How to Start an Anti-Racist Student Group in Your School

By the Emma Fedore, Cece Chan, Aneesa Roidad, and Jon Greenberg of the NAACP Youth Coalition

Featured image by Chloe Collyer

The painful truth about public education is that racism is as common as bored students and overworked teachers. While many in our home of Seattle take pride in the city’s “progressive” reputation, the students of Seattle Public Schools, especially students of Color, know reality starkly contrasts with this reputation.

In fact, Seattle Public Schools is home to some of the worst racial disparities in the entire country – and the district has known about them for decades and decades. Yet little has changed – exemplified recently by a white teacher calling 911 on a 10 to 11-year-old Black child. To make matters worse, district leaders rarely invite students, those most negatively impacted by this racist system, to the racial-equity problem-solving table.

In Seattle, we decided to stop waiting for an invitation. The NAACP Youth Coalition (N-YC), a coalition of antiracist youth representing 12 high schools and universities in the Seattle area, formed to put a stop to the above realities. In the past two years, we have hosted anti-racism workshops for youth, organized youth panels for educators, and led school board mobilizations. As a result of our efforts, the Seattle School Board endorsed the Black Lives Matter at School movement, one of the first school boards in the nation to do so.

Image of CeCe Chan by Sharon Chang

In these two years of activism, we have learned many lessons on organizing and making change, lessons we want to share with both the youth and educators so that the movement for racial justice can continue to spread.

Step 1: Find like-minded, passionate people in your school

            Where there is racism, there are people committed to fighting it. Schools are no exception. It’s just a matter a finding them. And starting small is perfectly fine. As Marge Piercy writes in “The low road,” “Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge.”

As an individual, students may not feel comfortable or safe enough to confront racism in your community, especially if it is coming from an authority figure. At Ballard High School, clubs such as Multicultural Committee offer a restorative and safe space for students of Color to voice concerns, celebrate their culture, or simply vent. Your school likely offers something similar or has ethnicity-specific groups such as a Black Student Union. 

            If not, many buildings usually have at least one visible antiracist teacher, who is likely connected with the youth most invested in antiracism. In the case of the NAACP Youth Coalition, we identified committed students across Seattle Public Schools through Social Equity Educators, an action-oriented caucus of Seattle’s educators union.

            The group that forms will be essential, not just for completing the subsequent steps, but also to provide a network of support in work that can be draining. Furthermore, there is safety in numbers, as students, teachers and administrators have power over us. They may be able to abuse that power with one student, but it becomes far more difficult with a unified group. Having a support network not only keeps you safe, but it can inspire students and hold the school accountable as the group moves forward with challenging racism. 

Step 2: Research past and current changemakers for guidance and inspiration

You may find that your history textbooks have skimmed over or silenced voices calling for radical change – especially if those voices belonged to people of Color. 

For instance, the skewed narrative that puts European “settlers” (virtually never called “colonizers”), not Native Americans, as the protagonists of United States history perpetuates white supremacy. Although textbooks have finally begun to acknowledge the egregious crimes committed against Native people in this country, they still fail to recognize the tenacity and strength of these people. By educating yourself on the 1969 Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island, you are reframing the power imbalance that we’ve been taught. 

To challenge the sanitized narratives we learn in school, seek out books and essays written by authors of Color. Watch documentaries like Precious Knowledge and Agents of Change about the youth-centered struggles for ethnic studies. Scour the Internet, find podcasts, and then discuss them with your friends. Educate yourself on the struggles and successes of different ethnic and racial groups across history. Forming a holistic worldview will prepare you for activism that respects the voices and perspectives of those who have too often been written out of our history classes.

Social justice work is rooted in community, but it begins with an individual’s willingness to learn and grow. You can’t always control other people’s mindsets, but you will always have the capacity to educate yourself.

Step 3: Establish core values

It’s important to know what you’re fighting for. You’ll need to establish core values to set a foundation for your group or community. Why? Well, sometimes people have disagreements or get carried away with outside drama. In those moments (which will happen) when you need to pull everyone together, core values will remind everyone why they gathered for social justice in the first place. 

