PBS NewsHour posted an AP story that described the chilling effect of anti-“Critical Race Theory” laws. Laws that ban the teaching of certain subjects and that ban books never end well. They are the path to censorship and ignorance.

New measures that restrict how race is addressed in classrooms have spread confusion and anxiety among many educators, who in some cases have begun pulling books and canceling lessons for fear of being penalized.

Education officials have nixed a contemporary issues class in a Tennessee district, removed Frederick Douglass’ autobiography from reading lists in an Oklahoma school system and, in one Texas case, advised teachers to present “opposing” views of the Holocaust.

At least a dozen states have passed measures this year restricting how schools teach about racism, sexism and other topics. While educators are still waiting to see how they will be enforced, the vagueness of some of the measures, coupled with stiff penalties including potential loss of teaching licenses, already are chilling conversations on race in schools and, in some cases, having consequences that likely go well beyond the intent of those approving the measures.

Matt Hawn, a high school social studies teacher in Tennessee, said he has heard from teachers concerned about how they will teach controversial topics since he was fired himself this spring as state lawmakers were finalizing new teaching restrictions.

“It’s certainly giving them caution, like, ‘What’s going to happen if I teach this?’ — because the penalty is so steep,’” Hawn said.

Hawn was dismissed after school officials said he used materials with offensive language and failed to provide a conservative viewpoint during discussions of white privilege in his contemporary issues class, which has since been eliminated.

Teaching around race and diversity has been on the rise alongside a broader acknowledgment that racial injustice didn’t end in America with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Those efforts have spurred a backlash, particularly among Republican voters.

Some sections of the new laws would seem unobjectionable. Tennessee’s law bars the teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex. But other sections are more murky, barring teaching that promotes division or causes children to feel psychological distress because of their race or sex...

In Tennessee, a conservative group of mothers in the Nashville suburb of Williamson County, Moms for Liberty, has challenged how schools teach the civil rights movement to second graders.

In a letter to the Department of Education, Robin Steenman complained that the texts and accompanying teachers manual imply that “people of color continue to be oppressed by an oppressive ‘angry, vicious, scary, mean, loud, violent, (rude), and (hateful)’ white population.” The books Steenman cited include “Ruby Bridges Goes to School” and “Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington.”

In Oklahoma, teachers in the Edmond Public Schools said books by authors of color were struck from a list of anchor texts, around which English teachers build their curriculum. A lawsuit filed by teachers, students and parents said the district also removed commonly taught texts by Black authors from the curriculum, including the autobiography of Frederick Douglass.

How is a teacher to know what is permissible?

Clearly, to comply with the law and to avoid arousing parent anger, teach children that racism happened long, long ago, but it doesn’t exist anymore.

Never mention anything happening today that suggests the persistence of racism (which doesn’t exist anymore), like the murder of George Floyd, Briona Taylor, Tamar Rice, or other persons of color.

Do not mention the 2020 election, so as to avoid discussing who won or lost.

Do not ever discuss gun control or gun rights (too divisive).

Do not discuss abortion (too divisive).

Do not discuss the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. or Martin Luther King Jr. (divisive).

Do not discuss immigration (divisive).

Perhaps what the legislatures should do is revise the laws so that they describe in detail what teachers are allowed to teach.

Best of all would be if legislatures agreed that they should not write curriculum.

NPR reported the results of a survey that correlated COVID death rates in thousands of counties by political affiliations. The counties carried by Trump in 2020 had higher COVID death rates than those that went for Biden.

This is not surprising since so many Republican elected officials—local, state, and national—have opposed mask mandates and vaccination mandates while supporting quack remedies.

Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic…

NPR looked at deaths per 100,000 people in roughly 3,000 counties across the U.S. from May 2021, the point at which vaccinations widely became available. People living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in November 2020 had 2.7 times the death rates of those that went for Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates.

In October, the reddest tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the bluest tenth, according to Charles Gaba, an independent health care analyst who’s beentracking partisanship trends during the pandemicand helped to review NPR’s methodology. Those numbers have dropped slightly in recent weeks, Gaba says: “It’s back down to around 5.5 times higher.”

The trend was robust, even when controlling for age, which is the primary demographic risk of COVID-19 mortality. The data also reveal a major contributing factor to the death rate difference: The higher the vote share for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate….the rate of Republican vaccination against COVID-19 has flatlined at just 59%, according to the latest numbers from Kaiser. By comparison, 91% of Democrats are vaccinated….

Being unvaccinated increases the risk of death from COVID-19 dramatically, according to the CDC. The vast majority of deaths since May, around 150,000, have occurred among the unvaccinated, says Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post amplified these findings in his report that COVID death rates are lower in the most-vaccinated big counties than in less-vaccinated counties. Vaccinations save lives.

He wrote:

About 1 in 420 Americans has died of covid-19, according to official data. And we’re still averaging more than 1,000 deaths per day.

But in certain areas — and indeed in many areas in which the population is much more tightly packed and the coronavirus could transmit more easily — the story is far less grim. A big reason: widespread vaccination. Death rates are far below the national average in the most-vaccinated, often-urban areas.

Much has been written about the yawning gap in outcomes between less-vaccinated and more-vaccinated areas, especially as deaths in less-vaccinated, red states significantly and increasingly outpace more-vaccinated, blue states. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump also reported this week that deaths in red counties are more than 50 percent higher than in blue counties.

But even that might undersell just how beneficial vaccination is in preventing the worst that the coronavirus has to offer — particularly when adopted on a grand scale in a given area…

Perhaps the most highly vaccinated large county in America, according to New York Times data, is Montgomery County, Md., just outside the District of Columbia. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 93 percent of those 12 and older there are fully vaccinated, compared to around 70 percent nationally. The number dying over the past week is eight times as high nationally — 3.4 per 1 million — as it is in Montgomery County — 0.4 per 1 million — even as Montgomery County is near some virus hotspots.


