Thursday, September 13, 2007

Removals, Returns, Resignations, and the Queer Connections Between Them

In April 2007, education activists protested against the removal of social justice and sexual orientation from professional standards created by the National Association for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and used to guide the accreditation of teacher education programs. This protest took place at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association and the story was covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and in an article published in Rethinking Schools.

In May 2007, NCATE added this phrase to the standards:

Candidates are helped to understand the potential impact of discrimination based on race, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and language on students and their learning.

On September 4, 2007, the President of NCATE, Art Wise, announced his resignation from the organization.

I think we—all who spoke out—should take credit for the return of sexual orientation and the exit of Art Wise. The work’s not over, but these are both moves in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Anti Military-in-Public Schools Activists Look Like

Sheena Gibbs (American Friends Service Committee), Neal Resnikoff (Save Senn) and Jesus Palafox (grad of Curie High School), from left, talking to a reporter after the August 22, 2007 Chicago Board of Education public meeting.

Keeping it Real at the Board of Education

Something about working for the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) “Central Office” must bring out the worst in people. First, the beefy guys checking IDs were rude—“Yeah, well, I wasn’t here when you checked in” one said when I explained that I had already shown my ID to another guy, who recorded it, “Right there”…(he pretended not to see)—when I had to come back downstairs to get the “hall pass” they forgot to give me after they wrote down my driver’s license number. Then, the guards were rude when a group of us came downstairs from the holding pen on the 19th floor to back up our speakers in the 5th floor meeting room—“I didn’t call upstairs, so why did you come down here?” one crabby woman said, as we tried to explain that our group was up next. “They don’t always go in order,” she interrupted, even though this time they did. We missed the first part of Sheena Gibb’s (American Friends Service Committee) two minutes, haggling for admittance.

Really, everyone in Chicago should take this trip at least once. Head down to 125 S. Clark, CPS headquarters, to attend the monthly public Board meeting (every fourth Wednesday, 10:30 to about 12:30). This was only my 2nd time and afterwards I resolved to be at as many of these meetings as I can—they are packed and pungent, by which I mean sharp and strong and spicy. Folks at this month’s meeting raised issues from African values and better software, to military recruitment in schools and derelict CPS buildings. Fascinating.

A flock of yellow-shirted Chicagoans were clustered around the building’s entrance as I raced to the meeting. I saw a friend, Diom Miller Perez, and his family, Susan Mullen and Diego Miller (see them in the picture above), and stopped to talk about the group and its issue. Dion told me that residents of Little Village were calling on CPS to take care of two empty buildings—former schools, present fire hazards, at best—in the ward.

Everyone entering the building gets the full CPS treatment—metal detectors! and the aforementioned mean guards—before making their way to the public meeting. Get there earlier than the meeting start time of 10:30, if you want to speak. And only two people can speak about the same issue, and everyone gets a tight two minutes to sum it all up. I arrived ten minutes late and the schedules were already completed and copied. Of course, you won’t find this info on the CPS website—you’d almost suspect they really don’t want any dialogue with us, “the public.”

The main area was packed, I guess, so I was sent to what could be called the nether realm of the building, except that it was up—19th floor!—not down. But in another way, the whole thing was down, a back-door simulation of democracy. The room was smallish, filled with hard chairs and two (why two? twice the pretence of participation?) big monitors on which Rufus Williams, Board President, opened the meeting with a warning that everyone better be polite. Next up were two of the Little Village residents, who testified in Spanish. They described the decaying buildings and their attempts to get CPS to deal with the ruins. They asked for action, “Ahora!” My room hooted when their translator changed the call for action, “Now!” to “As soon as possible...” Duncan and Williams fluffed about how the issue was complicated, as it involved several agencies, but resolved to look at the issue again. Again, the room hooted—“They said the same thing last year!”

This is about when I followed Neal Resnikoff to the 5th floor to stand in support of our speakers. Both he and I were at the meeting as representatives of a citywide coalition (including Academics for Civilian Education, Southsiders for Peace, Save Senn, Gay Liberation Network, American Friends Service Committee and more) working to remove the military presence from our city’s public schools. This is when the guard showed her cranky stuff and we got delayed before getting in to hear Sheena Gibbs, who was on point.

