Frances Scarlen Martinez was one of the first students to attend the first KIPP school in the Bronx. David Levin came knocking on her family’s door, recruiting students. Her family taught her that education was the key to success and she eagerly accepted the invitation, feeling fortunate to have been chosen. In the years since, she has a different view of her experience at KIPP. What she remembers most now was the strict control under which she lived.

She writes:

“I showed up for the first day of summer school feeling chosen and unique. What happened next blindsided me. I’d always loved school and learning. At my Bronx elementary I’d regularly made the honor roll. Suddenly adults were policing my every move, my every word. Suddenly I wasn’t good enough. The way I carried myself was no longer acceptable, the way I spoke was not proper. Still, being the high achiever I was, I took all of this as a challenge. I can be silent, keep my body straight and track speakers with my eyes. I can nod my head to show engagement and I can lose my Dominican accent. After all, this was my golden ticket, and my family was counting on it. I was willing to accept anything said to me in order to prove my worth.

“In my experience as a student, I was told how and when to speak, how to dress, where to look, how to nod, how to sit, and how to think from 7:25 am until 5 pm Monday through Friday and from 8-1 pm on Saturdays. Every aspect of our day was controlled, our compliance was routinely tested. At any given moment, the leader of our school would appear in our classroom, demanding to know, “What room is this?” To which we were expected to chant back in unison: “This is the room, that has the kids, that want to learn to read more books, to build a better tomorrow.” If one student did not comply, everyone else would have to repeat the chant again and again until they joined in or were taken away for an individual redirection. The point of this exercise was to keep us on our toes. Just like random cell checks in a prison keep the prisoners from ever feeling at ease, this power exercise was meant to remind us who was in control.”

On reflection, she realized she was part of a “culture of submission” that obliterated her own identity. For most of us, school is a place to explore who we are, what we believe, and what we hope to be. For Frances, school meant submit and obey.

This article is part of a series called “Public Voices for Public Schools,” posted by the Network for Public Education.

Peter Greene tells the ignominious story of the Spottsylvania, Virginia, school board. One of the school board members, Kirk Twigg, is a conservative Christian who is very fearful of books that might have any sexual content. He wants them burned. He was recently elected chairman of the school board and promised to fire the superintendent. Which he did.

Greene writes:

You may recall the story about Spotsylvania school district in Virginia, where books were being protested and pulled and two board members thought maybe the books should be burned.

Well, one of those guys is now the board chairman, and things are blowing up in a hurry.

The board is a 4-3 board (though those who didn’t want to burn the books were supportive of banning them), and the 4-person conservative majority installed Kirk Twigg as the president.

Scott Baker has been with district in various capacities for years before becoming superintendent in 2012; he won some awards for his superintendenting prowess, but there’s a portion of the local populace that are not fans. There’s a whole blog devoted to laying outhis many alleged sins, but not being hard enough on dirty books has drawn the most criticism in the recent past, along with agitation over school closings.

Baker was on his way out, with departure negotiated for the end of this school year. That was not fast enough for Twigg, who has been vocal in his opposition to various books. The ban was centered on “sexually explicit” books, but Twigg, besides expressing his interest in burning objectionable material also added that he would like to broaden the criteria for rooting through the school libraries, saying, “There are some bad, evil-related material that we have to be careful of and look at.”

Twigg promised that, if elected chair of the board, his first action would be to fire Baker effective immediately. Last Monday night, in a meeting characterized as chaotic and contentious, he did just that. He called an unscheduled closed session during the meeting, then came back to announce that Baker had been terminated–before being reminded that the board had to take an actual vote.

No reason has been given for the firing, but it’s Virginia, a right to work state, and no reason has to be given.

Keep your eyes on Spotsylvania, where one day soon there might be a public book burning.

Politico reports that Republicans view the pandemic and school closures as an opportunity to promote school closures. This should appeal to the 30% of the population who are unvaccinated and oppose mask mandates and other public health measures. These are probably the same parents who want to block teaching about racism and want parents to decide what their children should be taught (think creationism).

