Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nathaniel Barr interviews author Jioanna Carjuzaa, specialist in Indian Education

Jioanna Carjuzaa is the author of numerous articles, including "The Give Away Spirit: Reaching a Shared Vision of Ethical Indigenous Research Relationships" in the Summer 2010 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy (co-authored with J. Kay Fennimore Smith, read the article here). Dr. Carjuzaa teaches Multicultural Education at Montana State University--Bozeman and gave a presentation on April 8th at Western Washington University's Center for Education, Equity and Diversity. Her presentation focused on the history of Indian Education in Montana, especially on the fight to put Indian Education for All into effect. Indian Education for All is a state-level initiative in Montana that requires public schools to teach the histories and cultures of American Indians to their students. Jioanna explained some of the methods she and her colleagues had devised for teaching American Indian history and culture at the secondary and post-secondary education levels as well. Keep an eye out for a video interview with Dr. Carjuzaa on the Journal of Educational Controversy's website.

Nat: You mentioned in your presentation that Indian Education for All first became law in Montana in 1972 and that it had been 40-years in the making. So, from 1972, it's been a work in progress?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: Yes, there's no question that a lot of work has been done. As I highlighted, it was not until 2005 that we actually had the money to back what we wanted to do to implement the initiative.

Nat: And you mentioned that compliance too was an issue in some areas?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: It's a difficult thing--we don't have something in place to measure implementation. We're working on that. We want to know.

We have a lot of anecdotal information and I'm sure they use James Banks' "Levels of Integration [of Multicultural Content]" here as well. It's an easy model for us because the acronym spells 'CATS' and we're the Bobcats at MSU. We really want our students to aim for that third level when they're writing lesson and unit plans. The truth is, though, that's the transformation level--you start with just the superficial level. We want them to get to social action. That's what we're really hoping and we have wonderful examples of it.

In Missoula or Helena, there was a group of students who read James Welch's Fool's Crow and decided it was terrific. They wrote to the school board in Laurel, a district where that book had been challenged and actually banned, and said, "This was a very beautiful piece, it helped us to understand the Blackfeet and what happened historically. We think these students should be able to do that." We have other examples where Indian students are now proud of who they are and will stand up and share cultural things. Their parents are now welcomed into the classroom. So, we know the climate is changing. We have also seen some progress with the closing or narrowing of the achievement gap, but we know we still have some work to do.

Nat: You mentioned the history of Indian education as one of the subjects of your courses and I wanted to know more about the boarding school period in Montana history specifically.

Jioanna Carjuzaa: It's a difficult thing because most people are totally unaware of what happened: how students were forcibly taken from their homes and what happened to strip these young children of their cultures.
In Montana, we had mission schools and boarding schools.  People always want to hear about the Fort Shaw mission and the girls' basketball team. Peavey and Smith wrote a book, Playing for the World, and there's a PBS video as well. What they tried to look at was how these young stars became basketball heroes. The team actually won the 1904 World's Fair competition. It's interesting to look at because I guess if you're imprisoned in boarding school, you might as well have fun playing basketball. People don't understand these children were stripped of their spirituality and beliefs--everything--and don't understand  how traumatizing it must have been. The students were taken to schools all across the United States.

When I was working with the school leaders in the "I Lead Social Justice" class, we talked about how indigenous school administrators, principals, and superintendents could share the lasting effects and the generational trauma of the boarding school era with their faculty, who were, for the most part, non-Indian. It was really hard to say, "what do we share?" Some people argue that it's "ugly" and I have even heard "get over it"--things that are inappropriate. We need to share those histories.

We had talks about what resources they thought were useful and how to use them as Indian school leaders working with non-Indian faculty members. Somebody mentioned the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, for instance. My students were Indians from across Montana, and some of them said, "we have relatives and we know people who walked from Carlyle back to Fort Peck" and things like that. Can you imagine? It ended up being almost like a therapeutic session. People started sharing hard stuff. It is really hard stuff. A lot of people don't want to talk about it, but everyone has been impacted somehow. 

We use a lot of different resources to help people understand. Our Spirits Don't Speak English is a wonderful DVD that a lot of the school leaders I worked with thought was one of the most authentic resources to use. Walter Littleman, a Lakota, has written his memoir and there's also a PBS special about him. I like to use other primary resources as well and there are tons out there. You can find things not just from Montana and across the United States, but, of course, from the residential school period in Canada and the Stolen Generations in Australia. The parallels are frightening.

As for Pratt's famous quote that we want to make sure we "kill the Indian to save the man": well, you can't strip somebody of their cultural being. The boarding school children were no longer Indian as they were before, but they were never white men or women. Often they were just prepared to be domestics or to work in servitude forever. Their education was not anything that would be acceptable today.

The brutality: people really don't know what happened and the extent of the abuse. It was, of course, emotional, psychological, and physical, but it was also sexual and it was rampant. It's a very dark period in our history.

Nat: Can you tell about culturally responsive pedagogy and if, in some way, that's an attempt to bring things to light, or am I misconstruing it?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: All those terms are so hot now: everything is social justice and educational equity, culturally responsive pedagogy or teaching in a culturally relevant manner. I hear those terms everyday and I don't think a lot of people really understand what they mean.

I teach a class in "Indian Education For All: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Practice" and I think Indian Education For All in Montana is a really wonderful model to look at. In an ideal world, how would you implement Indian Education for All in a culturally responsive manner so that every student comes to school feeling like their cultural heritage, however they define themselves, is valued? So that their life experiences are validated in their educational journey? I think that there is nothing neutral in what we teach in schools. If you're mainstream and you identify along that line--if you're an English-speaker, you're middle-class, you're heterosexual, whatever the criteria--then you fit in and school is really comfortable for you. Anywhere you deviate and feel like your school culture is different from your home culture, it is very challenging to be successful in the school model.

