Equal Education


Honoring the Spirit of Brown


As a law student years ago, I learned the elementary principle every law school teaches: Without context, the law is only words on paper. History gives law meaning; to follow the letter of the law without honoring its spirit is to lose the flower of justice in the weeds of formalism. It’s a fundamental lesson that appeared lost in the recent United States Supreme Court decision striking down voluntary integration plans in the Seattle and Louisville public schools. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the Court’s decision, took pains to justify his conclusion that the school districts’ plans were unconstitutional by quoting from legal briefs filed in another watershed case about integration: Brown v. Board of Education.

By invoking the memory of Brown, Roberts tried to equate efforts to eradicate legalized segregation with present-day attempts to create racially diverse schools. Because Seattle and Louisville used race as a factor to desegregate their schools, their integration plans, reasoned Roberts, were no different than past efforts that exploited race to separate and exclude. “The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” he wrote. Plain and simple.

But what of the historical context of Brown? Had Roberts forgotten that Thurgood Marshall, the African American lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice who argued the Brown case, was urging the Court to breathe spirit into the letter of the Constitution’s promise of equality for all and chart a brave new course for the nation? That the crisis of segregation was so alarming and so damaging that the Court’s decision would define us as a nation? That Chief Justice Earl Warren, who penned the Brown decision, worked tirelessly to convince all nine justices—who hailed from both the North and South—to sign onto the majority opinion so that the Court could speak with one, powerful voice in repudiation of the archaic doctrine of “separate but equal”?


Unlike the unanimous decision in Brown, the Court’s recent decision was bitterly divided. And it is no wonder.
For several Justices, Robert’s use of Brown to dismantle efforts to achieve the very integration that Brown had promised was a distortion of Brown’s unifying legacy—a “cruel irony,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in dissent. “The Chief Justice rewrites the history of one of this Court’s most important decisions,” Stevens said.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in an emotional opinion read from the bench, reminded his colleagues: “In this Court’s finest hour, Brown…challenged th[e] history [of segregation] and helped to change it.”Brown, said Breyer, held out a “promise of true racial equality—not as a matter of fine words on paper, but as a matter of everyday life in the Nation’s cities and schools.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected Roberts’ simplistic application of the letter of Brown as “too dismissive of the legitimate interest government has in ensuring all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race.” In his separate opinion, Kennedy wrote: “The enduring hope is that race should not matter; the reality is that too often it does.”

History teaches us that far from ignoring race, the Brown Court explicitly used race as a tool of inclusion. And recognizing the significant social context in which the Brown decision was made, later courts upheld the use of race to integrate, equalize, and harmonize society, instead of allowing segregation to persist.

On this score, the recent Supreme Court decision was a major setback. In ruling Seattle and Louisville’s voluntary integration plans unconstitutional, the Court threw a steep hurdle in the path of local school districts seeking to create racially diverse learning environments for all children.

Both integration plans were carefully crafted and effective, involving limited use of race and only after other factors were considered. Nonetheless, the Court rejected the plans and, in doing so, further limited the role that race can play in making student assignments to schools. It is particularly troubling that four of the Supreme Court justices who joined in striking down the plans would eliminate virtually all effective tools for dismantling racial isolation and achieving integration in public schools.

All is not Lost

Although he concurred with Roberts’ conclusion that the Seattle and Louisville plans were unconstitutional, Kennedy clarified that Roberts’ opinion implied “an all-too-unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when, in my view, it may be taken into account.”

Kennedy’s words leave the door ajar for school districts trying to implement voluntary integration plans that fulfill both the letter and spirit of Brown. And, fortunately, a majority of the Justices reaffirmed that the government has a compelling interest in avoiding racial isolation and achieving racial diversity in public schools. The Court made clear that a range of affirmative measures, including some race-conscious measures, are still available to school districts seeking to achieve diversity in their student body.

This is particularly important here in California, where, in the shadow of Proposition 209, public schools are as segregated today as they were nearly 40 years ago.

Despite this challenge, there are examples of success. Earlier this year, an Alameda County Superior Court judge threw out a legal challenge to Berkeley Unified School District’s elementary and high school student assignment plans, finding that the district does not violate state law by considering the racial demographics of students’ neighborhoods along with other factors in assigning students to schools.

This was the second time in recent years that Berkeley’s integration efforts have come under attack—and survived the challenge. Last time Berkeley prevailed, in April 2004, the judge ruled: “Although Proposition 209 specifically applies to public education, its text does not mention voluntary desegregation plans or otherwise indicate that prohibited discrimination or preferential treatment includes a race-conscious school assignment plan that seeks to provide all students with the same benefit of desegregated schools.”

In his dissent, Justice Breyer warned that the Court’s recent decision will be one that “the Court and the Nation will come to regret.” But we don’t have to live with such regret.

We all have a role to play—parents, advocates, school administrators, elected officials—in continuing the hard but critically important work of integrating public schools, so that students from all backgrounds will benefit from a diverse educational environment and be better prepared to effectively function in our increasingly diverse society and global economy. Let’s maximize the tools we still have available to promote equal opportunity and inclusion in our schools.

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Williams v. California: Hope and Confidence for Students and Parents


Graciela Cruz finally had enough. Her daughter attended Huron Elementary School in Huron, California, a small farm community in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. Recalls Cruz, “One day, I went to pick my daughter up from school and she was holding a book… in a matter of seconds, the teacher comes out and practically tears it from her hands. And I asked myself, ‘Why take away a book that could help her?’”1

Being from a working class, Spanish-speaking, immigrant community, the parents were hesitant to speak out at their schools and felt that their concerns were ignored whenever they approached school officials.

However, in March 2007, after over 20 years of discouragement, the Huron community was rewarded with a new tool for school improvement. Public Advocates, a civil rights law and advocacy organization, and Latino Issues Forum, a policy and advocacy group, joined with Graciela and other parents in Huron to utilize the Williams complaint process—a means for everyday people to speak out against unjust school conditions—resulting from the historic Williams v. California settlement.

The Unequal State of Education in California
California is one of the wealthiest states in the nation, and the sixth largest economy in the world. With 6.3 million children in public schools, it has one of the largest school systems in the country. But on numerous measures—test scores, education funding, teacher quality, graduation rates, and facilities—California’s school system is among the nation’s worst.

Sixty-eight percent of California’s public school students are children of color. Over half of all students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. A quarter of the students,1.6 million, are English learners. As low-income children of color disproportionately attend impoverished public schools, and more affluent white children attend private schools or public schools benefiting from surrounding wealthy communities, the poor quality of learning opportunities provided to many students echoes the racial and class patterns that existed before the United States Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” schools were “inherently unequal” in Brown v. Board of Education, more than 50 years ago.

Reports reveal significant per-pupil spending gaps among California public schools,2 particularly in the area of teacher salaries. Higher salaries and better working conditions in more affluent, white schools attract experienced and fully credentialed teachers. Conversely, under-prepared teachers end up in schools with a higher concentration of low-income and students of color. Teacher quality is one of the most significant factors in student achievement. Students in low-achieving schools are five times more likely to have an under-prepared teacher than their counterparts in high-achieving schools. Over the course of their schooling, one in four students in the lowest-performing schools will have more than one under-prepared teacher. In contrast, only one in fifty students in the highest-performing schools will have more than one under-prepared teacher.3

Against this backdrop of unequal and substandard learning conditions for many of the most marginalized students, the state continues to pursue a largely one-way accountability system. Students and schools are held accountable for standardized test scores, but the state itself does not take responsibility for providing students with the academic resources they need to  succeed. For example, the California High School Exit Exam, a requirement for a diploma, greatly affects marginalized students. At Miramonte High School in Orinda, the mostly white and affluent students passed the English portion of the exam at a rate of 99 percent in 2006. Meanwhile, just 20 miles away, at Richmond High School, which has mostly low-income students of color, only 37 percent passed the English exam.4 These disparate outcomes are not surprising, given the different investments in the learning environments of the students. Left unchecked, these inequities will only worsen.