There’s a reason why organizations have mission statements; they help establish the group’s core values. Before we even had a name for our group, the founders of the NAACP Youth Coalition put antiracism at the center, recruiting students who had already been doing the same at their schools.

Step 4: Turn your values into demands

Once you have your core values, turn them into actionable items you want to get done or change you want to see. You believe in racial equity? Great! How is your school going to get there? 

At the earliest meetings of the NAACP Youth Coalition, we looked to recent activism at Seattle University, where students were demanding a more anti-racist humanities department.

One of the first priorities of the N-YC at the start each year has been collaboratively establishing our demands. During this past year, we decided on eight (read the full text here).

The NAACP Youth Coalition demands that the Seattle Public School district: 

  • support the #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool actions indefinitely;
  • improve its curricula, including mandatory Ethnic Studies, to better serve all students;
  • increase opportunities to integrate voices of students of Color into its decision-making processes; 
  • prioritize the occupied renovation of Rainier Beach High School;
  • fund post-secondary opportunities in an equitable way;
  • improve its discipline practices, implementing restorative justice district-wide; 
  • prioritize training staff of all schools as well as central office staff on issues of race, equity, and racism, even if schools fail to apply for to Race & Equity Teams; and
  • prioritize hiring and retaining more staff of color in all buildings regardless of demographics.  
MLK Day Celebration at Garfield High School/Official Launch of the NY-C

After launching the NAACP Youth Coalition on Martin Luther King Day in 2018, each school board testimony we gave, workshop we attended or put on, and event we participated in has been in an effort to further our demands. Our demands are increasingly becoming part of the conversations at Seattle Public Schools, as they have been distributed at Racial Equity Team trainings, as well as the district’s Youth and Family Racial Justice Summit and Ethnic Studies Summer Institute!

By no means is your list of actions or demands permanent, especially if your demands are actually being met, as was the case with the Seattle School Board endorsing the Black Lives Matter at School week of action. Since our membership continues to evolve and grow, we will revisit them each year to ensure they reflect the will and needs of our current members.

Regardless, your demands should always align with your core values. 

Step 5: Start a club at your school and plan fun activities

            Now that you have committed youth, core values, and a list of demands, formalize your group! Clubs are a great way to take action within your school and the greater community. I know it can be exciting but remember to take your time to think out details of your club. Not all schools require a club constitution but we highly recommend making one! A club constitution forces you to think about the purpose, membership, duties, and responsibilities of your club – helpful and necessary steps if you want your club to be strong and organized. 

After you’ve gotten your club approved you can start thinking of how to market your club. For marketing, you should definitely be using social media like Instagram or Twitter. Using your Snapchat story is also a great way to advertise. Just think about what platforms you have and how you can use those to your advantage. You can also go “old school” and design posters to hang up around school. Lastly, if your school begins the day with daily announcements, advertise your club through this existing channels.

Next is planning club activities. Yes, your club should be focused on making change, but there’s no reason not to have some fun while you do, especially at the start. For your first meeting, draw crowds in with food (because we all know that students love free food). Make sure to tell everyone about your meeting schedule and social media presence, which helps your fellow students stay connected and aware of the events happening with your club. 

Another fun idea for club activities is potlucks! Potlucks are a fun way to bring a community together while also eating some bomb food. Ever heard of a joint potluck? Sometimes joining up with other clubs to do a collab potluck can symbolize allyship and respect. For example, if your club is associated with a specific race and a core value is supporting Black Lives Matter movement, then it might be awesome to do a joint potluck with your school’s Black Student Union! Not only will this bring more people but it opens a conversation around allyship and the BLM movement all in one event.

Crafts are always a fun activity, such as collage making with old magazines, poster making, or any art piece that speaks on cultural identity, oppression, and liberation. Asking art teachers that you trust is always a good idea. If a tragic incident has happened in the world or in your community, making a memorial to visually display peace, love, and justice is always beautiful. 

