By Jon Hale | Last week, the State Board of Education in Florida allowed parents to apply for vouchers and enroll in a different school if their children were subject to “COVID-19 harassment.” The policy enforces Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-masking directive. His order protects parents’ “freedom to choose” whether to mask or not, despite an alarming rise in COVID cases in the state. The order also threatened to withhold funding if school boards did not comply with the law.
Back-to-School season is tinged with precariousness this year. While Delta variant cases surge, many schools are reopening and resuming in-person classes. Even though the Biden administration announced plans to offer COVID booster shots in September, the fact remains that conditions at institutions of learning aren’t safe or fully resourced. We asked some of our authors what they would like folks to be aware of on the education front as students and educators return to the classroom. And given our pandemic reality, we also asked them how they think schools could take this opportunity to re-envision themselves for a better, post-COVID future.
By Robert P. Moses and Charles E. Cobb, Jr. | The Algebra Project is first and foremost an organizing project—a community organizing project—rather than a traditional program of school reform. It draws its inspiration and its methods from the organizing tradition of the civil rights movement. Like the civil rights movement, the Algebra Project is a process, not an event. Two key aspects of the Mississippi organizing tradition underlie the Algebra Project: the centrality of families to the work of organizing, and organizing in the context of the community in which one lives and works.
The Civil Rights Movement has lost another great one. Radical educator, global-minded activist, MacArthur genius fellow. On July 25 at age 86, Bob Moses joined the ancestors. While we’re heartbroken about his passing, we remain honored to have published Radical Equations, which he wrote with Charles E. Cobb to tell his story of founding the Algebra Project. He provided a model for anyone looking for a community-based solution to the problems of our disadvantaged schools and improving education for poor children of color.
A Q&A with Leigh Patel | As someone who has a deep love of learning and teaching, places of formal education have often brought me some amount of heartbreak. We have absolutely stunning teachers because they are also learners, and students who teach as they continue to learn. However, much of education, and glaringly so in higher education, has been shaped by mythologies of who is smart, intelligent, deserving, and more recently in higher education, what to do to bring in money. I often say to my students that they have been told lies about society in their K-12 education and that they’ve come to love those lies.
This will be our second summer with our favorite global party-crasher, the pandemic. (Leave already, Pandy! We want to get on with our lives.) Seems like a lifetime ago when this started, huh? Except this season, the rollout of vaccines is making outdoor time under the sun a little freer and a little less fraught with worry. Although still nowhere near the comfort and safety level we need, some of us may make to the beach. Others may make it as far as their backyard. Wherever you set your beach blanket or beach chair, vaxxed and masked, we have some audiobook suggestions for the occasion.
The townspeople have clutched their pearls and fetched their pitchforks to raise hell against the new boogeyman du jour allegedly stomping the horizon. Do we dare speak its name? That boogeyman is . . . Critical Race Theory. White conservatives don’t want its antiracist agenda infecting children’s minds. The backlash is no different from the time when our former white supremacist in chief called for teaching “patriotic” histories.
By Leigh Patel | On Friday, June 4, the remains of two Black girls, Delisha and Katricia “Tree” Africa, were to be collected from the home of physical anthropologist Alan Mann, an emeritus professor associated with both the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University. Delisha and Tree were members of the Black liberation community in Philadelphia known as the MOVE. On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police officers fired thousands of shot and grenades at 5:30 in the morning, peppering the row house where this communal organization resided.
By Leigh Patel | Jim Clyburn, Congressional representative from South Carolina and the majority whip, has an office in the Congressional Chambers, with his name title displayed clearly. However, Clyburn does not work out of that office, instead working from an unmarked office with this staff. On January 6, the day of the storming of the Capitol building, some of the domestic terrorists attempted to enter Clyburn’s office. His staff had piled furniture and were texting from inside. They were able to block the rioters from entering.
This summer, the uprisings for racial justice and the marches for Black lives have been heartening. And believe me, we need something to root for during our pandemic timeline. This wake-up call to reckon with systemic racism and to dismantle it—and there have been many before—is ringing loud and clear. Now we need that same momentum to carry into the classrooms—all virtual please!—with the same gusto. Because schools are part of the system, too.
A Q&A with Mark Warren by Stephen Abbott | The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a systemic problem that disproportionately affects students in low-income communities and communities of color. It often begins with zero-tolerance discipline, where children, and particularly Black and brown children, are suspended and often expelled for minor behavioral infractions. Once they’re expelled, they’re not in school learning, and they’re often out on the streets where they get caught up in the juvenile criminal-justice system—that’s the pipeline.