Nat: What is your favorite piece of advice for aspiring teachers or activists?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: I always use the motto, "hooked on hope," because it's very challenging and difficult work. There is always going to be resistance. If you don't stay strong and surround yourself with support systems--whoever that is, and however you have to reach out--then it is a very difficult journey.

[This oral interview was edited slightly to improve readability--N.B.]

Nathaniel Barr is the Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Educational Controversy. He is completing his Master's degree in English Studies at Western Washington University. You can reach him at

Saturday, March 29, 2014

New Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy Now Online and Upcoming Seminar

The new issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, on the theme "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?," can be found here. The idea for this issue's theme was sparked by the ruthless and seemingly politically motivated ban on Mexican American Studies in the Tucson, Arizona school district, after years of the MAS curriculum being taught in Tucson without controversy. All of the authors included in this issue speak to the questions, both pedagogical and philosophical, arising in the wake of the Mexican American Studies ban in Tucson. The article in the new issue by former Tucson MAS teacher Curtis Acosta addresses the root of this controversy and Mr. Acosta will be joining the Western Washington University community in a discussion of his article, via webcam, on May 14th, 4-6pm. The upcoming seminar is sponsored by Western's Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, as well as the Journal of Educational Controversy and the Woodring College of Education. (Watch an interview with Curtis Acosta conducted last fall by JEC editor Lorraine Kasprisin and associate editor John Richardson here.)

The article titles, authors, and affiliations of the authors for this volume of the Journal of Educational Controversy are:

"Ask Not Only Who Defines the Curriculum: Rather Ask Too What the Curriculum Aim Should Be"
Walter Feinberg
Charles Hardie Professor, Emeritus
The University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana

"Religious Citizens in a Secular Public: Separate, Equal?"
John F. Covaleskie
University of Oklahoma

"Reading NCLB as a Form of Structural Violence"
Kerry Burch
Northern Illinois University

"Critical Study of the Concept of 'Public Identity' as Manifested in Postmodernist Versions of Critical Pedagogy"
Boaz Tsabar
Hebrew University, Israel

"The Public and Its Problem: Dewey, Habermas, and Levinas"
Guoping Zhao
Oklahoma State University

"Attack of the Cyborgs: 'Economic Imperialism' and the Human Deficit in Educational Policy-Making and Research"
Scott Ellison
University of Tennessee

"Middle School Students, Slam Poetry and the Notion of Citizenship"
Anthony M. Pellegrino, George Mason University
Kristien Zenkov, George Mason Univeristy
Gerardo Aponte-Martinez, Michigan State University

"Dangerous Minds in Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking in Arizona"
Curtis Acosta
Former Teacher of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District

Editorial: "Who Defines the Public in Pubic Education"
Lorraine Kasprisin
Editor of the Journal of Educational Controversy
Western Washington University

"Interview with Ari Palos, Film Director of Precious Knowledge" 
Celina Meza
JEC Editorial Staff
Western Washington University

Thursday, March 6, 2014

New "Call for Papers" for 10th Anniversary Features an Open Issue



In previous issues of the Journal of Educational Controversy, we have defined a contemporary controversy and asked our authors to examine the issue. For our 10th year anniversary issue, we have decided to have an open issue where authors can define their own controversy. We ask authors to consider these points in developing their ideas:

1. Define an educational controversy – formal or informal education, K-12, college or university, adult education, secular or religious education, or larger philosophical issues in the educational ethos of a society or a culture. The issue can be a contemporary one or a perennial one that is revisited.

2. Explain the significance of the problem.

3. Provide an historical and philosophical framework for the controversy.

4. Lay out the different arguments surrounding the controversy.

5. Examine the underlying assumptions and resulting implications of the different positions.

6. Provide suggestions to resolve the issues raised and provide supporting arguments.

We remind authors that we publish controversies that are deeply embedded in our conceptual frameworks. The journal tries to distinguish between surface controversies and latent or depth controversies.

For example, schools engage students in controversies all the time and are embedded themselves in controversies. Most of these controversies engage us in disagreements on a surface level. That is not to say that these discussions are unimportant – only that they take place with assumptions that remain unstated and beliefs that remain largely hidden or submerged. And so we talk about learning outcomes, required competencies, and the kind of rubrics we should be using to assess student outcomes. The journal tries to go deeper by examining the very frameworks in which all these surface controversies arose – to get at our underlying assumptions and beliefs.

Here is our statement from the journal's introductory page:

The purpose of this peer reviewed journal is to provide a national and international forum for examining the dilemmas and controversies that arise in teaching and learning in a pluralistic, democratic society. Because many of the tensions in public school and university policies and practices are deeply rooted in the tensions inherent in the philosophy of a liberal democratic state, many of the value conflicts in public schools and universities can only be understood within the context of this larger public philosophy. In effect, the conflicting assumptions underlying our public philosophy frame our questions, define our problems and construct the solutions that shape our practices, policies, and research agendas. This journal will try to help clarify that public debate and deepen an understanding of its moral significance.


Monday, February 10, 2014

ACLU of Washington Abandons Community for Coalition: Some Reflections for our Upcoming Issue

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State had a long tradition of community chapters throughout the state that were deeply embedded in each of our local communities. Several years ago, the state office in Seattle chose to dissolve the chapters in a move to centralize control from Seattle and work with other organizations to form coalitions around specific topics. The move makes for more efficiency and control but loses in its community building and educational functions. As a longtime ACLU supporter, one-time state board director, and chapter leader for several decades, I felt the loss most profoundly recently. At our community’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference, there was a conspicuous absence of the ACLU from both the program and the community tables of literature. The upcoming Human Rights Film Festival no longer has an ACLU film or discussion that follows that was often lead by our chapter. Incidences that would have spurred a community forum under ACLU leadership like a local school censoring of a student’s poem no longer occur. Focusing on local issues like the border control issues that brought members of our immigrant community and members of the local militia together for a discussion are now missing opportunities. The clipping of newspaper accounts of civil liberty violations in the local newspapers to forward to the state office in Seattle are now a thing in the past. And the student essay contest that motivated the teachers and students in the local schools to think about civil liberty issues is only a memory.