Sheena spoke for the coalition, calling for three things—an end to the open access that military recruiters currently seem to have (illegally) to students in CPS—following them around the halls and even calling them out of class to “pitch their product”; equal access by counter-recruiters to the schools when military recruiters were present; and the distribution of opt out forms (NCLB requires that names of students be given to the military (these forms would allow students to remove their names from those lists) to all high school students during the first week of school, those names registered and removed during that week, and accurate records kept.

After Sheena spoke a recent graduate of Curie High School, Jesus Palafox, gave a short personal account of recruiters run amuck. They (we) got a blah blah response from the Board’s legal counsel and Prez Williams (they’d comply, they thought they were complying, nobody said there were problems with their compliance, they want to meet with reps of the group to discuss, blah blah). Arne Duncan said nothing. When Sheena and later, Jackson Potter, a teacher at Englewood High for five years, tried to ask clarifying questions the Board folks clipped them off—“Can I finish?" snapped the Board's legal guy.

A weird subtext—authenticity. Williams asked our speakers where they went to school. I kind of get it—experience counts. But it’s not everything; imagination, empathy, and yes—education—count for a lot, too. Still, Williams’ focus on realness made me wonder—what’s more real to him—Northside College Prep or Englewood? Robeson or Payton? Does he apply his standard across-the-board (so to speak)? Where did CPS CEO Duncan go to school? [the University of Chicago Laboratory School, it turns out]

Media reps from Ch. 7, Sun-times, and Chicago Tribune clustered around Sheena and Jesus as our group left the room, catching points and asking follow-ups. They seemed to listen. Will the Board?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Social Justice, Sexual Orientation, and Teacher Education: Organizing AERA to Stand Up to NCATE

Ever wonder what it would be like to organize against two of the most powerful educational organizations in the U.S? Read on!

In September 2006 Erica Meiners and I sent a letter with over 300 signatures from colleagues across the U.S. and Canada to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), requesting that sexual orientation and social justice be kept and strengthened, and gender identity be added, to NCATE’s accreditation standards. This letter was a response to an open call by NCATE for feedback on proposed changes to the standards posted on its website, revisions that erased the phrase “social justice” and facilitated the de facto elimination of sexual orientation through the addition of various phrases and qualifiers.

Through listserv circulations, several SIGs and Committees within AERA expressed interest in signing onto the letter, but, in an email dated Sept. 27, 2006, the President of AERA, Dr. Eva Baker, asked us to not include these groups as signatories because it would be “inappropriate” for “entities such as committees, divisions, and special interest groups” to attempt to speak as “subparts of AERA.” We were asked to submit a request to Dr. Baker, for discussion by the executive board. We did this, sending the letter to Baker and the Social Justice Director, Dr. George Wimberly, requesting that the organization take a stand opposing NCATE’s proposed revisions.

We received no acknowledgement of our feedback from NCATE and Dr. Wimberly’s only response was an e-mail informing us that the organization was “aware” of the issue.

There was no response from AERA, either, until the January/February 2007 issue of Educational Researcher, which featured a column by Baker and a statement titled "Key Policy Documents on Position Taking and Policymaking and Social Justice." The column revealed that AERA’s board had voted unanimously against opposing NCATE’s deletions of social justice and sexual orientation. The statement laid out a “position-taking” rationale: AERA failed to offer feedback to NCATE regarding sexual orientation and gender identity because these issues lacked "compelling significance," “legitimacy,” and "adequate research." We think that most teacher educators are aware of the importance of addressing sexual and gender identities in school, but include here a sampling of the research we cited in our letter:

The population of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is large.
In a 2003 survey conducted by the Chicago Public Schools and the Center for Disease Control (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) 6.3 percent of high school students attending Chicago Public Schools identified their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Schools are unsafe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
According to the 2005 School Climate Report conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN):
--64.3% reported feeling unsafe in their school because of their sexual orientation.
--45.5% reported being verbally harassed and 26.1% had experienced physical harassment in school because of their gender expression.
--40.5% reported that teachers never intervened when hearing homophobic remarks.

Negative school climates affect LGBT youths’ well-being and academic success.
According to the 2001 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, LGBT students are more likely than the general student population to:
--attempt suicide (32.7% vs. 8.7%),
--skip school because they feel unsafe (17.7% vs. 7.8%).