Of course, maybe an antiracist club already exists in your school, in which case: join an existing club!  Sometimes you don’t have the time or availability to make a club, and that’s totally okay! Just because you aren’t a physical leader of your own club doesn’t mean you can’t make change. Join an existing club and don’t be afraid to speak your truth and what you believe in. Existing clubs are looking for passionate new members. Whatever your role, you and your voice matters!

Step 6: Find and create opportunities to make change

            Okay, so you’ve done your research. You’ve got core values, a list of demands, and a group that meets regularly. Now it’s time to find and create opportunities that accomplish your goals. What posters, activities, or conversations can you create? Who can you partner with to create them? How will this accomplish your intended goal(s) or reach your audience?

None of those questions has just one answer or an answer that is “right.” There are many ways to take action, and what’s best for your group largely depends on the individual circumstances: the nature of your club, your school community, how supportive (or hostile) your school administration is.

Some groups have used heritage months as educational opportunities for schools in which whitewashed curricula are the default to show that marginalized groups in the school are indeed valued. For example, if it happens to be May, Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month, then maybe you watch Crazy Rich Asians with your Asian and Pacific Islander club to open a discussion about the importance of racial representation in the media.

Once you are a formally recognized club, it’s easier to influence your school. As part of school clubs, NAACP Youth Coalition members have led staff trainings and organized assemblies, both on issues of race and racism. At the building level, don’t be afraid to email teachers, administration, and department heads about the change you want to see happen in your school.

Erica Ijeoma at a school board meeting; Image by Sharon Chang

To make change at even bigger level, N-YC frequently targets the Seattle School Board, the elected body in charge of the district policy. In Seattle, this body – along with the superintendent, who is hired by the Board – has the power to turn our demands into a reality. Our school board mobilization to promote the national demands of Black Lives Matter at School, demands that align perfectly with our own, gained significant media attention (here, here, and here), which increases our influence with district leaders.

Whatever you decide, find ways to get to the decision-making table!

Step 7: Get funding

            During the NAACP Youth Coalition’s first year, a couple of Seattle School Board directors reached out to meet with the group. At this meeting, the Directors told the group that to make change, they need to keep showing up at school board meetings. This response revealed a fundamental flaw with the system: it requires privilege to fight for racial equity.

If you are facing multiple, interlocking systems of oppression, who has the time or ability to keep showing up to pressure school board directors? Furthermore, we can’t leave it to the privileged to lead the fight for racial equity, as they are the ones who least understand racism and other forms of oppression.

Rita Green, education chair of the local NAACP and one of the group’s founding adults, had a solution: pay the youth for their antiracism efforts. Green applied for and landed a Best Starts for Kids grant, which meant that our group’s youth could receive a stipend for N-YC’s many efforts. No longer do adult coordinators have to ask students to volunteer their time to make change.

During our first year, before the grant, the group only represented a few schools, mostly in the more affluent North End of Seattle, and membership declined by the end of the year. With the grant, however, at the end of year two, our membership is larger than ever!

Next year, we plan to hit the ground running. And we’d love to help you do the same! Please stay connected through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter or contact one of our coordinators.

Windows and Mirrors, Roots and Seeds

by Jennifer Dunn

I’m packing my bags this morning for the third time this summer and it’s still July. On August 1st I will have traveled through six states in 30 days. I just returned from a week-long training for new leaders with the National SEED project (created by none other than Dr. Peggy McIntosh)  in San Anselmo, California. One of the most important takeaways from this SEED experience for me was this: windows and mirrors. It is a practice that works well for Ethnic Studies and racial equity work because it is a flattening of power dynamics between two people. I can now see myself in relation to anyone and ask myself am I a window or a mirror to this person? Is my story a window or a mirror to their story? We are all in relation to one another.