The relative rate is similar in two of the handful of other most-vaccinated large counties in the country: Dane County, Wis. (home to Madison), where 86 percent of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated, per the CDC, and San Francisco, where 84 percent are vaccinated. Dane County also has 0.4 deaths per 1 million despite being in one of the most hard-hit regions, the Midwest.

Slightly fewer people 12 and over are vaccinated in New York City, though still north of 80 percent. Over the past week, it has registered a per-capita death rate about one-third the national average.

The evidence that the vaccines are effective is overwhelming, yet Republican governors and senators continue to spread misinformation and oppose any effort to mandate masks or vaccines. Conservative parents harass local school boards, demanding the “right” to keep their children unprotected from a deadly virus.

Donald Trump should be boasting about his role in pushing for the development of vaccines, which he called Operation Warp Speed. Why isn’t he publicly urging his admirers to get the vaccines that he funded? Why isn’t he encouraging followers to take “the Trump vaccine,” instead of standing by silently as his followers die?

Why are Republicans like Governor Abbott of Texas, Governor DeSantis of Florida, and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin promoting disinformation and complacency while fighting effective public health measures? Are they sabotaging their own base intentionally?

If you don’t know the work of Jitu Brown, this is a good time to inform yourself. Jitu Brown has worked for many years as a grassroots organizer in Chicago. He wants families and communities to be able to advocate for themselves, and he trains them to do it. He ardently opposes school closings and privatization, methods of ”reform” that are imposed on communities of color by the powerful. He led the successful hunger strike that blocked the closing of the Walter S. Dyett High School, forcing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to rescind the closing and to reopen the refurbished high school. Out of his work in Chicago, Brown led the creation of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which has chapters in 36 cities. J4J strongly supports the establishment of community schools that meet the needs of communities and build networks of families and communities.

MEDIA ADVISORY TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7TH 10:00 AM ET


AFT’S RANDI WEINGARTEN, NEA’S BECKY PRINGLE, U.S. SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, CONGRESSMAN BOWMAN (NY-16), JOURNEY FOR JUSTICE’S JITU BROWN TO JOIN EDUCATION EQUITY COALITION AT PRESS CONFERENCE TO ANNOUNCE NEW COALITION


National Leaders Back ‘Equity or Else’ Campaign and
Push for Biden Budget Initiative: $440 Million for Community Schools


(WASHINGTON, D.C) – On Tuesday, December 7, 10 a.m. ET, the American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten; National Education Association president, Becky Pringle; U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD; Congressman Jamaal Bowman, NY-16; Journey for Justice Alliance national director, Jitu Brown; and Schott Foundation for Public Education president, Dr. John Jackson will join national justice and education union leaders to hold a press conference in support of the “Equity or Else” campaign to announce a brand new commission, and amplify its strong support for President Biden’s education budget which will announce a groundbreaking increase of 41 percent for school funding in his proposed FY2022 budget. This Equity Commission will engage municipalities and the federal government to inform government officials at every level on how to create investments and policies that transform quality of life for all Americans, with a focus on equity.


Journey for Justice sits at the helm of the coalition that has been pivotal in shaping President Biden’s agenda on education, especially around community schools. The Equity or Else campaign is a coalition of leaders and organizers from different quality-of-life areas, including education, housing, health care, environment/climate justice, youth investment and food production and delivery, to promote education on how inequity impacts these areas and the grassroots solutions they have organized.

The coalition includes: The Alliance for Educational Justice, The Center for Popular Democracy, National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, Dignity in Schools Campaign, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Appetite for Change, Clean Water Action, White Coats for Black Lives, National Nurses United and Black Lives Matter at School.


WHAT: News Conference with National Education and Justice Leaders on President Biden’s Budget Proposal and Brand New Equity or Else Commission


WHO:
● U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD
● Congressman Jamaal Bowman, NY-16
● Becky Pringle, president, National Education Association
● Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
● Dr. John Jackson, president, Schott Foundation for Public Education
● Jitu Brown, national director, Journey for Justice Alliance
● Zakiyah Ansari, Alliance for Quality Education, state advocacy director
***

PLEASE EMAIL MAYA.HIXSON@GMAIL.COM TO RSVP*** WHEN: 10:00 AM ET, Tuesday, December 7, 2021

WHERE: The National Press Club, 529 14th St., NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC (Vax card or Negative COVID Test Required)


Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/J4JAlliance

FURTHER BACKGROUND: The Schott Foundation’s national Opportunity to Learn Network, in partnership with the Journey for Justice Alliance’s Equity or Else project, is launching a nationwide campaign to reverse the trend of privatizing public schools and in its place implement its proven plan for reimagining an education system that has long neglected Black and brown children and starved their schools of resources.

Bolstered by a newly created Grassroots Equity Commission, Equity or Else has come to Washington to back the Biden administration’s budget, which would double the Title I funding that targets low-income schools and, for the first time, allocate $440 million for sustainable community schools. The commission, formed by Schott with J4J, will engage local and federal government in exploring how institutions engage Black, brown and working-class families.


Intent upon getting true equity in education for children of color and reversing the runaway school-privatization trend abetted by Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, grassroots members of campaign organizations will also meet with key senators and with current Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.


The time is ripe for reimagining public education. The Biden administration is committed to allocating critically needed new resources for the task. Congress has shown itself willing and able to provide those resources. The conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers has amplified the discussion of what equity actually means. The pandemic has highlighted the stark inequity that afflicts children of color. And those who have been left behind are raising their voices to demand the rooting out of systemic racism in every institution, including: schools, hospitals, healthcare, food production and delivery systems and public safety.


The Schott Foundation’s Loving Cities index assesses how these institutions function in Black, brown and working-class communities. Equity or Else is founded on the proposition that this reimagining of policy must be guided by the voices of those who have been most deeply affected by inequity. We have come together and are finding solutions that meet our needs.

Equity or Else is doing listening projects with people in underserved communities across the country. The Equity Commission will engage officials from municipalities and the federal government to explore how those foundational institutions in those communitIes can be reimagined, with a focus on equity. By using data from all these sources, the commission will be able to inform government officials at every level on how to create equitable investments and policies to transform quality of life for all Americans.


