Sunday, March 28, 2010

Schooling as if Democracy Matters

The focus of our Winter 2008 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy was on the topic, “Schooling as if Democracy Matters.” In that issue, we raised the question about the ways we should teach the young about the foundations of our democracy and our collective identity in an age of the patriot act, NSA surveillance, extraordinary rendition, preemptive wars, enemy combatants -- all likely to involve violations of civil rights and liberties and a curtain of government secrecy? We asked, what story do we tell our young about who we are, who we have been, and who we are becoming?

I’d like to raise this same question in light of today’s events. In an interesting NY Times op-ed article, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” Frank Rich talks about some of the underlying reasons for the rise in rage, venomous rhetoric, violence, and anxieties in today’s demonstrations against the recently adopted health care bill. Comparing the bill’s passage to earlier bills that shook the country – the Medicare Act of 1965 and the Social Security Act of 1935, Rich describes the rhetoric and the upheavals that these bills also caused. But the bill that comes closest to the type of vitriolic criticism that today’s bill is evoking, Rich argues, is the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

This may sound like a strange claim given that the present Health Care bill actually contains many of the recommendations of the Republican Party, falling far short of the single payer system or public option plan that more liberal proponents advocated. Rather than a “government takeover,” it extends the free market’s involvement in health care. While there are legitimate arguments over health care entitlement, the type of reaction we are experiencing seems to be disproportionate. Rich argues that the health care bill is just a spark that is galvanizing anxieties at a deeper level.

He offers the following explanation for today’s rising tide of rage:

"The health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

"In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

"If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

"They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded."
(The New York Times, March 27, 2010)

Both the 1964 and 2010 bills have become the catalyst for shaking the nation’s core understanding of itself. Rich notes the silence resulting from the lack of leadership among today's political leaders, who often tend to exploit the anxieties and fears instead. And this leaves us with the question with which I began this post. What is the responsibility of our teachers and public intellectuals for addressing these deeper issues in the classrooms and in the public square. We hope to address these more profound questions in our summer 2011 issue of the journal on “The Education our Children Deserve.”

(cross-posted on Social Issues blog)

Monday, March 22, 2010

David Saxe, litigant in Saxe v. State College Area School District, tells his own story

We have added a new article to our rejoinder section of the Journal of Educational Controversy. In the first issue of our journal, we focused on a controversy that emerged from the court case, Saxe v. State College Area School District, that was decided by Judge Samuel Alito before he was appointed to the US Supreme Court. The case reflects the tension between two values – liberty and equality – that both form the bedrock of our liberal democracy.

David Saxe, the litigant in the case, has decided to end his silence of ten years and tell his own story. Saxe argues that the characterization of his motives as “homophobic” or “religious fanaticism” was unfounded. On the contrary, he argues that he was actually defending the first amendment of the US constitution. You can find his article in our Rejoinder Section or go directly to:

Union next to our liberty most dear: Anatomy of Saxe v State College Area School District and Constance Martin, Righting Wrongs in the Sea of Rights

Judge Alito had found that the anti-harassment policy that David Saxe challenged was too vague and couldn’t pass constitutional muster. How might an anti-harassment policy be written that would be found constitutional?

We invite readers to add their thoughts with a formal rejoinder or a more spontaneous comment on our blog.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Historians Speak Out Against Proposed Texas Textbook Changes

Historians speak out against proposed Texas textbook changes
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010

Historians on Tuesday criticized proposed revisions to the Texas social studies curriculum, saying that many of the changes are historically inaccurate and that they would affect textbooks and classrooms far beyond the state's borders.
The changes, which were preliminarily approved last week by the Texas board of education and are expected to be given final approval in May, will reach deeply into Texas history classrooms, defining what textbooks must include and what teachers must cover. The curriculum plays down the role of Thomas Jefferson among the founding fathers, questions the separation of church and state, and claims that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Communists during the Cold War.

To read the entire article go to: Washington Post

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change

Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change
New York Times
Published: March 12, 2010

AUSTIN, Tex. — After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

To read the entire article, go to: New York Times

The 2011 summer issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will engage readers in a conversation on "The Education Our Children Deserve." The Times article reports that "there were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings" of the board. It is time for public intellectuals, scholars, and teachers to join parents, community leaders and the general public in a conversation about the public purposes of our schools in a democratic society. We encourage a wide-range of voices to enter the dialogue and to submit manuscripts.

Go to our "call for submissions" for more information.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A New Voice Enters the EcoJustice Debate

We announced below a lively debate taking place in our Rejoinder Section of the journal on the appropriateness of "crisis language" in engaging people in the conversation over sustainability and ecology.

