Journal of Educational Controversy


Monday, December 1, 2014

In Memory: John Goodlad 1920-2014

It is with sadness that I share with our readers the passing of educator and philosopher John Goodlad. Our journal had a very special relationship with Dr. Goodlad. Our association with a local progressive school as part of a team that participated in Dr. Goodlad’s National League of Democratic Schools enabled us not only to write about democratic educational theory but to see it in action. The head of that school, Susan Donnelly, created her school as a laboratory for democratic practices. And teachers in that school like Vale Hartley shared real life democratic experiences by writing about them in our journal. See “The Elementary Classroom: A Key Dimension of a Child's Democratic World.” They are both the legacy that John left. They shared his passion for democratic education and worked to realize his vision in the reality of their school.

John’s purpose in forming the League of Democratic Schools was to bring together those committed to the ideal of democratic renewal to regional conferences where they could share their many experiments in democratic living as well as find fellowship and support with others who shared the same vision.

Our journal’s winter 2010 issue was dedicated to John Goodlad’s lifetime work in helping us to think about the kind of education that is required to sustain a vital democracy. In his prologue to the issue that he titled, “An Agenda for Education in a Democracy,” he shared his deepening concern that public schooling was increasingly betraying its commitment to any democratic public purpose. “Whatever happened to the educational system,” he wrote, “that was once regarded as the source of our enlightenment and the bastion of our security?” John’s prolific writings were a clarion call for reclaiming a democratic public purpose for our schools against the assault by what he called “the god of economic utility.” The League of Democratic Schools was the active arm to his life of research and writing.

And so it remains an unfinished project. But his legacy will be in all those who believe we must educate “as if democracy really mattered.” John asked us to continue to think about what it means to really create a public that is capable of sustaining a vital democracy. We at the journal hope we can continue his conversation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Author Curt Dudley-Marling Continues the Conversation on Deficit Thinking and the Pathologizing of Children, their Parents, and their Community

Author Curt Dudley-Marling’s article, “Return of the Deficit,” published in Volume 2 Issue 1 of the Journal of Educational Controversy, has been one of the most read and quoted of all the articles we have published. In his post below, he responds to our earlier post by Paul Thomas who talks about the ways we blame poor parents for their children’s limited vocabulary. Dudley-Marling comments on the hostile response that Thomas’ article received by readers of the Washington Post. His post below highlights a concern that we have had for a long time at this journal. Our aim in publishing the Journal of Educational Controversy has been to bring scholars as public intellectuals into conversation with the general public, policymakers and legislators. Unfortunately, as Dudley-Marling points out, the most promising and insightful scholarship is typically ignored in the political discussions that influence our policies, laws and practices. Professor Dudley-Marling has one suggestion on how to turn this around. Perhaps our readers have other thoughts.

Reflections from Author Curt Dudley-Marling

I recently retired from 33 years in academia. This life change has given me reason to reflect on my contributions to the field of education. I’d like to think that, at its heart, my scholarly writing stands as a critique of deficit thinking that pathologizes individual students, their families, their language, culture and communities. More seriously, deficit thinking is used as justification for providing students in high-poverty schools – as well as students with disabilities – with curriculum focused on low-level skills, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. This partly explains the so-called achievement gap in which poor children underachieve relative to their more affluent peers. Children in poverty achieve less because they are taught less. Of course, the academic performance of children in poverty is also seriously affected by the material effects of poverty (i.e., poor nutrition and medical care, high exposure to environmental toxins, higher risk of violence and on an on). I summarize most of these arguments in a piece I wrote for this journal in 2007, “The return of the deficit,” in which I use Hart and Risley’s (1995) research on the vocabulary of children living in poverty and Ruby Payne’s “culture of poverty” as illustrations of the pernicious effects of deficit thinking.

There are many other critical educators who have taken aim at deficit thinking. Richard Valencia at the University of Texas, for example, has written extensively on the ills of deficit thinking. A recent critique of deficit thinking by Paul Thomas, "Stop blaming poor parents for their children’s limited vocabulary,” was recently reprinted on the Journal of Educational Controversy blog. Thomas’s piece was originally posted in the Washington Post and the reader responses to Thomas’s piece highlight a painful realization for me. Critics of deficit thinking are widely cited by like-minded scholars but have had little impact on the deficit thinking that is deeply ingrained in popular discourses, a point driven home by the generally hostile responses to Paul Thomas’s piece in the Washington Post. Despite numerous critiques, Hart and Risley’s deficit model of poor children’s vocabulary has been extraordinarily influential cited over 1400 times in scholarly journals. Similarly, fierce critiques of Ruby Payne’s work have done little to diminish the popularity of her program. Deficit thinking is also at the heart of both conservative and liberal programs aimed at “fixing” the problem of poverty. Scholarly arguments have generally been ineffective at stemming the tide of deficit thinking.

