Our people is our power: Cait Vaughan

 

 

image1.JPG

 

  1. Who are you, where do you work, and why do you do what you do as an organizer for education activism?

I live and organize in Maine, where my fatherwas born & raised, though I grew up primarily in New Hampshire. I’m a white, cis, queer woman from a working poor family, survivor of childhood sexual & domestic violence, and the ‘one who got away’ and earned a degree. Importantly, I organize and engage in political education because of what Black mentors here in the Deep North taught me when I escaped to university. Particularly, I am referring to Black women cultural workers of NH, JerriAnne Boggis and Valerie Cunningham, who have worked tirelessly to tell the story of Black New England, to write themselves and their people into the public narrative, and wrest their stories away from white authorship, aggressive cultural amnesia, and distortion of public memory. The histories they amplified upended every story I’d ever been told about my own place in the world, what it means to ‘belong’ and who decides. They also hipped me to the inherently radical act of oppressed peoples declaring, We are here and we speak for ourselves. Their work blends public history and preservation efforts with education and activism that has literally changed the landscape of one of the whitest states in this country. They are shifting us towards a collective, multiracial reckoning with who New Englanders really were, are, and want to be. This type of education is public humanities, and it is also political as all get-out. JerriAnne and Valerie have shown me (and so many others) a blueprint of how to lead a life dedicated to liberation by doing the work where you live, and beginning by telling (often painful) truths in very public ways. Everything I do in the world is in some way fueled by the investment they made in their own dreams, and in my development directly; it is an honor to be in their debt.

With roots in the humanities, my daily organizing work focuses primarily on health care justice. I am a staff organizer for an indie abortion care provider that is constantly innovating to expand real access to poor people statewide. I work to connect ordinary folks (including young people) to opportunities to: support the clinics staying open; protect and advance their rights and access; engage in education initiatives about sex, sexual health, abortion & the reproductive justice movement; as well as learn from/with our communities about how we can be more a more relevant, accessible, and radical resource in this largely rural state. In my non-paid organizing life, I am also a member-leader of Maine’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center. I am honored to serve with Survivor Speak USA, a survivor-led organization working to end sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in our state by addressing root causes of systemic racism and poverty. For the past 9 years, I’ve been lucky enough to do support work for JerriAnne Boggis in organizing the Annual Black New England Conference. The BNEC is a gathering for academics, artists, cultural workers, public intellectuals, organizers, educators, and students to learn about and honor the rich history and present of Black life in New England. I engage in other types of activism and organizing labor as local situations demand. At the moment, I’m working with statewide Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapters to organize several canvasses in neighborhoods targeted by the KKK with recruitment propaganda. We have been called to support folks in these neighborhoods in organizing and community defense efforts to oust the Klan and move in solidarity with People of Color in Maine.  There is no shortage of work to be done here. There is a need for us all to be flexible, hold multi-faceted roles, and labor through ‘politically impure’ structures to keep the work going and growing.

  1. What five books have been essential to your formation as an education activist?

I’m going to cheat and specifically also name some essays and poems that profoundly shaped my thinking and action, and to which I relate as companions for life, returning to them over and over.

  • Poetry Is Not A Luxury // Poetry Makes Something Happen, Audre Lorde (different iterations exist across multiple publications with slightly different titles, including I Am Your Sister: Collected & Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, 2009)
  • Power, Audre Lorde (poem published in The Black Unicorn, 1978)
  • The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America; Something Like A Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley, June Jordan (poem essay published in On Call: Political Essays, 1985)
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness & the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison (Vintage Books, 1992)
  • The Erotic Life of Racism, Sharon P. Holland (Duke University Press, 2012)
  1. What are three things you love about what you do?
  2. What keeps you up at night or worries you (we hope everyone gets healthy sleep, of course)?

Learning for liberation is often painful. White people ought not to set the bar at what “feels good” but instead ask ourselves: Did we come here to genuinely move & be moved? Did this process show us something about how we got here, and how to go forward differently? I don’t think rounded edges do much in service of liberation; I’d love less certainty and more seeking. I worry that (my) white people are simultaneously too fragile and too destructive to do the work consistently and effectively, despite an embarrassment of riches when it comes to POC leadership. I am not hopeful, but I am resolute.