‘A WINNING POLITICAL ISSUE’ — The nation watched as Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race last November by tapping into parental outrage over school closures and using the rallying cry “Parents Matter.”

— Now, as the highly contagious Omicron variant complicates the spring school semester and the 2022 midterms ramp up, GOP strategists say it is an opportune time to also propel one of their education priorities: school choice.

— “Parents being able to have a greater role in where and how their children are educated is a winning political issue, and we intend to promote it as much as possible in the coming year,” said South Carolina GOP Chair Drew McKissick, adding that bills to advance school choice initiatives, like education savings accounts, are ready to go this legislative session.

— “We look at education as being the civil rights issue of our time,” he said. McKissick also pointed out that school choice will be a key issue for Sen. Tim Scott, who’s in the middle of a re-election campaign. Scott, in an address to rebut Biden’s first address to Congress, said the pandemic-spurred public school closures created the “clearest case I’ve seen for school choice in our lifetime.”

If education “is the civil rights issue of our time” in South Carolina, why does the state refuse to fund its public schools adequately and equitably?

Italy has restricted the activities of the unvaccinated to protect the vast majority who are vaccinated and to curb the spread of COVID. The Washington Post reported on the constrained life of a musician.

OSIGO, Italy — After many rounds of rules targeting the unvaccinated, the chamber musician’s new life is unrecognizable from the old. Claudio Ronco once performed all over Europe, but now he can’t even board a plane. He can’t check into a hotel, eat at restaurant or get a coffee at a bar. Most important, he can’t use the water taxis needed to get around Venice, his home for 30 years — a loss of mobility that recently prompted him to gather up two of his prized cellos, lock up his Venetian apartment and retreat with his wife to a home owned by his in-laws one hour away in the hills.

“Isolation,” Ronco called it, on the fourth day in a row that he hadn’t left the house.

At this complicated stage of the pandemic, the lives of unvaccinated people are in major flux, at the mercy of decisions made everywhere from courts to workplaces. But their lives are changing most dramatically in a handful of countries in Western Europe, including Italy, where governments are systematically reducing their liberties, while beginning to return the rest of society to a state of normalcy. And while regular testing, until recently, was permitted as an alternative to vaccination, even that option has now been largely removed as countries harden their mandates. For people like Ronco, the choice is to get inoculated or face exclusion.

Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate about “the debate that never happened.” A bill submitted to the House of Delegates by Wren Williiams, a newly elected Republican legislator, included a requirement that students learn about “the first debate” between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The debate, to those who studied U.S. history in high school, was not between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass but between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Williams became a laughing stock online, but the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, stepped up and took responsibility for the error. Regardless of where the fault lies, the issue it highlights is the absurdity of allowing legislators to determine what should or should not be taught.

The Virginia bill would prohibit instructors from teaching that the U.S. is “systemically racist or sexist” or that “the ideology of equity of outcomes is superior to the ideology of equality…of opportunities.” It would also ban school boards from hiring anyone “with the job title of equity director or diversity director or a substantially similar title.”

Williams cribbed most of his bill, including the part that refers to “the first Lincoln-Douglas debate,” from a law that passed in Texas last fall. Both bills include a provision even more disturbing than the swapping of Steven Douglas for Frederick Douglass: one that prohibits school boards from requiring teachers to cover any current event or “controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” Teachers that choose to do so must represent multiple competing viewpoints on the issue, “without giving deference to any one perspective.”

Bills like these lead to huge embarrassments, like teaching “both sides” of slavery and the Holocaust, or teaching about Nazism, fascism, and Marxism without taking sides.

As a rule of thumb, legislators should leave the teaching of history and science and literature to teachers, historians, scientists, and literature experts.

You can’t legislature truth, and you can’t allow poorly educated legislators to dictate curriculum that will set students back a generation or more.

Los Angeles public schools have the most ambitious COVID testing practices in the nation. “The district operates the most ambitious school coronavirus testing program in the nation, with more than 500,000 mandatory tests administered every week for all students and staff.” Even so, the Los Angeles Times reported, one-third of all students stayed home.

Glenn Sacks, a social studies teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, explains the COVID protocols that have enabled the district to keep its schools open safely.