Teachers are ill-equipped to confront issues that contribute to anti-LGBT hostility.
--81.7% of LGBT students reported that they had never learned about LGBT people, history, or events in any of their school classes (2005, School Climate Report, GLSEN).
--In a study of pre-service teachers, 57% indicated that they needed more training or education to work effectively with LGBT youth and 65% reported that they needed more specific education to address homosexuality in their teaching (Koch, 2000).

If the hostile schools, physical and emotional danger, and poorly prepared teachers and administrators experienced by LGBT students and documented in this research fail to offer a “compelling” and “powerful moral reason” for AERA to offer feedback to NCATE to retain and strengthen sexual orientation and include gender identity in the professional standards, what would?

Furthermore, Baker’s column stated that it is "inappropriate, except in the rarest of circumstances, for AERA to comment on the procedures of processes of any other non-profit or private-sector organization." This response is disingenuous: While NCATE is a private organization, it directly shapes public policy. Since the 1990s, NCATE has replaced the accreditation functions that used to be the province of state departments of education. Quite bluntly, NCATE functions as a sub-contractor for state departments of education. Also, NCATE solicited open feedback on its proposed “standards” changes. So, how would AERA’s feedback on these revisions be “inappropriate”? How could it be “inappropriate” to comment on the decisions of a quasi-public organization—NCATE—that shapes the work-life of the majority of its members and all children attending public schools?

In response to Baker's column and the revelation of the "down" vote, we wrote an open letter to Dr. Baker, which we also sent to Educational Researcher, inquiring about the process and expressing our dissatisfaction with the contents of her column. Silence. Next, we issued a Call to Action: A RED Campaign for Social Justice and Queer Lives (noted in previous posts), to take place at the 2007 Annual Meeting in Chicago. We asked all meeting participants to wear red throughout the conference as a sign of anger at AERA's decision to remain silent on LGBTQ issues and of our passion for justice. This generated a response from the organization: a mass email send out by the current, former and future presidents of AERA, announcing the organization’s commitment to diversity and a panel discussion to air what it described as "both sides" of the NCATE issue at a business meeting on the last day of the conference.

We asked Bill Ayers represent the goals of the RED Campaign at the meeting: the inclusion of social justice, sexual orientation, and gender identity in NCATE’s standards. He spoke first, reminding the roomful of attendees, many wearing red, of the context of NCATE's deletions: endless war, scapegoating, increasing poverty, weakened rights. He called on AERA to push beyond bureaucratic constraints to act: "Whatever procedures are in place," he said, "we expect leaders to lead."

After Ayers, the designated AERA representative, Adrienne Dixson, elected not to speak. That left the podium to NCATE's representative, Donna Gollnick, who stated that social justice had been removed because it was a "lightning rod" and potential trigger for lawsuits. She denied the removal of sexual orientation, but agreed with us, after the meeting, that revisions directing readers to use census categories might make it seem that way. She closed her talk by inviting feedback from AERA and its members. Many in the room added their strong statements to the public record, including the president of Div. B, David Flinders, who described his vote for inaction as a mistake that he would do everything he could to correct. Baker refused to state that AERA would act. Incoming President Tate said that he “always thought AERA was a research organization,” a position we heard many times from organization functionaries. Then, echoing a strand of related excuses offered by AERA for why it could not act—we didn’t follow correct procedures; our request wasn’t submitted properly; the organization had no process to address these kinds of issues—he committed himself to work on organizational procedures and transparency during his yearlong presidency.

Nearly three months have passed, and the primary issue--AERA members' wish to speak back, organizationally, against NCATE's removals of social justice and sexual orientation from its Professional Standards--remains unaddressed by AERA's "leadership." We hoped that statements from the meeting—Ayers, AERA’s, and NCATE’s—would be published, perhaps in Educational Researcher, but there are no minutes, according to Felice Levine, and AERA’s journals only print research. We think it is important to note and discuss these events, decisions, and positions, and thus offer this record. Still, archives and testimonies are not enough.

Unlike our AERA colleagues who urged us toward policy, not protest, we think the time for action is now. In the spirit of pushing back against all who want to keep queer lives invisible and tone down social justice agendas because they are too threatening, we contend that the “professional standard” for all educators should be to speak against injustice, exclusion, and silencing, wherever they occur. Please ask Arthur Wise ( and the new president of AERA, William Tate (, to respond to the letter signed by over 300 educators. Tell them that you support the inclusion of social justice, sexual orientation, and gender identity in NCATE's standards. Speaking and acting for social justice; it’s what education and real leadership is all about.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Stickers for Justice in Education

These are the stickers we used for the RED Campaign at AERA--maybe now you can use them to continue the fight for representation in the NCATE Professional Standards, and real representation by AERA.