The following national organizations are participating in the overall Equity or Else campaign: The Alliance for Educational Justice, The Center for Popular Democracy, National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, Dignity in Schools Campaign, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Appetite for Change, Alliance for Education Justice, Clean Water Action, White Coats for Black Lives, National Nurses United and Black Lives Matter at School. For more information go to http://www.standing4equity.org

Founded in 2012, the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) is a national network of intergenerational, grassroots community organizations led primarily by Black and Brown people in 36 U.S. cities. For more information go to www.j4jalliance.com.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: MAYA HIXSON
321.266.2000 MAYA.HIXSON@GMAIL.COM
LAURIE GLENN
773.704.7246 LRGLENN@THINKINCSTRATEGY.COM

#

You may recall that a young Black man named Julius Jones was sentenced to death for murder in Oklahoma. He insisted on his innocence, and his cause attracted national attention. At the last minute, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted his death sentence to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

John Thompson, retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, was a teacher of Julius Jones. He writes:

I want to share two sets of lessons from the campaign by Justice for Julius that saved the life of my former student, Julius Jones. Despite a huge body of evidence that Julius is innocent of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, it is unclear whether he still has a chance to be pardoned or paroled.
After the decision to not execute Julius Jones was made, I was able to rethink the reasons why he landed in Death Row. Reading and/or rereading court pleadings during the appeals process, I reached the conclusion that the 22-year battle for Julius’ life was mostly the result of two sets of decisions that were made quickly, without serious contemplation. Or, perhaps, there were no decisions made. Perhaps it was the history and the win-at-any-cost culture of the criminal justice system which prevented consideration of the testimony of Julius and the Jones family. After all, there was a long history of prosecutors trained by an Assistant District Attorney whose mantra was: “Every inmate in “Big Mac” (state prison) is guilty of the crime he was duly convicted of – or something else.”

This post will take a broad view of the conflict between the Oklahoma criminal justice system and a new generation committed to social justice. It will briefly review the key issues, first raised by the ABC News documentary, The Last Defense, that drew the attention of international news outlets regarding the question of whether Julius received a fair trial. And then it will describe the last months of the fight for Justice for Julius. A second post will summarize the most dubious of the prosecutors’ claims in the hope it offers more insights into what is wrong with our country’s criminal justice systems.

Julius was first represented by public defender Barry Albert, who was a great attorney with the ability to research and cross-examine the prosecutors’ dubious claims. But, Albert died suddenly, and he was replaced by lead attorney David McKenzie, who admitted that he was “terrified by this case due to my inexperience in death penalty litigation.” McKenzie later said in a sworn statement: “I believe that if I had been effective in establishing the true state of the evidence regarding Jordan and King, Mr. Jones would have been acquitted.”

Two decades later, McKenzie says he had been too critical of his cross-examination of Jordan.

The “Justice for Julius” campaign began at a time when criminal justice reform was remarkably bipartisan; for instance, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt appointed two of the three parole board members who recommended that the governor grant Jones clemency.

After the documentary, organizations and celebrities such as such as the Congressional Black Caucus; Kim Kardashian, the rapper Common; Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy; and football and basketball football starssuch as Baker Mayfield, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, and Blake Griffin, whose father coached both Julius and Christopher Jordan, and who appeared in The Last Defense. Eventually, the list of supporters would include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter; a significant number of Republican legislators and former legislators like Kris Steele; the George Kaiser Family Foundation; the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice; the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; the American Conservative Union in Washington, D.C.; and the Faith and Freedom Coalition; and many other organizations. Also, the European Union and German ambassadors urged Gov. Stitt to accept the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation.

But the backlash against these efforts demonstrated the political power that prosecutors retained. In June, 2020, then-board member and former district court judge Allen McCall “threatened to seek criminal charges against then-executive director Steven Bickley,” demanding that Bickley help block Jones’ commutation hearing. Bickley took a leave of absence, criticized “threats to criminalize my public service,” and resigned.

Similarly, according to the Parole Board members’ response, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, filed an open records request seeking all references by board members to the terms, “Commutation,” “Commute,” “Conflict of interest,” “Criminal Justice Reform,” “Death penalty,” “District Attorney,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Julius Jones.” Prater cited a 2019 article describing Luck as “having tears in his eyes as he spoke about the criminal justice system,” and condemned his association with admirable organizations such City Care and Whiz Kids.

Prater was represented by the Asst. D.A. who prosecuted Jones, and asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block Luck and Doyle from Jones’ hearing. After Prater’s request was rejected, the newly appointed Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor unsuccessfully filed a similar request.

The Black Wall Street reported that Prater then requested a grand jury investigation into the Pardon and Parole board. The judge who approved it is married to the prosecutor in the Jones case. Gov. Stitt criticized Prater’s “latest political stunt to intimidate the Pardon and Parole Board and obstruct the Constitutional process as high-profile cases that his office prosecuted are being considered.” And some of the younger, more progressive supporters of Justice for Julius started an initiative petition drive for a grand jury to investigate Prater.

Finally, The Oklahoman reported that Prater released tapes of 600 phone calls by Jones using another death row inmate’s PIN number. According to an investigator, “Among those called were ‘people in the sports and entertainment industries’ and podcast hosts.” The implication was that the calls were evidence that Justice for Julius was a profit-making enterprise.

In the autumn of 2021, the state restarted executions that had been put on hold after Oklahoma’s three-drug execution protocol caused the “botched executions” of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner in 2014 and 2015. The first renewed execution of John Grant caused him “to vomit, convulse and curse as he was killed.” Even so, Julius was scheduled for execution on November 18.

The state’s Pardon and Parole Board again voted 3-1 to recommend that Stitt grant clemency to Jones. But, according to the Black Wall Street Times, Attorney General O’Connor, who Stitt saw as a mentor, urged Stitt to push forward on the execution of Julius. He was said to be basing his advice on “closure for the [Howell] family,” and “Julius’s past legal troubles as a young teenager, rather than the facts of the case.”

