Jody Sokolower en Education Under Occupation: East Jerusalem <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1054443'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src=""/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">An interview with Zakaria Odeh.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/19418266855_9b3c41ca49_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>This interview explores the impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian children through a focus on the situation in East Jerusalem. When Israel declared itself a state in 1948, it forcibly ejected 750,000 Palestinians, who became refugees. Israel calls this its War of Independence; the Palestinians call it the Nakba—the catastrophe.</em></p><p><em>The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, ended up under Jordanian control; Gaza under Egyptian control. Almost 20 years later, as a result of the June 1967 war, all those areas were conquered by Israel. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, but it annexed East Jerusalem—in the face of universal opposition from the international community and in defiance of international law. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were issued special Jerusalem ID cards, which identify them as “permanent residents.”</em></p><p><em>Now the Israeli government and the illegal settlers are determined to push all Palestinians out of Jerusalem; they have declared it the capital of Israel. As a result, the houses of Palestinian Jerusalemites are demolished; trees and crops are destroyed. Children as young as 10 years old are repeatedly arrested and tortured, according to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan, East Jerusalem, and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem; more and more Israeli settlers have moved into the area, taking over Palestinian homes and land. The recent violence in East Jerusalem, which has spread throughout Palestine, occurs in this context.</em></p><p><em>Zakaria Odeh is executive director of the Civic Coalition in East Jerusalem. This interview was conducted in November 2015.</em></p><p><strong>Jody Sokolower:</strong> Before we discuss education in Palestine, I have to ask how the escalating violence in East Jerusalem, and throughout Palestine, is affecting children.</p><p><strong>Zakaria Odeh:</strong> This violent situation didn’t start with the recent escalation. This is the result of all the various policies that Israel has been implementing over many years in the occupied territory in general and in occupied East Jerusalem in particular: land confiscation, house demolitions, settlements, revocation of Palestinian residency in East Jerusalem, constant arrests of our children.</p><p>Our youth have found themselves, as a result of the prolonged occupation, in a situation where there’s no opportunity, there’s no future or hope for them.</p><p>Since October, Israel has been introducing new laws and mechanisms to suppress and oppress the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> Can you give me an example?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> Several months ago, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave instructions to the police to use live ammunition against demonstrators and against the children who they claim are throwing stones at Israeli soldiers or settlers. After that, we have been seeing a lot of deliberate killing. In Jerusalem especially it is deliberate execution that has been taking place against Palestinians. In cold blood. Although the Israelis claim that in all the cases there has been an attempt to stab an Israeli, witnesses say that sometimes there is a knife, but in most instances there are no knives. Or sometimes they have seen the military throw down a knife later.</p><p>There have been massive arrests and detention, and a lot of those who are arrested are children.</p><p>Then, they have been closing off the neighborhoods within East Jerusalem, separating them from each other. Today in East Jerusalem there are at least 30 checkpoints or barriers. The trip to go to work or to visit that used to take 10 or 15 minutes now takes at least an hour. I live only 10 minutes driving from my work, but since the beginning of October, it takes me 40 or 50 minutes to reach my work.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> So how is this affecting children being able to go to school?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> Of course, schools have been disrupted. Children are not able to reach their schools; if they can reach them, they are one or two hours late. The actions by the police force, the security forces, and the settlers have frightened the children and their families about going to school. In October and November alone, 22 Palestinian children were killed; six in Jerusalem.</p><p>You can’t imagine the psychological impact on the children of what they see on the street and see on the TV. They don’t want to sleep by themselves. They don’t want to go outside because they are worried they might be killed or might be arrested.</p><p>East Jerusalem is like a military compound these days. First the Israelis brought in 5,000 more troops and then another 1,400 police and special forces. If you walk in the street, you feel the tension: Everywhere you see police and military vehicles.</p><p>Of course, the teachers are affected by these restrictions too, especially the teachers who come to school from outside the city, from behind the separation wall and checkpoints, and the non-Jerusalemites who come through special permission. The whole permission system has been stopped.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> So if a teacher comes from a West Bank city like Bethlehem or Ramallah, they’re not able to get there?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> Yes. And then there is the problem of those who live in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The center of Jerusalem, what they call the municipality border of Jerusalem, is surrounded by checkpoints and the separation wall, which was built after 2005. There are 80,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites who live outside the wall. They are holding Israeli-issued Jerusalem ID cards, but now they have to go through this checkpoint process every day.</p><p>All of this keeps students, teachers, and staff from reaching the schools. So schools are either partially open or not at all.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> We’ve been talking about the current crisis. Can you explain the impact of the occupation on education in general in East Jerusalem?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> To give you a little history and background: Before 1967, Jordan ruled the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, so the textbooks were written in that context. When Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, education came under the control of the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality. One of the first things they did was try to impose the Israeli education system on schools in East Jerusalem. But there was a lot of resistance from the schools and the community. For two or three years, there was no continuous education here because of that conflict. Finally, the municipality agreed to keep most of the old curriculum and textbooks.</p><p>When the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established in 1995, it developed a new Palestinian curriculum that was based on the Oslo Agreement—it called for peace, peaceful coexistence, and “no incitement.” They started teaching this curriculum by 2000.</p><p>Then, in 2011, the municipality informed schools that they would not allow them to use the PA curriculum or textbooks. They printed new textbooks and started forcing the schools to use them. The new textbooks took out everything related to Palestinian history, Palestinian resistance, the occupation, land ownership or control—all of that was removed.</p><p>Last year the municipality went one further step. They started imposing on us the curriculum that has been taught in Israel. They have been threatening to withdraw funding as a way to force the public schools to use this new textbook.</p><p>For Israel, education is one of the main issues. They have tried ever since the first day of the occupation to control it. This is how the people will think, how they will view their culture, their history, their future. So, for the Israelis, it’s very important to control our education system in order to control what Palestinian children will learn.