The stickers were designed by William (Keith) Brown (

NCLB, Arts Education, and 21st Century Skills

The dreadful federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has turned its devouring eyes to the arts. If you artist-teachers, in your art classrooms or pushing your art-carts, felt safe from NCLB before, well, that time is just about over. Reports are that in early 2007 the State Assessment and Curriculum Officers convened a “mega-conference” on assessment and student standards in K-12 art education. While the arts are considered a “core” subject area under NCLB, to date, they have not been subjected to the kind of “performance-based” assessments that other subject areas have. While this is surely a good thing, some art educators fear that without this federally mandated attention, funds for the arts will continue to dwindle. Right now, the push is for arts instructors to use their subject to enhance learning across-the-board, or augment other subjects through “integration.” There’s nothing wrong with art everywhere, of course, but as Eliot Eisner pointed out, neither should the arts be seen as “handmaidens” to the “real” learning in schools.

A meeting at this mega-conference focused on what is being described as a new core subject area—21st Century Skills. The Gates Foundation is supporting this through an organization (of which Microsoft is a member) called Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The goal? To create the new workers he and other corporate leaders want. "This unique partnership of education, government, and business leaders seeks to help schools adapt their curricula and classroom environments to align more closely with the skills that students need to succeed in the 21st-century economy, such as communication and problem-solving skills," Gates said. But what does "succeeding" in this new economy mean today? For Gates, it doesn't include participating in a union job, or job security; for example, his foundation supports the development of largely non-unionized charter schools staffed by teachers with year-to-year contracts. Maybe rather than succeeding in this economy, we all need a new one.

There's nothing wrong with communication and problem-solving, but why stop there. I can think of a few skills we are certainly in need of as we move deeper into the 21st century, and aligning what happens in art and other classrooms with the goals of business leaders isn’t going to help us develop them. How about: peace-keeping; cooperation; generosity; ecological caring; justice-seeking; compassion; dreaming. And I can think of many artists/collectives (inspiring arts projects) that could support these skills. I’ll just name three here: Riva Lehrer; Marianne Midelburg; and Red 76. Check out their wonderful work, then teach it to counter the flattening effects of standardized testing and corporate-model "21st Century Skills."

As Louis Sullivan said, "Remember the seed-germ."
Avoid the rest.

Friday, April 20, 2007

RED Campaign for Social Justice and Queer Lives at AERA 2007

People in red, and seeing red, made up the majority of attendees at AERA’s Social Justice Awards, Presidential Address and Open Business Meetings this year. People got creative and insistent with the color—crimson handbags, scarlet scarves, flame red wigs and lips, lots of red t’s and coats, ruby patent leather shoes, a red umbrella, a red paper-clip as lapel pin, even this red “rooster” mask.

Then there were all the seemingly-likely folks who chose not to wear red. What was that about?

AERA hired extra security and dimmed the lights for the Presidential event. Executive Director Felice Levine actually patrolled the aisles. Looking for trouble? The room was a sea of red; the whole conference was a red zone. I guess that was just too alarming. Still, it was a paranoid response to what was essentially a position backed up by a fashion event and a letter campaign.

The “Open” meeting was called by AERA leadership (at our suggestion, after they first suggested a private sit-down). There were three presentations listed on the agenda. After interminable committee reports, Bill Ayers was to go first, then Adrienne Dixson, the chair of AERA's Scholars and Advocates for Gender and Equity (SAGE), then an NCATE rep named Donna Gollnick. Bill gave a good speech exhorting us to not get distracted by procedural details, or what is "impossible," or litanies of mistakes made, but rather, to keep our attention on the moment we are living in and how the move by NCATE to exclude social justice and sexual orientation from the Professional Standards that shape teacher education is not accidental or isolated. The right is fighting for education, because education is powerful.