I have not lost hope, however, in efforts to counter deficit thinking. I’ve just come to doubt the efficacy of scholarly critiques. A more promising approach has emerged from work I’ve done with Sarah Michaels from Clark University that illustrates the intellectual and linguistic competence of students in high-poverty when challenged to participate in high level, evidence-based discussions of challenging texts. Video recordings and analyses of these discussions have been effective at persuading groups of teachers of the competence of students in high-poverty schools. This experience inspired us to put together an edited collection of illustrations of the effects of what we call high-expectation curriculum in an edited text (High-expectation curricula: Helping all students succeed with powerful learning) published by Teachers College Press. The enduring lesson here is that we can more effectively counter deficit thinking by showing students’ competence when they are engaged in thoughtful, engaging curricula rather than merely telling about the problems of deficit thinking through scholarly critiques.


Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Payne, R.K. (2005). A framework for understanding poverty (4th ed.). Highlands, TX: Aha! Process, Inc.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Author Paul Thomas says: "Stop blaming poor parents for their children’s limited vocabulary"

Author Paul Thomas is well-known to our readers. He has written two earlier articles for the journal as well as a book review.

"Universal Public Education—Our (Contradictory) Missions" Vol. 6 No. 1

"Of Rocks and Hard Places—The Challenge of Maxine Greene’s Mystification in Teacher Education" Vol. 5 No. 1

Review: Police in the Hallways: Confronting the “Culture of Control” Vol. 7 No. 1

In this morning's Washington Post, Professor Thomas published an article entitled: "Stop Blaming poor parents for their children's limited vocabulary: Blaming parents for the language gap in early childhood overlooks one important point."

The article was originally published on The Conversation, that uses a Creative Commons license to republish their articles for free, online or in print. Because we believe the article has relevance to our upcoming issue on the pathologizing of children, we are reprinting Professor Thomas' article below for our readers also.

Stop Blaming Poor Parents for their Children's Limited Vocabulary

Blaming parents for the language gap in early childhood overlooks one important point

While the reading wars in education have raged for decades, most people agree that literacy is crucial for children and that the path to strong reading and writing skills begin in the home. But focusing on poor children’s parents may actually be the real problem when trying to increase their success in school.

In a recent article in the New York Times, journalist Douglas Quenqua looked back 20 years to a “landmark education study which found that by the age of three, children from low-income families have heard 30m fewer words than more affluent children, putting them at an educational disadvantage before they even began school.” He detailed new research by Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple University, challenging the importance of the quantity of words a child hears and emphasising the quality of language in each child’s home.

That “landmark study” refers to a 1995 study by American psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley. They concluded that the key to children’s language development is quantity of words they hear. And that an important way to evaluate early years child care is the amount of talk actually going on between children and their caregivers.

What the New York Times article fails to mention is that in 2009, education researchers Curt Dudley-Marling and Krista Lucas discredited Hart and Risley’s claims as being biased in favour of middle- and upper-class children. They showed that the study’s research design, limited population studied and biases reflected assumptions about the impoverished. Thus, Dudley-Marling and Lucas argued that Hart and Risley’s claims should not be generalised to the whole population.

Also absent in these debates is the recognition that whether we identify quality or quantity of vocabulary, we remain trapped in a “deficit perspective” of language. Deficit perspectives are those that identify a person or a condition by what is missing – in this case, parents talking to their children in a certain way. That deficit often reflects biases and stereotypes.

Blame the poor

Hirsh-Pasek’s claims about the quality of words children hear complicate a simplified view of language as merely how many words a child knows. But the broader discussion remains trapped in a perspective of blaming impoverished children’s parents.

Ultimately, a shift in focus from the quantity of words a child hears to the quality of those words does not usher in a step-change in policy. This is because the myth persists that the flaws of impoverished parents are passed to their children – and so the impoverished continue to be blamed for their poverty. The deficit must be filled: first it was more words, now it is higher-quality words.