</p><p>For us as Palestinians, this is one of the most dangerous policies that Israel is using, because this is the occupation of the mind, the occupation of the way people are thinking. It is changing the story, the narrative of Palestinian culture and history. The Israelis are right. This is the Palestinian national identity.</p><p>This is more dangerous than the demolition of homes. If you demolish a building, people can rebuild the house or the school. But if you destroy the way people think, this is difficult to rehabilitate. It’s very difficult to go back.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> Can you give an example of the problems with the Israeli textbooks?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> The Israeli curriculum doesn’t recognize Palestinians as a people at all. We have some experts who did research on these books. They found that, in the Israeli curriculum, they talk about Palestinians as “other minorities.” They talk about us as “Christians and Muslims,” as “people from the Negev,” or “people from the north.” There is no acknowledgement that there is a people who are called the Palestinian people.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> Really?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> Yes, this is very clear. They teach about the Zionist leaders, about figures who are part of Israeli history, but they never teach about Palestinian leaders, our long history, or the Nakba. The Nakba is something taboo. In fact, a few years ago, the Israeli government decided that any school or person who commemorates the Nakba, it’s a crime, so they could be punished, they could be arrested and imprisoned.</p><p>And always they say that historically Israelis were the ones on the land. The Palestinians—they don’t say Palestinians, but the “others”—they were just passers-by, they came from the desert, they are not from here, they just came to work. Can you imagine the effect when you teach children these kinds of things?</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> What other problems do you have in terms of education?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> Israel makes it impossible for us to build schools. In East Jerusalem, if you build a school or a house without a permit, it is demolished. But it is very difficult for Palestinians to get a permit. Of course, this has caused a shortage of classrooms. According to research last year by an Israeli human rights organization, there is a shortage of approximately 2,200 classrooms for Palestinian students in occupied East Jerusalem. Between 8,000 and 9,000 students don’t have a seat or are not eligible for a seat in the schools in East Jerusalem.</p><p>Because of this lack of schools, approximately 60 percent of the schools in East Jerusalem are in buildings that were meant to be houses. But what does that mean in regard to overcrowding, hygiene, and ventilation? Mostly, especially in the Old City, a lot of these buildings are very, very old houses, and the access to sunlight and fresh air is not good. It’s rare that you can find a facility with a basketball court, a volleyball court, a playground, anywhere for children to play. Because we have no financial resources, schools rarely have computers or a science lab.</p><p>Coordination is another problem. Nearly 48 percent of the schooling is run by the Israeli Jerusalem municipality. About 30 percent are private schools, some of which are church-affiliated and some are independent; 3 percent or less are run by the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Another 16 percent are run by the Awqaf (Islamic Trust), which is supported by the PA. And there is a new type of school, which started only 10 years ago, which we call subcontracted schools. Anybody who has money, he or she can open a school and go and get subsidized by the municipality of Jerusalem.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> That’s what we call a charter school in the United States.</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> Yes. So part of the problem is all of these umbrellas of management, and the coordination between them is very weak.</p><p>We also have a severe shortage of teachers in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem used to rely on teachers who came from the suburbs and from all of the West Bank. Since Israel closed Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank in 1993, nobody can enter Jerusalem without a military badge and without permission from the military administration. And that is very difficult to get. As a result, there has been a shortage of teachers, especially in subjects like physics, English, and math.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> I know the situation with arrests and detentions of children in East Jerusalem has been an ongoing crisis. Can you talk about that and how it affects the children’s education?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> From the beginning, children have been a target for detention and arrest. You can’t believe the way that the Israelis confront any peaceful demonstration, any march, even any cultural or sports activity by the Palestinians. Most of those who are subjected to arrest and re-arrest are children under 18. Just last week, the legal system in Israel decided that they could arrest and sentence Palestinian children as adults when they are 14; before they had to be at least 16.</p><p>They often come to arrest the children at 4 in the morning. They blindfold them, handcuff them, and drive them to a police station or an interrogation center. They hold them for four hours or it could be one night or two nights. For many hours, they don’t let the children drink or eat, or even go to the toilet. We talk to the families and the lawyers, and they say they make the children do it in their pants. You can imagine the psychological impact.</p><p>Some neighborhoods where there have been a lot of protests—Silwan in the south of the Old City, Al-Issawiya, Mount Olive, the Old City itself—all these neighborhoods are now closed completely by barriers, concrete cement blocks, and soldiers, police, and other security who check every Palestinian’s movement continuously. In these areas, you hear every day that there are children who were arrested.</p><p>They also use what they call house arrests. Sometimes the judge decides a child should stay at home for six weeks, two months, three months. They are not allowed to leave the house at all. They can’t go to school; often even after they are released they are too far behind and they drop out.</p><p>Many families believe that it’s better if the child is held in prison rather than on house arrest. You know why? Because they make one of the parents sign that he or she, the mother or the father, will be with the child all the time, 24 hours a day. And he or she is responsible for this child if he leaves the house. So the parent becomes the police in a way. And this creates some kind of hatred in the child against his parents because it’s the parents who can’t permit him to leave the house.</p><p>Another punishment they use is internal deportation. If a child lives in Silwan, they punish him by saying he cannot be in his neighborhood with his family for two months: Go to another village, another neighborhood, but you are not allowed as a child to be in your neighborhood with your family in your house. Of course, for most children, their school is in their neighborhood, so if they are in another neighborhood, they lose their right to go to school.</p><p>All these policies have been affecting the performance of the students. Then there’s the settler violence. They are always around, they are always patrolling. There are many clashes between settlers and the communities, especially the children. Whenever there is a problem between the settlers and the community, the police arrest the Palestinians and take the side of the settlers. The settlers are another army in occupied territories because all of them are armed. They can do what they want, they are under the protection of the police and the military.</p><p>So many of the parents I talk with say that their children don’t want to go to school anymore. They are worried that the settlers might stop them, the police might stop them. These children are seeing their friends being killed, their families, their neighbors.