Towards a Two-Way Accountability System
California’s systematic under-investment in education has eroded the quality of public schools dramatically. The crisis finally came to a head in 2000, when a San Francisco middle school student, Eliezer Williams—who year after year had experienced the lack of adequate teachers, textbooks, and broken down facilities—and his father decided that they had had enough. On May 17, 2000—the 46th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education—Public Advocates, along with the ACLU, Morrison & Foerster LLP, and others, filed Williams v. California, seeking to equalize basic educational opportunities across the state.

Williams challenged the state for subjecting low-income students and students of color to learning environments with: (a) high numbers of under-prepared and emergency-credentialed teachers;(b) unhealthy facilities that were infested with rodents and lacked functioning bathrooms; and (c) outdated or insufficient numbers of textbooks that students had to share and could not take home.

This was not the first time Public Advocates had challenged the state’s under-investment in the neediest schools. In the 1970s, Public Advocates litigated Serrano v. Priest, which successfully established education as a fundamental right in California and required public school funding to be equalized. Serrano was one of the first state school finance cases in the nation (although Proposition 13, which severely curtailed property taxes, later undercut the case’s promise of reform). The Serrano court’s equal protection ruling formed a key basis for the Williams suit.

After more than four years of litigation in which the state fought vigorously to defeat the plaintiffs’ claims, the parties announced a settlement agreement on August 13, 2004. The Williams settlement acknowledged for the first time the state’s obligation to provide California public school students a minimum level of educational necessities: (1) qualified teachers, (2) clean, safe, and functional school facilities, and (3) adequate textbooks. It also established new standards, new accountability mechanisms, and $1 billion in funding to implement the promises of the settlement. As part of the settlement, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law five bills.


Making Rights Real Through Williams
Legislation under the Williams settlement paved new ways for students, parents, and community members to hold their districts, and ultimately the state, accountable for educating their children. One key measure was an improved complaint process to enable concerned individuals or groups to report deficiencies in textbooks, teachers, or school facilities.
In the past two years, Public Advocates has trained and supported over a thousand students, parents, teachers, and administrators throughout California on using the Williams complaint process to improve school conditions. Working with district, county, and state officials has been critical to making these education rights a reality. Most crucial, perhaps, has been Public Advocates’ work on the ground, in partnership with community-based organizations, to create Williams campaigns. This entails informing students and parents of their rights, providing technical and strategic support in developing relationships with the school, district, and state administrators, garnering public attention, and following-up on complaints. (For details on filing a Williams complaint, see box: “Williams Complaint Process.”)

In the San Joaquin Valley, Public Advocates staff met with Spanish-speaking immigrant parents fed up with the conditions in their children’s schools, and as they have done across the state, informed them of their new rights under the Williams settlement and how to use the complaint process to make change. And a new organization—Padres Unidos, Mejores Escuelas (PUME)—or United Parents, Better Schools, was born to make the promises of Williams a reality in the local community. PUME parents demanded prompt action on the lack of education necessities for their children. Their demands were basic but critical to a safe and healthy learning environment: provide books for their children to take home; ensure that teachers are trained to help English learners; and remove harmful carcinogens from the drinking water. In March 2007, with the assistance of Public Advocates and Latino Issues Forum, PUME submitted over 70 formal complaints, in Spanish, as permitted by law.

In the course of collecting and following up on complaints, the parents met often with school and district officials and found courage within themselves to speak up. Public Advocates’ policy advocate, Mónica Henestroza, described a meeting between the parents and a district superintendent: “A parent looked the superintendent straight in the eye and asked, ‘¿Cómo puedes esperar un día más para mejorar el agua cuando la salud de mis hijos están en riesgo?’ (How can you wait even one more day to improve the quality of the water when my children’s health is at risk?)” That afternoon, the superintendent picked up an application for funding to repair the water system.

Williams Gives Students a Voice
The Williams complaint process also provides youth—the ones most directly affected by education decisions—with a way to speak out about problems in their schools.

Public Advocates provided Williams complaint training and campaign support to two Oakland-based youth leadership organizations, Asian Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership and Youth Together. Sophomore Tiffany Parker, described how Youth Together used their training to educate other youth: “We did massive education around the school to let students know that we do have the right to have a fair school and that we do have a right to complain. We do need clean bathrooms and qualified teachers. The PE teacher should not be teaching Spanish class!”

In Spring 2006, these students collected and filed over 700 Williams complaints from high school students throughout the Oakland Unified School District, to highlight the substandard conditions in their schools—gaining press coverage in the local media in the process. Two hundred students confronted school district officials directly in an “accountability session” to demand fixes for the problems raised in their complaints. Consequently, many longstanding problems—from dirty bathrooms to missing textbooks—were fixed throughout the district. However, while the district’s response to the complaints was exemplary in some instances, it fell far short and required follow-up in others.

Whatever the tangible results, most critical was the effect on the students who worked on the campaign. Rose Ann Leybag, an Oakland Tech High School senior, and member of Asian Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership, describes feeling “empowered” because of the changes she helped to make happen and feels that Williams teaches adults an important lesson: “If we’re really given an opportunity to speak for ourselves, about what we think is good for us, people will be surprised how youth can make changes in our community.”

Continuing Enforcement
Because of the Williams settlement, tens of thousands of California students now have updated textbooks and properly trained teachers. Many teachers are seeking qualification to instruct English learners. And hundreds of dangerous conditions have been repaired throughout the state’s schools.5 These stories are not an end, but a beginning. Fulfilling the promises of the Williams settlement requires constant attention and consistent enforcement.

The processes born out of the settlement build public confidence and political will for improving the education system and directing more resources to schools and students most in need. While the complaint process is just one tool for fixing specific types of problems, the value to students and parents of engaging in that process is immeasurable. By training and supporting communities and grassroots organizations to use the Williams complaint process, Public Advocates has helped students, parents, teachers, schools, and state officials to work together. As communities achieve concrete improvements at specific schools, they also build a consciousness of their potential to create social change.

Graciela Cruz describes the impact of the PUME Williams campaign on herself: “There’s a saying, ‘If you don’t speak, God won’t hear you.’ What has changed in me is that I have come to realize how true this is. Not until the people rose up, did they begin to make changes.”6

1.    Translated from Spanish by Mónica Henestroza, Public Advocates.
2.    California’s Hidden Teacher Spending Gap: How State and District Budgeting Practices Shortchange Poor and Minority Students, Education Trust West (2005).
3.     The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, Fact Sheet 3 in California’s Teaching Force: Key Issues and Trends (2006), available at http://www.cftl.org.
4.    California Department of Education, Dataquest, California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) Results for Mathematics and English Language Arts by Program (Combined 2006) for All Grades, available at http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/.
5.    See The Williams v. California Settlement: The First Year of Implementation (Nov. 2005), available at www.decentschools.org.
6.    Translated from Spanish by Mónica Henestroza, Public Advocates.

Michelle N. Rodriguez is a staff attorney and Angelica K. Jongco is an attorney and law fellow with the non-profit civil rights law firm, Public Advocates in San Francisco.