Neither approach turns our attention away from the victims of poverty and toward the social conditions creating it. This results in differences in language among social classes – often related to grammar or vocabulary – that reflect not failed people but an inequitable society.

Such debates simply allow cultural stereotypes to determine what research matters publicly and politically – and how. Whether we argue that impoverished parents fail to share the same number or quality of words with their children when compared to middle-class or affluent parents, we are still blaming those parents and not the social inequity driving poverty.

Giving children more or higher quality vocabulary teaching without addressing the roots of social and educational inequity exposes that simply embracing ongoing research is not enough in education. Without first setting aside our cultural biases, research fails us and our students.

What messages get through

In a recent article on The Conversation, Dennis Hayes lamented that a study in the UK shows education often fails to link practice to research. Back in 1947, American educator and former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, Lou LaBrant expressed a similar concern about the “considerable gap between the research … and the utilisation of that research in school programs and methods.”. This lack of research-driven practice in the classroom spans decades and stretches across national borders.

Further complicating this failure is distortion by media who disproportionately cover think-tank press reports (often not peer-reviewed) compared to more rigorous university-based research.
Psychology professor at Florida State University, K. Anders Ericsson has confronted this problem since journalist Malcolm Gladwell has misrepresented his research and made popular the misleading 10,000 hour rule – that greatness only comes by a defined amount of lengthy practice.

Ericsson has called for not allowing research to remain primarily in the hands of journalists: “At the very least [media coverage of research] should not contain factually incorrect statements and avoid reinforcing existing misconceptions in the popular media.”

As the ongoing concern for the literacy of impoverished children shows, research can be the problem and not the solution, if we view that research through the lens of stereotypes and assumptions.

Yes, we need to link research and practice in education, but we must do so while guarding against oversimplification and biases, especially those perpetuate deficit views of impoverished families and children.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nobel Prize Focuses on Children’s Plight, Rights and Education

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi for her work rescuing trafficked children from servitude, and to Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, whose voice for children and the right to education made her a target of extremists in her country. Although different in its causes and strategic aims, the work toward children’s rights is a global one and has been championed by many groups in the United States. The Journal of Educational Controversy has written about these concerns in a number of issues.

One of the centers that we highlighted in Volume 7 was the Center for Children and Youth Justice. The Center was started by former Washington State Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge. The issue contains an article by Justice Bridge, with co-authors, Leila E. Curtis and Nicholas Oakley, entitled, “No Single Source, No Simple Solution: Why We Should Broaden Our Perspective of the School-to-Prison-Pipeline and Look to the Court in Redirecting Youth from It.” Along with the article is a video interview with Justice Bridge. Other children advocate groups that contributed to the issue were Team Child, the ACLU of Washington State, the League of Education Voters and the Office of Education Ombudsman of Washington State.

The Center for Children and Youth Justice reveals the kinds of problems young people can face in a highly industrialized affluent nation. On the center’s website, Justice Bridge states her concerns and goals succinctly: “We can no longer be satisfied with change, however positive, without substantial change in outcomes for all children involved in Washington child welfare and juvenile justice systems. We’re leaving too many children and youth behind. Systems need to work together for all these kids. And we need to hear their voices, respect them and respond to them. That’s what CCYJ is all about.”

In her response to learning that she was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai dedicated it to the “voiceless.” We sometimes forget that even in a nation with institutional welfare structures in place, too many still feel voiceless and powerless. Indeed, the Center for Children and Youth Justice reveals the ways in which the foster care system, the juvenile justice systems and the public schools have often failed our children. The Center advocates for a more systemic approach that unites community forces to bring about real change. To read about recommendations to combat the School-to-Prison Pipeline, check out Justice Bridge’s article in our Volume 7 issue. To learn more about the work of the center, check out the website at:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Should the Death of Michael Brown be Discussed in the Public School Classroom: An Illinois School District says “No”

Author Paul Thomas raises this question in light of an Illinois school ban on discussions over the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. See his article:
“Illinois School Bans Discussions of Michael Brown's Death --Prohibiting students from talking about events in Ferguson offers them exactly the opposite of what they need” on AlterNet:

Paul’s arguments on “reclaiming civic duties of schools” and “learning to address our inadequate world” continue a discussion of the issues he raised in two articles published earlier in the Journal of Educational Controversy. We would be interested in hearing from teachers on ways they are handling the issue in their own classrooms or if they agree that such topics are off limit.