I’ve been thinking about my former chapter with sad remembrances as I was preparing our upcoming issue of the journal on the nature of a public because it is symptomatic of a deeper problem. It actually goes beyond our institutions like public schools that are beginning to move to a more corporate model of governance and social organizations like the ACLU that abandons community for coalitions, and touches the bedrock core of our thinking about democratic living. Many of the articles in our next issue of the journal raise questions about the nature of democratic community. As one of our authors points out, there are a number of defining views of democracy from democracy as “simple majority” to democracy as “competing ideas and shifting coalitions of temporary majorities,” but none of them rely “so strongly on the existence of a public” as a community deliberating together about its common problems. Given the growing dysfunction of our Congress and the relentless move to privatize and corporatize the one institution whose historical, albeit ambivalent and conflicting, function was to create that public, one wonders if that vision of democracy that Dewey and others promoted can any longer grip the social imagination and current realities. We hope the authors in our upcoming issue will be able to shed some light on the “public and its problems” for us. We invite our readers to join in the conversation.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Preview of "Talking With the Authors," featuring Justice Bridge of the Center for Children and Youth Justice


Former Washington State Supreme Court Justice Bobbe J. Bridge, founder of the Center for Children and Youth Justice, was interviewed recently for our "Talking with the Authors" series in connection with her article for The Journal of Educational Controversy's issue on the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Find the full interview with Justice Bridge here.

Our current issue on the School-to-Prison Pipeline, including Justice Bridge's article, can be found here.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

New Federal Discipline Guidelines and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

We would like to welcome you to 2014 and share with you some important news regarding the School-to-Prison Pipeline (our current issue on the subject can be found here). The Obama Administration has released new federal discipline guidelines that attempt to address racial discrimination in the administration of primary and secondary school discipline. Extensive research conducted by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has shed new light on this troubling issue and established that there is clearly a racial tenor to the School-to-Prison Pipeline. African-American students without disabilities are more likely to be expelled or suspended than their white peers by a more than three-to-one ratio (Department of Justice et al, 2014, p. 3). More than half of all students arrested in schools or handed over to police for disciplinary action are Hispanic or African-American (p. 4). As the Departments of Justice and Education frankly admit in their 23-page letter addressed to practitioners, these disparities in the meting out of school-related discipline are "not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior of students of color" (p. 4). Unintentionally or not, schools are engaging in racial discrimination.

The new guidelines categorize racial discrimination in school discipline under the headings of "Different Treatment" and "Disparate Impact." Different treatment includes not only straightforwardly discriminatory discipline policies, but also discriminatory enforcement of disciplinary policies that are race-neutral on the books (e.g. if it could be established that a school gave African-American students the full measure of disciplinary action attached to a specific infraction whereas white students routinely received less severe discipline for the same infraction, this would constitute different treatment.) Determining disparate impact is a bit more complex, as it involves a judgment of ostensibly race-neutral policies based on their impact as well as their necessity in meeting educational goals. To establish discrimination in this case, investigators would have to find that either: (1) a policy was having a disparate impact on one racial group over others and did not meet a specific educational goal (e.g. if a school policy penalized students for wearing hats in class, this could not be reasonably connected to a specific educational goal, and it were established that Hispanic students were substantially more likely to wear hats in class than students of other races, this would constitute discrimination by disparate impact); or (2) that even though the policy in question did meet a specific educational goal, there were alternative policies available to the school that would also meet this goal without impacting or having less of an impact on a particular racial group disproportionately impacted by the current policy.

Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that “A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct" (NYT Editorial Board, 2014). It is encouraging to see the government taking action on racial discrimination in schools, and we can hope that this will also constitute a step toward dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Find the full text of the Departments of Justice and Education's letter here:

Works Cited

Department of Justice and Department of Education. (2014). Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from:

New York Times Editorial Board. (2014). The Civil Rights of Children. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Curtis Acosta Returns to Western Washington University to Give Keynote Address on January 25th

Educator Curtis Acosta will be the keynote speaker at a symposium titled “From ME 2 WE. Creating a Mentoring Community” on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Western Washington University.

The symposium is open to the public and will be held from 8 a.m. until noon in the Viking Union Multipurpose Room on a first-come, first-served basis. A $10 donation is suggested, though not required. Educators and all interested in creating a community in which mentoring is important are encouraged to attend.

The symposium will open with a welcome at 8 a.m. followed by a presentation by lead mentors with Compass 2 Campus from 8:10 to 9 a.m.; a talk by Veronica Velez, WWU assistant professor of Secondary Education, from 9:10 to 10 a.m.; the talk by Acosta at 10 a.m., and then a participant raffle and closing at noon.

The symposium is sponsored by Western’s Compass 2 Campus program, the WWU Center for Education, Equity and Diversity and Western’s Diversity Fund.

Curtis Acosta has taught high school in Tucson for nearly 20 years and is an award-winning educator. He is founder of the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, which is committed to helping educators and education professionals create dynamic learning environments, pedagogy and curriculum that will inspire every student to thrive. They strive to mentor educators through personal, detailed and interactive professional development that leads to transformative teaching and learning practices.

Compass 2 Campus, a proactive effort that sends trained WWU student mentors into schools, is in its fifth year at Western. The program offers academic mentoring in areas that lack funding in the elementary, middle and high schools throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties. The goal is to establish a connection between schools lacking funds and college students to increase graduations rates and inspire students to further their education.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Curtis Acosta Videos Now Online on Journal of Educational Controversy Website

When Curtis Acosta, the teacher whose Mexican American curriculum was banned in Arizona, came to visit us at Western Washington University on October 17th, we videotaped both an interview in our studio and a very dynamic presentation at a special forum. Readers can now view both videos.