Storytelling is a centerpiece to SEED work. In one session called “Schooling Stories”, I was asked to write about a time in school where I witnessed or experienced oppression and to write in the present tense. This is what I wrote and shared that day:

“I’m in the 8th grade. It’s 3rd period and the subject: Texas History. Today, we are learning about the Alamo. I sit and listen to my white teacher explain how the brave white men Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William B. Travis all came to save the Alamo from the encroaching Mexican army. My heart hurts. I become so aware (once again) that most of my classmates are white. I look at their faces for reaction to this story but their faces reveal nothing but acceptance of the heroism of these men by the storyteller. I feel embarrassed and ashamed of being Mexican, of feeling like the defeated, of being the other, so I flip through the pages of my textbook looking for any story to counter this one. It isn’t there. As the story goes on, the capture of the Alamo by the Mexicans is clearly not the point, and includes the eventual triumphant capture of General Santa Ana disguised as low ranking soldier hiding in the grass in a nearby… I just can’t even listen anymore. I slide my hand into my pocket to reach for the headphones through the hole I have cut in my jacket packet and up through my sleeve from my walkman to listen to Selena belting out No Me Queda Mas.”

I wonder…Is this story a window or a mirror for you? As a student? What about as a teacher?

I cried while reading that story to a circle of strangers but mostly I think because it was the first time I got to tell it in a space that was honored rather than dismissed as insignificant. The first time that anyone had even asked me and ultimately revealed the roots of my pursuit of education justice. Then I had to have a real long look at myself in the mirror as a teacher and cry all over again wondering how many times I have been guilty of doing the same thing in my own classroom- controlling the narrative; telling other people’s stories. When I was 13, I didn’t have the tools to resist or even name the “master narrative” or the “single story” of white supremacy in curriculum and institutionalized racism. Today, I do.

This incredibly powerful activity of windows and mirrors at SEED training was presented first with artwork. As participants, we were asked to approach a table of copies of paintings and then to find a partner and discuss whether the image was a window or a mirror for us. This is the painting I chose:


Barbacoa para Cumpleaños by Carmen Lomas Garza.

This painting is a mirror to my childhood.  A childhood I felt joy at home and then shame about when I was at school. For years, I literally hid my home stories away at school and downplayed my roots. The Mexican and Tejano traditions practiced at home were assigned no value in my classes. Indigeneity was a thing of the past and the only way to “succeed” was assimilation. The decision I was forced to make in school was to accept and assimilate or rebel and be labeled a troublemaker.

My brother (a BRILLIANT mathematician) stopped attending school in the 10th grade.

Circa 1986: One will reject the system early, the other will work to dismantle it.

I assimilated.

Today, this “Schooling Story” reminds me of how I would like to be in relation with students and other people in public education. Another important part of SEED work is being in “just” relations with others. Windows and Mirrors is a tool in pursuit of just relationships but the road ahead is long because the system is so powerful. As an educator I am STILL pressured to assimilate to institutionalized norms and have been guilty of perpetuating assimilation in my own classroom when I have done things like teach AP and complied to testing culture. The pressure to produce “rigorous” content at “high standards” is very strong. The call for uniformity and the polished appearance of “excellence” – so loud. Still, I reset my practice mantra today that education is for liberation-not assimilation and that I will receive much criticism along the way in search of the real thing. Already I am labeled “not a team player” and a rogue with a bad attitude and, of course, the wrong tone when I do not consent to the status quo.  

Ultimately, our stories are not something we can see or hear by simply looking at one another and yet it seems more and more that we are creating a society where we are judged mostly by our social media profile “appearance”. I am suddenly aware of the irony of adding something to my “story” on Instagram and how many of us are probably faking it so we can appear successful. I also feel sad when people say things like “You look nothing like your name” and sigh when people look at me and ask, “what are you?” (Decolonizing Mixed Chicanx, btw.)

Stories involve investment in relationships. This SEED work reminded me that I need to make more space for storytelling in my classroom and in my adult relationships. Telling our stories is how we become centered in our roots and invested in the work authentically. It is how we can connect with one another- and ultimately a seed for “just” relations.

But I must tell my own story-not the story I have in relation to another-that is their story to tell. When I speak for others, I am not in “just” relations with them.

As I recommit myself to the cause of racial equity over assimilation in public education, I am also now writing my own education liberation story. I move forward as a teacher but as a co-researcher in indigeneity and honoring storytelling with others. I vow that I will not tell people’s stories for them. How about now? Am I your window or your mirror? Just checking.