As the execution date approached, Stitt said he was praying over his decision, and he would make no further statement. He met with the Howell family but refused to meet with anyone in the Jones family. By the day before the scheduled execution, the words and body language of Julius’ supporters indicated to me that they retained little hope of saving his life.

As the clock ticked down, even though the Justice for Julius vigils had been nonviolent and respectful, staff at the Capitol were told to close their offices and take time off, and barricades were put upbetween the Oklahoma History Center parking lot where demonstrators gathered, and the Governor’s mansion.

The last week’s vigils exemplified the contradictions in Oklahoma’s 21st century culture. As I talked with my Representative, Mauree Turner, the nation’s first nonbinary, Muslim, Black legislator, the anti-mask, anti-vaccination demonstrators walked by, proclaiming their belief in “Freedom!” Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, who taught in my former classroom at Centennial Mid-High after I retired, described his proposed legislation to expand full-service community schools. My student and basketball buddy, and Julius’ best friend, Jimmie Lawson, reenacted my clumsiness on the basketball court.

On the eve of the scheduled execution, the poetry slam at the Ponyboy, about a mile from the History Center, was cancelled, and this statement was posted:

“Given the intense anxiety and frustration I and others in our community are experiencing, if Stitt has not granted clemency by this evening we will be putting the slam on hold in favor of an intimate night of reading our poetry and focusing on healing.”

The New York Times reported:

The Oklahoma City Public Schools estimated that more than 1,800 students across 13 schools participated in walkouts to support Mr. Jones on Wednesday. The district said it “supports our students’ rights to peaceful assembly and their freedom of expression

Even more students walked out the next day.

Also on Wednesday, Rev. Keith Jossell, Julius’ spiritual advisor, seemed to indicate that there wasn’t much hope for tomorrow, but Julius’ supporters should heed his call for the continuation of their campaign for justice. He said:

Julius is grateful to god. That he chose him to be able to be the spotlight so that you would understand what is wrong with the Department of Corrections in the state of Oklahoma. … This is an opportunity to try to start a new Oklahoma. If you’re a business and you think you may want to relocate to Oklahoma, look at what we do to our citizens! If you are a family and you think this might be a good Bible Belt place to raise your family, look at what we do to people in Oklahoma!

Madeline Jones was not allowed to hug Julius. He was chained down and separated from her by a glass partition. She seemed especially exhausted, saying that whatever happens tomorrow, the movement must continue. Mrs. Jones also said, “And if you think Julius is guilty, give him a fair trial!”

On November 18, less than four hours before the scheduled execution, my wife and I were about to join the huge vigil at the Capitol. Then we heard the news:

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has spared the life of high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones. He announced, “After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.” But “Stitt ordered that Jones shall never be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon or parole for the rest of his life.”

It will take time to determine whether the Constitution actually gives the governor that much power. Also, given Superintendent of Education Joy Hofmeister’s support for clemency for Julius, after switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party, it remains to be seen how this will affect her campaign for governor against Stitt. I believe it and her defense of public schools will likely put her in the Governors Mansion.

Clearly, Mrs. Jones was correct in saying that regardless of the outcome of the campaign to “Free Julius Jones!,” it will have a significant effect on 21st century Oklahoma.

The dramatic weeks that preceded Julius’ commutation drew national and international coverage, as the Kyle Rittenhouse, the organizers of the Charlottesville violence, and the killers of Ahmaud Arbery trials were coming to a close. And commentators often expressed surprise that this multi-racial, cross-generational and often bipartisan movement occurred in Oklahoma.

I would especially recommend Rachel Maddow’s commentary and video of the celebrations which placed Justice for Julius in the context of direct actions across the world. I especially loved her exuberant declaration:

This was outside the prison where Julius Jones is incarcerated right after the news broke. You hear the crowd chanting “‘We`re going to be all right.’ This was Oklahoma this week! This was Oklahoma today!”

#2

As ABC’s The Last Defense reported after the 1999 murder of a white father by a Black carjacker, “fear was almost palpable” in Edmond. Moreover, this was a time when the Oklahoma County District Attorney, the late Bob Macy, was listed as one of America’s top-five deadliest prosecutors. As was explained in the previous post, this meant that there were not enough experienced death penalty defense lawyers to meet the demand. Julius Jones’ lead attorney, David McKenzie, told ABC that he lacked death penalty experience and had an overwhelming case load. (I appeared several times in the documentary.)

The Last Defense offered a compelling narrative that connected the evidence in ways that the jurors or the appellate courts never heard. For instance, it quoted a juror who explained:

And this thing has weighed on me for a long time. What happened was, several of us from the jury were getting on an elevator. This was well before deliberations. And one of the jurors said, “Well, they should just take that n—– out back, shoot him and bury him under the jail.” It didn’t matter what happened, this was a black man that was on trial for murder.

Conversely, the jury foreman told ABC that, in a case like that one, you “go with your heart more than anything else.” The juror trusted “what you felt in your gut.” When delivering the verdict, the juror “felt right.”

To the contrary, we at John Marshall H.S. had thought the following scenario was most likely: As defense attorney Amanda Bass later explained, “Unfortunately in our criminal justice system … the first person to be interrogated and to talk to the police who tells the police the story can be the one who gets the deal.”

So, this second post will focus on the main witnesses that the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office claimed to believe, as opposed to listening to Julius and his family.

On July 28, 1999, a neighbor of Christopher Jordan, saw him driving a car with an unidentified person with a red bandanna. They followed Paul Howell, his sister, and his two daughters home, where he was fatally shot during a carjacking. According to the Oklahoma County district attorneys’ virtually unchallenged argument, that was evidence that Julius committed the murder and Jordan drove the getaway car!?!?

But, in 2021, Julius’s federal public defender, Amanda Bass, explained to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board that Jordan and Jones were almost the same size and weight, and Prater said that the person who accompanied Jordan was a half a head taller, more muscular and bigger. And, Ladell “Day Day” King was 6 inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Jordan.