The Interview is on our journal's link, "Authors Talk." To go directly to the interview on YouTube:

The Presentation is on our journal's link, "Public Forums." To go directly to the presentation on YouTube:

Curtis' article, "Dangerous Minds in Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking in Arizona," will appear in our upcoming issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme, "Who Defines the Public in Public Education."

Friday, November 15, 2013

10th Year Anniversary Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will Feature an Open Issue

Since our inaugural issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, we have been publishing scenarios around controversial issues in education. With the 10th anniversary of the journal coming up in 2015, we thought we would have an open issue. We invite authors to submit their own controversial issue and their response to it. Just remember that we are interested in controversies that are deeply embedded in our conceptual frameworks. The journal tries to distinguish between surface controversies and latent or depth controversies.

Schools engage students in controversies all the time and are embedded themselves in controversies. Most of these controversies engage us in disagreements on a surface level. That is not to say that these discussions are unimportant – only that they take place with assumptions that remain unstated and beliefs that remain largely hidden or submerged. And so we talk about learning outcomes, required competencies, and the kind of rubrics we should be using to assess student outcomes. The journal tries to go deeper by examining the very frameworks in which all these surface controversies arose – to get at our underlying assumptions and beliefs.

Here is our statement from the journal's introductory page:

The purpose of this peer reviewed journal is to provide a national and international forum for examining the dilemmas and controversies that arise in teaching and learning in a pluralistic, democratic society. Because many of the tensions in public school and university policies and practices are deeply rooted in the tensions inherent in the philosophy of a liberal democratic state, many of the value conflicts in public schools and universities can only be understood within the context of this larger public philosophy. In effect, the conflicting assumptions underlying our public philosophy frame our questions, define our problems and construct the solutions that shape our practices, policies, and research agendas. This journal will try to help clarify that public debate and deepen an understanding of its moral significance.

We are announcing this issue early to give time for authors to think about a controversy they would like to write about. We will send out official notices later.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Curtis Acosta interviews with Nathaniel Barr, JEC Editorial Assistant

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Curtis Acosta, the Mexican-American studies teacher whose curriculum was banned by the State of Arizona in 2010 amidst wide public controversy. Curtis had just given a presentation on the criminalization of Latin@ youth to a packed auditorium of students, professors and other community members and activists after a full day on the campus of Western Washington University. This presentation, which emphasized steadfastness and hope for social justice in the face of adversity, was sponsored by the Woodring College of Education, the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, and the Journal of Educational Controversy. Curtis' forthcoming article for the JEC's upcoming issue on the theme, "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?," responds to the rhetoric used by those who outlawed the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson.--Nat Barr, Editorial Assistant, Journal of Educational Controversy

Nathaniel Barr interviews Curtis Acosta

Nat: Has becoming an important public figure impacted your work?

Curtis Acosta: [Laughing] I don't know if I agree with that--being an "important public figure."

Nat: Well, you are.

Curtis Acosta: Has it impacted my work? The struggle, right? The actual civil rights struggle that we went through at home. Yeah, it has totally impacted my work. Losing the classes obviously impacted my work because I had to figure out what I was going to do next. Some of my colleagues are still in TUSD, even though they're banned from doing what we were able to do in the curriculum, but for me, I knew I wasn't the same value to the students in TUSD that I was for years and I knew that that meant it was time for Xipe Totec, or transformation, for me--so where can I be of the most value?

I'm also finishing my PhD, so that was the original kind of thing, and I couldn't stop the activist part or the wanting to spread this part. So I got really busy trying to visit different spots and seeing if they have some like-mindedness trying to do that work and maybe they find some value in what were doing. I'm on planes a lot and that's different than most teachers, because you're usually in the classroom, you don't have that... well, I don't know if I would call that a privilege, because traveling ain't that sexy.

Nat: Well, you have tremendous energy. I mean, seeing you speak tonight...

Curtis Acosta: Good, because you never know how its going to come off, you know? Especially when you're by yourself doing it, rehearsing in your little cocina, your little kitchen.

But, you know, I was born to teach--I just have a new student, a new student body. And then I'm going to be back home next semester teaching the stories and the stuff that I love again. So, it will balance out, as we build the new institution, it's going to balance out. We just have to find a new path and a new way.

Nat: Do you have any hope that a Mexican-American studies program will be reestablished in the school district?

Curtis Acosta: They have to actually. We asked them two years ago in January 2011, we're like listen, 'you must use the desegregation case'--because our district has been under a thirty-year desegregation order--so, we're like, 'listen, you have to have our classes, and we already have data, we have all this stuff, don't let the rhetoric of these hatemongers,' really. And, you know, it's hard to tell if they're hatemongers or opportunists, because they could've just been tapping into these anti-Latin@, anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant sentiments that engulfed our state for their own political gain.
But, we say, 'you have to have courage, you have a federal court order that trumps state,' because a federal court order trumps state law. And, first we asked, then we begged,  and then we threatened them, to join our effort and, well, they didn't like the last one, but they should've just done it on their own--the school board. Unfortunately, at the time, it was 3-2 against that, and our superintendent--his name was John Pedicone--he was awful when it came to... he had no sense of justice, no sense of courage, no sense. Just political expediency. He was a very arrogant man who thought he could solve it with his charm, because that was what had always worked in the past, and, boy, he learned a lot. He learned about his limitations. And, unfortunately, we were disappeared, but six months later they were forced to bring something back. They were very clear--it was the same superintendent--that it won't be that. And, by 'that,' I mean, us. We were out. Behind closed doors, they were wooing us though. In public, they would say, 'no, it's not going to be Mexican-American studies," but, behind, in private emails, in TUSD, they'd be like, 'hey, can you help us out, we gotta develop a curriculum?' We're like, 'are you kidding me? After what you've done to us, now you're gonna ask?'