Windows and mirrors came with this caution:

Be mindful of who you are in relation with.

Too many mirrors is vanity.

Too many windows. Voyeurism.

Now I am back to packing my bags for Tejas/Texas to spend time with family, but also in search of the stories I was never told or asked about in school. As I return home, I come to dig at roots. As I dig, I endeavor to go deeper than the Spanish (colonizing) language that was deemed unacceptable at school to Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. I look beneath America, to Aztlan and to Turtle Island and I am not alone. Already I have met a lot of other people looking for surfacing the same thing- their missing or erased stories.

Finally, my thoughts return to the first bag packing of the summer. After the last day of school, my partner and I set off on a road trip to Wyoming via Idaho and Montana. I am definitely also going through some eco-anxiety right now and have had this fear lately that if I don’t see some of Turtle Island now, I never will.  On the road, we listened to Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. In this novel, Butler reveals her philosophy called Earthseed in a not too distant future (2024, y’all) where climate change and broken government has led to societal breakdown. Butler says, “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change.” I have also been reading adrienne maree brown’s (she does not capitalize any part of her name like bell hooks) Emergent Strategy (hopefully the subject of my next post!) where brown harnesses social justice leaders from past and present and weaves together the intersectional issues of climate justice and racial justice.

Seeds taking different flight patterns in the breeze on a morning walk. Some go together in a cluster. Some go in pairs. Some go alone.

In brown’s work, she looks to nature for solutions to heal our planet, ourselves and our communities-by being like dandelions, through our roots and seeds. Brown also repeatedly mentions in her book that “what you pay attention to grows.”

The response that forms in my mind right now to that is “The future is in the past.” I need to check out the roots but pay attention to what seeds I plant for others.

Everywhere I look right now:

windows and mirrors, roots and seeds

Follow Jennifer @JenniferisDunn.

The National Education Association Representative Assembly Ethnic Studies Roundup

Image source: 2020 Presidential Hopefuls Court Educators at NEA Representative Assembly

by Jon Greenberg

What exactly is a National Education Association Representative Assembly? As a teacher relatively new to union organizing, I thought I knew the answer but I was quite unprepared for the scale of this event, an event so big that it attracted 10 Democratic presidential candidates, each of whom traveled all the way to Houston to get ten minutes of speaking time with this body of educators.

The NEA’s Representative Assembly is the word’s largest “democratic deliberative body,” according to the NEA, during which over 8,000 elected delegates representing over 3 million educators converge and make decisions about the “vital issues that impact American public education and set Association policy and activities for the year ahead.” 

The bulk of this work is done through introducing New Business Items (NBIs), which are presented to the body, debated, and then voted on; this year there were 160 introduced! A group of us from the Seattle Education Association attended this year to advance ethnic studies at the national level. The NEA Black Caucus, specifically caucus chair Cecily Myart Cruz, had already organized a robust racial justice agenda that included a Black Lives Matter at School NBI and two ethnic studies NBIs. 

SEA delegate Kaitlin Kamalei Jenkins put forward a third ethnic studies NBI focusing on updating that groundbreaking research by Christine Sleeter confirming the benefits of ethnic studies, “The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies,” which was commissioned by the NEA and published in 2011, nearly a decade ago. 

Compiled below are the ethnic studies and Black Lives Matter at School NBIs that passed the body – all with little to no debate – as well as a few other NBIs related to racial justice too good to exclude. To check out important NBIs – on topics of lgbtqia+, climate change, union rights, #metoo movement, and more – read them all here

ETHNIC STUDIES NBIs

New Business Item 13

NEA will create an ongoing series in NEA Today using existing digital resources including NEAtoday.org and NEA Express Today, and promotion on the NEA Today social media highlight examples of the Ethnic Studies curricula and programs across the nation and connection to student growth and success of students who have access to Ethnic Studies. 

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

Note: This passed nearly unanimously, with perhaps one belated “nay” coming from the back of the room. 