  1. What misconception about education would you like to correct?

While my parents and family were not schooled, they were very learned in the ways of supremacy. The workings of domination are pervasive, oppression is SMART, and we learn it via daily living. I knew very young that I wanted another way to be, and yet for the longest time, I had no models for finding or creating this within the world I knew. This is why the educational uses of lived experience must not be confined to the merely performative or illustrative (story telling) or as raw material for creating “real knowledge.” We can examine the rituals, rhythms and practices of our daily lives and explore how we came to know what we think is true, or to question it. How the mundane structures and institutions of our days instruct us to feel and move, and how we push against it or comply. We learn from what happens when we ‘break a rule’ no one explicitly outlined; and we cannot be the same after. I want us to honor the kitchen table talk of family life and survival as one of the deepest sources of education any of us receives. This is not anti-intellectual; it is asking for a recognition of all the thinking and seeing (or refusals to see) that we accomplish each day. It acknowledging that the structures we (re)create, inhabit, come into conflict with on a daily basis cumulatively result in a frightfully formal education. We are forever receiving instruction in the machinations and pathways of power—whether or not we learn is a question of collective, principled reckoning and relentless imagination.

Lastly, I want us to assume that poetry *is* a natural language, medium, and site of learning for poor and dispossessed people. I struggle sometimes to reconcile that I believe so deeply in learning through lived experience AND it is reading/poetry that led me to frame that experience in relation to things bigger than myself. If someone had not put a volume of poetry in my hands that included Audre Lorde’s “Who Said It Was Simple” when I was 16, how long might it have taken me to understand the violence of white feminism? Poor kids can read, write, and learn from poems—and we can come to see our own lives as poems we author, even/especially against great odds. We need the poetry of young people’s every day resistance. And I believe young people need to know that someone has been before where they are now, and wrote to them across time and space to say: You continue a beautiful struggle; write your name with what you do to be free in spite of all attempts to stop you.

Legal victory for Ethnic Studies!

The core focus, mission, and practice of the education for liberation network is that through education, we can liberate ourselves from knowledge systems that erase and suppress for the purpose of domination.

As many know, the fight for ethnic studies has been a crucial expression of education for liberation. With its start in the 1960s on college campuses, ethnic studies is now a well-developed and integrated curricular and pedagogical endeavor in dozens of districts and states.

Predictably, though, this work to reconnect learning to the cultures of marginalized students brought backlash from the dominant culture. For the past six years, former and current students and teachers of Ethnic studies in Arizona have been battling in court systems and continuing the work of ethnic studies without the sanction of schools or district offices.

So, it is with tremendous joy that we share the wonderful news that a federal judge has preliminarily ruled that an Arizona law banning the teaching of ethnic studies violates students’ constitutional rights. The full decision and consequence for the ruling is still to be announced, but the ruling fully describes the racial animus behind and explicit in the Arizona law.

As network member Carla Shalaby wrote,

“This legal victory for ethnic studies in Tucson is a victory for all who believe young people deserve the teaching of their ancestors in our schools, the hearing and telling of their own stories, and the recognition of their particular place in our history and in our future.

It is also a reminder of the power of youth and educator activism, and I’m grateful to the teachers in Tucson who made their way to the courtroom after losing their classrooms in the unconstitutional ban of their courses.”

save ethnic studies

Carla also shared a link for the full decision – check it out.

Here’s the NPR story on the ruling and a previous story that details the racist legislation in Arizona.

And, following Carla’s lead, we’d also like tribute artist and cultural worker  Julio Salgado for the artwork that so clearly depicts the stakes.

Battling white supremacy requires many strategies. We are thrilled to join thousands in celebration of this important victory. And then we get right back to work.

In Lak Ech

 

Celebrating the Life of Antonio Nieves Martinez

antonio huitzin .jpg

 

 

The Education for Liberation community joins many siblings across Turtle Island in grieving the loss of our beloved Antonio Nieves Martinez. Ed4Lib family member Patrick “Cam” Camangian wrote the loving tribute below.

 

Dear People’s Community, friends, colleagues, and allies,

In case you do not already know, it saddens me to share news about the untimely death of our good brother, committed comrade, loving community member, and dear friend in Antonio Nieves Martinez last Tuesday, July 11, 2017.  The People’s Education Movement was first conceptualized at a coffee shop meeting between Antonio, Carolina Valdez, and myself in Koreatown, Los Angeles in January 2013.  Through Carolina, his wife and exceptional educator, Jerica, and Antonio’s organizing efforts with other founding members in LA, People’s was established during a summer retreat in July 2013.  During this summer retreat, I was encouraged to organize People’s Education Movement, Bay Area with other like-minded educator-organizers.