Jordan, like Julius and his brother and sister, were students of mine. I also played basketball with all of them, almost daily. That’s why I knew each of them so well that I was confident that the hundreds of students and teachers at John Marshal H.S were correct in believing Jordan, not Julius, should have been the prime suspect.

Jordan, who was known as “Westside,” told the Edmond investigators five different stories as the interrogators kept directing him back to the narrative that would make him “a better witness.”“Day Day” King had been a confidential police informant since the mid-1980s. The Edmond detective who handled him said he informed the Oklahoma City Police that “we needed to find my informant Ladell King.” The detective further explained that King “had the pulse on all auto thefts in the Oklahoma metro,” and he had told King that “his cooperation would then be shared with the District Attorney and he could get deals on his own charges or avoid charges altogether.”

During the subsequent investigation, King’s girlfriend told a detective that she and King “were trying to get the reward money” for helping to arrest the shooter. She was not asked about that statement during the trial. King was not charged and received a significant reduction in another sentence.

The second confidential informant was Kermit Lottie, who had cooperated with the Oklahoma City police since the early 1990s. He had assisted in the prosecution of two persons accused of murder and who were sentenced to death, but later exonerated.

According to the prosecution, it was a coincidence that the police stumbled across their confidential informant; an Edmond detective testified that the Oklahoma City police “just wanted to get an idea of what the area looked like.” And, at trial, the Asst. D.A. said, “By fate, by chance, [the police] pull up into Kermit Lottie’s garage and start talking to him.”

Under questioning by the prosecutor, Lottie denied he had made any requests of the D.A.’s office. However, two days before, he had written a letter to the Asst. D.A. reminding her of the “big time evidence” he had provided in the Paris Powell and Yancy Douglas death penalty case. (Powell and Douglas, were the nation’s 137th and 138thconvicts on death row to be exonerated; they served 16 years in prison and received $3.1 million in compensation. The federal appeals court criticized the Oklahoma County prosecutor for “knowing use of false testimony.”) Lottie also offered to help the prosecutor in return for “a little help for myself.”

Just three days after Julius was sentenced to death, Lottie received “very significant” help in reducing his federal sentence after the Edmond detective asked for leniency because Lottie was a “key witness” in the case against Julius.

The police officers’ and the prosecutors’ presentation of the testimony of Jordan, and the two professional informants were the biggest drivers of the case against Julius. But their arguments were doubly powerful because the overworked and inexperienced defense attorney’s failed to investigate their claims. And as explained in the previous post, they did not investigate the four inmates who said Jordan confessed/bragged about being the murderer, or competently cross-examine witnesses.

The defense attorney’s equally important, questionable decisions, to not bring Julius and the Jones to the stand, were also due to their failure to interview Julius’ girlfriend and Mrs. Jones’ friend who dropped her at the Jones’ home where she said they were about to have a spaghetti dinner. Neither of them could confirm the claims that Julius was at his family’s home when the murder occurred, but contrary to McKenzie’s understanding, neither of them made statements about where he was at the time of the murder. (emphasis mine) In other words, neither statement undermined the credibility of Jones or his family when they said Julius was with them at 9:30pmwhich was the time when the murder occurred. (And, McKenzie could not find the letter that he remembered as Julius telling his girlfriend he was on the south side, not his parents’ home. Neither could he remember the investigator, who everyone on the team agreed was incompetent, ever providing a written record of his interviews of potential witnesses.)

In the 1980’s, I extensively researched the incredibly corrupt Oklahoma County criminal justice system. Prohibition had not been repealed until the late 1950’s, and bribing the Supreme Court was routine into the 1960’s, while the prison system’s brutality and corruption prompted the 1973 McAlester prison riot. I concluded that progress began in the late 1970s and the 1980s; progress may had slowed during the Macy years, but I was still shocked by its behavior in front page headline cases. As was common in much of the nation, the chances of an innocent person being convicted were higher in high-profile capital cases, especially when the prosecution relied on confidential informants.

When I spoke to District Attorney David Prater a few years ago, he seemed to know little about the Jones case, but his opinions were driven by his respect for the Asst. District Attorney who prosecuted the case.

I especially admired the bipartisan leaders of the criminal justice movement who had brought Oklahoma to the start of what promised to be transformational improvement. But, I suspect that the Oklahoma experience followed the same pattern which is common across America. On one hand, District Attorneys believe that can’t keep their power unless they win 90% or more of their cases through a plea bargain. Defendants supposedly will not plead guilty unless they know that prosecutors are almost certain to win. That makes for a culture of winners and losers; so D.A.s must remain the “biggest bear in the woods.”

On the other hand, it seems like the anger generated by Trumpism has turned a harsh winner-take-all mentality into a commitment to cruelty. Especially when a multi-racial movement unites to defend a Black man, too many believers in “law and order” are more committed to defeating their opponents, believing whatever spin the prosecutors deliver.

Before the D.A.s full scale assault on Julius’ quest for clemency, I thought Gov. Stitt would split the difference in a way he hoped to satisfy the 60% of Oklahomans (and 49% of Republicans) who know of Julius’ case, and believe he should receive clemency, according to poll of 500 voters. As The Black Wall Street Times reported, “The poll comes after former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called on the Jones family to die quietly, and as Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater refuses to turn over Jones’ case file.”

But I was less hopeful that Stitt would pardon or parole him. It never occurred to me that his compromise would include a ban a pardon or parole by any other governor or parole board. I suspect he chose to avoid the debacle which the execution could prompt, especially if was another botched one, while minimizing anger from his Trumpian supporters who have such a taste for blood.

Finally, I had read about the change of statutes and rules during the War on Drugs that made it unlikely that evidence of innocence would be allowed as grounds for an appeal. But I had not fully appreciated the ways that today “courts were all prevented by strict and procedural
bars from reviewing the full merits of Julius’s claims.”

I was dismayed by the logic of the Court of Criminal Appeals, which I had long respected. I could have agreed with the Court that some of the circumstantial evidence was valid – if it had been investigated. The Court said the evidence against Julius was “damning,” even though I could not find any solid evidence in their statements that had been adequately analyzed. It concluded that “King was not involved in the Howell murder in any way,” even though a fair trial would have required something that didn’t happen – an investigation of confidential informants’ credibility and participation in the crime. I would hope the Court would agree that today the evidence points to Julius’ innocence and ask what that says about our appeals process.