</p><p>Then, in most of the neighborhoods there are no recreation centers—places that could provide rehabilitation for the children, places where they could play sports, do art and music to release tension, release all that they go through.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> The first time I was in Palestine, in 2012, I went to a new community center in Silwan and then, two weeks after we came home, they bulldozed it.</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> Yes, the Israelis try to prevent us from creating a community center, a youth center, or anything for children who like to practice music, play sports, or see films. Silwan has a small center for children, with a library and computers and a counselor, but it is constantly under attack.</p><p>Now, since the beginning of October, the violence is only increasing. [Between October 2015 and January 2016, Israeli forces fatally shot at least 30 Palestinian children.]</p><p>So many of the killings have no reason at all, but even in the situations where the child has a knife, you have to ask: Why would this child go and stab another human being? What are the reasons behind that? How could this child be at this stage?</p><p>What they are doing is a natural psychological result of all they’re going through, all that they’ve seen: A child sees his home demolished, his father is in prison, his brother is in prison. He sees the violence of the settlers, how they attack his family, how they have burned the olive trees or bulldozed them and destroyed the harvest of the whole village.</p><p>There are, 4,000 to 5,000 children who have to commute from neighborhoods that are now outside the wall to come to the city to go to school. These children have to go through a military checkpoint every day, wait for who knows how long, then have their bodies and belongings searched. Twice, going and back. What kind of psychology does this create? What do you expect from this child?</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> So, in the face of all this, can you give me an example or two of how Palestinians are trying to make sure that children grow up knowing their history and culture?</p><p><strong>ZO:</strong> One example is a program we started in 2011 called Know Your City. We take students from the 6th through the 12th grade to visit different areas of Palestine. In the 6th grade, the students go with a guide through the Old City and learn about all the cultural and historical Christian and Muslim places. They do more research and we ask them to write and draw about what they’ve seen. The next year, they visit the villages of ’48 Jerusalem, the villages that were destroyed. The next year they explore the northern West Bank, and so on, until they are gradually introduced to all the areas of Palestine. It’s an adventure and at the same time educational.</p><p>We have also started an international campaign with UN partners, with the diplomatic mission here in Jerusalem, and with international organizations to put pressure on Israel not to enforce their new curriculum. And, on the grassroots level, most schools have not changed what they are teaching, despite the Israeli threats.</p><p>Then, in the last year, we have been building the capacity of the parent community. There is now a parent committee in each school and a council of parent committees that we hope will link together across all the different types of schools in East Jerusalem. We recently established the Civic Education Council in East Jerusalem, which includes all the different umbrellas, all the different parents councils, all the teacher unions, and some civil society organizations that work in education in order to coordinate action to force Israel to comply with international law.</p><p>According to international law, it is the duty of the occupying power to provide adequate education for people under occupation. This has nothing to do with imposing curriculum. According to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has a right to an education that is related and responsive to their history, to their culture, to their people.</p><p>As long as Israel is illegally occupying East Jerusalem, it is their responsibility as an occupier to provide services and education. But that doesn’t give them the right to impose curriculum that is against Palestinian history and culture. Or to deny our children their human rights.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2016 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1054443'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 13 Apr 2016 10:42:00 -0700 Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools 1054443 at Education Education World education Israel east jerusalem Israeli occupation Zakaria Odeh What Happens When a City's Public Schools Vanish? <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1012260'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src=""/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In New Orleans, that reality is about to be on display.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_156245594.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>By next fall, New Orleans will have only five public schools—those operated by the Orleans Parish School Board. Everything else will be charters. The post-Katrina path to almost 100 percent charter education began with the post-storm shutdown of the city’s struggling public schools and the firing (recently declared illegal) of some 7,500 unionized teachers and other school employees, predominantly African American women. The assault was accelerated by a massive infusion of foundation and entrepreneurial investment in new charter schools, and years of state and federally supported deregulation and privatization.</p><p>Today the city has tens of thousands fewer children than before Katrina and significantly fewer African American residents, but the school-age population of 44,000 remains mostly poor and black. Parents and families must navigate a maze of selective charters, each operating as an independent district with little oversight. Special-needs students have particular problems finding appropriate placements. One 2010 study found 4,000 teens, about 10 percent of the city’s student population, not enrolled in school at all. New Orleans has also been a spawning ground for authoritarian “no excuses” pedagogy, inexperienced Teach For America corps members, and “zero tolerance” discipline policies.</p><p>Throughout this transformation, Karran Harper Royal has been a passionate voice for parents and an articulate witness, sounding the alarm to the rest of the nation about the on-the-ground realities behind the New Orleans “miracle.” Rethinking Schools editors Stan Karp and Jody Sokolower spoke with Harper Royal in several sessions over the past year.</p><p><strong>Rethinking Schools:</strong> What was your experience as a parent in the New Orleans public schools before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005?</p><p><strong>Karran Harper Royal:</strong> My start was 22 years ago, in 1992, when my son Khris was in kindergarten and he couldn’t sit still. I worked in the French Quarter, right at the corner of Royal and Toulouse. There was a little school down the street called McDonogh 15 Creative Arts Magnet School [now a KIPP school]. I wanted Khris to go to school near where I worked. So I just went down the street and asked, “Can I enroll my child here?” and they took him. He didn’t have to take a test or audition to get in, but it was a school of choice focused on the arts. It was such a special place, an amazing public school, very child-centered. The founder was Lucianne Carmichael. She’s retired now, but she has an artist retreat across the river called A Studio in the Woods.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> Khris was your oldest child?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> My first child. And I was not who you see today. I was a very meek—if you can believe that—quiet mother who just wanted her son to be successful in school, because otherwise he was going to end up like my brother who at that time was in and out of jail. He was on drugs, he was a car thief—the best car thief in New Orleans, but a car thief. And, in my mind, there was a straight line from kindergarten to the prison cell. So I started visiting my son’s school. By the spring of his kindergarten year, I had quit my job and started going to school every day to find out why he was always in trouble. In trouble at that school was not the same as in trouble at a school today. In trouble meant he was asked to sit outside the classroom in the hallway or he was sent up to the librarian. Sometimes his teacher’s husband, a 70-year-old man, would take him for a walk in the French Quarter and they’d go get croissants.