He writes:

At Los Angeles Unified, everybody gets tested every week, and anyone who doesn’t have a negative test result can’t come to school. We’ve proven this can be implemented and made routine with only a modest amount of disruption.

Los Angeles Unified’s James Monroe High School, where I teach, is typical. Every Thursday a COVID testing team sets up in our multipurpose room. All students are tested – one week all the English teachers take their classes, next week the math teachers, etc.

The testing was rocky at first and some teachers, myself included, complained about the wasted time. Yet within a few weeks it was running efficiently, and testing now usually takes only 10 to 15 minutes.

All teachers and support staff are also tested. Everybody gets their test results back in 24 to 48 hours, delivered via email and also on our “Daily Pass” phone app.

Each morning all students and staff must generate a Daily Pass, which certifies that they have a current, negative test result and are thus eligible to enter campus. The students line up and present their Daily Pass’ QR code to the administrators and support staff for scanning, and the lines move quickly.

When there is a positive test result, administrators are notified, and the student isolates. There is contact tracing – all teachers have submitted their classroom seating charts to the administration, so when there is a positive test result, administrators can quickly identify the students most likely to be exposed.

Masks are readily available for students and staff, as is hand sanitizer. We have proper ventilation and filters, and each school site has a COVID Task Force in which both union representatives and administrators participate.

Sacks hopes that the finger-pointing and blaming will end. There is a safe way to reopen schools.

Our friends, the Pastors for Texas Children, sent the following message today. There are Senators giving speeches today about the legacy of Dr. King, even as they intend to vote against federal protections for voting rights. They should walk their talk.

Walk Your Talk

     We have a faith filled with words.

     The Word of God inspires and empowers us to a relationship of love with God and our fellow human beings. Adherents of Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—claim to be “people of the Book.”

     The Book of Genesis reports to us that God spoke all of Creation into being; “and God said, let there be… and there was.” The Gospel of John opens with the immortal line, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

     Indeed, the Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel, tells us at the beginning that “Jesus came preaching,” and quotes Jesus at the end to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

     Words are important.

     But, these same profound faith traditions also teach that words without subsequent action are useless.

     Word must become flesh in order for it to facilitate a new creation.

     Jesus challenges his disciples in closing his famous Sermon on the Mount that “everyone who hears these words and acts on them will be wise.”

     The Book of James: “Faith without works is dead,“ and “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers.”

     Today we celebrate the life and ministry of a great preacher, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every year, we commemorate his powerful life and legacy especially on this day.

     Leaders all over, particularly political leaders, will invoke Dr. King’s name, recite his sermons, quote his words, remember his life.

     But, many of them have no intention of putting any of Dr. King’s vision into action.

     If words aren’t followed up with action, they ring hollow. Word remaining word.

     Today, many political leaders give lip service to the teachings of Dr. King, but have no intention whatsoever to put those teachings into action.

     In fact, their policy positions often directly contradict the essential truths of those teachings.

     Even acts of individual charity and benevolence miss the mark of Dr. King’s purpose. We might do charitable acts of service on a day like today, which is right and good.

     But Dr. King did not champion mere charity; he preached justice.

     Instead of feeding the hungry, he fought to change the systems that resulted in hunger. He preached in a memorable sermon that it is one thing for the famous Samaritan to rescue the injured man in the ditch, but we must also address the conditions causing the attacks on the Jericho Road.

     PTC believes that educational equity for all children is essential to overcome systemic racism and injustice in our society. Not just good words. But, a structure that ensures those words become deeds.

     It is good to believe that “all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”     

     It is better to put that belief into action that dismantles our systems of injustice. And replaces them with actions that ensure quality public education for ALL Texas schoolchildren.

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director

Pastors for Texas ChildrenPO Box 471155, Fort Worth, Texas, 76147

Victor Ray, a professor at the University of Iowa and a Nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institution, reminds us that Dr. King warned about the betrayal of the white moderate after he experienced it himself.