Mistakes were made, he said. It was a mistake for AERA's leadership to condone NCATE's excisions. But, he pointed out, we could all still do the right thing; AERA’s leadership could, too. He reminded the room that NCATE's deletions aren't just language games--they affect lives. Then five people stood, one at a time, and read youth testimony from the report, Hatred in the Hallways. Bill closed his speech by asking AERA to call on NCATE to return social justice and sexual orientation, and add gender identity, to the standards, and invited everyone in the room in support of that position to stand. There was a roar of applause and a wave of movement as people jumped to their feet (all except for a tiny number of AERA bureaucrats, who fidgeted, but stayed glued into their front-row seats).

Then it was Dixson's turn. There was a buzz at the front of the room; AERA officials conferred. President Eva Baker took the mic and said that she and Felice Levine were supposed to have prepared a statement for Dixson to read, but they hadn't, so Dixson wasn't going to speak. Wise choice—standing in support of AERA’s unanimous vote against asking NCATE to include social justice, sexual orientation and gender identity in the standards (especially after Bill’s powerful speech) would have looked like (and been) a defense of injustice.

Then Donna Gollnick talked. Yes, she said, NCATE had taken out social justice: It had become "a lightening rod" and a trigger for lawsuits. She suggested that the new “fairness” disposition was a good replacement. NCATE wouldn’t reinstate social justice, she said, though she invited us to offer recommendations about what should be part of the standards. Donna denied that they'd removed sexual orientation, but when we asked her about this after the meeting she agreed that an addition about using census categories could make it seem that way. Indeed.

Bill pointed out that NCATE's deletions and evasions are also a lightening rod, and reveal who calls the shots for NCATE—it cares more about some kinds of pressure that other kinds.

During Q&A, one after another, people stood and asked AERA to make a public statement in support of NCATE including social justice, sexual orientation and gender identity. Chair of Division B: Curriculum, David Flinders stood, on crutches, and said he had made a mistake when he voted with the rest of the Executive Board to refrain from making a statement to NCATE. He would now, he said, do "everything in my power" to remedy this bad decision.

Next, Eva Baker, the out-going president, took the mic and rambled for a while. She said she couldn't make a public statement on behalf of AERA, but really, she is so in support personally. She looked like she was close to tears.

Then Bill Tate, in-coming president, spoke. He seemed to be playing the role of tough daddy. We had to understand that we hadn't followed the right procedures, he said. He was now clear that the real problem is lack of procedures and transparency. He would make it his mission to work on those things. But “some people" act like organizations should change, instead of doing their homework and finding out what those organizations' missions are. He always considered AERA a "research organization." The implication being that “this”--the RED Campaign, lobbying AERA to lobby NCATE, protesting insults to humanity--isn't research. Then he said he was supposed to talk about next year in NY but he wouldn't now, and the meeting was officially over.

But before the room cleared we were shown a handwritten statement calling on NCATE to put back social justice and sexual orientation. It was signed by a majority of the Executive Council. So what now, AERA and NCATE?

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the Campaign and events at AERA. Read the story, by David Glenn, "Academics Protest Education-Research Group's Silence on 'Social Justice'" online at this address:

Offer some suggestions about what should be included in the Standards; write to Donna Gollnick at

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fine and Performing Arts High School Coming Soon to Chicago—But Probably Not for You

Yesterday I attended a meeting about a new, still-in-the-works, fine and performing arts high school for Chicago. The meeting was held at the Chicago Community Trust. The school founders want to be part of Renaissance 2010 but aren’t sure yet if the new high school will be a “performance” or a “contract” school. They’d like the flexibility to hire non-certified teachers, but want the school to be “highly selective” (don’t they see the irony in that?). Auditions, portfolios, high scores, the whole screen-out process—that’s what they are aiming for. They only want “talented” students. But what looks like talent is usually just privilege.

Oddly, the school planners said several times that this school would be Chicago’s first and only fine and performing arts public high school. But I work with another one, which my employer, the School of the Art Institute, partners with—the two-year-old Multicultural Arts High School, in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. Maybe this school doesn’t count to the planners because it isn’t selective. Any youth living in the school’s boundaries can enroll, and everyone enrolled makes art and learns to see themselves as artists. In other words, it’s really a public school. A city school. A school for everyone, not just the children of the wealthier, whiter, and more connected than average city families, which are the students who attend Chicago’s selective admission schools.

Maybe it’s a new Oprah syndrome—what DOESN’T she influence? Start a school! Give it your name! Claim its successes—and to make sure you have some, only let in the already successful! It’s a tried and true strategy; read The Chosen by Jerome Karabel to see how well it’s worked for the Big Three—Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Those schools thrived for decades by screening out Jews, women, and “pansies,” while admitting wealthy, white, Protestant men. Did I say wealthy? That was the primary criteria.