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> That was in-school suspension?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Yeah, that was “in trouble” back then. But I knew it was not good for him not to be in the classroom. Just my presence did not fix a thing, but I started volunteering. I ended up becoming a sub, I became the Title I parent. I was a fixture for six years. And we worked together—me, the principal, and the teachers—to make school work for Khris.</p><p>But I recognized that most parents can’t do what I did to make school work, and those are the kids who get in trouble. So, by the time Khris got to middle school, I was very interested in the plight of children who had behavior issues, because I already had an example in my brother of where that can lead. And I just fell in love with the kids. I started going to school board meetings. I probably have a better attendance record at school board meetings than most school board members.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> That was the parish school board?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> The New Orleans Parish School Board. I got involved with everything. I served on every committee known to man at the school and in the district. I was a PTA officer. By the late 1990s, I began to immerse myself in the policy side.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> How would you describe the policy environment in New Orleans in the 1990s?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> For children who learn differently, the policies didn’t work to their benefit. For example, every year the school board would vote for a waiver so they didn’t need to provide alternative schools. I said: “Wait a minute, the state law requires you to do this. You say you can’t, but what happens to these kids? They end up on the street.”</p><p>My first victory at a school board meeting was when the board went against the superintendent’s recommendation and decided not to vote for the waiver. That meant they had to create an alternative school and, of course, I volunteered to be on the committee. We created a wonderful alternative school.</p><p>So I have hands-on experience that it is possible to go from dysfunctional to functional. Hands-on experience of how a parent’s voice can truly be valued. That’s how I know what we have today is a bunch of BS.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> The “reformers” say it was universally recognized before Katrina that New Orleans schools were among the worst in the country. What was your perception?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> You can’t paint everything with a broad brush. I’m no defender of the status quo; before Katrina we had problems, but there were also successes. Having an elected school board created ways for the public to participate. When Katrina hit, I was serving on the search committee for a new superintendent. For years I served on the disciplinary review committee. It was much different from the dictatorial charter school environment.</p><p>The charters purport to give parents and teachers greater power, right? But you have little real voice. In the charter school world they say, “We don’t even want a PTA in our school, but we’ll survey our parents about satisfaction.” Well, goddamn it, we’re not consumers!</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> Customers seeking services instead of citizens demanding rights.</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Exactly!</p><p><strong>Hurricane Katrina: A Shock Doctrine Moment</strong></p><p><strong>RS:</strong> Let’s talk about how we got from there to here. Schools basically shut down for months following Katrina. Then what happened?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> By January 2006 a handful of schools were able to reopen. That was partly due to the U.S. Department of Education sending out money to start charter schools. Money wasn’t sent down to reopen traditional schools, but it was to start charter schools. So schools that had community support behind them quickly formed nonprofit organizations and created charter schools.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> That’s when the bureaucratic chaos started, right? You had New Orleans Parish public schools, you had New Orleans Parish charter schools, you had charters authorized by the Louisiana Department of Education, and you had charters authorized by the Recovery School District. What is the RSD?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> The RSD is a statewide school district set up to “turn around” schools the state sees as failures. It was actually started in 2003, before Katrina. Most people don’t realize that. The first school placed into the RSD was Capdau Junior High. The University of New Orleans decided they wanted a charter school in the Gentilly area. Capdau was in Gentilly. When the law was written, it said that schools that had been persistently failing could be transferred into the RSD and then chartered. So Capdau was transferred and then chartered by the University of New Orleans.</p><p>Capdau is graded F today [by the Louisiana Department of Education]. We’re talking 10 years. The university did this. If the solutions were that simple, don’t you think the university would have had greater success after 10 years?</p><p>Actually, the University of New Orleans is one of the main fixtures of what’s happening here. Jim Meza, who was the dean of education, is a prime pusher of charter schools in the state. Now he is the superintendent of Jefferson Parish schools and is implementing charter schools there. If this is the track record, why are we scaling up?</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> Before Katrina, did most New Orleans students go to neighborhood schools?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Yes, but neighborhood schools were eliminated after Katrina. Post-Katrina, you basically had to apply to go to a school. And you didn’t have any right or guarantee to the school closest to your home. Let’s say you were in an area of the city that didn’t flood, you still had no right to go to what was your neighborhood school before.</p><p>Of the 128 schools that the New Orleans Parish School Board was operating, 107 were transferred into the RSD, which got control of the buildings as well. So we pay taxes on these buildings, but they are controlled by the state.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> How has the teaching force changed?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> There were mass firings of all school employees in January 2006: 4,500 teachers, 7,500 employees total. RSD started bringing in lots and lots of Teach For America and New Teacher Project teachers. Some charter schools were staffed 80 or 90 percent by these kinds of teachers.</p><p>They chose principals for the RSD schools I never would have chosen. That’s when I first thought, maybe they don’t really intend to fix these schools. Maybe it’s their goal to run them into the ground until they can justify chartering them. Because they had their pick of the best people from the school system. Why didn’t they choose the best? This was a cruel hoax perpetrated on the poorest children in this city, our most academically needy children.</p><p>[Superintendents] Paul Vallas and Paul Pastorek—they had the greatest opportunity, the greatest interest from ordinary citizens, additional dollars, no teachers’ union or school board to contend with. They had the opportunity to truly work magic. The only magic was making children disappear.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> We understand that 7,000 pre-Katrina teachers in New Orleans won an important victory this past January. An appeals court said they were wrongly terminated, they should have had the right to be first in line for rehiring as jobs opened up, and they were entitled to compensation.