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Civil Rights Movement Origins at Highlander Educational Sessions

When Rosa Parks was asked by the eminent talk show host, Studs Terkel, what the Highlander Center had to do with the fact that she chose not to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama on that fateful day in early December 1955, she answered quite simply, “everything.” As a result of its educational efforts on behalf of integration, the state of Tennessee closed Highlander in 1960 on bogus charges and auctioned off all of its property, only to have it reopen shortly thereafter under a new name and charter.

This form of adult education is now widely known as “Popular Education.” The core of its meaning and definition are clear, while the boundaries are intentionally permeable. Popular Education is, at root, the empowerment of adults through democratically structured cooperative study and action, directed toward achieving more just and peaceful societies, within a life sustaining global environment. Its priority is the poor, the oppressed and the disenfranchised people of the world—ordinary people.

I often encounter educators and others who have never heard of popular education, nor of its principal exemplars, like the Highlander Center, with the spoken or unspoken implication that therefore, it must not have much impact or significance. Myles Horton (co-founder of the Highlander Center in 1934) once told me, “you can accomplish a lot of good in the world if you don’t care who gets the credit for it.” Certainly, a very un-American and un-academic point of view. However, it is the epitome of a successful popular education effort for the people to say, “we have done it ourselves”—and they are, paradoxical as it might seem, quite right.

For example, many may have heard mention of the fact that Rosa Parks attended training sessions at Highlander prior to sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but too few realize the depth of Highlander Center’s contributions. It was at Highlander that the critical literacy and leadership training program—the citizenship school program—was conceived and developed. The program, along with its co-founder Septima Clark, were transferred to Martin Luther King’s organization to become Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s principal education program. Not only did it teach tens of thousands of Southern Blacks to read and write, so they could register to vote; it also developed the leadership that formed the organizational nucleus for the movement in countless towns and cities throughout the South.1

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded at Highlander from a long- running annual integrated workshop for college students. Highlander continues to this day to play a seminal role in people’s struggles for economic and social justice throughout the South, the nation, North America, and worldwide.
A fine nutshell description is Myles Horton’s, “the greatest education comes from action, the greatest action is the struggle for justice.”2

John Hurst is a professor in the Language and Literacy, Society and Culture Program at the University of California at Berkeley.
Excerpt from an article first published in Educator, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.

1.    Tjerandsen, Carl, Education for Citizenship: A Foundation’s Experience, Schwarzhaupt Foundation, 1980.
2.    From an interview on Bill Moyer’s Journal, “The Adventures of a Radical Hillbilly,” PBS, June 1981.

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Democratizing the Public School System


Whenever popular education is mentioned, Paolo Freire is usually the first name that comes to mind.1 But students of democratic pedagogy in the United States have plenty of home grown examples of their own to study. John Dewey, for example, who saw the public school system as fundamentally authoritarian, reproducing a “superior class… [whose] culture tends to be sterile [and whose] actions tend to become… capricious, aimless, and explosive….”2 He wanted teachers to teach children not by force but by inducement; and growth itself had to be seen as an end.3 Indeed, if American society was to become truly democratic, Dewey argued, the children had to be taught to “take a determining part in the making as well as obeying laws”4

In 1932, Miles Horton—taking democratic education to an activist level—founded the Highlander School in Tennessee, on the principle that people had the means to solve their own problems without relying on experts or institutions. Horton believed that a pedagogy that helped people analyze their own experiences, and that of others, would promote participatory democracy. Many organizers of the labor movement in the 1930s gained valuable skills at Highlander. In the late 1950s, Septima Clark made the Citizen Education Program at Highlander the foundation for the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) Citizenship Schools.5 In turn, the Freedom Summer Schools of Mississippi used the SCLC citizenship curriculum as a template.

The 1964 Freedom Summer Schools arose in response to the inadequacies of the existing public school system, which was segregated and authoritarian. The teachers were given a written curriculum but were also advised “to shape your own curriculum in the light of the teachers’ skills, the students’ interests, and the resources of the particular community.”6 The emphasis on developing curriculum and teaching method based on the students’ experiences arose out of a vision that “[encouraged] the asking of questions,” and a “hope that society can be improved.”7

Like the authors of the 1964 Freedom School curriculum, Don Arnstine argues that public schools have historically failed to produce active democratic citizens. Instead, their aim is only to socialize students, not educate them.

“Socialization is characterized by imitation, participation, and obedience to instruction and command. Its outcome is the acquisition of adaptive habits, skills, and attitudes. The processes of education… are far more subtle, adding to the above processes two-way communication, initiative, creativity, and criticism. The outcome of educational processes is the acquisition of attitudes and dispositions, knowledge and skills, that are individualized and critically thoughtful.”8 


Uprooting Bureaucracy
To change a system that merely socializes, into one that also educates, would require a social movement. Not only because “macroeconomic mandates continually trump urban educational policy and school reform.”9 Or that corporate-engineered high-stakes testing has eliminated community participation in the creation of educational goals and policy.10 But because a social movement is the only way fundamental change can occur in any deeply entrenched bureaucracy. If the system can prevent a progressive school board in a progressive city from implementing systemic progressive educational reforms as advocated by Dewey or Horton, the only hope for change is outside the system.

The obstacles to introducing popular or progressive methods and goals to school districts caught up in the high-stakes testing paradigm are numerous, and range from the way school boards function as democratically elected bodies, to big business, to entrenched political interests, to the proliferation of foundational support for educational reform.

Because school boards rarely have their own line staff, board members depend upon the school superintendent’s office for most of their information and recommendations.11 (The seven San Francisco school board commissioners, for example, share one secretary.) Superintendents, in turn, are focused not so much on the schools’ potential, as how to manage the system they inherit. So, their recommendations to boards and district bureaucracies tend to focus primarily on the gargantuan task of managing 10,000 employees and 55,500 students—increasingly poor and working class—with a dwindling school budget and under increasingly complex and rigid rules imposed by the state and federal governments. Consequently, the school boards have tended to close the smaller but more effective schools for disproportionately large numbers of poor and working class students of color.


Board Culture and Structure Resist Change
It is doubtful, however, that even if the superintendents were driven by goals other than maintaining a system that essentially sorts and socializes, they would implement progressive goals and methods. Ziegler and Jennings’ research on district politics suggests “in unequivocal terms, the existence of an educational elite which is consciously self-perpetuating.”12 School board incumbents generally select their successors, and most candidates do not campaign on issues that would distinguish them from rivals.13 Even when “delegate-minded” board candidates are elected, they are quickly socialized into a “trustee” mentality and begin to identify with entrenched interest groups. This culture is reinforced by national school board meetings, superintendent sessions, and a plethora of handbooks.14

In San Francisco, for instance, few voters are aware of educational issues, and school board elections are popularity contests won by those who can raise the most money. When grassroots candidates do get elected, they are subtly socialized to “work with the superintendent,” and use meaningless phrases, such as “laser-like reform on academic achievement.” The combination of propaganda from professional associations and being wooed by big business vendors makes even the most progressive school board candidate realize that it would be political suicide to challenge a superintendent’s “laser-like focus” on creating a lean and mean school system.

School board members who suggest progressive pedagogy and curricula are accused of being “leftist ideologues” or “not about the kids,” by business leaders, the media, and fellow professionals. If these attempts fail to inhibit board members, big business can threaten to withdraw its subsidies and political will from desperately needed supplemental district funding (parcel taxes, for example). But most board members respond to the carrot enough to believe that whenever there is a crisis—and there is always one around the corner—the “business advisory board” is the group to approach for advice and support.