New Business Item 16

NEA Board of Directors will consider a new policy statement on Ethnic Studies to be presented at the 2020 NEA RA for adoption.

ADOPTED 

Note: This passed narrowly, likely because of the $155,400 price tag. A policy statement, as opposed to a resolution (which is more of a belief statement) invites the NEA to invest more resources into ethnic studies. 

New Business Item 19

NEA will promote the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in schools during Black History Month in 2020.  Beginning in the fall of 2019, using existing communications resources, NEA will specifically call for clear efforts to demonstrate support for the four demands of the BLM Week of Action in schools:

1. Ending zero-tolerance policies and replacing them with restorative justice practices

2. Hiring and mentoring black educators

3. Mandating that Ethnic Studies be taught in preK-12 schools in age-appropriate ways

4. Hiring more counselors not cops

ADOPTED

Note: this passed unanimously! 

New Business Item 40

NEA will update the existing research review on the academic and social implications of Ethnic Studies and publish the results through existing NEA resources. 

ADOPTED 

Note: Seattle delegate Bruce Jackson estimates that this passed with 80 percent in favor. 

OTHER RACIAL JUSTICE NBIs

New Business Item A

NEA will immediately call on the Trump administration, U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and the courts, for the immediate end to the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families; including an end to ICE raids, which inflicts chaos, fear, and instability on entire communities.

Specifically and immediately, NEA will call on the U.S. government to address the human rights violations for which it is responsible in detention centers across the country by demanding that:

-Immigrant children currently incarcerated by the U.S. government be treated as human beings with infinite worth and potential, and not be exposed to conditions that harm or traumatize them.

-Detention facilities be open to visits by doctors, educators, social workers, clergy, and other children’s advocates.

-The U.S. government comply with the guidelines for basic standards of care of children set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

-The U.S. government stop sending children and immigrant families to for-profit detention centers.

To achieve the above, NEA will:

1. Instruct our General Counsel to challenge such policies and practices in the courts and other venues by leading or joining cases with advocacy partners;

2. Call on members and affiliates to seek sponsors and support for legislation that protects immigrant families, the rights of asylum seekers, and the humane treatment of all immigrants;

3. Oppose ICE raids that terrify peaceful communities and endanger children who are left without caregivers when parents are arrested and detained;

4. Urge all presidential candidates to develop plans for comprehensive immigration reform that include specific ways to ensure the humane treatment of all immigrants and ways to end ICE raids and family separations;

5. Partner with immigrant rights’ organizations to inform our members and the families they serve of the civil and human rights of undocumented people through community engagement and specifically partner on training such as know-your-rights training;

6. Initiate and support networking locally so that our members and public can jointly engage in initiatives and actions on immigrant justice;

7. Promote the efforts of our affiliates and partners to protect immigrant students and families from the harm and trauma caused by fear of deportation, anti-immigrant violence and family separation’;

8. Mobilize members to contact their elected officials, participate in protests, and disseminate advocacy materials on urgent immigration issues; and

9. Expand NEA’s rapid response social justice activist network to engage and activate our members and allies on key immigration priorities.

10. NEA will provide information to state affiliates on how they can gain access to assist refugees being held in detention centers, how they can teach, provide social work servicing, psychology services, provide soap, toothbrushes and other sanitary needs to refugees. Please inform our members how we can take direct action of detentions centers.

ADOPTED AS AMENDED

New Business Item 11

Using existing resources, NEA will incorporate the concept of “White Fragility” into NEA trainings/staff development, literature, and other existing communications on social, gender, LGBTQIA, and racial justice whenever and wherever context and expense allows.

ADOPTED 

New Business Item 14

NEA will create model legislative language that state affiliates can use to eliminate the Praxis or alternative standardized test used for teacher certification.

ADOPTED 

New Business Item 17

The convenings created as a result of the 2018 NBI 117 Task Force report will recommend specific annual numeric goals for the recruitment of, and retention of, educators of color.  NEA will create a pilot cadre of educators of color (a minimum of 2 per state affiliate for at least 10 states) whose purpose is to identify and recruit high school and college ethnic students (African American, Hispanic, Indigenous People of America, Asian American, Pacific Islander) to enter the teaching profession starting with states that have Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander Serving Institutions.