So that was troublesome, but since then they have started, they created, they have classes again that are called 'Culturally-Relevant Curriculum', 'CRC' classes that are Latin@ literature and Mexican-American studies that are brand new. And you saw in the talk today, that the actual history classes didn't have any actual Latin@ authors in the curriculum until the media blew it up, and said, 'what are you doing, are you kidding me?' So, we'll see how it grows from there.

Nat: Ok. I'm kinda wavering now between these questions, but I'm gonna go with the one that seems obvious to me.

Curtis Acosta: Yeah.

Nat: Well, I just wanted to say that I'm big fan of Foucault, actually, or, at least, I'm really interested in him, and I'm curious that you're citing him in your forthcoming piece for the journal...

Curtis Acosta:
And I have some great knowledge to drop in this PowerPoint, but it's on my notes. And, as you saw, I had a bunch of technical difficulties. So, no, I was going to bring... because, you know, Foucault talks a lot about confinement, punishment. In fact, I was re-reading it on the plane as I came here to find the quotes I really wanted to use to tie it together, because I wanted to use something different than the stuff I was using in the journal. The talk today was a little bit different than what I wrote about in the piece, but Foucault remains a steadfast voice that I like to go to once and awhile.

Nat: Are there former students that you keep in contact with?

Curtis Acosta: Absolutely, yeah, quite a bit.

Nat: How are they doing now?

Curtis Acosta: It's harder to see them now, because now I'm no longer where all the magic happened. So, I've had to find out kind of a new way to get in touch with them and to stay connected. But, yeah, you know, they've got my phone number and I have theirs. It's just a text message or a e-mail away. The problem is I'm just constantly bouncing between, you know, a plane and then when I come home, it's like Patricia and the boys are like 'what do you need?', you know, and I gotta know that. So once, I get into a groove I need to reconnect with them, but through the struggle, yeah, absolutely. And they're out doing all sorts of different things, you know: some are activists in the community, highly civically engaged; some are just making it work, they're just hanging in there.

A lot of them are parents now and they're horrified at what's going on, because a lot of them matriculated before [the program was shut down]. We survived for six years against all odds, because of the will of our students, the will of our community. Then when the hammer finally fell, they were horrified, because now they're parents and they're like, 'what happened? This was a space that transformed my life!' Because no matter what they're doing, whether they're getting degrees to hang up on the wall, they all have one thing in common: they can read the world. They are critically engaged in the way the world works. You can have like, socio-political discourse and conversation with my former students that you can just jump right into it, doesn't matter what walk of life they're in right now. I mean, not often do we go there, because the first thing I want to know is how they're doing, who they're loving, how their babies are doing if that's the case, and then how their parents are and all that kind of stuff, because we had a real relationship, and always will.

Nat: Last question, if you could give one piece of advice to activists, what would it be?

Curtis Acosta: Listen. You know, I'm asked to talk a lot, but today, here at Western... man, I was asked some tough questions and I got to listen to the context behind those questions and we engaged in some conversations. People were real brave in asking those questions, because it came from a real personal space sometimes, or a real passionate space sometimes. And I want to honor that--I don't want to just dismiss it.

So, that's what I've learned. I've learned that as a teacher that the most powerful thing I can do is listen, because  if I can really listen, then I can craft a real educational experience for that student that is dynamic and engaging and something that's very real to them. That may just change the way they look at the future, so that they can find their own path, whether through scholarship or through activism, or through both together, or through just practicing In Lak Esh. I shouldn't just say In Lak Esh, I mean, that's the most important thing, that there's good human beings that were cultivated and that they made me a better human being, they cultivated that in me. It was reflexive, symbiotic... that's the number one thing, to remember why you're doing the work. That you're not doing the work because your issue matters more than other issues. There's so many issues out there and so many experts out there and I honor them all, and you can honor them best by listening to what they know, where they're from and then start a real conversation that's based in love.

Lorraine Kasprisin and Curtis Acosta

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Curtis Acosta to Speak at Western Washington University October 17th

Woodring College of Education, The Journal of Educational Controversy, and the Center for Education, Equality and Diversity are pleased to announce:

Pedagogies of Resiliency and Hope:
Innovation and Empowerment in Response to the Criminalization of Latin@ Youth

Presentation by Curtis Acosta
Tucson MAS Teacher featured in Precious Knowledge
Thursday, October 17th
AW 204
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

Since the turn of the century, national and state legislation have increased the criminalization of Latin@ youth. Whether it be in the guise of immigration policy, English Only initiatives, or the case of banning Mexican American Studies in Arizona, Latin@s are facing unprecedented scrutiny and surveillance that violate basic human and civil rights. This talk will focus upon the bleak context for Latin@s and other marginalized communities in the United States in the realms of education and the prison industrial complex, while also focusing upon programs and pedagogies that inspire hope, empathy, and love.

About Curtis Acosta:

Curtis Acosta has been a high school teacher for nearly 20 years in Tucson, where he developed and taught Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes for the renowned Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District . The program was outlawed by the state of Arizona sparking a nationwide debate over what population is represented and whose voice is heard in the nation’s public schools.  Curtis is an award-winning educator that has been featured in the documentary Precious Knowledge, and in profiles by CNN, PBS, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He was recently named one of the top 10 Latinos to Watch in the United States by The Huffington Post. Curtis has published articles in The English Journal, Voices in Urban Education, and the book Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education.