Interest Groups Vie for Control
School board members are not the only ones effectively co-opted by the political system. Organized ethnic or identity groups, representing very few constituents, sometimes act as gatekeepers. Leaders of these groups punish those who make decisions based on progressive educational principles rather than skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. Many a San Francisco school board meeting has been rendered ineffective by speeches from leaders of non-representative but highly organized identity groups. The largely white and middle class Parent Teachers Association (PTA) is playing into the hands of the historically disenfranchised ethnic and racial identity groups (and undermining their own political power) when they urge the school board not to be critical of the existing two-tier public school system—for fear of increasing middle-class and white flight from the schools.

As for teacher and service employee unions, having only recently found a place within the system, they are on the defensive and often fight any attempt by school boards to shake up the system. Their focus on wages and working conditions leaves little political capital for social justice issues, and their aspirations for a middle class lifestyle makes them insensitive to potential allies in school reform, viz: parents who earn less than they do. Teachers are socialized to believe in the myth of meritocracy and in their own powerlessness to change the system, long before they begin to teach.

Big business, for its part, has become adept at playing the entrenched interest groups against each other while remaining ostensibly “above the fray.” Foundations and non-profits involved with the school district intensify this dynamic when they focus on issues, such as cleaning bathrooms and community alleyways, instead of focusing on empowering the poor and working classes to challenge inequalities in the distribution of wealth and the power relationships that reinforce that inequality.

Hierarchy Overwhelms Democracy
The school system in the United States is fundamentally hierarchical and authoritarian. Hence, its structures and functions are at cross purposes with democratic aims. According to Don Arnstine, education—as defined by Dewey, Horton, and the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools—can only be implemented, if:

1.    The multiple-choice and standardized testing systems and the college admissions procedures closely related to them are changed.
2.    There’s a change in the way teachers are prepared and placed in their jobs, and… “organized for effective action.”
3.    All forms of segregation (not just race) within schools are ended.
4.    Students have opportunities to learn outside school.15

Debbie Meier in her book, Will Standards Save Public Education?, offers “six alternative assumptions” that allow “schools to instruct by example in the qualities of mind that… a democracy should be fostering in kids—responsibility for one’s own ideas, tolerance for the ideas of others, and a capacity to negotiate differences…. [T]his alternative vision isn’t utopian, even if it might be messy—as democracy is always messy.”16

For democratic education to take place, ideals have to replace standards, and teachers have to understand the purposes and interests of their students. They have to teach students how to pose their own problems and solve them democratically, in groups.17 Within the current school system, this can only happen sporadically.

Possibilities for the Future
Jean Anyon argues that there are radical possibilities in “the concentration of so many poor people in relatively small urban schools… It naturally offers a potential base for organizing a new social movement.”18 Yet, the vast majority of teachers focus on high-stakes testing, believing that they have a moral obligation to prepare their students for it. Pursuing this “moral obligation” saps most of their energy, leaving very little for organizing a social movement. It remains for those outside the school system to offer teachers the hope of fundamental  change, and support for the idea that they have a moral obligation to change the system. Simultaneously, progressive school board members need to see themselves as unapologetic activists, not “team players.”

In San Francisco, we believe we have begun to do this. Eric Mar continues to cultivate a grassroots base and Kathy Emery has co-founded the San Francisco Freedom School, which uses a people’s history of the Civil Rights Movement to show educators and other activists how to build the infrastructure for the next social movement. Teachers 4 Social Justice nourishes progressive teachers and parents through study groups and provides an outstanding local and national networking opportunity during their annual conference. The San Francisco Organizing Project has begun teaching parents how to organize in schools and establish alliances with teachers, and also to connect educational reform to affordable housing, healthcare, safety, and immigrant rights. We believe that these are the building blocks for the next social movement in this country.

1.    Freire, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Translator, Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Continuum, 1986).
2.    Dewey, J. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1944), 84-85.
3.    Ibid. pp. 50.
4.    Ibid. pp. 120.
5.    Horton, M., Kohl, J. and Kohl, H. The Long Haul: An Autobiography. (New York: Teachers College Press, 1998).
6.    “Note to Teacher” from Freedom School Curriculum. 1964. Freedom Summer Collection, 1963-1964. (New York: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture). The New York Public Library. See: www.educationanddemocracy.org.
7.    Freedom School Curriculum: Introduction to Citizenship. Curriculum from “The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Papers,” 1959-1972 (Stanford, North Carolina: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1982) Reel 67, File 340, Page 0830.  See: www.educationanddemocracy.org.
8.    Arnstine, D. Democracy and the Arts of Schooling (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 10.
9.    Anyon, J. Radical Possibilities: Public Policy, Urban Education, and a New Social Movement (New York: Routledge, 2005), 2.
10.    Emery, K. The Business Roundtable and Systemic Reform (Doctoral dissertation, University of California at Davis, 2002). See: www.educationanddemocracy.org.
11.    Emery, K. and Ohanian, S. Why is Corporate America Bashing our Public Schools? (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 2004).
12.    Emery, K. “Corporate Control of Public School Goals: High-Stakes Testing in its Historical Perspective.” Teacher Education Quarterly, Spring, Vol. 34. No. 2. (2007): 25-44.
13.    Fantini, M., Gittell, M., Magat, R. Community Control and the Urban School (New York: Praeger, 1970), 68.
14.    Ziegler, L. H. and Jennings, M. K. Governing American Schools (North Scituate, Massachusetts: Durbury Press, 1974), 51.
15.    Zerchykov, R. School Boards and the Communities they Represent: An Inventory of the Research, NIE Grant 80-0171, (Boston: Institute for Responsive Education, 1984).
16.    Cistone, P.J. (Ed.). Understanding School Boards. 63-76. Lutz, F. W. Local School Boards as Sociocultural Systems. (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1975), (D. C. Heath).
17.    Arnstine, D. Democracy and the Arts of Schooling. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).
18.    Meier, D. Will Standards Save Public Education? (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 4-5.
19.    Arnstine, D. Democracy and the Arts of Schooling (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).
20.    Anyon, J. Radical possibilities: Public Policy, Urban Education, and a New Social Movement. (New York: Routledge, 2005), 5.

Eric Mar is a member and past president of the school board of the San Francisco Unified School District. Kathey Emery is a co-founder of the San Francisco Freedom School and co-author of Why is Corporate America Bashing Public Schools?

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If the system can prevent a progressive school board in a progressive city from implementing systemic progressive educational reforms... the only hope for change is outside the system.

The Lessons of Freedom Summer


As a former history teacher and current organizer in San Francisco, my primary interest in the orginial Freedom School Curriculum is twofold:1 It demonstrates that if society is to be improved, curriculum and pedagogy must be based on the asking of questions, not the answering of them. Secondly, it proves that history is fundamental to understanding the mechanisms of repression today and to the process of empowering students to be active agents of change.

I have taken the explicit goals of the Freedom School’s Citizenship Curriculum2—asking questions to improve society and using history to understand the mechanisms of repression and liberation—as models for my own thinking about education reform today. In placing Freedom Schools within the context of the history of alternative education reform3 to promote more proactive thinking about school reform today, I have come to the following conclusions:

1.    Teachers must be a part of the community in which they teach.
2.    School reform must be part of a social reform movement.
3.    The school community must be clear about the goals of education and must explicitly articulate and defend them at every opportunity.