And actually, wealth will be the primary criteria at the new fine and performing arts high school, too, if, in the end, it is a selective admissions school. Why not just make it a private school, like the Ivy League joints? Then, use our public funds to fully and equitably fund art education for all of Chicago’s public school students, not just for the “talented” few.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Radical Education Work at Jane Addam’s “Hull of a House” Museum

Last night’s forum, Anti-Gay Pledges and Teacher Education: A Dialogue About the Tensions Between Private Beliefs and the Public Good, was beautiful to behold. About 25 people participated in the event, which took place at the Jane Addams (pictured here with her life partner, Mary Rozet Smith) Hull House Museum on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, but no “official” Wheaton reps showed up. They sent a letter that arrived four days before the forum, to say they wouldn’t be there since they hadn’t helped plan the forum. But that is exactly what they were invited to do, two months earlier; they just didn’t ever contact us. Too bad for them, though, because we aimed to “speak with the expectation that we would be heard, and listen with the possibility that we could change” and the chat was wide-ranging and lively.

A queer teacher who grew up in Wheaton (or, as she said they affectionately call it there, “the 9th circle of hell”) talked about the distance of Wheaton College faculty and administrators from the lives of the school’s students and grads; a Chicago public school teacher described how changes in employment structures and the ongoing weakening of the Chicago Teacher’s Union contract have made queer teachers even more vulnerable; an administrator reminded us that we have to press the state and professional organizations to change, because they shape what happens in our public schools—if they ignore sexual orientation and gender identity, you can bet most schools will, too. After hearing why people came to the forum and what they wanted to talk about, we broke into small groups and talked about these and other questions:

Private Practices, Public Educators
What are the consequences when a private agency (NCATE) sets standards for public education?

Should private colleges with discriminatory “covenants” be supported (accredited) by the state to produce teachers for public schools?

Why are non-normative sexual and gender identities considered “private” and not worth public protections?

The Profession
What is the responsibility of the education profession--teachers, teacher educators, professional organizations, administrators—to challenge discriminatory practices, even when these are embedded in private institutions?

If “multiculturalism” can’t be or at least, isn’t consistently used to include sexual and gender identity in schools, what frameworks can be?

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
How is resistance to challenging and changing these policies connected to other movements for justice and equity for all, including LGBTQ, people?

What are the consequences of the distinction Wheaton makes between “acts” and “beliefs”—“love the sinner, hate the sin”?

Youth, Schools, Teachers
How do discriminatory policies—like Wheaton’s— contribute to the dehumanization of LGBTQ bodies in schools?

What effect could knowing their teachers believe they are condemned have on LGBT youth—would this knowledge be damaging emotionally, academically, or in other ways?

The forum ended with plans—we are only just starting this project, so join us. You can hear the large-group parts of our discussion online:

I mourn Matthew Shepard’s actual death, caused by the unimpeachably civil ‘we hate the sin, not the sinner’ hypocrisy of the religious right, much more than I mourn the lost chance to be civil with someone who does not consider me fully a citizen, nor fully human.
Tony Kushner, 1998

Thursday, February 08, 2007

$0 - $10,000: Art Education Budgets in Chicago Public Schools

No joking. That’s the range that I’ve heard about from my student and cooperating teachers in Chicago’s public schools.

Zero to ten thousand

At one extreme are teachers who are given no funds to run their programs; they have to scrounge for the money and supplies to teach their classes. These teachers write grants, ask parents to donate what they can (like the bars of soap in this picture, for a carving project), dumpster dive, and solicit donations from local shops, in addition to teaching, curriculum planning, professionally developing and living.
From crayons and paper, to tempera and brushes—they get the money or the materials donated or they end up buying the stuff their students need themselves.

At the other extreme are teachers who have $10,000 to spend for class supplies. Supplies for their own classes, not a whole school's or department’s.
In between are teachers at schools that ask parents to pay fees for art and teachers who have fluctuating budgets (one year $400 split with another teacher at a school with 500 students; the next year $800 per teacher at the same school).

This is all in Chicago, all in public schools. This is what shapes the art educational experiences of our children. There’s no parity. No equity.

No kidding.