To read Paul Thomas’ earlier articles in the Journal of Educational Controversy, see:
“Of Rocks and Hard Places: The Challenge of Maxine Greene’s Mystification in Teacher Education” in VOLUME 5, NUMBER 1, WINTER 2010 issue on the theme, “Art, Social Imagination and Democratic Education”
“Universal Public Education—Our (Contradictory) Missions” in VOLUME 6, NUMBER 1, FALL 2011 / WINTER 2012 on the theme, “The Education and Schools our Children Deserve”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Author Jioanna Carjuzaa's Video Interview on Native American Education Now Online

Author Jioanna Carjuzaa's April 8th video interview is now online on our journal's link, "Authors Talk.

Readers can read her article, "The Give Away Spirit: Reaching a Shared Vision of Ethical Indigenous Research Relationships," in our Volume 5, Number 2 issue.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Author Sam Chaltain’s Interview with the Seattle Times on Charter Schools

Author Sam Chaltain, whose article appeared in our Volume 3 Number 2 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, has just published his latest book, Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice. He recently discussed his book in an interview with the Seattle Times. Because Washington State is just starting its journey into the charter school movement, something the voters of Washington State had earlier rejected a number of times, we thought this interview on Sam’s look at charter schools would be helpful. We want to thank Sam for permission to reprint his interview that was taken from his blog entry of May 21st.

Sleepless in Seattle? My interview with the Seattle TimesWednesday, May 21st, 2014 at 2:49 pm

The Seattle Times’ excellent education reporter, Claudia Rowe, published a nice summary of a long conversation we had about school reform when I was in town for an event at the public library. See what you think (and check out the original link here.)
First he was a private school teacher in New York City. Then, briefly, a public school teacher. After that, Sam Chaltain spent years studying schools across the country trying to determine what qualities were common to the very best.
In Washington, D.C., his current hometown, Chaltain got an unusual opportunity to examine two vastly different models up close. For nine months, he observed a new charter program struggling to get off the ground, and contrasted this with the daily ebb-and-flow of life at a 90-year-old neighborhood school. The result is Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice.
Chaltain, 43, insists that he never intended to compare and contrast the schools in order to anoint one better than the other. Rather, he strives to present on-the-ground realities in each, with a mind toward suggesting a path forward. As Washington state prepares to open its own charter programs next year, his experience may have particular resonance for public school parents faced, for the first time, with a choice.
What follows is a condensed version of a conversation between Chaltain and The Seattle Times. He will be discussing his book at Powell’s in Portland on May 21.

Q: As you know, Washington is set to open its first charter schools next year. Can you share any lessons learned from your observations of a first-year program in action?

A: I’d say get away from the false notion that the solution relies on either more — or less — charter schools. Charters and public schools need each others’ strengths. What districts need most is a greater sense of innovation, the ability to think in new ways about old problems. Charters have all those things in spades — by design, everything is up for re-creation, all the way down to report cards.
So ask: How can you ensure that not everything is up for reinvention? Are there structures that can connect district schools and these autonomous charters?

Q: You were a teacher yourself. Why did you step away from the classroom after six months as a public school educator? What was unworkable there?

A: In a word, everything. But it was less about that school than my realization that teaching is really unsustainable work. What made it unsustainable were inefficiencies that overwhelmed any sense of reward you got from the kids. We were so clearly undervalued. Think about it. First, there are the pressures of trying to be a good teacher, 180 days a year, five presentations a day, working with 100 to 200 students. Add their parents into that, and it’s managing up to 200 relationships. Teachers are being asked to do things that they’re not fully equipped to do.

Q: You knew a lot going into your year-long school observation project. In the end, did anything surprise you?

A: Yes, the degree to which schools are almost entirely staffed by young, single women who had basically accepted the idea that the way to solve our problems in education was with a disposable work force. That’s insane. You would never have Doctors for America, doing two-year stints as a pit stop on the way to some other career. Yet in teaching we accept this. Part of it has to do with the ongoing misogyny of our culture. Teaching is still seen as women’s work, a sub-profession. Not only is that incorrect, it’s a horrible strategy for dealing with the one institution that offers the closest thing to a silver bullet that we have in American society.

Q: What’s common to good schools — whether publicly or privately funded?

A: The truth is most schools are pretty good. Very few are truly great. But among those you see again and again that they create a culture among the adults that is collaborative, transparent and empowering. Kids pass through. Adults are the keepers of the culture. The way that you make lasting change is by valuing and supporting the adults, the educators. We may give lip service to this, but we lack sufficient examples of how to do it well. The reality is, we’re still more likely to be persuaded by the illusory hardness of the quantitative proof — test scores — even though there is an overwhelming consensus that reading and math scores are not enough.

Q: You seem to be advocating that we take a few breaths and decide, first, how we define success. Then, how to measure it. But isn’t the glacial pace of innovation part of the problem?

A: The question is not: Are charter schools the answer or the problem? It’s not even, how do we close the achievement gap? The question is, what does high-quality teaching actually look like? What all of us need to do is spend some time thinking about what are the old habits that we need to let go of in order to let new ideas come into being? It’s about being clearer in the questions we ask.

Q: About the national picture, are you optimistic? Worried?

A: All of the above. I’m optimistic that we’re starting to shift from the job of the kid is to adjust to the school, and toward the job of the school is to adjust to the kid. After that, I’m worried. We overvalue the things that we can quantifiably measure. We continue to speak in oppositional, two-dimensional terms about one another. You’re either working for the righteous or the damned. But it’s not about pro- and anti-. It’s about to-what-end?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014

10th Year Anniversary Issue will Usher in New Electronic Journal Management System: New Call for Reviewers

Our journal will soon be assisted by a new electronic journal management system from Bepress. Authors will no longer have to send manuscripts as e-mail attachments but will enter the manuscripts online instead.

We will also have a new call for reviewers whom we will input into the system. I will let you know shortly about the procedure and the information required. In the meantime, just send an e-mail of interest and where you can be contacted to

What a birthday gift for the journal’s 10th year anniversary issue.

Friday, May 30, 2014

In Memory -- Maxine Greene

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of one of our century's greatest educational philosophers, Maxine Greene. As my teacher and mentor, Maxine represented to me the very best of intellectual life and social commitment grounded in a love for the power of art and the imagination to make a difference in the world. I was very grateful that so many contributed to the special issue of our journal that we dedicated to her in the winter of 2010.

Maxine was indeed a "light in dark times."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Notes on the 16th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum with Curtis Acosta, including Reflections on Student Responses

The 16th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum with Curtis Acosta was held on May 14th at the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, co-sponsored by The Journal of Educational Controversy and the Woodring College of Education. Around 70 participants, including Western students, as well as a class of students from a local middle school, were in attendance.

After presentations by Professors Kristen French, Veronica Velez and JEC editor Lorraine Kasprisin, a Skype session was held between students and Curtis Acosta. Mr. Acosta is a former Mexican-American Studies teacher from the Tucson Unified School District, where his curriculum was banned by the state of Arizona in 2010. Curtis Acosta is also a returning speaker and guest of Western Washington University, where he first spoke last fall to a large gathering of students, professors and other community members and activists. His presentation in October of last year focused on the criminalization of Latin@ youth and the struggle for social justice in education across the United Sates and was followed by the publication of his article, “Dangerous Minds in Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking in Arizona,” in the eighth issue of The Journal of Educational Controversy. Student participants in our forum engaged in a lively dialogue with Curtis about his approaches to pedagogy, his work during and after the ban on MAS, his article in the Journal, and the effect that the ban had on his students.

As part of this forum, we provided participants with a think sheet containing quotations from Arizona state legislation that banned Mexican-American Studies in Tucson, as well as an exit survey. The Arizona state law, HB2281, passed in 2010 and quoted on the think sheet, prohibits “a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that”:
  •         Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  •          Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  •          Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  •          Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Curtis Acosta cogently analyzes the rhetoric of this legislation in his article in the JEC, so I will not attempt to do so here. One of the more intriguing results of the multiple choice exit survey we provided, however, was that respondents were less likely to decide that the MAS program was in violation of HB2281 at all.

A wide majority of respondents decided, after the forum, that the MAS program was actually not in violation of the legislation that was passed in Arizona to ban it.

Interestingly, as well, respondents to the exit survey were very likely to disagree with the law completely (5) or mostly (7), with only three remaining undecided and only one participant saying that they “agree[d] with most of it.”  No respondents agreed completely with the law.

To quickly overview the rest of the results, few of the survey respondents had attended Curtis’ presentation last fall—only 5 out of 17. Mr. Acosta’s presentation last fall drew a crowd of several hundred, packing an auditorium, and this particular statistic begs the question of how representative we can assume the 17 survey responses are of the seventy participants in the spring forum.

At the same time, one of the respondents remarked (in the section of the survey provided for comments) on not having attended the fall presentation, but finding the spring one very helpful and informative: "I came into this entirely uneducated on the topic as extra credit for a class. Leaving, I question why these forums are not more widely advertised and why I haven't been to one before. These are so important, thank you for the opportunity." As this respondent points out, there could be a larger audience for forums and presentations like this one, especially with dynamic, intelligent and impassioned speakers like Mr. Acosta. Moving forward, we welcome any suggestions on how to draw on the larger community of committed activists, students and educators within Western and bring in more participants.

Only six out of seventeen respondents had read the Mr.Acosta’s article in The Journal of Educational Controversy previous to attending the forum. This is another issue which would need to be addressed moving forward with future events—how might we motivate students and other participants in forums such as this to become engaged with the issues at hand before they attend? In what other ways might we raise awareness?

The results of the question of prior familiarity with the banned books controversy in Arizona were more positive: only seven respondents said that they were “not at all” or “not very” familiar; whereas ten chose “somewhat” to “very familiar” with the banned books controversy.

Based on the results of the survey, no one felt disappointed with their own learning during the forum. Three participants said that they had learned some, eight said quite a bit, and four said they had learned  “a lot!” Curiously, there were two participants who filled out the rest of the survey and did not choose to select an answer to this question. For a group of nearly seventy student participants, it is interesting that only some chose to fill out the survey at all. Hopefully, in the future, the numbers of students involved in consciousness-raising events such as this one will increase, as will their investment in the issues at hand. All in all the forum was a success and many thanks are due to the folks at CEED, the rest of the Journal of Educational Controversy staff, the Woodring College, Curtis Acosta, and, most of all, the students who dedicated their time to participating in the forum and filling out the exit survey.

Here are the questions (reproduced in full) that several of the seminar participants who filled out the survey left for the readers of The Journal of Educational Controversy Blog. Please feel free to respond to any or all of their questions and offer suggestions for us in the future in the comments section of this post!

·      "How can we expect students to succeed or want to be engaged if we only teach one perspective? Students should see a reflection of themselves in texts that emphasize and embrace other perspectives and cultures as valuable parts of our society."

·      "If we are trying to teach American history to students then what's wrong with teaching it through a lens other than the typical European one?"

·      "How do we see legislators, officials and people in places of institutional power are telling us what type of critical thinking is encouraged vs. 'dangerous' (and then worthy of surveillance/erasure)?"

·      "Why do we fear the truth so much that we must rewrite history, only to be given negative labels when we try to learn the truth later?"

·      "To what extent can a public education address individual needs and curiosities of students, given the necessarily broad & diverse body that it must serve?"

·      "Who decides if social justice is 'just'?"

·      "I came into this entirely uneducated on the topic as extra credit for a class. Leaving, I question why these forums are not more widely advertised and why I haven't been to one before. These are so important, thank you for the opportunity."

Monday, May 12, 2014

16th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum to Feature Curtis Acosta

Special Invitation from the Journal of Educational Controversy and Center for Education, Equity and Diversity (CEED)

16th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum

Come and talk with Curtis Acosta by Webcam about his article in the Journal of Educational Controversy.

“Dangerous Minds in Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking in Arizona”

Curtis Acosta is the former teacher of Mexican American Studies whose books were banned in the Tucson Unified School District

This is a follow-up to Curtis Acosta’s visit to our college last fall. Ask the questions that you didn’t ask at his fall forum.

Wednesday, May 14,2014
New Time: 5-7pm
CEED, MH 005, Western Washington University

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Preview of "Talking With the Authors," featuring Curtis Acosta

Curtis Acosta, former Mexican-American Studies teacher from Tucson, Arizona, was interviewed recently for our "Talking With the Authors" series. His article on the banning of Mexican-American Studies in Tucson appeared in our issue on the theme, "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?"

Watch the full-length interview with Curtis Acosta here.

Our current issue, including Curtis Acosta's article, can be found here.

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.