Teachers Work in Community
Though the Freedom School teachers came from outside Mississippi, they lived with and became part of the community in which they taught. At the orientation in Oxford, the teachers were encouraged to not rely on the curriculum except for its basic pedagogical premise of asking questions. The actual experience of the Freedom Schools was created by students and teachers in active and spontaneous collaboration, which depended upon the teachers knowing and respecting the students. This is in stark contrast to the scripted, drill-and-kill curriculum imposed on the so-called low performing schools today.

School Reform as Social Reform
Since education is inextricably connected to the social, political, and economic structures of society, school reform must be part of a social movement. It was no coincidence that students at the 1964 Mississippi Freedom School convention included the topics of integration of public accommodations, housing, education, health, foreign affairs, federal aid, discrimination in hiring, the plantation system, civil liberties, law enforcement, city maintenance, voting and direct action in their platform.4 The topics are still relevant (one could substitute the corporate system for the plantation system) and still interdependent. For example, children cannot learn in school if they are not healthy and properly housed and parents cannot support them effectively without a living wage job that is secure from arbitrary abridgment of their civil liberties.

The structures created by the civil rights movement were necessary to the emergence of over 40 Freedom Schools in Mississippi in 1964. The schools, in turn, contributed to the successful creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which began the process of dismantling the all white political structure in Mississippi. Without structural support, alternative schools cannot proliferate.

The struggle over small school reform today centers around whether they will be part of a social movement or be co-opted by corporate funding. A history of alternative school movements5 shows that corporate funding often dries up as soon as a critical mass of schools moves from an alternative to an oppositional status or when the crisis that generated the support has subsided.

The damage done to communities by the corporate system cannot be effectively resisted unless students, parents, and teachers operate within a curriculum built upon a set of questions, such as:

1.    Why are we (students and teachers) in Freedom Schools?
2.    What is the freedom movement?
3.    What alternatives does the freedom movement offer us?
4.    What does the majority culture have that we want?
5.    What does the majority culture have that we don’t want?
6.    What do we have that we want to keep?

Understanding Means and Ends
Reformers, especially educational reformers, need to understand the difference between means and ends. Raising test scores is not a goal of education. It is a means of creating obedient task completers and legitimising an increasing pool of dropouts and pushouts.6

Without clarity over methods and goals, good methods can be easily co-opted to promote bad goals. A comparison between Freedom Schools and the schools that grew out of the two alternative school movements in our history proves this point. Now, we are in the midst of a third major alternative school movement. It is no coincidence that all three movements have relied on corporate foundations during periods in which capitalism was in crisis: The progressive reform movement from 1900-1940; the free school movement from 1960-75; and the small school reform movement of today. In each case, corporate funding has allowed progressive means to be co-opted to serve the status quo.

A classic example of the co-optation of progressive means dates back to 1963 when the federal government stopped funding continuation schools in California. When businessman Max Rosenberg voiced his concern over the increasing numbers of dropouts and pushouts, it led to a coordinated lobbying effort to get state funding for alternative schools where troubled students would be taught how to re-adjust to the factory-like conditions of the mainstream schools. In 1965, the California state legislature mandated that all school districts must provide continuation education for those suspended from school for 10 or more days. That year, 700,000 students were enrolled in California’s continuation schools. By 1979, that number had reached one million.

Teachers and parents initially advocated for continuation schools because their progressive methods emphasized different ends from those pursued by comprehensive schools. The student-centered, multicultural, and experiential curricula offered more effective means of producing employable adults who would also have the ability and interest to continue to learn and grow. But state and district administrators turned the schools into dead end dumping grounds, marginalizing the schools with poor funding and paralyzing the leadership.


Business Agenda for Education
Today, the Gates Foundation has entered the school reform business by deciding to fund—and thus control—the small school movement, which began in New York City 20 years ago. The move ment has inspired educators and parents across the nation by successfully demonstrating a vision of schools in which teachers, parents, and students know each other well, and have the autonomy to create a responsive curriculum and pedagogy. But this vision is now being co-opted by the high-stakes testing agenda of the Business Roundtable,7 which, not coincidentally, strongly supports Bill and Melinda Gates’ efforts to make their goals for education part of the debate in the 2008 election season.

When the Oakland, California8 school district gave teachers a significant salary increase and decided to enroll 25 percent of its student body in small, autonomous schools, their budget deficit shot through the roof. Citing the resulting financial crisis, the state government took over the district, and appointed a new superintendent with absolute power. One of Dr. Randall Ward’s first acts was to close four small schools. He has since virtually eliminated parent and teacher participation in district policy.

Gates Foundation money continues to fund technical support for small schools in Oakland but the schools operate with highly controlled community input and must adhere to the single criterion—raising standardized test scores—that the nation’s corporate leaders wish to impose on all districts in the nation.

Onward with the Freedom Schools
Of course, there have always been individual alternative schools that have withstood the pressure to serve the interests of big business, but the Freedom Schools remain the best, if not the only example, of an alternative school movement that was given structural support by a social movement. As part of Freedom Summer, the Freedom Schools developed a curriculum and pedagogy that served the goals of the movement. But who knows, without the social movement, or the teachers who were part of the community, or the community’s clear focus on what the goals of education should be, even the Freedom Schools may inevitably have been subordinated to the goals of corporate business.

Unfortunately, schools will continue to be a sorting system and a method of social control, instead of a place in which all students learn how to build community, master academic skills, understand contemporary issues, and be active agents of social change. We are now living through the second major transformation of the public school system in the United States. The Business Roundtable is leading corporate America in a process that is transforming the public school system, so that it legitimizes the growing polarization of wealth and contributes to the disappearance of democratic processes.

Right now, educators, parents, students, and other community activists must decide how to oppose corporate America’s high-stakes testing agenda by organizing around reform that promotes and reinforces democratic decision-making and community formation. The history of the Freedom Schools and the Freedom School Curriculum can serve as an example and inspiration toward this end.


1.    Freedom School Curriculum, www.educationanddemocracy.org/ED_FSC.html
2.    Citizenship Curriculum, www.educationanddemocracy.org/FSCfiles/C_CC1_Units1to6.htm
3.    History of Alternative Education Reform www.educationanddemocracy.org/Emery/Emery_AltSchoolsPaper.htm
4.    Mississippi Freedom School Convention Platform,
5.    History of Alternative Schools Movements www.educationanddemocracy.org/Emery/Emery_AltSchoolsPaper.htm
6.     Various papers, www.educationanddemocracy.org/ED_emery.html
7.    Business Roundtable, www.businessroundtable.org/
8    Oakland Shools History,  www.educationanddemocracy.org/Resources/OCO_story.htm

Kathy Emery is a co-founder of the San Francisco Freedom School and co-author of Why is Corporate America Bashing Public Schools? 

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A School Board for the People: Baltimore Freedom Fall


Freedom Fall: We are exposing Baltimore City to the world,” reads the registration card distributed and signed by students throughout Baltimore as a pledge of support for the creation of the Maryland Freedom Board of Education. The new body is a direct response to the Maryland Board of Education’s refusal to comply with a 1996 state court decision that called for greater funding for inner-city schools. In 2006, the state of Maryland shorted the Baltimore school district by $1.08 billion–enough money to pay 1,000 extra teachers for 10 years and purchase one million new computers.

While many cities across the United States face similar unconstitutional under-funding of school districts, most of the responses from opponents have played out in courtrooms. But Baltimore’s Freedom Fall is a grassroots movement organized and run by students who actually attend these inner-city schools. Mica Artis, a Baltimore high school student and Freedom Fall organizer explains, “It’s what we need, not what someone else says we need.”