</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Yes, I was live tweeting from that trial because the news media did not cover it. The state can appeal it, but even if the teachers don’t see a penny of the money, it is definitely a moral victory. They were fired illegally and they’ve been saying that all along.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> But it doesn’t get them their jobs back, right?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> No, it doesn’t.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> So if the RSD was created to save failing schools, what’s the situation now?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> As of 2011, 79 percent of the RSD schools were rated D or F. So mostly bad schools, right? From my experience, an elementary school needs to be a basic school with a well-rounded curriculum. You have elementary schools that are schools of the arts or science and math. Well, I want science and math and the arts in all the elementary schools! And it’s through having these things available in every elementary school that children are able to discover their affinities.</p><p>So I don’t buy the whole argument that not every school is a good fit. Every elementary school should fit every child who lives within walking distance. They should have everything that child needs at that elementary school. And I think that if we didn’t spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on transportation we might come close to providing these things in these elementary schools.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> How many schools are in the Parish School Board district today?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> The schools that remain under the elected school board—that would be five schools.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> And all the others are charter schools? That’s unbelievable.</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> I know. It is unbelievable. And as charters, they will never come back under democratically elected control.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> That was a recent court case, too, wasn’t it? The Louisiana Supreme Court rejected the Orleans Parish School Board bid to reclaim 46 schools that are not failing from the RSD.</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> That’s right. I was surprised that the Parish School Board even filed that lawsuit. All you have to do is read the law to know that wasn’t a well-constructed argument. The original post-Katrina law that swept almost all of our schools into the Recovery School District had a five-year limit. But it was amended in 2010 so that each charter has the right to decide if they want to return to local control. So it was a waste of time and money to file the lawsuit in the way that they did. I think the attorneys were pressured into filing something; it was just a halfhearted attempt. There may be some other ways to litigate around schools coming back, but that wasn’t the best way as far as I’m concerned.</p><p><strong>Impact on Students with Special Needs</strong></p><p><strong>RS:</strong> How have these post-Katrina policies affected children with special needs?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> My work is with parents of children with disabilities, advocating for their rights at school. The parents contact me, so I can’t say overall, but among the families I work with, many of the kids in grades K–8 have attended as many as five schools.</p><p>I often have to talk parents out of changing schools when they run into difficulties, because the problems are so widespread. Most of these new charter schools have very young, inexperienced staff; they simply don’t know what they’re doing, and the children pay the price in the lack of a quality educational program. They pay the price when they don’t fit into the model that the school founder has dreamed up.</p><p>Children with disabilities are treated as liabilities. These charter schools further segregate children based on ability level—more so than any traditional school district ever did.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> Can you give an example?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Sure. I’m dealing with a case right now at a charter school. The child has ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and oppositional defiant disorder. He’s 8 years old. And the school has very, very strict behavior rules. In no way can this child follow the rules as they are.</p><p>Last month they refused to let him go on a field trip because of what they thought he might do wrong. He came home and asked his mom, “Why didn’t I get a permission slip for the field trip?”</p><p>The next day we happened to have a meeting at the school and the disciplinarian told us: “Well, what if he runs off and hides under a table at the capitol? He hasn’t behaved so far, so we can’t take him on this field trip.” That’s totally discriminatory. It’s a violation of IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]. If you have a child who has an IEP [Individualized Education Program] for behavior, you are legally required to make appropriate accommodations and modifications. What they did was also a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> Is that typical?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> It’s not just field trips, it’s how behavior policies inherently discriminate against children with disabilities because charter schools get to set up their own rules on school culture. These schools are often set up by people who spent three years or less in the classroom, who don’t have degrees in education, who don’t have any background in child development. These are people who might have a degree in business. They’re treating schools as a business and they’re treating children as widgets.</p><p>They expect children to do things that may not be developmentally in line for that age group or may not be reasonable for a specific child. And anybody who doesn’t fit into those rules, well, you as a parent have the choice to pick another school.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> I understand that New Orleans lost about a third of its school-age population after the storm.</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Yes, we have only about 44,000 students now. After Katrina, the four biggest housing projects were shut down. Those were thousands and thousands of children who were simply not allowed to come back. Not a lot of damage to the buildings, but they were shut down. All of the people you saw at the convention center and the Superdome, those were the people who couldn’t come back here. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to, but because they depended on public housing and no provisions were made for them to come back.</p><p>Just like with the schools, there was already a plan to transform public housing that began before Katrina. The new housing right by me, it used to be the St. Bernard housing project, it’s now called Columbia Park. They built fewer units and only a third of the units are truly public housing. The city was shrunk by design, and so was the school system. They wanted to make sure that not too many of the poor people could come back.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> New Orleans has a voucher program, too. When did that start?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> In 2008. About 2,500 kids were getting vouchers to go to private schools. It was a pilot. When you look at the test scores from the first and second years of that pilot program, those children were scoring worse than students at the RSD direct-run schools—overall our least successful schools. So our pilot failed. What does Louisiana do? It scales up the program. Now it’s statewide.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> Is that typical of the relationship between what is happening in New Orleans and what’s happening in the rest of the state?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> They were able to scale up the reform in New Orleans faster by taking advantage of the tragedy. But it’s happening all over the state. You know ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council—a powerful group of right-wing lobbyists and legislators]? We’re operating the ALEC education agenda lock, stock, and barrel. Now it’s happening everywhere. I tell people that if you believe what has happened in New Orleans is OK—stripping away our right to be self-determined in public education by taking our schools away—are you ready to say that America should not operate on democratic principles? Because that’s where this leads.