Curtis is the founder of the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership; an educational consultation firm committed to help educators create dynamic learning environments, pedagogies and curricula that will inspire every student to thrive. He is also a founding member of the newly established Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing (XITO), which is a sponsored program through Prescott College. XITO strives to support the Xican@/Latin@ community through teacher preparation, social justice pedagogy, and community organizing.  XITO's practices are steeped in Xican@ indigenous epistemology which drives the intentions, structures, and practices of the institute.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Try this Quiz

Our current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy examines the “school to prison pipeline,” with a special section on Washington State. The ACLU of Washington has just published this quiz under the title, “Why are Washington Schools Pushing so many Students Out.” Test your knowledge and then go to the ACLU website for answers and discussion at You might be surprised at some of the answers. Also, view our video of ACLU attorney, Rose Spidell, who discusses these issues in the journal.
1.Girls in Washington are at risk of being kicked out of school because they are pregnant or parenting.
A. True
B. False

2.Pregnant and parenting students have the right to excused absences:

A. for health care or conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth, and to care for a sick child.
B. only for health care or conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.
C. if their child care falls through.

3. Approximately how many Washington students are long-term suspended (more than 10 days) or expelled from school each year?

1. 35,000
2. More than 50,000
3. More than 100,000

4. Students who are suspended or expelled are entitled to a minimal degree of educational support while they are out so that they can keep up with their missed school work.


5. The term "Restorative Discipline" in schools refers to:

A. discipline practice focused on having misbehaving students repair the harm caused by their misconduct.

B. An alternative approach to discipline which seeks to determine the root of a student’s misbehavior so as to prevent similar conduct in the future.

C. A program that dramatically reduces the number of students suspended or expelled each school year.

D. An approach to discipline that reduces absenteeism, drop-out rates, and improves test scores and overall school climate.

E. All of the above.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Personal Reflections on the Influence of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Commencement Address Two Months Before the 1963 March on Washington

I first learned about the March on Washington from Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the commencement speaker at my June 1963 graduation from the College of the City of New York. With the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Washington coming up on August 28th, I have been thinking about that commencement event that occurred just two months before the march and the effect that it was to have on my life. In fact, the events of those years had a profound influence on who I was to become as a person. They shaped my social conscience. They shaped the kind of moral questions that I continue to raise in my life even today. And they shaped the type of choices that I made in my life--- my decision to be a teacher, my decision to study philosophy - seriously and deeply, my decision to try to raise the old Socratic questions about the good life and the just society that Socrates raised 2500 years ago and which Dr. King was to raise later under a different set of circumstances, at a different moment in history, to my generation. Ultimately, it led to the creation of the Journal of Educational Controversy and this blog.

In 1991, I was asked to deliver my own commencement address at Western Washington University as that year’s recipient of the university’s teaching award. The address gave me an opportunity to think about the nature of such speeches and their purpose. I decided to take a different approach from the traditional ones that are delivered at most commencements. Rather than viewing my own commencement address as an event in time and space - a talk given on the morning of December 14, 1991 in a small university town, I chose to treat it as a conversation that occurs through time - from Dr. King's words to me at my graduation - filtered through my life's experiences over the years – then to the young audience of new graduates as they embarked on their own journey and continued the conversation with their own generation. It was in a sense a conversation from one generation to the next about the questions that are central to why we educate - questions about the kind of persons we become - and ultimately, questions about the kind of community we create. It is a conversation, I might add, that is sadly lacking in the public debate of our time. One has only to listen to the media each night to see how far we are from a true conversation on these questions.

I remember first talking about the nature of an authentic conversation and ways that it differs from the many false versions of it, for example, political conversations that have been increasingly reduced to a manipulation of the voter through effective 90 second sound-bites over the airwaves where issues become mere vehicles for projecting images rather than the source of concerned social debate. I remember talking about the way conversations about public education in this country have become increasingly articulated in a language in which impersonal, technical thinking dominates -- generating an educational ethos in which ethics as a category of discussion is largely suppressed. The liberal language of social action and social critique has been more and more reduced to a language of social control. But even those conversations which seem to affirm human agency and assert liberal values become emptied of their content when they are used inauthentically. The same words that can be used in a genuine, meaningful public debate can also be used to silence. Earlier in this century, the American philosopher and educator, John Dewey expressed this concern when he wrote:

Even when the words remain the same they mean something very different when they are uttered by a minority struggling against repressive measures and when expressed by a group that, having attained power, then uses ideas that were once weapons of emancipation as instruments for keeping the power and wealth it has obtained. Ideas that at one time are means of producing social change assume another guise when they are used as a means of preventing further social change.1

I pondered with my young audience about the nature of a more authentic conversation. For one thing, a conversation is not something that can be received or transmitted from one person to another; it has to be entered into; it has to be engaged in. Furthermore, it establishes a certain kind of relationship between us and the other - a relationship in which both remain as subjects and neither are objectified and dehumanized by being made into an object for the other. Essentially, there are two features I distinguished:

First, to enter into a true conversation requires us to really hear the other. We often listen but we seldom really hear. To understand the world of the other, whether the other is in the present or in the past, is to understand the ways the other has come to give meaning to our common experience, to understand the categories and concepts that shape its sense of social reality. It means to see the other, as much as is possible, from the inside - from a different reference point from our own. As the philosopher, Cora Diamond describes it, "Coming to understand a conceptual life other than our own involves exercise of concepts belonging to that life. When I understand what you say, I am using concepts internal to your thought."2 It is to appreciate what it means for persons or cultures to have such concepts as live notions governing their being in the world.