Jack Hassard taught science teachers for many years at the Georgia State University. He now blogs frequently at The Art of Teaching Science. This post contains a fascinating perspective on teaching science. Hassard reviews a new book by a fellow science educator.

He writes:

The author of the book is Charles R. “Kip” Ault, Jr. Kip and I have collaborated over the Internet for several decades without actually meeting each other.  Like many of you, the digital world of email and social media is the mode of communication that brings us together in personal and productive ways.  Kip and I know each other from the science education research and writing we’ve done over the last 30 years.  I’ve discovered that our career paths have crossed in several ways.  We both taught high school and university courses in geology and the earth sciences, and designed science teacher education programs.  Kip was professor of science education at Lewis and Clark University for 24 years. There he developed and directed the science teacher education program. 

As Hassard explains, Ault wrote a book in 2015 criticizing the value of the national science standards.

In 2015, Kip published the book, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were developed in 1999, were uncritically endorsed and granted outright compliance by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), even though there has been a groundswell of teachers questioning these standards. And, very little criticism has been written from major research publications, until Kip Ault’s book Challenging Science Standards. If you haven’t read this book, you can use the link above to review it or read my review on my blog. 

Kip’s New Book

So, now, in 2021, Dr. Ault has published a new bookgiving us an inside view of science teaching and learning. Instead of being about science teaching, this is a book for science teaching. If you are in a student in a science teacher education program, a practicing science teacher, or professor of science education, I think Kip’s book will augment your deep feelings about how students learn and why science teaching should be in the service of student’s lived experiences. 

If you are science education researcher, this book will provide the theoretical rationale to design studies cutting across the spectrum of learning for all students. Kip’s four themes, Play, Art, Coherence, Community are big ideas from which studies can emerge. 

If you are a classroom science teacher, I encourage you to apply any or all of Kip’s “stories” that form the substance of his book. He’s cast the stories into four themes: Play, Art, Coherence, and Community. You’ll find specific ideas that you can apply to your own classroom that I think you will find enthralling.

Hassard wrote the introduction to Ault’s new book. He wrote:

Kip’s book is a creative path to a new paradigm of science teaching and learning.  His book is an amazing journey of stories and experiences in classrooms that will be familiar to you.  The international science education community has embraced the importance of qualitative research.  Descriptions of people, events and situations are hallmarks of qualitative methods.  Kip has filled his book with playful, aesthetic, meaningful, and compelling stories about learning in which context and the needs of students reigns.   Kip’s book is a qualitative treasure chest of new paradigm learning examples.  His book is also fun to read. He names some of his stories Wavy Elephants, Binary Banjos, Skull Sockets and Crowned Molars, Hells Pig, Vivid Canyons, Flashy Plumage, Wicked Extinctions, and Caring Communities.

Ault connects his science thinking to that of Leonardo da Vinci:

When you read this book you are going to be immersed into the mind of a science education writer who’s thinking is drawn from the science of Leonardo da Vinci. Kip has created a new paradigm that is rooted in Leonardo’s mind. I wrote this in my forward about why I think there is a link between Leonardo and Kip Ault. I wrote:

On Beyond Science Standards describes a world view that is holistic and ecological which is, according to Fritjof Capra[1], not unlike Leonardo’s.  Leonardo had developed a solid body of science.  But his science could not be understood without his art, nor his art without science. Walter Isaacson[2] and Fritjof Capra wrote separate biographies of Leonardo.  In their biographies, they explain that Leonardo’s scientific explorations informed his art.  Capra says that for Leonardo “painting is both an art and a science—a science of natural forms, of qualities, quite different from the mechanistic science that would emerge two hundred years later.” For Kip Ault, paleontology cannot exist without illustration, and he shows how art can be the center of methodology. Art can be the center of learning science. And it doesn’t have to be only paleontology. 

When I took science courses in high school and college, most of our time was spent memorizing facts about science. i didn’t get the point.

But Ault has a different vision of science:

Kip Ault believes that the purpose of education is to:

prepare citizens for lives of social responsibility in a democratically governed polity.  Kip reaches out to the science education community to claim that our present practices of teaching and routines of selecting what to teach will not help our students achieve that end. He concludes that immersing students in “scientific diversity” can be a journey uncovering aspects of ourselves and the universe promising immense pleasure and joy.  Kip Ault has written the book that I’ve been waiting for.


Peter Greene reviews efforts by Congressional Republicans to pass legislation guaranteeing parent rights. He goes through the legislation point-by-point and concludes that most of the “parent rights” are already common practice in American public schools.

He writes:

The bullet point version of the bill lists five rights– the right to know what’s being taught, the right to be heard, the right to see school budget and spending, the right to protect their child’s privacy, and the right to be updated on any violent activity at school. Most of which seems… kind of redundant, giving parents rights that they already have.
But maybe the actual bill reads a little better. (Spoiler alert: it does not. It is far worse.).

What the GOP is really seeking is to give parents the power to veto whatever is taught, which is alarming as it will lock in place the “right” of parents to rewrite history.

American public schools have many problems related to class sizes, lack of investment in repairing and upgrading obsolete facilities, racial segregation, and the need to retain qualified teachers, but the GOP does nothing to address critical needs. What it is actually willing to do is to pander to its aggrieved base.

Greene writes:

There’s are also levels of irony here. For one, the voucher programs that the GOP loves so well (e.g. Betsy DeVos’s Education Freedom Scholarships) champion schools that don’t have to do any of these things–and often strongly resist any pressure to make them do any of these things. The other is that the GOP is still trying to brand itself as the Parent’s Party, despite its opposition to paid family leave, medicare for all, and a variety of other measures that would actually help parents (like. say. addressing the US’s shameful maternal mortality rate). But why actually do something when you can instead float some doomed symbolic legislation that doesn’t actually do anything, let alone something useful.