What’s the range that will inspire change? I think 0 to 10,000 should do it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Who Would Jesus Tattle On?

After our visit to Wheaton College for the big Illinois teacher education conference (see below for story and picture), Erica and I were "censured" by the school. What follows is their letter to us, followed by our response. Inspired by Starhawk's wonderful SF novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, we've invited the teacher educators of Wheaton to join us "at the table." We hope they will.
November 21, 2006

Dear Dr. Quinn,

It was quite distressing to learn that several weeks ago during the IACTE meeting held on our campus, fliers vilifying the Wheaton College Teacher Education Program were distributed with your contact information at the bottom. The title of this flyer, Accredit Love Not Condemnation, and its contents allege that our teacher preparation program and its candidates condemn individuals who choose to practice homosexual behavior. That information is both inflammatory, patently inaccurate, and appears to be based on a cursory reading of our Community Covenant and an ignoring of our Conceptual Framework. It seems that if the author of this flyer had a significant concern regarding our teacher preparation program, the appropriate action would have been to speak with us directly. The surreptitious distribution of the flyer was an unprofessional act that reflects poorly on the author of this flyer, you as signatory, your institution, and IACTE.

First, the Community Covenant is a statement of beliefs and behaviors to which participants in this voluntary community agree to adhere. As a Christian community, we do have moral standards that are entailed by our commitment to the historic Christian faith. Some of these are broadly shared (e.g., viewing theft, murder, and rape as immoral), while others, such as our stance on sexual morality, are not as widely shared. Our stance on sexual morality is to affirm “chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman,” and to recognize that scripture condemns “sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography, premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman.” Individuals who choose to become a part of this community are expected to comply with this covenant. Those who do not agree with its tenets should have the integrity and fortitude to choose to affiliate themselves with another of the many fine universities and colleges available to them.

Second, the Community Covenant in no way condemns any individuals. Condemnation is a decision that only God can make, and any human being who is so presumptuous as to condemn another individual is not practicing true Christian humility. Our Community Covenant, among its other affirmations, calls on members of the Wheaton Community to manifest “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and supremely, love,” to “seek righteousness, mercy, and justice, particularly for the helpless and oppressed,” to “uphold the God-given worth of human beings,” and to “be people of integrity whose word can be fully trusted.” The Wheaton College Teacher Education Program, in its Conceptual Framework, clearly states, “that candidates learn to work effectively with all children and their families regardless of race, creed, religion, national origin, sexual preference (emphasis added), disabling condition, or capabilities.” Our commitment to the inherent worth of every individual is emphasized throughout our programs; and for the author of this flyer and you, as signatory, to imply otherwise, is a blatant misrepresentation of our principles.

Interestingly, the author of the flyer seems to hold precisely the biased behavior of which we are accused. By asserting that Christians who hold traditional Christian views should not be certified and that religious institutions that hold moral views should not be accredited, the author has shown a clear bias against traditional Christians and/or other religious organizations that hold views different than that of the author. By extension, the flyer then seems to imply that anyone who holds a belief different from that of a child he/she is teaching is not qualified to teach that child. For example, should only Muslim teachers be allowed to teach Muslim children; only atheistic teachers to teach atheistic children; only Christian teachers to teach Christian children; only GLBT teachers to teach GLBT children? Such a system would be both discriminatory and ridiculous.

We gladly affirm that “teachers need to be well prepared to teach all students.” We affirm with sadness that GLBT students and adults have been and are at time subject to reprehensible treatment. We affirm that all teachers, including our candidates, should respect GLBT students and GLBT family members. Our Christian belief that all individuals are created in the image and likeness of God requires no less. We also affirm that in our country, individuals, including Christians, have the right to hold and express religious views freely. We understand fully and support the fact that the public school classroom is not a forum for religious proselytization or religious instruction. The public school classroom should be a place of learning, safe for all individuals, and affirming of the worth of each and every child. That is how we prepare our teacher candidates.

In accordance with Biblical principles, we are first contacting you without notice to your respective superiors. We at Wheaton College would be more than willing to discuss this issue with your further. However, the clandestine distribution of inaccurate information is an act that cannot be ignored. We believe that you, as signatory, owe Wheaton College, IACTE, and your institution a written apology for this reckless behavior. We anxiously await your response.