He writes for CNN:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the White moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote these words in the isolation of a Birmingham jail, where he was imprisoned for defying a court injunction to protest the city’s segregation ordinance. In an open letter, initially scrawled in the margins of a newspaper, Dr. King addressed a group of fellow clergymen who claimed to support the Black freedom movement but criticized nonviolent civil disobedience as a tactic to confront the evils of segregation.

In the letter, King differentiated between just and unjust laws, citing measures that prevented Black Americans from voting as a form of legalized injustice. At the time, Alabama, like many states across the South, was governed by a kind of racial authoritarianism that denied Black people a say in how they were governed. The clergymen’s condemnation of King’s activism belied their stated commitment to racial justice and provided cover for the denial of basic citizenship rights, including the right to vote.

By blocking voting reform today, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are the White moderates Dr. King warned us about.

On Thursday, Sinema said that while she backs the Democrats’ voting rights laws, she would not support an exception to the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold to pass the legislation. Manchin later followed suit, saying he would not vote to “eliminate or weaken the filibuster.” By prioritizing an arcane Senate rule over the protection of voting rights, Manchin and Sinema have chosen “order” over justice.

They are more concerned about protecting a Senate procedure than ensuring the right to vote. Priorities?

Open the link and read more.

This day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is an appropriate time to consider the widespread efforts to restrict the teaching of racism in America’s schools. In Tennessee, the notorious “Moms for Liberty” declared that a second-grade book called Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington was inappropriate, as was Ruby Bridges Goes to School, about the six-year-old who was the first African-American child to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans. The Central York School District in Pennsylvania banned books about Dr. King and Rosa Parks (parents, students, and teachers fought back against the ban in Central York); a Twitter account called Central York Banned Book Club (CYBannedBooks) reports on censorship in their own district and elsewhere. Young people today are not so easily bullied.

During the past couple of years, the nation’s public schools have been the object of savage attacks by politicians and ideologues who claim that the schools are teaching “critical race theory” and indoctrinating (white) children. CRT emphasizes the tenacity of systemic racism, and legislators in red states have passed laws mandating that teachers are not allowed to teach about systemic racism or to teach anything that might make some students (white) feel “uncomfortable.” At least 10 states have passed such laws, including Florida, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho, Tennessee, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and North Dakota. Sometimes such laws are called “divisive concepts” laws, because they forbid the teaching of anything that is “divisive.” Teaching about racism is apparently divisive, as is any implication that the nation is or has been sexist or unwelcoming to specific racial or ethnic groups. So, no more teaching in history about race riots and massacres and lynching; no teaching in history about hostility to Irish immigrants; no teaching in history about anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism.

Much of the uproar was provoked by the publication of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “The 1619 Project,” originally published as an issue of The New York Times Magazine and bearing the imprimatur of America’s most respected newspaper. In September 2020, Trump spoke at the National Archives Museum, standing before the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, where he said that radicals and Marxists were responsible for “decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools.” He singled out critical race theory and The 1619 Project as examples of left-wing indoctrination. He called for “patriotic education” He announced his intention to create the “1776 Commission,” which would “promote a ‘patriotic education’ and ‘encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of our founding.’”

The furor over critical race theory during 2021 has not subsided. Teachers in red states that have passed laws against CRT and divisive concepts are wary about teaching about racism. Is teaching about slavery, Jim Crow, and the persistence of segregation a violation of the law? Should teachers avoid any mention of the Ku Klux Klan or modern-day white supremacists?

In June 2021, more than 150 organizations–historians, educators, authors– signed a “Joint Statement on Legislative Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism in American History.” The joint statement forcefully criticized the laws that aimed to ban teaching about racism in a way that made “some” students uncomfortable. It said “these bills risk infringing on the right of faculty to teach and of students to learn…Purportedly, any examination of racism in this country’s classrooms might cause some students ‘discomfort’ because it is an uncomfortable and complicated subject. But the ideal of informed citizenship necessitates an informed public…Educators owe students a clear-eyed, nuanced, and frank delivery of history, so that they can learn, grow, and confront the issues of the day, not hew to some state-ordered ideology.”

The most puzzling aspect of this coordinated effort to suppress the teaching of accurate history is the silence of people who should have spoken up to defend the schools and their teachers.