The name Freedom Fall is a reference to the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi, a project of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that brought hundreds of northern college students down south to “open Mississippi up” by challenging the disenfranchisement of Black folks and exposing the racist power structure of the Jim Crow South. It is no surprise that organizers with Freedom Fall connect to this history and see themselves as continuing this legacy of struggle.
The city of Baltimore is predominately Black and—like most other inner cities in the United States—is highly segregated, systematically denied resources, and facing widespread poverty. Comparing Baltimore school districts—with their large class sizes, old books, crumbling buildings, and unqualified teachers—to the predominately white suburban school districts of Maryland, exposes a school system that is “separate and unequal.” According to studies conducted by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, there has been a rapid trend of re-segregation across the country, thanks to decisions made by the Supreme Court in the last decade. This has contributed to a “growing gap in quality” between schools in white communities and those in communities of color.

Civil Rights Roots
The main organizers of Freedom Fall are also members of the student-run advocacy committee of the Baltimore branch of the Algebra Project, an organization founded by former SNCC organizer, Bob Moses. The Algebra Project’s goal is to build math literacy, which Moses describes as the key to challenging a “sharecropper education,” an old term that could perhaps just as accurately describe our modern education system. With an understanding that inadequate math education is used as a method of exclusion from a technology-based, post-industrial United States, the Algebra Project tutors students, beginning as early as middle school. The Algebra Project encourages students who have come through its tutoring programs to mentor other students and organize for education as a civil right.

Just as SNCC registered voters and created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, freedom schools, and community centers, the Freedom Fall project also employs a dual strategy of both pressuring the political structure and building new institutions that can meet direct needs. Students in Baltimore have been organizing for adequate education funding for years by using tactics such as civil disobedience, demonstrations, and strikes.

Like Freedom Summer, Freedom Fall began with registration cards. Students were asked to rate the education that they receive and write down a topic about which they wanted to learn. Students were also asked to help occupy libraries, cafeterias, and gyms and hold freedom schools. They educated other students about under-funding, the goals of Freedom Fall, and the topics the students wanted to learn about—from the Black Panther Party to the history of racist schools, liberation poetry, and the Algebra Project.

Following these Freedom Schools, on October 14, 2006, hundreds of students and their supporters marched through Baltimore, holding signs reading, “No Education, No Life.” At a local church they held the first session of the Freedom Board of Education, a new body made up of students and adult allies who serve as the “primary commissioners on education for the state of Maryland.” They demand that the state of Maryland “comply with Circuit Court orders” requiring that the $1.08 billion withheld by the state be paid to Baltimore schools.

In preparation for November’s elections, the Freedom Board of Education wrote a letter to all gubernatorial candidates, announcing its formation and insisting that the new governor comply with their demands. They also began discussing a new budget proposal for schools, and are asking the administration at Baltimore High School to overturn the suspension of 50 students who organized a sit-in in solidarity with their efforts.

Ultimately, the goal of the body is “to become the Board of Education for the people,” says its chair, Chris Goodman. According to organizer Fernandes Harlee, “if the system doesn’t work for us, we need to make our own. We can’t wait anymore.”

 Jacob Rosette is an organizer with ALL CITY, which organizes in New York City on student and youth issues. This article was compiled from interviews with Freedom Fall organizers Mica Artis, Chris Goodman, Chelsea Carson, and Fernandes Harlee.
Reprinted from Left Turn magazine.

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The Drive to Oust the Middle Class from Inner City Public Schools


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law in 2001 by President George Bush, backed by both Democrats and Republicans. The backbone of the program, allegedly designed to hold schools accountable for academic failure, is standardized state testing for students and educators. Rather than improve public education, however, there is now ample evidence that NCLB testing is part of a systematic effort to privatize diverse urban public schools in the United States. The objectives of privatization have been threefold: first, to divert taxpayer money from the public sector to the corporate sector; second, to capture part of the market, which would otherwise be receiving free education; and third, to drive out middle class accountability, leaving behind a disposable population that won’t have a voice about the inappropriate use of their tax dollars, nor the bleak outlook on their futures.

“As a for-profit venture, public education represents a market worth over $600 billion dollars,” notes Dr. Henry A. Giroux, in Z Magazine.1

“The emergence of HMOs and hospital management companies created enormous opportunities for investors. We believe the same pattern will occur in education,” observes Mary Tanner, Managing Director of Lehman Brothers.2

“Bush’s proposal for national standardized testing is helping to pave the way for these EMO’s,” says Project Censored in their annual collection of most censored stories. “While the aptly named Educational Management Organizations are being promoted as the new answer to impoverished school districts and dilapidated classrooms, the real emphasis is on investment returns rather than student welfare and educational development.”3

For over a century, norm-referenced test results have been misinterpreted in the United States to support racist campaigns. IQ tests were used as an argument against integration of schools, the passage of the Civil Rights Law of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1969, Arthur Jensen used his so-called “findings”—that average African-American IQs were significantly lower than those of Euro-American or white children—to attack educational programs which benefit the poor, like Head Start.4

An influential study by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert in 1962 found that the higher the subjects’ economic status, the higher scores would be on norm-referenced tests. Similarly, higher achievement scores on the NCLB tests have been predicted according to zip codes, used by economists to sort by economic status.5

Randy L. Hoover and Kathy L. Shook note that a study of 593 Ohio School Districts show the district’s high stakes tests “to correlate with Social Economic Status to such a high degree as to virtually mask any and all actual academic achievement claimed to be measured by these tests.”6 They observe that students were “visible victims of sorting by socio-economic status… by high stakes tests that fail to meet recognized, scientific standards of test validity.”

Now, the standardized tests that are part of the NCLB campaign are being used to lend legitimacy to policies that lead to a cheap, uneducated labor pool and increased profits in the private sector. The effect of NCLB has been to dismantle public education by funneling public tax dollars directly to corporations through penalties, private tutoring companies, and vouchers. Once more, the populations paying for this policy are students of color and the poor, since the poorest schools with limited resources comprised primarily of such students perform the worst on the tests. The schools are then reconstituted by the school district, outsourced to private companies like Edison, or a portion of their federal funding is diverted to “parental choice” tutoring programs. According to Ben Clarke in a Corpwatch.org article entitled “Leaving Children Behind,”7 public school money was thus diverted to the company Educate, which runs the Sylvan Learning Centers, whose revenues, Clarke states,  “grew from $180 to $250 million in the past three years [2001–04] and whose profits shot up 250 percent last year.” And, writes Clarke, since the introduction of NCLB, sales of printed materials related to standardized tests nearly tripled to $592 million, money that was drained from the public schools, since Bush provided no funding for the increased costs.

False Reports of NCLB Success
A 2006 study by Harvard University Civil Rights Project found that the successes reported by NCLB proponents “simply do not show up on an independent national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the ‘nation’s report card.’”8

 A comparison of public high-school graduation rates over the course of the implementation of NCLB seems to confirm that the policy is actually damaging students of color. The public high school graduation rate for African Americans and Latinos nationwide has sunk from 56 percent and 54 percent respectively in 1998—before NCLB policies took their toll—to about 50 percent in 2005, according to a March 2005 report by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.9 The authors, Dan Losen and Johanna Wald, point out that “because of misleading and inaccurate reporting of dropout and graduation rates, the public remains unaware of this educational and civil rights crisis.”

In California, looking at the inverse—or dropout rates—according to statistics provided by the California Department of Education and published by Ed-Data, from 2000 to 2005, the four-year dropout rate for California went from 11.1 percent to 12.7 percent, with dropout rates for African Americans increasing nearly four percentage points from 18.1 percent to 21.8 percent. Latino dropout rates also increased from 15.3 percent to 16.6 percent during that same period.10

Middle Class Flee to Private Schools
The dismantling of the public schools is forcing those who can afford to pay for private schools to give up their right to free, equal education. Driving the entitled middle class out of the public schools furthers yet another goal of privatization, namely that of decreasing accountability, reports Dr. Giroux.11

Dr. Giroux points out, that while an increasing number of students of color may not graduate under NCLB, their failing public schools are more than willing to provide them with “the appropriate attitudes for future work in low-skilled, low-paying jobs.”12 Pat Wechsler reported in Business Week that thanks to partnerships with businesses, such as McDonald’s, in under-funded schools, students “learned how a McDonald’s works, and how to apply and interview for a job at McDonald’s.”13

It is no coincidence that one of the largest contributors to President Bush’s drive to institute vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools is the Walton family—founder of Wal-Mart—who has dedicated at least $250 million to such efforts over the past six years, according to USA Today. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the United States, with more than one million workers. Wal-Mart’s wages and benefits are significantly below retail industry standards, according to a report entitled, “The Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs,” by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, Ph.D. and Ken Jacobs.14 According to Anthony Bianco, who wrote a 2006 biography of the man, Walton “preferred uneducated workers.”15 Such workers are unlikely to question low pay, or unionize.

School failure is a product of “the political, economic, and social dynamics of poverty, joblessness, sexism, race and class discrimination, unequal funding, or a diminished tax base,” summarizes Dr. Giroux. 16

NCLB Requirments Lower Quality of Education
An illustration of class and race discrimination leading to school failure is the use of McGraw-Hill’s Open Court program by schools afraid of NCLB penalties, even though the phonics program has been proven to damage students. According to a study by Margaret Moustafa and Robert E. Land at California State University in Los Angeles, “schools using Open Court are significantly more likely to be in the bottom quartile of the SAT 9 [state] assessment than comparable schools using non-scripted programs.”17

The president’s educational program mandates any district wishing to qualify for government funding to implement “approved” reading curricula. It is not surprising that McGraw-Hill’s Open Court has a majority of these contracts, given the fact that the McGraw-Hill and Bush family connections go back three generations, notes Stephen Metcalf in the Nation: “The McGraws are old Bush friends, dating back to the 1930s, when Joseph and Permelia Pryor Reed began to establish Jupiter Island, a barrier island off the coast of Florida, as a haven for the Northeast wealthy.”18

Similarly, Neil Bush, George W.’s brother, also used his political influence to solicit contributions for his educational software company, Ignite. “In February 2004, the Houston school board unanimously agreed to accept $115,000 in charitable donations from businesses and individuals who insisted the money be spent on Ignite. The deal raised conflict of interest concerns,” reported Cynthia Leonor Garza in the Houston Chronicle.19 More recently, former first lady Barbara Bush donated to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, with specific instructions that the money be spent on Ignite.

Perhaps a more apt name for Bush’s NCLB is, No Corporation Left Behind, particularly if that corporation has strong ties to the Bush family—though we must be careful not to confuse the Bush “dynasty” with a long-term, systemic illness.
Ronald Bailey, a former fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and Chicano Scholar Guillermo Flores have identified these deliberate historic campaigns to exclude people of color from the political and educational system as a product of “internal colonialism.”

“Internal colonialism,” they write, “is nothing more than the domestic face of world imperialism.... The use of racial minorities brought surpluses to white society that contributed to the growth of monopoly capitalism.”20 In other words, cheap labor and raw materials led to huge profits for monopolistic firms, which today have become supra-national corporations. These larger forces are the real source of legislation like NCLB. Educators and activists who want real change must recognize and address this fundamental reality if they are serious about winning equal access to education for all. 

Margot Pepper is a Mexican-born writer published frequently in journals such as Utne Reader, Monthly Review, Z-net, Counterpunch, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. You can find links at www.margotpepper.com.

1.    Giroux, Henry A. “The Business of Public Education,” Z Magazine. (July/August 1998) http://zena.secureforum.com/Znet/ZMag/articles/girouxjulyaug98.htm.
2.    “Corporations Promote HMO Model for School Districts,” in Censored 2003, Project Censored, eds. (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004).
3.    Ibid.
4.    Jentsen, Arthur R.“How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” Harvard Educational Review 39 (1969) 1-123.
 5.    Peal, Elizabeth & Wallace Lambert as cited in Hakuta, Kenji. 1986. Mirror of Language. (New York: Basic Books, Inc. 1962) 33–35.
6.    Hoover, Randy L. and Shook, Kathy L. “School Reform and Accountability: Some Implications and Issues for Democracy and Fair Play,” Democracy & Education Vol.  14, No. 4 (2003) 81.
7.    Clarke, Ben. “Leaving Children Behind,” CorpWatch.org (September 3, 2004).
8.    Lee, Jay. “Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-depth Look into National and State Reading and Math Outcome Trends,” (Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2006) http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu.
9.    Losen, Dan and Wald, Johanna. “Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California,”(March 24, 2005). 1998 national graduation rates form the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, as cited by Jay P. Greene,“High School Graduation Rates in the United States,” Civic Report, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (November 2001).

10.    California statistics provided by Ed-Data and the California Department of Education, http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us.
11.    Giroux, Henry A. (July/August 1998).
12.    Ibid.
13     Weschler, Pat. Business Week (June 1997).
14     Jacobs, Ken and Dube, Arindrajit. The Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs,UC Berkeley Labor Center, (August 2004).
15.    Bianco, Anthony. The Bully of Bentonville: How the High Cost of Wal-Mart’s Everyday Low Prices Is Hurting America (Doubleday 2006), cited in a review by Clay Smith in The Texas Obsrerver.
16.    Giroux, Henry A. (July/August 1998)
17.    Moustafa, Margaret and Land, Robert, “The Reading Achievement of Economically-Disadvantaged Children in Urban Schools Using Open Court...,” in Yearbook of the Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association, (2002) 44–53.
18.    Metcalf, Stephen. The Nation (January 28, 2002).
19.    Garza, Cynthia Leonor. Houston Chronicle (March 23, 2006).
20.    Bailey, Ronald and Guillermo Flores. “Internal Colonialism and Racial Minorities in the U.S.: An Overview,” in Structures of Dependency, Frank Bonilla and Robert Girling, eds. (Palo Alto: Stanford University, 1973) 149–60. 

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The dismantling of the public schools is forcing those who can afford to pay for private schools to give up their right to free, equal education

Education as Enforcement:Militarization and Corporatization of Schools


Public schools in the United States have increasingly come to resemble the military and prison systems with their hiring of military generals as school administrators and heavy investment in security apparatus—metal detectors, high-tech dog tag IDs, chainlink fences, and real-time Internet-based or hidden mobile surveillance cameras—plus, their school uniforms, security consultants, surprise searches, and the presence of police on campuses.1 But it would be a mistake to understand the preoccupation with security as merely a mass media-driven hysteria in the wake of Virginia Tech and other high-profile shootings, and myopic to ignore the history of public school militarization prior to September 11.

Militarized education in the United States needs to be understood in relation to the enforcement of global corporate imperatives as they expand markets through the real and symbolic violence of war. Militarism and the promotion of violence as virtue pervade foreign and domestic policy, popular culture, educational discourse, and language. A high level of comfort with rising militarism in all areas of life, particularly schooling, set the stage for the radically militarized reactions to September 11—including the institutionalization of permanent war, the suspension of civil liberties, and an active hostility from the state and mass media towards any attempt to address the underlying causes for the unprecedented attack on the United States.