 

Here is the Facebook announcement for the bay area celebration and memorial of Antonio’s life: https://www.facebook.com/events/619000538296678/?active_tab=about.  And here is the information for a gathering in NYC on July 26th.

 

Donations can be made here: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/wod57w/donate/.

 

Antonio has long been involved in multiple community projects and coalition of educators, activists, community members, and researchers working towards liberatory education:  He was also a former council member of the Association of Raza Educators and board member of the Education for Liberation Network (EdLib).  Antonio’s commitments with both People’s and EdLib led him to take on leadership and committee roles for the Free Minds Free People (FMFP) national conferences held in Chicago in July 2013 and Oakland in July 2015. Before moving back to the SF Bay Area, Antonio and Jerica were engaged in establishing equitable, restorative educational spaces in the Holyoke community of Western Massachusetts.

 

antonio-teaching1-e1500488506726.jpg

 

As a scholar, Antonio studied the importance of teachers collectivizing to transform larger systemic issues undermining the humanity of people in culturally wealthy communities of color.  Through this work, Antonio helped further establish the importance of developing popular education programs to challenge some of the more colonial, deficit, and neoliberal narratives and practices reproduced in society.  Antonio argued why and showed how the concerns of students, families, community members, and critically conscious teachers should inform the type of education needed to transform dehumanizing social conditions. Antonio also took on leadership roles within the Critical Educators for Social Justice (CESJ), Special Interest Group for the American Educational Research Association. A colleague who worked closely with Antonio in this capacity said, “He was fiercely dedicated to social justice and supported CESJ however he could. In fact, much of the growth and more communal nature of the grad forum can be attributed to Antonio.”

 

Attached is a research article titled, “Solidarity with the People,” which he co-wrote with Carolina Valdez and another People’s founding member, Stephanie Cariaga.  Solidarity EEE

 

Thank you for your positive thoughts and prayers for Jerica, their wonderful daughter Huitzin, and Antonio’s family at this time of unimaginable loss.

In sincere community solidarity,

Patrick “Cam” Camangian

Thank you for making FMFP 2017 a success!

fmfp

 

The Free Minds, Free People Conference is a project of love built by volunteers from across the country who donate their time, resources, ideas and labor in order to co-create the type of space where we can learn, listen, heal, be seen and heard in ways that are vital for transformation from oppression to liberation.  It is a project that started with a handful of powerful leaders, thinkers and organizers over ten years ago and has grown from that small group to a planning team of over 50 people and a conference of 75 participants to over 800 participants.  

 

The board of the Education for Liberation Network would like to thank the planning team for their significant, steady work in making #FMFP2017 a success.  Thank you to our local hosts in Baltimore.  The Baltimore Algebra Project suffered a great loss in the passing of Victorious Swift, and yet they continued to organize for us, their guests, from across the country while loving each other with strength and consistency.  They showed us the depths, the power and the beauty of the people in Baltimore and we are so grateful for the young leaders there.  To all of the presenters and speakers-thank you for sharing yourselves and your essential work with us.  The skills, tools and knowledge that you bring from your organizations and regions give the conference life and we couldn’t be more honored to learn from and with you.

 

To our director, Thomas Nikundiwe, and Carla Shalaby, for their tireless work and their love.  They put every ounce of themselves into this conference and we could not have done it without them.  

 

We hope that you all enjoyed your time at #FMFP2017 and we hope that you will stay connected, share what you learned and come back again with others!  

 

Below are a few comments from folks who attended when we asked about the greatest strengths of the conference. We couldn’t agree more.

 

One of the greatest strengths is the opportunities that young people have to lead–as facilitators and participants in workshops. And I love that children are so welcome–and that there are offerings for the very little ones. The overall structure is so much better than any other conference I’ve attended, too. The plenaries were excellent–and then you have two workshop sessions to attend. I like that the workshop sessions were longer so you could actually learn about others’ work in a substantive way.

 

The balance between critical dialogue and social events is a recipe for building authentic and long-lasting relationships/community. Youth-led spaces keep the energies and vibes positive and grounded in our purpose.

 

Centering liberation, love, healing, hope as responses to our oppression and oppressive spaces.