Check out our most recent voice in the debate. See Don Burgess's article,
"Rethinking Eco-justice Within a Biophilic Framework: A Rejoinder," in the Rejoinder Section.

There are serious implications here for the way we introduce the young into the questions about our planet and our place in the web of life.

Join the debate.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Washington State Legislature passes two bills on Civil Rights in Schools and Anti-bullying

The Washington State Legislature has passed two bills that will be of interest to readers concerned with the rights and protections of our students. We would be interested in learning about actions taking place in other states.

The Safe Schools Coalition has provided the following analysis of the bills and has permitted us to post it to our blog for our readers.

The bills are:
(1) HB 3026 -- civil rights in schools
(2) HB 2801 -- bullying bill

(1) HB 3026 -- civil rights in schools

From the Safe Schools Coalition’s Law & Policy Work Group Co-Chairs Jennifer Allen and Lonnie Johns-Brown:

Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 3026 was passed by the Senate as the very last bill before the cut-off. Both of the harmful amendments to the bill were defeated, and the bill passed on a vote of 30-18.

Thank you Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos for serving as the bill's prime sponsor and providing leadership and thank you to the communities of color that have championed the bill from its birth.


Since 2006, Washington State law has prohibited discrimination in employment (which applies to teachers) and public accommodations (which applies to students) on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, and HIV status (as well as race, creed, religion, color, national origin, honorably discharged veteran or military status, and disability). Individuals could file discrimination complaints with the Washington State Human Rights Commission. But there was no state agency with authority, short of a specific claim of discrimination, to monitor or enforce the law.

HB 3026: What it does

In a nutshell, it gives the law teeth with respect to schools.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 3026 will establish a new chapter in the Common School Code of Washington State that prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, religion, color, national origin, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation including gender expression or identity, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. The bill will authorize the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to make rules and regulations to eliminate discrimination and – this is the crucial piece -- to monitor local school district compliance with the anti-discrimination policies.

Under current law, the protected classes identified in E2SHB 3026 are required to file complaints with the Washington State Human Rights Commission or file a civil suit in order to seek relief from actual or perceived discrimination. This legislation will enable the OSPI to help preclude litigation against school districts through compliance monitoring and dispute resolution.

What needs to happen next

The bill's costs need to be included in the budget … still being negotiated.


(2) HB 2801 -- bullying bill

Thank you to Equal Rights Washington for this summary:

It’s a victory for everyone in Washington State, especially students, and a milestone in how far society has come in their understanding of LGBT Washingtonians.

Yesterday the Washington State Senate passed HB 2801, An act relating to anti-harassment strategies in public schools. What made this vote so impressive was that it was 48-0 in the State Senate. Earlier in the session the bill passed the State House 97-0.


In 2002 the Washington State legislature passed an anti-bullying law. At the time the bill that was meant to protect ALL students from bullying was controversial because it included sexual orientation. The anti-bullying law required schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy that covered, at a minimum, all the classes contained in Washington State’s hate crimes law and this included sexual orientation. In 2009 the definition of sexual orientation was amended to include gender identity and expression.

In 2007 the scope of the anti-bullying law was expanded to include electronic acts, and the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) was directed to develop a model policy and sample materials prohibiting acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying conducted via electronic means by a student while on school grounds and during the school day.

Meanwhile, the legislature commissioned a report to study the effectiveness of the State’s anti-bullying law. The Report was released in late 2008 and found that bullying in Washington Schools had not diminished. New legislation was needed.

You can read the full report here:

Representative Marko Liias who serves on the education committee immediately responded to the report and introduced legislation in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions. Among the challenges facing the legislature was how to address the persistent problem of bullying in the context of the economic crisis. HB 2801 is an important step in reducing bullying in our schools and reflects the legislature’s ability to address important issues even during the economic downturn.

HB 2801: What it does

The new law begins with an assessment of the current situation and a strong desire to improve the situation.

“The legislature finds that despite a recognized law prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students in public schools and despite widespread adoption of antiharassment policies by school districts, harassment of students continues and has not declined since the law was enacted. Furthermore, students and parents continue to seek assistance against harassment, and schools need to disseminate more widely their antiharassment policies and procedures. The legislature intends to expand the tools, information, and strategies that can be used to combat harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students, and increase awareness of the need for respectful learning communities in all public schools.”