</p><p><strong>Bearing Witness, Sounding a Warning</strong></p><p><strong>RS:</strong> How has this experience affected the relationship between teachers and parents?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> I’m very close to the United Teachers of New Orleans, and I’ve always been close to individual teachers, too. We are the closest ones to our children and we want the same things. We faced some heated battles with the union when I served on the disciplinary review committee because we had different goals. They wanted to make sure their teachers were not abused by those bad children, and I wanted to make sure there was justice in dealing with those bad children. Sometimes these were tough negotiations, but that’s how democracy works. The union recognizes that the reforms are really attacks on education. But at this point, the union doesn’t have any power within the school districts.</p><p>I’m part of a coalition that meets over at the union office: the Coalition for Community Schools-NOLA. We started as a support to alumni, parents, teachers, and community members who wanted schools remaining as community schools. We participated in protests and many, many meetings with the school district about ways to keep schools as community schools rather than becoming charter schools. We’re currently involved in the Journey for Justice Listening Project.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> What is the Listening Project?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Journey for Justice is a national alliance of about 30 organizations in 18 cities that have been fighting school closures throughout the country. The Listening Project has been holding meetings where we ask people in the communities how they have been personally affected by school closures, turnarounds, phase-outs and co-locations. Our plan is to take a compilation of these stories to the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. Later on, we hope to bring this before a committee of the United Nations.</p><p>We’re looking at the disparate impact of these education policies on communities of color—the disinvestment that has occurred in these communities when schools close, and the negative impact on children with disabilities when they have to switch schools or travel miles and miles, waking up early in the morning to go to a school across town because their neighborhood school has closed.</p><p>We’ve put together a document called the “Sustainable School Success Model,” which outlines a more sustainable way to transform schools and communities. Under the Race to the Top grants, schools have to use one of four models, mostly based on closing schools or firing staff. We want the U.S. Department of Education to look at our Sustainable School Success Model as a fifth option so that school districts don’t have to slash and burn.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> When you talk about going to the United Nations, are you saying it’s an international issue of human rights?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> Yes, we believe these are human rights violations.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> So what’s next?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> At this point, I feel that I best fit in continuing to help parents on a one-on-one basis with filing complaints and mentoring them through standing up to unfair policies at their schools. That’s the work I love doing.</p><p>The other thing I want to do is tell the story of what is going on as a warning to the rest of the world—tell the truth about how it works for our most vulnerable children. As I’m invited to speak in various places all over the world, I use that opportunity to elevate parents’ stories and experiences, so that folks will understand what has happened in a city that has almost 100 percent of what the corporate school privatizers say they want. Somebody has to speak from the voice of the ground level on this.</p><p>I hope that through hearing the horror stories coming out of New Orleans, other cities will think twice before following the New Orleans model. I don’t have solutions on how to turn around what has happened in New Orleans, especially when the law is not on our side. We don’t have thousands of people in the street protesting this and able to move legislators. We’re just not there in terms of the community organizing. So I have to do what I feel will have a meaningful impact.</p><p><strong>Disrespect Is Not a Solution</strong></p><p><strong>RS:</strong> The reform crew claims to be operating on behalf of disenfranchised communities. That’s been a powerful argument. Given your experience in New Orleans, how do you see that?</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> If you come in and impose what you think is a solution on me but you don’t have the history and the background to actually craft a real solution, then you may be doing harm. If you don’t have the respect to engage the people you’re trying to help before you come up with a solution, that’s colonialism, that’s not reform.</p><p>This is not a respectful endeavor. You can’t “do” reform to people, you have to do it with people. I always believe that solutions lie within the people who are being harmed.</p><p>I go back to my own experience as a poor black girl in New Orleans who grew up in public housing, whose daddy didn’t finish high school, who has a brother who’s a dropout. My mother was pregnant when she graduated from high school, my little sister was pregnant when she was in high school. I lived this. Don’t you think my lived experiences count toward solutions? I know they do because I have actually come up with solutions—based on those lived experiences—to make things better for people who grew up like me. So if you have a totally different public or private school experience, what makes you think you have solutions within you that will be applicable to people who have a different reality? That doesn’t even make sense to me.</p><p><strong>RS:</strong> In the past few years, there has been a growing sense of resistance—in Chicago, Philly, Seattle—and a change in the terms of discussion.</p><p><strong>KHR:</strong> The national conversation has come a long way. We have changed how corporate media reports this stuff. They weren’t saying anything before. When Journey for Justice brought youth and education activists from all over the country to testify about school closings and fight for a sustainable model of school reform, we had stacks of media coverage, everything from the <cite>Wall Street Journal</cite> and the <cite>New York Times</cite> to the <cite>Washington Post</cite>. The coverage of what’s called school reform used to be all positive. We have changed the conversation. You’ve got to recognize success and victories. But we haven’t won the war.</p><p>I’m 50 years old now. My second and last child is about to graduate from high school, and these last 22 years as a public school parent have taught me a lot. It’s been an education for me, and that wisdom has been earned through the school of hard knocks. Maybe I’m a revolutionary, I don’t know. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So until the people being oppressed start demanding things, power will concede nothing.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2014 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1012260'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 05:00:00 -0700 Stan Karp, Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools 1012260 at Education Education education public education k-12 charter schools new orleans hurricane katrina privatization 'Multiplication is for White People': An Interview with Education Professor Lisa Delpit <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '727155'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src=""/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In her new book, Delpit highlights 10 factors that foster excellence in urban schools, while exploring the connections between racism and special needs placement.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/sokolower-1.2.