 

I appreciate the mix of educators and students. I appreciate the breadth and variety of education justice issues addressed. I appreciate the centering of people from marginalized communities. I appreciated the effort to highlight the host community.

 

The beautiful gathering of like-minded people of color committed to this justice work.

 

The voices of youth activists. The variety of advocates. The calls to action and liberation. The talk by TL and Dustin as well as the talk by Dr. Ginwright were powerful and eye opening. More provocative and important work like that.

 

Facilitators created spaces where participants felt safe and valued (in many different ways). The location was accessible and affordable (at least for east coast travelers – and thinking about housing and transportation costs once in Baltimore) STUDENT LEADERSHIP!! This was so well done. I was excited to see so many young people participating as attendees, facilitators, leaders, etc. Child care provided. Events that helped participants connect with peoples/places/etc in Baltimore.

 

Youth facilitators were instrumental to my learning during the conference. One of my takeaways is how can I prepare and support my students to present at formal conferences. I believe this is an important step in honoring student voice in an authentic way.

victorious.jpg

Reflecting on FMFP and Family Engagement for Radicals

As a conference, FMFP is special for its unique intergenerational participation. From the conference planning and leadership to whose voices are lifted up by conference activities, young people and adults work together in exploring and executing liberatory education with our minds set on freedom. However, from the perspective of someone who works in the field of school-oriented family engagement and parent organizing, FMFP has struggled over the years to more fully integrate these parts of the collective struggle for educational, social, and economic justice. I have been intimately connected to FMFP since being part of the host committee from Providence in 2011, so this is a critique I make not from the outside, but as someone who owns responsibility for the continued development of FMFP over the years.
Thus, I was excited to attend Teaching for Change’s FMFP workshop session, “Family Engagement for Radicals.” First, how liberating to be at a conference where this session title could unapologetically proclaim its radical stance. At FMFP there is no need to disguise open and honest discussions about the realities lived by people and communities of color, women, queer folk, and anyone else who experiences the day-to-day grind against the institutional, interpersonal, and internal oppressions of the world. In other venues, this workshop title would likely be sanitized–“Family Engagement for Radicals: Partnering with Families Using a Social Justice Lens and Popular Ed Approach” would be washed out and instead be called something like, “Family Engagement for Practitioners: Partnering with Families Using a Community-Centered Approach.” Thank goodness for FMFP’s commitment to creating and protecting space for us to be our full selves as presenters and attendees.
Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 9.58.15 AM
The workshop itself was wonderful! The presenters from Teaching for Change (Allyson, Maybelline, and Andrea) were engaging and energetic. Through a healthy mix of interactive activities (whole and small group), presentation, and discussion our room full of 20+ participants got to dive deep into thinking about how to better support family engagement at our school and program sites. Aside from having the opportunity to meet and talk to other FMFP conference goers, which is always a treat, I had one perspective-shifting takeaway from the session that seems utterly important for informing my work in the field of family engagement and parent organizing moving forward!
As advertised, Teaching for Change approaches family engagement with a social justice lens and popular education approach. They’ve borrowed from the traditions of community organizing and popular education to develop their framework for doing radical family engagement. In doing so, the Teaching for Change family engagement framework, which they call “Tellin’ Stories,” borrows heavily from the work of Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Many of us who attend FMFP are probably familiar with Freire and those of us who consider ourselves adherents to critical pedagogy have certainly spent a lot of time with Freire’s ideas. Having written a dissertation and book about teacher activist pedagogy, Freire is certainly an intellectual antecedent for my thinking about education. However, even though Freire was an adult educator (!), until Teaching for Change made the connection for me, I had never linked my deep work with Freire’s ideas to my extensive work in the field of family engagement and parent organizing. Somehow, I had relegated Freire (and all the other education theorists and teacher practitioners who have done work in relation and response to Freire) to my thinking about teaching and teachers and had not allowed him to enter my family engagement and parent organizing work. In retrospect, this seems a major oversight. Personally, I’ve struggled with how to more explicitly connect what often seem like two worlds of mine: engagement with teachers/teaching and engagement with youth, parent, and community organizing. While it has never made sense to me that these areas should feel distant, in practice they are much too often separate. However, after Teaching for Change’s workshop, I’m excited to explore how the use of critical pedagogy and popular education in both arenas might help me draw them closer together in my work!
To learn more about Teaching for Change and their Tellin’ Stories Project, check out their website. If you’d like to learn more about grassroots parent organizing for educational justice, check out the Journey 4 Justice Alliance! They have a biweekly newsletter that is well worth signing up for. Finally, for some more basic primers on how to rethink school-oriented family engagement practices, a go-to resource that Teaching for Change highlighted and that I’ve used extensively in my work is the book Beyond the Bake Sale by Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson, and Don Davies. And, of course, if you haven’t yet read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, you probably should check it out from your local library.
——-
Keith C. Catone is associate director of community organizing and engagement at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and serves on the Education for Liberation Advisory Board. His first book, The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism, was published earlier this year!