The law that will now go to Governor Gregoire to be signed into law includes the following provisions:

• By august 1, 2011 each school district must adopt or amend its anti-harassment policy and procedures to at a minimum incorporate the revised model policy that will be drafted by the superintendent of public instruction, in consultation with representatives of parents, school personnel, the office of the education ombudsman, the Washington state school directors' association, and other interested parties.

• Each school district shall designate one person in the district as the primary contact regarding the antiharassment, intimidation, or bullying policy. The primary contact shall receive copies of all formal and informal complaints, have responsibility for assuring the implementation of the policy and procedure, and serve as primary contact on the policy and procedures between the school district, the office of the education ombudsman, and the office of the superintendent of public instruction.

• The superintendent of public instruction shall publish on its web site, with a link to the safety center web page, the revised and updated model harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention policy and procedure, along with training and instructional materials on the components that shall be included in any district policy and procedure.

• The superintendent shall adopt rules regarding school districts' communication of the policy and procedure to parents, students, employees, and volunteers.

• Each school district shall by August 15, 2011, provide to the superintendent of public instruction a brief summary of its policies, procedures, programs, partnerships, vendors, and instructional and training materials to be posted on the school safety center web site, and shall also provide the superintendent with a link to the school district's web site for further information. The district's primary contact for bullying and harassment issues shall annually by August 15th verify posted information and links and notify the school safety center of any updates or changes.

• The office of the education ombudsman shall serve as the lead agency to provide resources and tools to parents and families about public school antiharassment policies and strategies."

To be certain much work remains to be done to combat bullying in Washington Public Schools but HB 2801 is an important step forward. A key finding of the 2008 report was that anti-bullying programs need to be funded. When the economic crisis lessens we will need to return to address the budgetary needs of anti-bullying programs. Happily Washington State has a strong Safe Schools Coalition that will continue to work with the legislature to make sure that Washington State Law reflects best practices in combating bullying in schools. The Safe Schools Coalition website is an important resource for Parents, Educators and students alike.

Today let us celebrate the leadership of Representative Marko Liias who championed this legislation, the commitment of the legislature to ensuring that every student enjoys a safe learning environment and the ongoing work of the Safe Schools Coalition.

Joshua A. Friedes
Advocacy Director
Equal Rights Washington

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Is the Language of an Ecological Crisis Appropriate: Join the Debate

In our winter 2009 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, we published an article by C.A. Bowers entitled, Rethinking Social Justice Issues Within an Eco-Justice Conceptual and Moral Framework.

We are now running a lively debate over the ideas in this article in our Rejoinder Section of the journal. Check it out and join the debate with a formal rejoinder to the journal or on this blog.

Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 2009: The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: Rethinking Poverty and Education

REJOINDERS to C.A. Bowers, Rethinking Social Justice Issues Within an Eco-Justice Conceptual and Moral Framework

A Moral Vulnerability for Chet Bowers and Other EcoJustice Educators: A Rejoinder
Michael P. Mueller
University of Georgia

Response to Professor Mueller’s Critique
by C. A. Bowers

A Reply to Professor Bowers - How Chet Bowers’ Writings Contribute to A Moral Vulnerability for EcoJustice
by Michael P. Mueller
Also take a look at Chet Bowers' critique of Bill Ayers' book on Social Justice Education below.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Call for Papers" for Volume 6 Number 1: The Education Our Children Deserve

The Journal of Educational Controversy announces a new "Call for Papers" for Volume 6 Number 1, Summer 2011.


We invite authors to respond to the following controversy:

The politicizing of education at the national level has centered on issues of standards, accountability, global competitiveness, national economic growth, low student achievement on worldwide norms, and federally mandated uniformity. There has been little discussion of the public purposes of our schools or what kind of education is necessary for an individual’s development and search for a meaningful life. There is a paucity of ideas being discussed at the national level around topics such as: how school practices can be aligned with democratic principles of equity and justice; how school practices can promote the flourishing of individual development as well as academic achievement; what skills and understandings are needed for citizens to play a transformative role in their society. Without conversation at this deeper level about the fundamental purposes of education, we cannot develop a comprehensive vision of the kinds of schools our children deserve. We invite authors to contribute their conceptions of the kind of education our children deserve and/or the kinds of schools that serve the needs of individuals and of a democratic society.

Please see the website of the Journal of Educational Controversy for guidelines on submitting manuscripts.

Deadline for manuscripts: December 31, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March 4 - National Day of Action to Defend Public Education

One of the purposes of our blog and our journal is to provide a forum for a rigorous debate that represents all voices. Here is a link that announces an event that a growing number of local, regional and statewide groups are sponsoring. It reflects many grassroot voices. Go to: Defend Education Website.