I believe that militarized schooling in America encompasses two broad trends—“military education” and what may be called “education as enforcement.”

Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps—Two Agendas
Military education refers to explicit efforts to expand and legitimate military training in public schools and is exemplified by the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), the Troops to Teachers program (which places retired soldiers in schools), the trend towards hiring military generals as school superintendents or CEOs, the school uniform movement, the Lockheed Martin corporation’s public school in Georgia, and the army’s development of the biggest online education program in the world as a recruiting tool. A large number of private military schools, such as the notorious Virginia Military Institute (VMI), service the public military academies and the military itself and are considered ideals that public school militarization should strive towards. Like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, military education turns hierarchical organization, competition, group cohesion, and weaponry into fun and games. The focus on adventure activities has made these programs extremely successful at recruitment and nearly half (47 percent) of the 200,000 students in the 1,420 JROTC army programs nationwide enter military service.

In addition to promoting recruitment, military education plays a central role in fostering a social focus on discipline exemplified by the rise of militarized policing, increased powers for search and seizure, the laws against public gathering, “zero tolerance” policies, and the transformation of welfare into punishing workfare programs. This militarization of civil society has been further intensified since September 11, as conservatives and liberals alike have seized upon the “terrorist threat” to justify the passage of the USA Patriot Act.

The “education as enforcement” trend understands militarized public schooling to be part of the militarization of civil society, which in turn has to be understood as being part of the broader social, cultural, and economic movements for state-backed corporate globalization seeking to erode democratic power while expanding and enforcing corporate power at local, national, and global levels.

Neoliberalism’s Role In Education
Corporate globalization, which should be viewed as a doctrine rather than as an inevitable phenomenon, is driven by the philosophy of neoliberalism whose economic and political doctrine insists upon the virtues of privatization and liberalization of trade, while concomitantly placing its faith in the discipline of the market for the resolution of all social and individual problems.

Within the United States, neoliberal policies have been characterized by supporters as “free market policies that encourage private enterprise and consumer choice, reward personal responsibility and entrepreneurial initiative, and undermine the dead hand of the incompetent, bureaucratic, and parasitic government that can never do good even if well intended, which it rarely is.”2 Within the neoliberal view, the public sphere—schools, parks, social security, and healthcare included—should either be privatized or put into service for the private sphere, as in the case of federal subsidies for corporate agriculture, entertainment, and defense.

Ronald Reagan entered office with plans to dismantle the United States Department of Education and implement market-based voucher schemes. Both initiatives failed largely because of the teachers’ unions and the fact that public opinion was yet to be influenced by corporate-financed public relations campaigns that make neoliberal ideals appear commonsensical.3 However, during his second term as president, Reagan successfully appropriated the racial, equity-based, magnet school voucher model developed by liberals to declare that the market model (rather than authoritative federal action against racism) was responsible for the high quality of these schools.4  The real triumph of the market-based rhetoric was to shift discussion away from political concerns about the role of public education in preparing citizens for democratic participation and to redefine public schooling as a good or service, like toilet paper or soap, which students and parents consume.

Educating to Enforce Globalization
Despite a history of racial and class oppression—owing in no small part to the fact that public schooling has been tied to local property wealth and hence, unequally distributed as a resource—and the material and ideological constraints often faced by teachers and administrators, public schooling has always been a forum for democratic deliberation where communities could convene to struggle over values or envision a future far broader than the one imagined by multinational corporations. Hence, in speaking of militarized public schooling in the United States, it is not enough to identify the extent to which certain schools (particularly urban, non-white schools) increasingly resemble prisons or serve as prime recruitment grounds for the military. Instead, militarized public schooling needs to be understood in terms of the enforcement of globalization through implementation of all the policies and reforms that are guided by neoliberal ideals.

Globalization gets enforced through: (a) privatization schemes, such as vouchers, charters, performance contracting, and commercialization; (b) standards and accountability schemes that seek to enforce a uniform curriculum with emphasis on testing and quantifiable performance; and (c) assessment, accreditation (in higher education), and curricula that celebrate market values and the culture of those in power, rather than human and democratic values. The curricula are designed to avoid critical questions about the relationship between the production of knowledge and power, authority, politics, history, and ethics. Some multinational corporations, such as Disney with their Celebration School, and BP Amoco with their middle-level science curriculum, have appropriated progressive pedagogical methods that strive to promote a vision of a world best served under a benevolent corporate management.

Education as a National Security Issue
The Hart-Rudman commission in 2000 called for education to be classified as an issue of national security, hence requiring increased federal funding for school security at the cost of community policing, and the continuation of the Troops to Teachers program. This kind of thinking is characteristic of the antifederalist aspect of neoliberalism—a politics of containment rather than investment—and efficacious in keeping large segments of the population uneducated or undereducated, and encouraging the flow of funds to the defense and high-tech sectors and away from populations deemed to be of little use to capital. Most importantly, those employed in low-skill, low-paying service sector jobs, would likely complain or even organize if they were encouraged to question and think too much.

Education and literacy are tied to political participation. Participation might mean educated elites demanding social investment in public projects, or at least projects that might benefit most people. That is the real reason why the federal government wants soldiers rather than unemployed Ph.Ds in the classrooms. Additionally, corporate globalization initiatives, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), seek to allow corporate competition in the public sector at an unprecedented level. In theory, public schools would have to compete with for-profit schooling initiatives from any corporation in the world. But by redefining public schooling as a national security issue, it can be exempt from the purview that agreements, such as the FTAA, impose on nations. Consistent with the trend, education as national security defines the public interest through reforms that inhibit teaching as a critical and intellectual endeavor that aims to make a participatory citizenry capable of building the public sphere.

Transforming the War Economy
In his book, After Capitalism, Seymour Melman argues that a central task of the future is the transformation of a war economy into a civilian one—not only for former Soviet states but also for the United States.

Considering the ways that the global financial system maintains poverty and the military system produces war, a key task for educators is to imagine education as a means of mobilizing citizens to understand these systems and steer them toward a goal of global democracy and justice. Militarized schooling can be resisted at the local level. Kevin Ramirez, for example, started and runs the “Military Out of our Schools” campaign that seeks to eject JROTC programs from public schools. Ramirez points out to parents, teachers, administrators, and newspaper reporters that school violence is an extension of social violence, which is taught through programs like the JROTC.

 I have argued that militarized education in the United States needs to be understood in relation to the enforcement of corporate economic imperatives and a rising trend towards “law and order” that pervades popular culture, educational discourse, foreign policy, and language. Therefore, the movement against militarism in education must go beyond the schools and challenge the many ways that militarism as a cultural logic enforces the expansion of corporate power and decimates public power. Such a movement must include the practice of critical pedagogy and ideally, also link with other movements against oppression, such as the antiglobalization, feminist, labor, environmental, and antiracism movements. Together, we can form the basis for imagining and implementing a just future.
1.    Chang, Nancy. Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002).
2.    McChesney, Robert W. Introduction to Noam Chomsky’s Profit Over People (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999). Pp: 7.
3.    Ibid.
4.    Henig, Jeffrey. Rethinking School Choice, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994).

Kenneth J. Saltman is an assistant professor in Social and Cultural Foundations in Education at DePaul University. He is the author of Collateral Damage: Corporatizing Public Schools—A Threat to Democracy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) and Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Schools (Paradigm Publishers, 2007).

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Educating for Equity | Vol. 14 No. 2 | Fall 2007 | Credits

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