The issue of parent rights has emerged as part of a larger strategy to control what topics can be taught in school and which books students can read. Teacher professionalism has been pushed aside as Republican politicians advance legislation to protect parent rights.

Jan Resseger points out that basic parent rights already exist: parents can decide whether to enroll their child in a public or private school. But the issue becomes heated when politicians seek to give parents power over curriculum, reading lists, and teaching.

The issue of parent rights is directly related to the manufactured controversy of “critical race theory” and conflicts over COVID protocols. “Parent rights” politicizes decisions about mask mandates and vaccinations. Some very noisy parents insist that they can send their children to school without masks or vaccines. Their “right” to ignore public health requirements puts other children’s safety at risk. Similarly, rightwing ideologues are using the CRT issue to claim that parents have the right to control or censor what their children are taught.

Children too have rights, she maintains, and among them are the right to learn free of outside political interference.

The Network for Public Education created a website where. Parents could express their views about their schools. This post was written by Jessica Piper, a mom and a farmer in rural Missouri.

She writes:

I am a rural woman. I am a subsistence farmer raising hogs and chickens in Northwest Missouri in a town of 480 people. I live in a century-old farmhouse on a few acres on the Iowa border that we purchased for less than the price of a new car. I was also an American Literature teacher for sixteen years, and my children are all products of rural schools. Our youngest is still in school and her class, the entire fourth grade, consists of 16 children. 

Public schools are the heart of rural Missouri. The school bus picks up my daughter at the end of our driveway every morning, avoiding the chickens pecking in the gravel. She arrives at a tiny school that supports her and knows her well. She eats in the cafeteria that also serves as the gym. We mark the cafeteria Thanksgiving meal on our calendars to eat lunch with our kids—the turkey is pretty good but we really come for the annual tradition and because our kids expect us. Entire communities gather for Christmas pageants and band and choir concerts in our rural schools. We attend Friday night football and basketball games and reserve the rest of the evenings for softball or baseball. We know the teachers and we support schools with raffles and by buying apples and beef jerky from the yearly FFA sales. Nearly every event in our small community revolves around our school.

I tell you the story of rural schools because we are in a fight to keep our public schools funded and open in Missouri. In my state, we are 49th in funding for public schools. We don’t provide public schools with enough for the basics. The state funds just 32% of schools’ budgets, which means that residents must pay for the bulk of their local school expenses through property taxes. That means that our system is highly inequitable. The defunding of Missouri public schools has happened over the last decade, but has been on warp speed in the last five years. The school funding formula was adjusted to lower the amount a few years back, meaning we lowered the funding bar to be able to claim we met the bar. And now, even more bad news for Missouri rural schools: a voucher scheme.

In 2021, Missouri Republicans devised and signed into law a system for vouchers that will further defund public schools. This is how it works: Missouri taxpayers can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit that will pay for private school vouchers. In essence, public tax funds will be diverted to private or religious schools with no oversight or accountability for student performance. Missouri will allow folks to essentially pay their taxes directly to the private school of their choice, defunding public schools in the process. In rural Missouri, our schools are already strapped for resources. Diverting money away to any fly-by-night charter, or a private school that accepts vouchers will devastate our rural schools.

When schools are defunded, the next move is often consolidation. When a school consolidates, students may be travelling to and from school for over an hour a day. School consolidations also ravage small communities and often cause ripples that can be felt for years. In my town, the school is the largest employer. Community members who work for the school district receive health insurance through their employer, while disadvantaged children are fed through the school year through the  school free lunch program. School closures cripple small businesses and decrease property values. Our main streets empty out with the loss of a local school. When schools consolidate, rural communities lose their economic epicenter.

We must fully-fund public schools in an equitable way for all children to have the opportunity that a public education promises. Rural students and our small communities count on public schools. Charter and privatization schemes purposely funnel public tax money into private hands. That’s harmful to rural Missouri public schools and to our kids. 


Jessica Piper is a candidate for state representative in rural Northwest Missouri. She received her BA in English and her MA from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She was a tenured American Literature teacher and frequently writes about rural schools and school funding. She lives on the Missouri/Iowa border with her husband, children, and two dogs. Piper is a farmer who raises hogs and chickens.

Nancy Flanagan, a retired teacher in Michigan and expert blogger, asks rhetorically, “Who is to blame?” Obviously the shooter and his parents, who bought the murder weapon and did not lock it away.

But there are other causes of the senseless killings, she writes.

Two things—true things—are repeated endlessly in these dialogues. The first is that the nation exposed its true values nine years ago after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary, choosing unrestricted gun ownership over the lives of children. The second is that we need a greater understanding and focus on mental health. In our schools, of course.

What is often missing from these heart-wrenching discussions is the fact that schools are just like malls and movie theatres and churches and political rallies—stages for playing out what it means to be an American citizen in 2021, our deepest principles and beliefs.

Despite selfless and heroic actions, despite good parenting and good teaching and due diligence on the part of school administrators and counselors—we live in a pretty ugly country right now.

We live in a country where Kyle Rittenhouse walked free. Where senators and governors boldly lie about election results. Where parents, urged by astro-turf organizations, mob board meetings to protest the teaching of facts and requiring masks in a deadly pandemic. Where thousands of brutal insurrectionists attacked our most sacred building and democratic processes, led by the President of the United States.

Also this: the Oxford HS shooter lives in a state where a gang of angry young men conspired to kidnap and execute the Governor, fantasizing about taking her to a remote location and ‘putting her on trial.

None of this mitigates the reprehensible behavior of this teenager. He is fully responsible for what he did. But it’s worth thinking about the unique context of growing up in America, the people respected as leaders in this nation, the ruthless tactics used to acquire and maintain power and ‘freedom.’

She discusses answers like school counselors, mental health programs, social-emotional learning, and the backlash against them.

It might help to pay as much attention to individual children and their problems as we pay to their test scores.

If we were truly a nation that cared about life, we would enact gun control laws and stop the slaughter of children.