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>In the introduction to her new book,</em>"Multiplication Is for White People": Raising Expectations for Other People's Children,<em>Lisa Delpit describes her response when Diane Ravitch asked her why she hasn't spoken out against the devastation of public schools in her home state of Louisiana and the efforts to make New Orleans the national model. She explained to Ravitch that she has been concentrating her efforts where she feels she can make a difference: working with teachers and children in an African American school. She says her "sense of futility in the battle for rational education policy for African American children had gone on for so long . . . that I needed to give my 'anger muscles' a rest."</em></p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="472" width="330"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="472" width="330" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/sokolower-1_0.jpg" /></div><em>But that interchange made her realize that she is still angry, and that anger fuels and defines Multiplication Is for White People. "I am angry," she begins, "that public schools, once a beacon of democracy, have been overrun by the antidemocratic forces of extreme wealth." As she continues to enumerate the sources of her anger, the introduction comprises a focused and comprehensive indictment of the neoliberal attack on public education.</em><p><em>Two themes drive</em>"Multiplication Is for White People"<em>: Delpit infuses the interplay between her role as a scholar/activist and as the mother of a child with a unique learning style. And she organizes her text around 10 factors she believes "foster excellence in urban classrooms."</em></p><p><em>Because children who don't fit the white middle-class norms, especially those with real and/or perceived learning differences, are among the most marginalized by the scourges of corporate education reform, I chose to start my interview with Delpit there.</em><br /> </p><p><strong>Jody Sokolower for Rethinking Schools:</strong> You say in your new book that middle-class children come to school with different—although not more important—skills from children from low-income families. What do you mean? And is this a class difference or a cultural difference?</p><p><strong>Lisa Delpit:</strong> It is difficult to disaggregate class and culture. Children who have to take on more responsibility in real life will know and be able to do those types of things earlier. The specific responsibilities they take on are cultural—that would be different for Alaskan children as opposed to African American children or Appalachian children. We in middle-class families tend to keep our children young longer, to infantilize them.</p><p>This difference has great significance when we think about schools. If we are going to ensure that all children learn to read, I believe we have to turn our notion of "basic skills" on its head. What we call basic literacy skills are typically the linguistic conventions of middle-class society—for example, punctuation, grammar, specialized subject vocabulary, and five-paragraph essays. All children need to know these things. Some learn them from being read to at home. What we call basic skills are only "basic" because they are one aspect of the cultural capital of the middle class.</p><p>What we call advanced or higher-order skills—analyzing new information, evaluating the relative merits of concepts and other problem-solving skills—are those that middle-class children learn later in life. But many children from low-income families learn them much earlier because their parents place a high value on independence and real-life problem-solving skills.</p><p>So children come to us having learned different things in their four-to-five years at home, prior to formal schooling. For those who come to us knowing how to count to 100 and to read, we need to teach them problem-solving and how to tie their shoes. And for those who already know how to clean up spilled paint, tie their shoes, prepare meals, and comfort a crying sibling, we need to make sure that we teach them the school knowledge that they haven't learned at home.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> How does this relate to children who are seen as having learning disabilities or special needs?</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> The biggest issue for all children is not that we don't see what they <em>don't</em> know, but we don't see what they <em>do</em> know, what they do come to school with. They learned something in those years since they entered the world.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> You quote a young woman who struggled with learning in school who wonders why learning differences are classified as negative attributes—"Can we not focus on strengths and positive attributes?" she asks. How could it be different?</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> I am not a special education teacher, nor am I a specialist in special education research, so I don't want to position myself as an expert. But I do sometimes ask teachers to identify the students who are considered the most problematic in their class for whatever reason, be it behavior or be it in academic areas, and to write down 10 ways in which they are exhibiting difficulty or challenges. Then I ask the teachers to look at those challenges and see if they can be redefined as strengths, or if they can find other strengths in those children.</p><p>One teacher said, "I'm looking at this child who is disruptive and all the other children do what he or she does." She was able to translate that into "This is a leader. I need to give this child leadership roles so that she can assist me rather than detract from what I'm doing." Another child was always tattling: "So and so did such and such." So she reinterpreted that as a way of looking out for others—getting into a fuss with somebody because they did something to another child. So then she was able to translate that into nurturing behavior and to give the child roles that would allow her to nurture without creating a problem.</p><p>No matter what the child brings, be they special needs or learning disabilities or whatever label we want to put on them, instead of looking at the label and the problem that the label might represent, we can look at the person and see what strengths are there and what we can build on.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> Why do you think there are so many African American children in special ed programs?</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> I think there are a multitude of answers. The larger society has a view of African American people as being less intellectually capable. It's not something that anybody designed or set out to do, but it's almost in the air that we breathe. And as a result of that, when African American children do poorly, the first explanation is that there's something inherent in them that's keeping them from performing well. In fact, as Beth Harry and Janette Klingner say in their book <em>Why Are So Many Minority Children in Special Education? Understanding Race and Disability in Schools</em>, much of the time the reason is external to the child—for example, poor instruction, or maybe something happening in the family or community that caused trauma. But the official explanation tends to be that there's something wrong with the child.</p><p>Another piece is that the behavior of many boys, particularly African American boys, is seen as pathological. Some white female teachers from middle-class families (who are, of course, most of our teachers) are not accustomed to seeing this behavior and so they tend to think of it as something that is abnormal. There may be a higher tolerance for movement within some cultures that teachers again may not be accustomed to.</p><p>Another thing we run into a lot is young African American students who have learned what some people refer to as street sense, but their language might seem more mature in many ways. Teachers who are not familiar with the culture of the children actually get fearful and their fear pushes them to direct more African American kids to special education.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> With all the pressure on "seat time" and standardized tests, schools have less tolerance for movement than they used to.