For example, only now are many of us beginning to comprehend our fragile relationship with our planet as the ozone slowly depletes and our rivers and lakes pollute. Our 19th century optimism about progress, science and technology, our dominion over the earth left us with a language and a conceptual framework that blocked us from seeing another way of relating to the earth. But ironically, it is a way that Jamake Highwater, of the Blackfeet Nation, talks about in his book, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America.3 When one enters into his world, words like "wilderness" take on a whole different meaning. Indeed, Highwater talks about the alienation he felt in seeing the way certain ideas he had grown up with found their way into English words. When thinking about what is implied by our word, "wilderness," he writes, "After all, the forest is not 'wild' in the sense that it is something needing to be tamed or controlled and harnessed. For Blackfeet Indians, the forest is the natural state of the world. It is the cities that are wild and seem to need 'taming.' For most primal peoples the earth is so marvelous that the connotation of it requires it to be spelled in English with a capital 'E.' How perplexing it is to discover two English synonyms for Earth - 'soil' and 'dirt' - used to describe uncleanliness, soiled and dirty. And how upsetting it is to discover that the word 'dirty' in English is also used to depict obscenities!"4 What does it mean to see the world with the conceptual framework governing Jamake Highwater's vision of the world? By entering Highwater's world, I see a different way of relating to the earth - a relationship characterized by awe and respect rather than ownership and exploitation. In a film featuring Jamake Highwater, he talked about taking his mother to New York City for her first visit and he showed her all the usual landmarks including the famous Central Park. Central Park is like a little oasis in the center of Manhattan with all the huge skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of the city surrounding it. When he asked his mother what her impressions were, she thought for a moment and then said, "I see they even put their trees on a reservation." In all the years that I lived in New York, I had never really thought of it that way.

But an authentic conversation requires more than entering into the world of the other for I could simply use that new understanding to exploit the other, or perhaps, more benignly, to simply bring the other within my own framework of understanding rather than expanding my understanding to include the other. I'd like to suggest that to enter into a true conversation, I must be willing to allow the understanding that I gain from that encounter to question my own conventional and habitual ways of seeing - to expand the horizon of my understanding by rendering aspects of my own world problematic as a result of that encounter.

In a very real sense a true conversation allows us to see ourselves for the first time. We are all born into a world that acculturates and socializes us into certain ways of seeing. Indeed, even the language we learn contains within it the structures and categories that give meaning to our experience. Our culture provides us with the lens - or the pair of glasses - that we use to make the world intelligible to us. But that same pair of glasses can also trap us from seeing the world in other ways. It becomes our frame of reference and begins to be taken for granted to the point that its control over our perceptions of the world is no longer seen. It becomes what we see with but cannot see through. In fact, it begins to be experienced as natural, as part of the natural scheme of things, rather than as a human and social construct. In an authentic conversation with the other, the hidden assumptions and cultural categories that have been largely taken for granted can suddenly be brought to the surface and revealed to our consciousness as only one of many possibilities. It can reveal ourselves to ourselves, but unfortunately, this self-revelation is not always comfortable as any proponent in a Socratic dialogue was soon to find out.

In fact, history has shown different responses that we make to conversations that begin to strip the fabric of the selves that we have created, that begin to question the certainties that we have lived by, that begin to make our conventional ways of seeing no longer tenable for us. One response is to go into denial - to deny the truths that are slowly coming to the surface of our consciousness - to deny that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Another response is to withdraw -- to retreat from the conversation completely. A third response, and one that unfortunately happens with too great a frequency, is to become defensive and to attack the other. But a fourth response is possible also, if we have the courage, if we have the concern, if we have the wisdom. There is the possibility for us and the other to reconstruct and reconstitute a new social reality which encompasses our new understanding and provides the conditions for a more ethical and humane existence. Indeed, the philosopher, John Dewey equated education itself with a continuous reconstruction and reorganization of our social experience - a reconstruction of the conditions of our lives.5

In many ways, the notion of a conversation can be a very powerful metaphor for the process of education itself. For education is an invitation into the conversation of life. It is something that cannot be merely received; it must be entered into; it must be engaged in; often it must be reclaimed, especially, those voices that have been neglected and silenced in the past. It is a conversation not merely about making a living, but a conversation about the kinds of lives that are worth living and the kinds of society that can make those lives possible.

Unfortunately, education can only invite us into the conversation; it cannot guarantee that we accept the invitation. Too often we can go through the motions of life without really engaging in it. We can easily begin to see our education, for example, as an accumulation of university credits without ever asking ourselves what we are becoming as result of our education - what we are allowing ourselves to be influenced by. Even in the darkest moments of our own history, too many people and too many institutions remained silent when they should not have. Even universities offered little moral resistance to the barbarism that engulfed much of our world in the last century. I remember a haunting passage in George Steiner's book. Language and Silence.6 Unlike writers like Matthew Arnold who could assert confidently that our education, especially our education in the literary and philosophical traditions, could humanize us, Steiner was less convinced as he recalled how easily people educated in what he called the "culture of traditional humanism" could read the poetry of Goethe and Rilke the night before they sent others to their deaths in gas chambers.

That was the conversation that Dr. King had with my generation as he struggled with the injustices and the inhumanity of his time and called upon us to face the moral blindness of our age and to fulfill this nation's dream of social justice. It left me with the questions that I shared with this new generation on that commencement day. I asked them to think about what our education demands of us? Is it enough to have some knowledge of society but not feel its injustices? To know some science but not care about the uses to which it is put? To become technically proficient and yet be blinded to the moral context in which our technical expertise will affect the lives of people? To understand something about economics but not care that huge numbers of our children are now living in poverty in this country? What is our responsibility in continuing the conversation? What is our responsibility in awakening others to these questions? What is our responsibility in making the institutions we enter more responsive to human needs? What is our responsibility in elevating the public debate in this country by raising the quality of its arguments and deepening an understanding of its moral significance?

I told my young audience that morning that it was their conversation now --- if they chose to enter into it -- if they chose to engage in it. I wished them well on their journey and on the choices they would make in their lives.

One of the unknown consequences of our words as teachers is to never really know whom we reach. I do know how I was reached that day in 1963 when I heard the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. at my own commencement. This journal and its blog are a testimony to that witness.

1. John Dewey, "The Future of Liberalism," in The Collected Works. Later Works. 1934, pp. 255-277.

2. Cora Diamond, "Losing Your Concepts," Ethics 98 (January 1988): 276.

3. Jamake Highwater, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

4. Ibid., p. 5.

5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: The Free Press, 1966).