The most prominent no-show on the ramparts is Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Last June, he testified before a Congressional committee and was asked about critical race theory. He responded that his department would leave curriculum decisions to states and local districts. He reiterated that the “the federal government doesn’t get involved in curriculum.” According to Chalkbeat, Cardona “said he trusts educators to do their jobs, including teaching about the progress this country has made combatting racism. ‘But I think we can do that while also being honest about some of the things we’re not proud of.” Those comments might be called “leading from behind.” Other than a comment here or there, Cardona did not make a major effort of combatting the attacks on schools and teacher over teaching about racism. He did not give a major speech, as he should have to defend teaching truth.

Other prominent absentees from the CRT-censorship-book banning controversy were the billionaires who usually are verbose about what schools and teachers should be doing.

Where was Bill Gates? Although rightwing wing-nuts attacked Bill Gates for spreading CRT, Gates said nothing to defend schools and teachers against the attacks on them. He is not known for shyness. He uses his platform to declaim his views on every manner of subject. Why the silence about teaching the nation’s history with adherence to the truth? Why no support for courageous teachers who stand up for honesty in the curriculum?

One could list the many other philanthropists who remained silent as the critics were beating up on schools for teaching honest history to their students. None of them was heard from.

Who else failed to show up and be counted on behalf of academic integrity?

Steven Singer examines Dr. Martin Luther King’s view of education by quoting from a paper that he wrote as an 18-year-old student at Morehouse College. The young King said that the purpose of education was “intelligence plus character,” not just the academic learning (a necessary ingredient, obviously) but an understanding and appreciation for “the accumulated experience of social living.” In this statement, King sounds very much like John Dewey, whom he had probably never read at this point in his life. When King wrote, there were two kinds of schools: private and public. Now there are many kinds, including voucher schools, religious schools, charter schools, home-schools, and public schools.

Singer writes:

So which schools today are best equipped to meet King’s ideal?

Private schools are by their very nature exclusionary. They attract and accept only certain students. These may be those with the highest academics, parental legacies, religious beliefs, or – most often – families that can afford the high tuition. As such, their student bodies are mostly white and affluent.

That is not King’s ideal. That is not the best environment to form character, the best environment in which to learn about people who are different than you and to develop mutual understanding.

Voucher schools are the same. They are, in fact, nothing but private schools that are subsidized in part by public tax dollars.

Charter schools model themselves on private schools so they are likewise discriminatory. The businesses who run these institutions – often for a profit – don’t have to enroll whoever applies. Even though they are fully funded by public tax dollars, they can choose who to let in and who to turn away. Often this is done behind the cloak of a lottery, but with no transparency and no one checking to ensure it is done fairly, there is no reason to believe operators are doing anything but selecting the easiest (read: cheapest) students to educate.

Charter schools have been shown to increase segregation having student bodies that are more monochrome than those districts from which they cherry pick students. This is clearly not King’s ideal..

There are many public schools where children of different races, nationalities, religions, and creeds meet, interact and learn together side-by-side.

Students wearing hajibs learn next to those wearing yarmulkes. Students with black skin and white skin partner with each other to complete class projects. Students with parents who emigrated to this country as refugees become friends with those whose parents can trace their ancestors back to the Revolutionary War.

These schools are true melting pots where children learn to become adults who value each other because of their differences not fear each other due to them. These are children who not only learn their academics as well – if not often better – than those at competing kinds of schools, but they also learn the true face of America and they learn to cherish it.

This is the true purpose of education. This is the realization of King’s academic ideal and his civil rights dream.

But Singer realizes that many public schools do not meet this ideal. Segregation has intensified in recent years, due to judicial and political retrenchment. Some public schools are richly endowed with resources, while others are not. But public schools permit the possibility of change and improvement.

He adds:

If we want to reclaim what it means to be an American, if we want to redefine ourselves as those who celebrate difference and defend civil rights, that begins with understanding the purpose of education.

It demands we defend public schools against privatization. And it demands that we transform our public schools into the integrated, equitable institutions we dreamed they could all be.