</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> Yes, the norms of regular classrooms are often so restrictive that any deviation suggests a pathology. So you get more African American children whose cultural norms may be a little different being directed into special education. Often teachers just don't know how to best reach these kids, how to connect to what they know, how to connect to what their interests are, and that plays a part in it, too. So there are numerous reasons, but I think the largest one is the underlying belief system—and not just among white people, among all Americans, often including black people—that African American students are less capable.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> Many of the factors you mention aren't about learning, they are about behavior. So part of what you're saying is that kids are being treated as having learning disabilities when it is actually a question of behavior.</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> Well, there is a category called behavior disorders. It changes from state to state exactly what the wording is, but there's actually a category for behavior issues. And that's the one that many black boys particularly are referred into.</p><p>Even among African American children who are labeled as having learning disabilities, they face the psychological trauma of not having those learning problems specifically defined. When you have a specific learning difference, you can understand that you have strengths and weaknesses as a learner. You can receive help to overcome that specific issue. But many African American children are labeled "slow learners" or "educable mentally retarded/behavior disordered." It's very difficult as a student to see what your strengths are in that context, and many times they don't get the specific help that they might need.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> Do you think there is enough emphasis on critical thinking and social justice education in special ed classes?</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> Critical thinking and social justice issues are factors that everyone in the United States needs to tackle. I also think that the more disconnected the content we teach—the more teachers try to teach skills out of context—the less likely students are to make sense of it. So we have to talk about the big picture, then use aspects of that discussion to look at specific skills. When we isolate or decontextualize skills or facts, they are just meaningless little pieces that don't make any sense.</p><p>In my book, I talk about the work of Petra Munro Hendry, who did oral history with a group of low-performing black kids at a high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The students researched the history of their school, which turned out to be one of the first public high schools for black students in the entire southern region of the country. In the context of doing that, they interviewed people, they recorded interviews. If you think about what you have to do when you take an interview and transcribe it, you have to learn spelling, you have to learn punctuation, you have to learn capitalization, you have to learn how to create a real sentence out of what somebody said who may not have spoken distinctly and clearly, or who has had some "um's" and "uh's." In other words, you have to learn what is taught in a remedial class, but it's put in the context of something much bigger and much more important. The students said to themselves: "We are researchers. We are people who are doing the kind of work that one might find college students doing." Not: "We are remedial learners."</p><p>And that is the way that we need to go to teach the small pieces like grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling, rather than just keep those in isolation.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> How important is it to have a diversity of teachers in a school? How important is it for students to have a teacher who looks like them, who comes from their culture?</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> I think what we need is people who represent the culture of the kids in the school, not necessarily in every classroom, because I think teachers of other cultures also have something to offer. However, I think that the piece that is often missing in our schools is the opportunity for professional learning communities where teachers can share what they know and collectively resolve issues relating to culture as well as other factors. If we can do that and ensure that the people who are most familiar with the culture of the children have the opportunity and the responsibility to share some of that knowledge with other teachers, then we will be doing OK. If the culture of the school is set up so that sharing is important and collaborating is important, the children will be the beneficiaries.</p><p>Jennifer Obidah and Karen Manheim Teel wrote a book, <em>Because of the Kids: Facing Racial and Cultural Differences in Schools</em>, about a white teacher who was having some difficulty in class and approached an African American teacher for help. The African American teacher spent some time in the classroom, they worked collaboratively and had some arguments about different kinds of things. At the end they were able to figure out what each could learn from the other and the culture piece came to the forefront. They were able to resolve the issues and create a better situation for the children. I don't want to make the claim that all black teachers are better or that every black teacher is good for every black child because, as I mentioned before, many of us have also internalized negative notions about black children. We really have to look at the specific teacher and what the teacher's beliefs are and how the teacher sees the culture of the children, regardless of the teacher's ethnicity. But black kids need black teachers' presence in the school, and white teachers need black teachers' presence in the school.</p><p><strong>JS:</strong> You talk about the need to neutralize, educate, or get rid of bad teachers. Can we do that without standardized tests?</p><p><strong>LD:</strong> There are a lot of pieces to that question. We do need to neutralize, educate, or get rid of bad teachers—that is true. But I think we need to take another look at assessment. If we can create professional learning communities where everyone is responsible to everyone else and we have a joint responsibility for these children in the school, then we can create a situation where teachers can do a lot of peer assessment of other teachers.</p><p>Many teachers are not using a quarter of what they know because the school environment is so foul. And we know that the culture of the school very much affects the teaching that goes on in classrooms. So my question becomes not so much whether the teachers at a specific school are good or bad but what is it in this setting that's not allowing them to teach to their full potential. And many times it is the question of trust.</p><p>Charles Payne has a great book, <em>So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools</em>. One of the things that he brings out is that the level of disorganization and mistrust in a school affects how well a teacher teaches. I don't think we can just look at the individual teaching level. We have to look at the school: What about the school is not allowing teachers to teach to their potential? So the problem may be the environment, or it may be some skills that teachers are lacking, or it may be that it's time for some teachers to look into other areas of work.</p><p>One time, I went to visit a teacher's classroom for the first time. He didn't know who I was or where I was coming from. He proceeded—in front of the children—to tell me how terrible these students were. He told me that he had want.ed to be a lawyer but he fell into teaching, and now he thought these kids were not worth the effort. I was in shock. Finally I said to him, "Well, I think it is time for you to pursue your dreams. You need to go to law school."</p><p>So sometimes it is important to help folks find where their talents will best be used so as not to destroy children. But most of the current notions of accountability are wrongheaded and will never improve what's going on with teachers and what happens in classrooms.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '727155'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 16 Oct 2012 09:00:00 -0700 Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools 727155 at Education education k-12 poverty race inequality special needs new orleans schools learning disabilities baton rouge