6. George Steiner. Language and Silence: Essavs on Language. Literature and the Inhuman (New York: Atheneum, 1972).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thank you readers for your ideas with request for further ideas

In an earlier post, I asked our readers to e-mail ideas for future issues.  I wanted to thank all those who responded. 

I'd like to get your ideas on variations of a topic that we are considering.  The idea came from a seminar sponsored by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.  The paper is entitled: "Cosmopolitanism Discarded: Martha Nussbaum’s Patriotic Education and the Inward/Outward Distinction," by Marianna Papastephanou (University of Cyprus) presented at the Institute of Education in London on June 19th.

Here is an abstract of the paper:

In her famous text ‘Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism’ (1994), Martha Nussbaum deployed her arguments for a cosmopolitan education in ways that evoked a tension between cosmopolitanism and patriotism. Among others, Charles Taylor considered her treatment of patriotism vague and lopsided, and pointed out that patriotism is not as secondary or as dispensable as Nussbaum seemed to imply. Some years after the initial airing of her views, Nussbaum gradually reconsidered the notion of patriotism in texts that remained largely unknown and rarely discussed. In this seminar, I begin with a brief account: of her shift from cosmopolitanism to what she terms ‘a globally sensitive patriotism’; and of the task assigned to education within this framework. Then I discuss Nussbaum’s relevant articles and especially the examples she employs to illustrate the principles she proposes for teaching patriotism. I argue that the conception of patriotism that emerges in her later texts reflects broader preoccupations concerning patriotism in liberal and communitarian political philosophy/education. Such conceptualizations and preoccupations overlook what can be termed ‘an outward aspect of patriotism’. In light of this critique, I attempt to formulate an account of patriotism that may be in line (rather than in tension) with cosmopolitanism and quite different from current liberal or communitarian patriotic accounts.

There are many possible issues to be explored here and we would appreciate ideas from our readers on the different controversies that would make a good discussion for a future issue of the journal.

You can e-mail your ideas to

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Call for Papers for the Journal of Educational Controversy

We invite authors to contribute to our Volume 9 Number 1 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme: "Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children: Envisioning Alternative Models."  This issue will once again be co-edited with Susan Donnelly, who was guest editor for our issue on "The Education and Schools our Children Deserve."


THEME: Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children: Envisioning Alternative Models


Martin Seligman, founder of the field of positive psychology, has said that, “Modern psychology has been co-opted by the disease model. We've become too preoccupied with repairing damage when our focus should be on building strength and resilience, especially in children.” Is this also true of modern education? Political and pedagogical responses, from the “War on Poverty” through “No Child Left Behind” to address the educational gaps in academic achievement of historically marginalized and neglected groups (the poor, minorities and children with disabilities), were often deeply rooted in a language of cultural deprivation and special needs. Has this deficit model begun to surreptitiously creep into our educational discourse for all children? Have we become too focused on needs and deficiencies and forgotten that children also have capacities and strengths? Does the current emphasis on accountability and standardized testing contribute to the pathologizing of children? We invite authors to respond critically to this argument, envision alternative models, examine historical causes and precedents, analyze political and social ramifications, and share real life stories on the influence these ways of thinking have on the classroom and on the learning as experienced by students.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Where is Curtis Acosta Now?

Editor:  We have been following the events on the banning of the Mexican-American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona both in this blog as well as in our journal.  One of the key players is Curtis Acosta, a teacher of the curriculum when it flourished in the school district and a participant in the federal court case that may determine its future.   Curtis will be a keynote speaker at the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference on October 19, 2013 in Seattle.  He will be visiting Western Washington University at that time to give a talk and to appear on our new, upcoming television program (more about that later).  We will have a special section on the events in the Tucson Unified School District in our next issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the topic: "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?"  We will include an article by Curtis along with an interview with the director of Precious Knowledge, a film in which Curtis' teaching is featured.  The director, Ari Palos, has also given us permission to insert a section of the film in the journal.  Below are the latest happenings in Curtis' life that he shared on the Education Liberation Listserv.

From Curtis Acosto to his Friends and Supporters 

As many of you may have heard, I have decided to take a leave of absence from Tucson Unified School District. It was with a heavy heart that I made this decision but in order to maintain the integrity of my work with youth it could no longer be in a district that banned my curriculum, pedagogy, and boxed our books. For more details, I invite you to read my open letter on the Rethinking Schools blog.

For the foreseeable future, I will continue teaching Chican@ Literature to high school students for college credit, as well as completing my dissertation at the University of Arizona.

I have also started my own education consultation firm, the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, where I hope my years in the classroom can be of service to teachers, schools, districts, and educational organizations throughout the country.

In the meantime, I cannot wait to see everyone in Chicago at Free Minds, Free People July 11-14. I am excited for Radical PD this year since we have an amazing collection of teachers and youth lined up, as well as our first Ethnic Studies National Assembly on Sunday the 14th.

The fire for educational justice burns as bright as ever in Tucson thanks to the amazing national support we received from you all, and the unbreakable resolve of this community. Mil gracias!

In Lak Ech,

Curtis Acosta
Watch a press conference with Curtis Acosta on You Tube.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

An Open Question to our Readers: What Controversies Should We Examine in Future Issues

As we prepare for our next issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, I thought it might be important to get some feedback from our readers on the controversies that they would like to see examined in the journal.  This is an open request for your ideas.  You can comment on the blog, or send an e-mail to

We are also looking for new reviewers for our manuscripts.  If you are interested, e-mail a vita with your areas of expertise and interests to

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Now Up on YouTube: Our 15th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum

For those who could not attend our 15th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum on the “School-to-Prison Pipeline and School-to-Deportation Pipeline,” we have now put the forum up on YouTube.

Here is a direct link: