONAL UPDATES FOR THE STATE OF WASHINGTON: POLITICAL, LEGAL, AND SOCIAL ISSUES.  Last Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court decided to place sanctions on the state legislature in order to get compliance.  Here are some links to the story.



Here is a link to the actual documents from the court:

Supreme Court Case Number 84362-7  - McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington


Here is a link to archived videos of court and legislative actions on TVW in Washington, the public access channel.

 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

ACLU to Argue in Federal Court on Behalf of a Third Grader with Disabilities who was Handcuffed in School: See Video Below


Editor: The Journal of Educational Controversy published a special issue in the past on the School-to-Prison Pipeline.   We pointed out that this trend to criminalize students rather than educating them has had a disproportionate impact on students of color and students with disabilities and emotional problems.  The American Civil Liberties Union has just filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two elementary school students with disabilities.  The ACLU has been showing this disturbing video below on one of the students, a third grader, who was handcuffed in school.  Following the video is the ACLU's account of it.


video


ACLU ACCOUNT OF EVENT ON THE HANDCUFFING OF A CHILD WITH DISABILITIES:


This third grader was shackled and crying out in pain for 15 minutes. He was restrained because of behavior related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a history of trauma.  A member of the school's staff videotaped the incident.
 
Students with disabilities represent 12% of public school students but are 75% of all students subjected to physical restraint at school, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
 
Students of color and students with disabilities are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline. One child in this case is Latino, and the other is African-American.
 
Law enforcement in schools must be trained on how to work with children with disabilities and trauma. Learning de-escalation skills should be as common as fire drills for schools and any law enforcement officers who serve them.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Author Sam Chaltain Reflects on Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch and the Racism in All of Us

 
 Dear White People: We Are All Atticus Finch
 
by Sam Chaltain



Editor: Readers will remember the article by author, Sam Chaltain, “Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): Visibility in Schools,” in our journal’s issue on “Schooling as if Democracy Matters.”  Below are Sam’s thoughts on the recently published book, Go Set a Watchman.


Have you heard the news? Atticus Finch is a racist.
 
Guess what? So are you. So am I.

I know, it’s hard to square with the images of ourselves we like to project. After all, we just took down the Confederate flag! We recoiled in horror at the images of Eric Garner being strangled! We hated George Zimmerman! We voted for Barack Obama!

But here’s the thing: being racist isn’t only about explicit acts. It includes implicit privilege. It requires complicit silence.

James Baldwin told us this fifty years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement – and just two years after To Kill a Mockingbird made its celebrated debut. “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen,” he wrote. “That they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.

“It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”

It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

The opportunity of the present moment – a moment when it has become undeniable to all but the most sand-headed White people that, even amidst all the progress, Black people are living under siege – is to finally step courageously into a new conversation about race and racism in America.

But that conversation, and the actions that follow, must begin with this admission: we are all Atticus Finch.

Up to now, we’ve taken solace with the idea that we are that Atticus Finch – the first one, the one who was a crusading attorney who stood up for what was right in the face of the pig-fisted brutality of the American South.

For some of us, maybe, sometimes we have been.

But we’re also that Atticus Finch – the new one, just revealed to us via Harper Lee’s eagerly anticipated sequel, Go Set a Watchman. And as the first reviews tell us, that Atticus Finch attends Klan meetings, denounces segregation efforts, and asks his daughter pointedly, “Do you want them in our world?”

Being that Atticus Finch doesn’t require that we attend white supremacy meetings, support police brutality, or poison our own children with hate. It merely requires that we maintain our innocence amidst the maw of institutionalized racism, and mask our complicity in that system via periodic outrages at current events that clash with the saintly pictures we have painted of ourselves.

It is striking that Go Set A Watchman, with its unflattering revision of a beloved, one-note character, should come out now, amidst Charleston, and Baltimore, and #blacklivesmatter. But perhaps, as Alexandra Alter writes in the New York Times, “if To Kill A Mockingbird sugarcoats racial divisions by depicting a white man as the model for justice in an unjust world, then Go Set A Watchman may be like bitter medicine that more accurately reflects the times.”

Harper Lee’s bitter medicine should not taste that bitter to us. As much as we would like to believe it, there are no clear heroes and villains; we are neither one nor the other.

We are both.

We have been born into a society that confers a lifetime of invisible advantages to our families. We have the opportunity to cherry-pick which injustices to our Black brothers and sisters should move us to dissatisfaction. And we have chosen, thus far, not just to maintain what James Baldwin calls “the innocence,” but what The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “The Dream.”

“The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts,” he writes in his new memoir, Between the World and Me. “The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. The Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”

“It does not matter if the agent of those forces is white or black. What matters is the system that makes your body breakable.”

What matters is the system that makes your body breakable.

So we are all Atticus Finch. We have beauty and prejudice and ignorance and complacency and privilege and compassion and the chance to do something or nothing. We can be forces for good or a silent and gradual force for community decay and destruction.

Who we aspire to be is not solely who Atticus was. It is not solely who we are, either.

And so we have work to do. And it will require a much more constant vigilance, and honesty, and self-awareness than we have shown so far.



(Reprinted with permission of the author from the Sam Chaltain website. This article also appeared in The Huffington Post.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Who was Ella Higginson? Award Winning Professor Argues for the Recovery of Lost Voices


Editor: Professor Laura Laffrado, an English professor at Western Washington University and new JEC editorial board member, has just published a new book, Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature. Her book raises an important question for our readers to ponder.  What other writers need to be recovered in the literary canon and why have they been lost?  We invite our readers to join the conversation by contributing their thoughts.

 
 
Meet Me at the Intersection of Lost Voices and Education: The Ella Higginson Project
Laura Laffrado
Western Washington University 
 
 
In recent years my scholarly time has been devoted to bringing public notice to the life and writings of Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862?-1940), the first prominent literary author from the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Higginson has been forgotten as a key American writer. Yet she was once so internationally celebrated for her writing that she was said to have put the Pacific Northwest on the literary map. However, by the time she died in 1940, most of her work was out of print and both she and her writing were almost completely forgotten. Higginson and her work had disappeared from literary history.

In order to recover Higginson and her writing, I needed to persuade editors, interviewers, publishers, scholars, readers, and others that it mattered that Higginson’s voice had been lost. The unstated question I was expected to answer was this: why should anyone (else) care about the works of one long-dead Pacific Northwest white woman? Behind that question loomed a larger one: why make the effort to reclaim any works by any forgotten writers? After all, numerous writings by a range of authors are widely available. Many once neglected works have already been brought back to prominence. We already have plenty. Why do we need more? Though I had long held firm opinions on such subjects, I needed now to become especially fluent in arguing convincingly about the significant value of overlooked writers and writing. In what follows, I discuss my project to recover the works of Ella Higginson and how my efforts both furthered my thinking and reinforced my concerns about the intersection of lost voices and education.

Long before she was forgotten, Higginson was the best-known Pacific Northwest writer of her day. During the turn from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century, readers across the United States were introduced to the remote Pacific Northwest region by Higginson’s descriptions of majestic mountains, vast forests, and scenic waters, as well as the often difficult economic circumstances of those dwelling near Puget Sound. Higginson wrote poetry, fiction, nonfiction, essays, newspaper columns, novels, and screenplays. Her work appeared in all the leading periodicals of the day such as the Atlantic, Harper’s Bazar, and McClure’s Magazine. Her primary publisher was the prestigious Macmillan Company in New York. She was extensively praised both nationally and internationally for her writing. Many of her poems were set to music by well-known composers and performed by celebrated dramatic singers such as Enrico Caruso. As a crowning honor, in 1931, Higginson was named the first Poet Laureate of Washington State.

Given Higginson’s popularity over decades, her prolific writing, and the glowing reviews of her work, one might think that a voice such as hers would not, could not, disappear. Yet disappear it most certainly did. The conditions that led to Higginson’s removal from the literary record as well as the long neglect of her work are the same conditions that regularly determine the diminishment of certain kinds of writers and their writings. Higginson’s case may be seen as a model for understanding what writers and writing tend to be cast off from the body of valued American literature.

                Large cultural reasons played a substantial role in the downward spiral of Higginson’s career. Most significantly, the advent of the First World War, which occurred at the height of Higginson’s popularity, shifted what was produced and purchased in the United States. The resulting decrease in book publication caused many books, including Higginson’s, to go out of print very quickly. As a result Higginson’s prominence dramatically diminished. She was, of course, not alone in this. Many writers experienced a similar eclipse of literary success during the war.

                To compound this collapse, after the war had ended, literary tastes begin to shift. Such changes were guided by editors, publishers, and university professors, nearly all of whom were professional white men. In their capacity as cultural agents, these men, directed by various biases and assumptions, primarily promoted works written by other white men. Consequently, the works of most once-popular US women authors, first out of print because of the war, now remained out of print. As a result, women’s writing in general received dramatically less attention than it had in earlier decades.

Personal circumstances also impacted the ruin of Higginson’s career. Higginson, a widow without children, expected her estate to be managed after death by her niece, her heir and only close surviving relative. But a little more than two months after Higginson’s own death, her niece died unexpectedly. Her death delivered a significant blow to the possibilities of Higginson’s writings and reputation being preserved and promoted. No one remained to perform such crucial work.

Taken together, all these conditions helped to reinforce the neglect of Higginson and her work. Other women writers and writers of color were similarly impacted by war, shifting production, and less normative personal circumstances. Though exceptions do exist, in general, authors who were not white men of higher class status found that their literary voices were no longer sought out or published.

After many years passed, the later decades of the twentieth century saw a welcome rise of scholarly attention to much neglected United States writing. At that time and in the years since, the texts and the literary reputations of many authors have been valuably recovered. However, Higginson and her writings were overlooked during this period. Higginson’s location, remote from the regions of the writers with whom she was classed in her lifetime, became an additional factor in her neglect. While authors who had been part of more populated regions were recovered, Higginson, from the remote turn of the century Pacific Northwest, remained forgotten.

But that is no longer the case. Higginson’s name and work are now, at last, returning to public notice. This very welcome occurrence has emerged from a mix of newspaper articles, television interviews, scholarly essays, and public lectures that focused on Higginson and her writing. Most significantly, a book that I have edited, Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature, has just been published, bringing Higginson’s work back into print for the first time in decades. Higginson’s writing is important today for a variety of reasons, one of them being that her writing introduced the world to the Pacific Northwest. With the new availability of Higginson’s writing, a crucial piece of the diversity of American literature has been reinstated.

But I am here to tell you that such retrieval is not an endeavor for the faint-hearted. Daunting forces hinder recovery, among them prevailing assumptions regarding what constitutes literary writing, extensive archives that must be navigated, vast databases that must be searched, and the limits of the 24-hour day. Even if you manage to succeed in such work, you will not, as with most things education-related, reap large or even small financial rewards. But having said that, you may find that your tenacity will result in other kinds of compensation. Each success in the recovery of neglected authors and their writing adds a little more diversity to the accepted body of American literature. While such work does not put money in the bank, it does enrich the greater educational endeavors to which we devote ourselves.

As I say, I had always advocated for lost voices in the classroom and in my work. However, in recovering Ella Higginson, I came to recognize more forcefully that when voices are lost or censored, education inevitably becomes more dangerously and damagingly narrow. In losing voices, we lose what those voices represent, who they speak for and who and what they speak about. Many times after a voice is lost, we are unaware that such a voice ever spoke at all. This is a crucial point. We never simply lose one voice. With every loss, the historical, literary, and cultural records are reshaped and inevitably made more restrictive. They become more homogenous—whiter, richer, more male, more heterosexual, more able-bodied, more Northern, more Protestant. When voices are lost and when we permit them to remain lost, the richness of our shared past is significantly depleted and the diversity of the material that we teach is radically diminished.

 Laura Laffrado is an award-winning Professor of English at Western Washington University. Her most recent book is Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Journal of Educational Controversy Now on New Website

I am pleased to announce that the Journal of Educational Controversy has migrated to a new website.

Readers can now find the journal at: http://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/

Working with the Berkeley Electronic Press, we can now offer more flexibility and options for our authors and readers.  Authors can open an account online and submit their manuscripts through the system.  They will also be able to go back at any time to make revisions. Moreover, the review will be done through the system.

With our 10th Year Anniversary Issue about to be published this fall, we have grown significantly as a voice in education with a special thank you to our great authors and our growing readership.

As we continue to grow, we need even more reviewers.  Thanks to all who responded to our first call for reviewers.  If you are interested in reviewing for the journal, please send an e-mail with areas of expertise and interests along with a vita to:
cep-ejournal@wwu.edu


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Innovative Uses of Technology to Meet the Needs of All Students

 
Meeting Diverse Needs with Technology
by
Linda Schleff
Woodring College of Education
Western Washington University

 
Chelsea confidently swipes through the multiple pages of apps on my iPad until she spots the one she is looking for. Then she calmly, but firmly, guides her little sister's probing fingers away from the 'home' button. This four-year-old, who has been diagnosed with autism, can independently navigate the complexities of iPad technology, but she is unable to verbally communicate her wants and needs to those around her.

This is where the services of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) come into the story. Following a meeting in Chelsea's preschool classroom where family, school district team, and E-ATRC director informally brainstorm to consider technology tools that might benefit this young student, the family applies for and is awarded an 'AT Grant to Families' that provides $200 to support them in purchasing technology that they believe will benefit their child at home. Now Chelsea has her own iPad that will travel between home and school to support communication and learning across her customary environments. To hear the center director speak about the benefits of the E-ATRC's AT Grants to Families program watch the brief video clip here: Western Window Episode 23 (start at 15:10).

 
Assistive Technology (AT) is a term defined in disability law and is, essentially, any item that improves functioning for an individual with a disability. However, time and experience have shown us that many of these tools, when made available as standard tools in general environments, will support others with a wide range of diverse needs, as well, including, but not limited to:

   Those with more commonly occurring disabilities such as learning, behavior or attention challenges,                                                                       

   Young children or aging elders,

   People who are English language learners, and

   Any one of us who doesn't spell well!


 
Consider, as an example, an FM system that amplifies a teacher's voice making it easier to hear and understand. Our first thought might be that a student with a hearing loss could benefit from this technology. But think of others who might be supported as well from having the teacher's voice highlighted as something critical to attend to in the environment. English language learners, students who struggle to maintain focus and attention, in fact, any of us may 'tune in' better when the person speaking picks up a microphone. See examples here.

 Similarly, software or an app that will read text on the screen out loud (text-to-speech), highlighting each word as it is spoken, can improve access to content for a student with a learning disability or an adult who is learning a language. One of these applications, called Snap and Read can even adjust the readability level of text materials to meet the needs of an individual reader, whether their need is due to a learning disability or to learning a language! You can learn more about these applications at Don Johnstons website.
 
Other applications can 'predict ahead' and suggest, based on commonly used grammar, the word a person might want to type (word prediction) thereby benefitting an individual with fine motor challenges (by reducing the number of keystrokes required) or anyone who doesn't spell well. Learn more about Co:Writer, also from Don Johnston.
 
Assistive technology has historically benefitted individuals with disabilities and has been most often considered for those with significant, complex disabilities. It has also frequently been complex and costly, until recent decades as the number of technologies has increased exponentially. As this has occurred, affordable tools have become more available to meet a wider range of needs across an array of increasingly diverse users.
 
 


No to Low-tech

Mid-tech

High Tech

Pencil grips

iPad

Powered Wheelchair

Bar Magnifier

Adapted Keyboard or Mouse

Eye Gaze Hardware/Software

Noise canceling headphones

Specialized software

Speech Generating Device
 
 These tools range from simple non-digital supports to 'mid-tech' tools to 'high-tech' devices - see above for examples. For more specifics about AT basics, AT decision making, technology tutorials or additional AT resources visit the Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO) website at http://atto.buffalo.edu.
 
The Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) is located on the Bellingham, Washington campus of Western Washington University. It is one of the resource centers of Woodring College of Education (WCE) where next generation teachers, nurses, and human service professionals are trained. The E-ATRC's primary charge is to work with these WCE professionals-in-training to support them as they learn about the technology tools that can benefit their future students, patients and clients.
 
In addition, the center director is able to collaborate with local families, educators and othersin the community who are interested in learning more about assistive technology. All local users of the E-ATRC are welcome to browse the myriad items on the shelves and are also invited to check items out from the AT lending library to use them with individuals with whom they live and work.

 
Assistive technology can increase participation and improve performance in school, support equitable access to information, and enhance quality of life for a variety of individuals. To learn more about assistive technology or the E-ATRC and their services visit the center website.
 
The author, Linda Schleef, is Director of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center. She is a Special Education Teacher, a Senior Instructor at Woodring College of Education, and is credentialed by RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineers and Assistive Technology Society of North America) as an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). You can contact her at Linda.Schleef@wwu.edu.    
  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Interview with Michael Karlberg on the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education Resistance to Iranian Oppression

An Interview conducted by Austin VanKirk, Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Educational Controversy
 
The Bahá’í faith is one that teaches peace, equality between men and women, and supports the validity of all religions. Despite their peaceful messages, members of this faith are targeted and discriminated against fiercely in Iran, the country which saw the birth of this religion. The current Iranian government uses this cultural group as a scapegoat, placing the blame on Bahá’ís for every national misfortune and problem The nature of Bahá’í oppression is government-orchestrated, operating in a system that removes members of the faith from their employment and prevents their education. Despite the direness of the situation, the Bahá’í plight receives precious little media attention.

In his article, “Constructive Resilience: The Bahá’í Response to Oppression,” Dr. Michael Karlberg discusses the resilience of these people. In my interview with him at Western Washington University on April 10th, Dr. Karlberg proposed that the reason for the scarce media coverage is due to the non-violent and non-adversarial way in which Bahá’ís respond to their oppression. Were their response charged with bullets and bombs, media outlets would grant them more attention.

But the Bahá’í situation in Iran has come to the attention of the Journal of Educational Controversy because of a unique and special way they are organizing to resist oppression. The Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education—BIHE—is a network of educators working to give Iranian members of this faith access to higher education. Prevented from attending or ousted from Iran’s universities, Bahá’ís have come together, along with educators from around the world, to share knowledge with those who seek it.

BIHE classes operate mostly online. According to Dr. Karlberg, who himself teaches such courses, BIHE online courses operate nearly identically to standard online courses. Instructors from around the world who are experts in their fields teach online courses. Some classes do meet in-person, but this isn’t as common given its increased risk and complexity.

BIHE set down its commitment in 1987, and since then now offers thirty-two university-level programs in Sciences, Engineering, Business, Humanities, and in other fields. A strong belief in education has been a longtime commitment of the Iranian Bahá’ís when approximately eighty years ago,  Bahá’ís established the first schools for girls in Iran. Previously none had existed formally. Today, Iranian girls can attend school, Bahá’ís and non- Bahá’ís alike, because of the Bahá’ís’ commitment to education and equality.

Dr. Karlberg has been involved with the institution for about three years now after being approached by BIHE. He teaches his courses in English, with most students being able to understand the language. Students who do not speak English well or at all, receive assistance by their fellows, demonstrating a communal commitment to education. Participating in these online courses does pose risks for the Iranian Bahá’í students, who face imprisonment if caught. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for students to have to drop their courses due to some governmental intervention.

Even though the students of BIHE face constant danger and are obliged to learn under non-traditional conditions, the quality of education is not diminished. As proof, an increasing number of universities are accepting the validity of degrees awarded by BIHE and accept students from BIHE into masters and doctoral programs. Though the pitfalls are many, Iranian Bahá’ís are unwilling to forsake education and remain resilient against the attempts of a regime to bar them from it.

The tenth year anniversary issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will feature a special scholarly article on the topic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

17th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum will Highlight Ways Families and Communities Can be Brought into the Life of the School


The 17th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum will be held on Wednesday, May 6 at 5:30-7:30 pm in the Miller Hall Collaborative Space on the Western Washington University campus.

The forum is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the Journal of Educational Controversy and the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity.

The theme of the forum is: “Bringing Family and Community Strengths into the Life of the School: the Parent Action Team,” and will feature authors of the article, “Everyone Should Feel so Connected and Safe: Using Parent Action Teams to Reach all Families” that was published in our Winter 2015 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy. The work of the Parent Action Team is a collaborative project between the Woodring College of Education and the Mt. Vernon Washington Elementary School that resulted from a 1.5 million dollar grant by the Washington State Legislature.  The grant, Collaborative Schools for Innovation & Success, aims to de
velop models for enhancing student learning and closing the achievement gap and for better educating teachers who are prepared to teach more effectively in today’s diverse classrooms.

The partnership has been able to create a number of innovative practices.  One such practice is the forming of a Parent Action Team as part of a research project that advised schools on ways to engage often marginalized and hard-to-reach parents  --- parents and families that have often felt alienated in the past and who often face language, poverty and other barriers that prevented them from advocating for their children or feeling a part of the school.

Bringing the strengths and assets of the family and community into the life of school is an extension of the theme of our current issue of the journal that focused on moving us away from thinking in deficits terms and instead seeing the student as a person who brings strengths and resiliency to the learning experience. 

The theme of our current issue is “Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children: Envisioning Alternative Models,” and so it was just a small leap to start to think about the assets and strengths that families and communities also bring to the life of the school.

The Parent Action Team members that make up the panel include:

John Korsmo is an Associate Professor and Director of Human Services at Western Washington University.
Miguel Camarena is a parent of a Washington School student.

Andrea Clancy is Washington School CSIS co-coordinator and Reading Specialist.

Ann Eco is a parent of a Washington School student.
Ann Jones is the ESL/Family Coordinator for Mt. Vernon School District.

Bill Nutting is the Principal at Washington School.
Basilia Quiroz is a parent of two children at Washington School.

Azucena Ramirez is a Migrant Family Liaison at Washington School.

Veronica Villa-Mondragon is a parent of two children at Washington School.
Stacy Youngquist, is a parent of two children at Washington School.

Panelists will share their experiences and discuss the process and method that was used accompanied by videos, posters, pictures and a powerpoint presentation. A Q&A session with the audience will follow.

Location: Western Washington University, Miller Hall Collaborative Space

Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Time: 5:30-7:30pm