And then COVID-19 shut the classroom doors. Nationwide, many schools are closed for the rest of the academic school year for in-person classes. Who knows what the new reality of education will look like when the pandemic is behind us? As teaching has moved online and as parents have taken up the role of at-home educators for little ones, one thing awaits at the end of quarantine: our appreciation for all educators who help guide the new generation to their futures.
With the diploma in hand and the graduation cap thrown jubilantly into the air, the question remains: What’s the next step? Graduation heralds new beginnings and transition. But where and how to start? How should we prepare for the future when the world around us changes on a compulsory basis? In his book Don’t Knock the Hustle, S. Craig Watkins asks the same question and says we should plan to be future-ready. “What should schools be doing? Instead of preparing students to be college-ready or career-ready, schools must start producing students who are what I call ‘future-ready.’ The skills associated with future readiness are geared toward the long-term and oriented toward navigating a world marked by diversity, uncertainty, and complexity . . . a future-ready approach prepares students for the world we will build tomorrow.”
By Shani Robinson and Anna Simonton | The concerted efforts by Atlanta’s political and business leaders to diminish the stability of black neighborhoods for their own gain undoubtedly had a lasting impact on the schools. Both the children who were uprooted and those who remained were increasingly deprived of the things a healthy community offers—accessible goods and services, economic opportunities, vibrant public spaces, and a supportive social fabric. Teachers and school employees were left to fill in the void, which would only expand in the years following urban renewal.
By David Bacon | Students and parents have come out en masse to join the marches and picket lines of the ongoing teachers strike in Oakland, California. All say that they are trying to save the city’s public school system.“This is a strike to save our district,” said Heath Madom, who’s taught tenth grade English for three years at Oakland Technical High School, which is referred to as “Tech” by educators and pupils. “Our Tech community is committed to saving public education. Twenty-four schools are on the chopping block. We could become like New Orleans, with no public schools and all charters, if this keeps going.”
By Mark Warren | I am a college professor, but started off as a college dropout. And the story of my rocky road through the academy helps explain why I wrote a book on educational justice movements. I grew up in a segregated community in the ’50s and ’60s—an all-white segregated community, that is. It was a blue-collar community called Hungry Hill in Springfield, Massachusetts. My father was an unusual white working-class man for his time, maybe still would be. He was a warehouseman and a Teamster Union activist, but had a broad, progressive vision. He supported the civil rights movement and taught me to oppose racism. He also taught me that working people had to organize and stand up for themselves if they wanted a decent life—and that working people of all races needed to support each other.
A Q&A with Mark Warren, Jitu Brown, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, and Jonathan Stith | Unlike the other people in the book, I am not exactly in a group or an alliance, so let me just say something about what I believe that I have accomplished or tried to accomplish as an education researcher. That is, to create a different way of thinking about how we are going to transform the education that our young people receive, particularly youth of color in our urban and rural communities. I believe that the current way that education researchers and the education policy world approaches this is broken.
I’ve been working, studying, and working with community organizing groups, working with parents and youth of color and communities, low-income communities across the country, for many years. I felt the work that parents and young people in communities are doing to fight for educational equity and justice was important. Over the past ten years or so, I saw that local organizing groups were now coming together in new ways to form much more of a larger movement for educational justice. This movement was often led by people of color, as are represented in the book, but that most people don’t know about this movement, and in many ways, different parts of the movement aren’t always as connected to each other as they could be.
Students across the country are returning to the classroom, and our concerns for them run deep. The Trump administration’s rampant anti-immigrant sentiment has fueled policies that separate migrant families. And it is affecting the lives of immigrant children who are going to school. What can educators do to fight against it, to become co-conspirators of resistance during our troubling times? This back-to-school season, we reached out to some of our authors to find out and share their responses with you here.
By William Ayers | The US Supreme Court ruled earlier this week in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and found in favor of Mark Janus, a child support specialist with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, who chose not to join the union, but was required under Illinois law to pay what are called “fair share” fees to AFSCME as the collective bargaining agent for all state workers. Janus argued that even though he was covered by the collective bargaining agreement, it was a violation of his First Amendment rights to force him to support the union. AFSCME con-tended that requiring workers who choose not to join the union to pay a smaller portion, or a “fair share,” is reasonable since they, along with their dues-paying colleagues, benefit concretely from collective bargaining. Without agency fees, those who don’t pay anything at all are essentially “free riders”—or “takers” to borrow a term-of-art from the conservative playbook—benefiting from the work of others, but neither participating nor contributing.