Samuel Abrams is the Director of the National Center for the Study of Privaization in Education. He writes here about his recent work on education issues in France. France has a long history of public schools, but it also subsidizes religious schools. A candidate for President proposed. That France should authorize charter schools. Her reasoning was similar to that of charter proponents in the U.S., that charter schools of the “no-excuses” type would improve the academic skills of the poorest children.

Abrams wrote the following introduction to an article he co-authored with a French political scientist, published in Le Monde.

Abrams wrote:

France is widely known as a country with a strong commitment to public education. Unlike the United States, which makes no mention of education in its Constitution, France has made education a centerpiece of each iteration of its five constitutions. In its Constitution of 1791, the nation’s first, the commitment was frank: “There will be established a system of uniform and free public education in subjects indispensable for all citizens, with the organization to take place gradually in concert with the division of the kingdom.”

Yet since 1959, France has funded education at private schools—which are primarily Catholic—through a system called sous contrat (“under contract”), whereby the government covers about 90 percent of tuition, and schools, in turn, must hire only state-certified teachers and follow the national curriculum. About 15 percent of France’s primary and secondary schools fall into this category.

During the current presidential campaign, one candidate, Valérie Pécresse, proposed vastly expanding the sous contrat system to include charter schools. Pécresse called specifically for charter schools of the “no-excuses” ilk to address underperformance in such marginalized regions as the banlieues surrounding major cities and declared that she would like 10 percent of the nation’s public schools to function in this manner by 2027.

In a lecture on educational privatization that I gave in October as a visiting scholar at the Institute of Advanced Studies at CY Cergy Paris University, I addressed Pécresse’s proposal and its implications. My host, a political scientist named Philippe Bongrand, afterward suggested we co-author an op-ed on this topic. Our op-ed appeared in Le Monde on November 30. Below is my English translation, followed by the original.

Samuel E. Abrams

Director, NCSPE

Abrams translated the article: into English:

Public Contract Schools Risk Exacerbating the Problem of Segregation

Samuel E. Abrams and Philippe Bongrand

English translation

Le Monde, November 30, 2021

In outlining the educational platform for her presidential candidacy in a speech in Venoy (Yonne) on October 12, Valérie Pécresse proposed transforming 10 percent of the nation’s public schools into “a new kind of public school under contract, inspired by ‘charter schools’ found in England and Sweden.” These schools, which would be primarily located in marginalized neighborhoods, would benefit, Pécresse declared, from the managerial autonomy currently exercised in France by private schools under contract, which account for 15 percent of the nation’s 60,000 primary and secondary schools. In these charter schools, “enrollment will depend on parents and students abiding by a charter of commitment.”

Mistakenly attributed to Sweden and England by Pécresse, charter schools, in fact, originated in the United States in 1992. Charter schools benefit from exemptions from conventional rules governing administration and curriculum in exchange for exhibiting a certain level of performance by their students on state-mandated tests. They now constitute 7 percent of American public schools. Sweden’s free schools (friskolor), also launched in 1992, and England’s academies, established a decade later, comport far more with the ideals of a free market in education than with the concept of posting specific results for their students on standardized tests.

In her speech, Pécresse echoed the typical arguments of charter school advocates, vowing to “combine the best of public and private teaching methods” to increase the effectiveness of teachers and to narrow the achievement gap for disadvantaged children. However, the research accumulated over the past thirty years calls for vigilance, to say the least.

First, rigid contracts at charter schools for parents and students have had perverse effects. Not all families have the necessary resources to commit to and abide by such contracts. The rigidity of these contracts alone discourages many parents from entering lotteries to enroll their children in such schools. For many of the students who do enroll, the steep academic and behavioral expectations prove to be too much, leading to high levels of attrition. Conventional neighborhood public schools then find themselves with even higher concentrations of struggling students, which, in turn, reinforces the desire of many parents to avoid them. Such charter schools in France would accordingly risk compounding the problem of segregation already present due to many selective pathways [including those created by the private schools under contract].

Second, the highly directive pedagogical methods that define such charter schools cultivate mechanical compliance rather than nurture the agency necessary for students to become independent learners. These charter schools, commonly referred to as “no-excuses” schools because of their quasi-military code of behavior, share a telling acronym, SLANT: Sit up; Listen; Ask and answer questions; Nod in acknowledgment of understanding a point or lesson; and Track the eyes of the speaker. In Scripting the Moves (Princeton University Press, 2021), the sociologist Joanne W. Golann documents how this strict approach to instruction undermines authentic learning.

Third, the arrangement whereby charter contracts hinge on student results on state-mandated tests can place untenable pressure on staff. Such pressure engenders relentless teaching to the test and leads administrators to quantify the “added value” of teachers. The leading network of “no-excuses” schools (named KIPP for Knowledge Is Power Program) loses a third of its teachers each year. Such turnover over time compromises pedagogical continuity and thus the quality of instruction.

Foreign policy borrowing should derive from substantial academic research. There are far better lessons to be learned from looking abroad. Academic progress in Finland, for example, has not been the result of rigid contracts with parents and students, nor, more generally, from the privatization of schooling. The Finnish model is based on better training and pay for teachers along with a more holistic approach to learning, involving many classes in music, art, carpentry, and cooking, all of which make school more enticing for students while implicitly teaching important lessons in math and science.

Skeptics reflexively reject the example of Finland because the country is small and homogeneous. Yet Finland’s Nordic neighbors—Denmark, Norway and Sweden—are similar in size and composition. For the seven administrations of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), [administered every three years] from 2000 to 2018, the mean score for all OECD students in science was 497. [One year of learning corresponds to about 35 points.] The mean score for students in France was 499; in Denmark, 492; in Norway, 493; in Sweden, 499; and in Finland, 543.

Coming soon: Priyadarshani Joshi, “Perspectives from Principals in Nepal on What Motivates and Constrains Public Schools from Instituting Changes to Compete with Private Schools,” NCSPE Working Paper No. 246; Joanna Härmä, Low-fee Private Schooling and Poverty in Developing Countries (Bloomsbury, 2021), NCSPE Book Excerpt No. 4. Visit our Website