On behalf of the Education Department and Wheaton College,

Andrew R. Brulle, Ed.D. Jillian N. Lederhouse, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair Associate Professor and Chair-Select
December 21, 2006

Dear Drs. Brulle and Lederhouse:

We received your letter, dated November 21, 2006, and while we appreciate your communication, we disagree with your interpretations. Here, we respond to the points outlined in your letter and invite you and your students to an event where we propose to continue this dialogue.

For us, and the queer youth, teachers, parents, colleagues and allies we work alongside, the Accredit Love Not Condemnation action at the Illinois Association for Colleges with Teacher Education (IACTE) was a great success. We distributed love-centered flyers and pink teacher-power buttons. These, along with our positive queer presence, countered Wheaton College’s gay-excluding policies. As importantly, we raised questions about the appropriateness of Wheaton as a meeting place for the professional organization of teacher educators in Illinois, and the importance of sexual orientation and gender identity as key aspects of diversity. We believe that IACTE should not legitimize with its presence any institution that dehumanizes and devalues lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.

Wheaton’s “Community Covenant,” which is part of the application for admission to the college, equates “theft, murder, and rape” with “homosexual behavior.” As lesbians, educators and as citizens, we find this an insulting and dangerous comparison, and the kind of assertion that lays the ground for violence against LGBTQ people. In addition, for queer youth, families and educators, the distinction you attempt to make between identities and acts is false and cruel. Sexuality is not divisible from other aspects of our lives as workers, parents, and students; no person should have to agree to forgo loving relationships in order to be safe from hateful characterizations.

It is hard for us to understand why you think the Accredit Love Not Condemnation project shows a “clear bias against traditional Christians.” It is inspired by and grounded in the traditions of critique and resistance exemplified by many Christians at the forefront of the profession of education including Margaret Haley, organizer of the first American teacher’s union in Chicago; Myles Horton, co-founder of the Highlander Folk School who played an integral role in the labor and civil rights movements; and Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Outside this field, Christians have been central to worldwide movements against oppression. The list is nearly endless, but includes Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Desmond Tutu, James Baldwin, ├ôscar A. Romero, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, Cornel West, and Mel White. We claim their engaged faith traditions as our guides.

We disagree with your letter’s claim that our distribution of the Accredit Love flyers was “surreptitious.” In addition to writing our email addresses on the flyers, as your letter notes, we walked from table to table during the meeting breakfast, passing out and explaining the flyers; wore t-shirts with the same slogan; introduced ourselves to the conference and individuals; and passed out business cards. However, secrecy is a strategic tactic that is respectable and sometimes necessary—the Underground Railroad is a clear example of this—and one that should be familiar and acceptable to Wheaton, which highlights a rich history at the forefront of the abolitionist movement on its website. But, we didn’t choose secrecy for this campaign; we chose visibility to counter the shame and silencing that institutions like yours seem to prefer for queers.

We also reject your characterization of our distribution of the Accredit Love flyer as “unprofessional.” Sexual and gender minority youth are unremittingly subject to violence and hostility in public schools, and we believe it is our professional obligation to raise this issue and seek solutions with our colleagues in teacher education, despite the desire of some to suppress that dialogue. It is the responsibility of the profession of teacher education to affirm and advocate for all students, parents and teachers, including those who are queer. Advocacy requires that problems are made visible. And that is what we have attempted to do.

We regret that you found the Accredit Love Not Condemnation flyers and pledge “quite distressing.” However, imagine how we felt to discover that our profession held a meeting on a campus where every person has sworn that the expressed sexualities of LGBTQ people, including youth and teachers, are the moral equivalent of “rape and murder”? Distressed is the mildest way to describe our reactions: pain, fear, anger are more accurate. Public meetings should not be held at institutions that degrade and exclude entire classes of people.

Finally, we appreciate and accept your invitation to talk further and propose co-hosting a discussion about this topic—Tensions Between Private Beliefs and the Public Good in Teacher Education—in a public venue, with fellow teacher educators and students of education and members of LGBTQ communities. We’ve secured a site [on the campus of a public university] and a tentative date and time. We suggest that we work out other details together—who to invite, how to organize the dialogue, food or not—if you choose to participate. If not, we plan to hold the discussion anyway, and hope you will announce the event to your students and staff. In particular, we would like to invite your LGBTQ students, staff and faculty to attend.


Erica Meiners Therese Quinn