The fight for ethnic studies goes to court

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

 

Ethnic studies programs were borne from college student protest and demands to have education experiences that destabilized eurocentrism and centered the knowledge systems of Indigenous, Black, and brown peoples. Ethnic studies programs have been in existence for decades, but they have never had security in the way that eurocentric education systems have enjoyed for generations. From struggles to study on college campuses to the fight to educate society’s youngest in the ways of their peoples, ethnic studies has been both at the vanguard and vulnerable.

 

Many are familiar with the specific fight for ethnic studies pedagogy and curriculum in Arizona, and more specifically, the Tucson Unified School District because of media and documentary coverage of the historic showdown between culturally relevant educators and conservative politicians.

 

On June 27, 2017, the fight for ethnic studies programs in Arizona moved into the U. S. District court system, with the plaintiffs first arguing for the right of students of all racial backgrounds to learn about history beyond Eurocentric frameworks. This coming week, the defendants will do their best to convince the judge that learning about race politicizes students of color and imperils white students.

 

The struggle to study happens in multiple, concurrent forms. From thousands of Chicago Public School teachers striking and marching to protect rights to the special education teacher who attends to her students socioemotional needs instead of proliferating the number of Black students labeled with behavioral disorders, the struggle truly is everywhere. As the fight for ethnic studies is argued by lawyers, witnesses are examined and cross-examined, and a judge bears witness to the one of the most rarified battle lines for racial justice, we hold close the educators, students, and families in Arizona who seek the basic human desire and right to education as tool for liberation. In lak’ech.

 

in lak'ech

 

 

Letter to Atlanta on Juneteenth:   Celebrating Freedom When We Still Ain’t Free by Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools

 

Free Minds Free People is swiftly approaching. As a youth-centered space for liberatory education, FMFP prioritizes listening to and supporting youth-led visions for education justice. In this blog entry, we hear from one of the youth organizations who will be at FMFP, Rethink out of New Orleans on their thoughts this Juneteenth. 

 

Dear Black Students in Atlanta,

I’ve started this letter five times, at least. I keep thinking about all you brilliant Black minds in Atlanta, disenfranchised by many of the same type of people as we are here in New Orleans. I could see unskilled MBAs licking their chops, bored white 20-somethings looking to fail upward in your city, millionaire supporters of charterization lining up to fund the takeover of your schools, and no people in power considering the wants you, your families, and the communities you’re rooted in.  They see any your educational reality as an opportunity for free market. We’ve seen how this plays out and it is my imperative to warn you. They are lying and scheming for their own benefit, and there is so much at stake if you don’t stop them.

Slide2

 

You have been fighting already for your school system and as you continue to fight, don’t lose sight of who you are. The ways your communities and families love and support you not wrong because your teacher or administrator cannot comprehend them. Your culture is not a commodity or in need of refinement; your people’s history must not be repackaged by those who have everything to gain from obscuring it. Don’t listen to their lies about how innovation and choice will save hordes of hopeless, helpless youth. And know that when they say hopeless and helpless they are referring to you.

 

I know what they’ve done to you so far and how damaging they’ve been to you. They’ve already changed the rules of the game so they win and blamed you for losing, all to obscure the fact that the state disinvested in certain schools and areas of the city long ago. Agents of gentrification and displacement have staked their claims to housing and land since the ‘70s, and are looking to bring this unapologetic entitlement to privatizing public schools.

 

People will tell you what I’m saying isn’t true. This letter is to tell you how to handle them when they try to hoodwink you again and again. No matter what they say, a public charter does not provide public education in ways traditional public schools do. It’s a loophole for taking public funds and massive private donations to privately manage public schools like corporations, where profit for those in power always comes before people.

 

I’m seeing what they’ve done, what they’re doing and how similar our experiences are. The powers that are pushing for this Opportunity School District in Atlanta act innocent, but let me tell you something—they’re trying to pull us down into the Sunken Place.

 

New Orleanians remember when Hurricane Katrina decimated the poorest, Blackest parts of the city and policymakers took this opportunity to fast track the plan already in place to privatize public education. We remember the mass firings (7,000 teachers and 500 school employees) to intentionally bust unions while putting out a call to “human capital” organizations (Teach for America, TeachNOLA, City Year, Americorps). We remember amendments and bills being passed with swiftness like never before to allow the takeover and justify it by changing the scale used to determine which schools were considered “failing.” We remember being denied access to enrollment after their own schools after a charter takeover, or watching the local/state authorities close schools while funding new schools in other neighborhoods. While the Recovery School District was already in place before Katrina, it got a huge breath of new life while hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians were trying simply to recover their old lives.

 

In realizing crucial elements of this their master plan, drafted by these architects of reform, you gain a strange perspective on time and human pain, and effort. Other cities cannot hear what I hear whenever I hear about new nonprofits, millions for “school choice” and “charter autonomy.”

 

Watch the ways policymakers are moving, investigating strange bedfellows and cross-sector alliances at local, federal, state levels. The bevy of policies passed in the months after Katrina and the informal group of pro-charter government officials are eerily similar to the State Charter School Commission, and their ability to find loopholes and push legislation to realize their vision. Pro-charter government officials in Atlanta, just like in New Orleans, have money and people lined up to support their cause. Moreover, they can manufacture and organize information in their favor, convincing masses that they (should) have power and control over public education because they know what’s best for success.

 

 

And as is typical, people are leveraging the manufactured success of schools in New Orleans as rationale for privatization of school systems (and housing) in Nashville, Detroit, Reno and Las Vegas, and across North Carolina. When some of the same players are involved, you know it’s time to get out. We must know our collective history lest we walk the same paths again, falling into the same traps and being fooled by the same type of folk.

 

Don’t believe false prophets like John White, Doug Harris, Scott Cowen, Leslie Jacobs, and Paul Vallas. They will speak to you of improving their test scores to convince you that the experiment is working. When you ask them why expulsions are up, they won’t answer you.   When you ask them to explain the phenomenon of disappeared students they don’t there-will-be-no-miracles-hereacknowledge your question.   They are invested in white supremacy and will protect it at any costs. Children of color are not whole or human to them—how can we trust them to construct a school system rooted in their dignity? Paul Pastorek (Superintendent of the Recovery School District in New Orleans, 2007-2011) consulted with Rick Snyder (governor of Michigan, 2011-present) immediately before Snyder recommended the state takeover of Detroit’s public schools. Pastorek is currently the co-executive director of the Broad Center, funded by a foundation that funnels millions of dollars to charter school development across the country.

 

Don’t trust those who voluntarily leave elected or appointed positions to enter into the private sector. Always question those that appear to be voluntarily giving up their institutional power. Trust and believe that they’ve found more power with less accountability elsewhere. Michelle Rhee recommended the takeover and charterization of four Atlanta public schools, the same schools Erin Hames recommended for takeover after she left a position in the Georgia governor’s office to open an educational consulting firm focused on state seizure of public schools. Her plan includes mass firings, school closures, and charter takeover of public schools. People like her are reminiscent of Leslie Jacobs, who spent time in the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Orleans Parish School Board before a failed bid for mayor of New Orleans; that same year, she opened two nonprofits with her own wealth (one focused on keeping transplants in the city by connecting them to economic opportunities, the other focused on pushing pro-charter policies). Two years later, she was the recipient of the New Orleanian of the Year award. Follow the money, and you’ll find a charter mafia. Keep a running list of all the major players and the types of decisions they make to inform your strategy; the first time they show you who they are, believe them.

 

Don’t let them convince you that you are to blame for schools deemed failing. Over the last 15 years, Georgia’s governors have cut over $9 billion from the state education budget, and are blaming school struggles on local, often Black leadership. Meanwhile, the College and Career Readiness Index is rife with many of the same fallacies used to grade New Orleans schools. They will consistently change the rules of the game in their favor, and blame you for losing. The narrative will never be about their architecture, but about failures and shortcomings of traditional public education.

 

They’ll secretly court “education service providers” to bring “innovation and choice” which is code for “largely white operators who will run public schools like private companies.” These companies will get the red carpet rolled out for them and a pile of money to support their rapid growth, all the while manufacturing data and mobilizing people who exemplify their so-called success. But we know we can’t trust any of it. At no point is real education the highest priority. Once they take over, you can expect pressure on teachers to cheat or teach only to the test or just leave the school entirely. You can expect harsh discipline and zero tolerance policies, all meant to tame the wild animals they claim us to be and keep us away from the so-called jungles we’re growing up in.  You can expect to be turned against your own parents.   The power brokers will tell you that your parents don’t know and never knew how to raise you. How to love you. How to see you.   The trick, you see, is that they want you to hate yourselves. They want you to see yourselves and people who look like you as worthless.

 

You know how gentrification works, right? Of course you do.   First you have to be convinced that what you have and where you live is worthless.   And the very same house, the same section 8 apartment, the same land that they say is too far gone to be restored is bought out from under you or taken with no compensation.   The same thing happens to Black bodies and Black minds.   They want to convince us that we have no value while our entire lives are snatched away from us.

 

Don’t be fooled by public meetings, requirements or suggestions of community involvement, or any space for resistance to charterization or school closures. By the time you hear about these meetings, the powers that be have likely already made their decisions. Alert your people of the ways in which they manufacture consent for whatever their original plan was to begin with. They’ll get Black folks from Atlanta to tell you how they understand your concerns, your struggle, your experiences; they’ll trigger you, gaslight you, and manipulate you to support them. Be wary—not all of our skinfolk are our kinfolk.

 

They’ll tell you that you’re better off with young white teachers. They’ll explain that you have more choice than ever, while they warehouse-shuffle at least—abuse and miseducate at most— you from charter to charter. They’ll assure you the secret lottery they use to place students does not give preference to certain types of students, and ask you not to worry about the white public charter school’s hidden requirements (to start: exorbitant extra fees, infallible code-switching skills, and unwavering willingness to be tokenized) all at the ready.

 

For those resisting privatization from inside schools, they’ll make you decide between staying in your school building, and having a school at all. As soon as they shuffle you out, they’ll renovate so that the school suddenly has air conditioning after years without it, or is no longer overrun with structural flaws that couldn’t be prioritized earlier. The largest Charter Management Organizations in New Orleans and the predominantly white charter schools do not coincidentally have the most coveted school buildings.

 

You can only be destroyed by believing that you are really stupid, violent, too much to handle, too dumb to learn, too ghetto to exist, that you belong in a cage, that you should be enslaved.

 

What we’re left with after school reform is a bunch of shiny warehouses where truly educating our youth is the lowest priority and antithetical to their goals. Those of us who can’t or simply won’t to survive a white supremacist, zero tolerance, testing-driven, dehumanizing school environment staffed by droves of unskilled, untalented transplants to the city are pushed out. We’re locked in Behavioral Intervention rooms with no windows, seating, or teacher supporting their learning. Meanwhile, those of us who are considered particularly dangerous are pushed out to diversion programs masquerading as job training programs or “alternative schools,” and jails masquerading as “study centers.” Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be pushed out to our own homes, where we’ll receive four hours of instruction because we’re struggling with our mental health or are unwilling/unable to attend school.

 

I tell you this because I love each of you figuring out how to handle the situation they’re constructing, and I am invested in your…   no.   our liberation. Please don’t forget it. I know they’re going to say I’m exaggerating, but I know Black folks.   I also know what those in power do to make us believe there isn’t a system built on our backs, to destroy us. Take no one’s word, but trust your experience. Know where you came from to know where you’re going.

 

The world is deliberately constructed so you believe what they say about you.   Fight it with the truth.   I know and you know the invisible labor we’ve poured into our own education throughout history. Black people have always educated ourselves and each other for protection, for survival, and for freedom.

 

We must resist.

 

We must dismantle these systems built to destroy us and transform the ways in which power is held.

 

I see your resistance. Over 50 school districts have already announced their stance against charterization. I see y’all fighting today across all types of connections to the school system.

 

Do not forget love, and how you must survive. Do not forget that liberation is what we’re fighting for, and that true education is an essential part of our path to freedom.

 

We can’t be free if y’all ain’t free. If y’all still fightin’, so are we.

 

Here in New Orleans, we see you. We feel you. We got you.

 

Your Cuz,

 

Rethink