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 21

NEA will create an electronic toolkit that will assist locals in developing member allies who will serve as diversity ambassadors to engage in courageous conversations in an effort to support educators of color and other targeted and marginalized educators.

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED  

New Business Item 25

NEA will collaborate and partner with organizations and individuals who are doing the work to push reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States and to involve educators, students, and communities in the discussions around support for reparations. NEA will write an article in NEA Today to pay homage to educators who have been and are currently fighting for reparations, such as Ernie Smith, and to highlight the organizations and individuals involved in the fight for reparations. NEA will actively network and collaborate with organizations such as ACLU, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), and individuals such as Darrick Hamilton, to hold national teletown halls in different regions of the United States in order to educate members and the general public about the importance of reparations.

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 31

Utilizing existing communication resources, the NEA shall publicize the investigation that has uncovered state and federal funding for confederate museums, shrines, and groups that present a distorted view of history and perpetuate racist idealogy (www.smithsonianmag.com/history/costs-confederac-special-report-180970731/).

ADOPTED 

New Business Item 34

NEA will disseminate current information developed in partnership with the National Indian Educational Association and/or the National Congress of American Indians regarding missing and murdered indigenous women and girls during the month of May 2020.This will be in solidarity with Red Shawl Day. Information will be disseminated through established modes of communication.

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 41

The NEA will support an initiative to hire more diverse leadership staff such as assistant principals and principals in our schools, by notifying state affiliates to encourage their members of color to pursue a career in school leadership. In addition, the NEA will work to support this goal.  

As NEA continues to promote and push forward on improving diversity and inclusion of educational professionals, we direct NEA to include assistant principals, principals, and other administrators in work that we are already doing.

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED  

New Business Item 64

At the beginning of ALL NEA convenings, NEA will acknowledge the native people of whom the lands originated from. 

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 84 

The NEA will use existing resources by utilizing the Racial Justice Education program to provide quality anti-racist, anti-biased culturally competent virtual professional development opportunities. To continue to build upon already existing work by identifying regional, state, leaders, and volunteers or whomever the Committee deems to expand learning to facilitate and train the trainer model using an interactive virtual curriculum to build capacity in members at the state and local level.

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 87 

NEA will publish in the NEA Today the impact of voter suppression in the United States. 

ADOPTED 

New Business Item 91 

NEA will use existing resources to digitally publicize a list of resources educators can use to teach their students about the history of the U.S. government programs of detention and internment, deportations and repatriations, to include but not limited to the Mexican Repatriation (1929-1931), Bracero Program (1942), and Operation Wetback (1954).

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 93

NEA will use existing channels to call on educators to refrain from discouraging or explicitly telling students to not speak a language other than English at school.  NEA may also include information about:

·     The benefits of being multi-lingual;

·     How linguistic oppression is traumatic to children and stifles their academic achievement;

·     The white supremacy culture associated with “English only” movements; and

·     The history of violence inflicted on children for speaking a language other than English at school.

ADOPTED 

New Business Item 116 

NEA will create a sub-category of ethnicity under the race category on NEA360 and conference registration sites to help the association better understand the ethnic makeup of our membership and make sure that the needs of all members are met. They will also provide a report to state leadership detailing the ethnicity breakdowns of our membership. 

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 118 

The NEA will call on the U.S. government to accept responsibility for the destabilization of Central American countries (including, but not limited to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua), and that this destabilization is a root cause of the recent increase of asylum seekers in the United States. 

ADOPTED AS MODIFIED 

New Business Item 121

NEA will create a task force to examine means of data collection on discrimination, harassment, and bullying of members by the National Education Association leadership on the basis of race, gender identity and expression, or sexual orientation. The task force will also develop a process of grievance submission and accountability, as well as development and dissemination of reporting procedure and protocol.

ADOPTED AS AMENDED 

Note: This NBI was originally targeting racial discrimination but was sanitized and diluted through an amendment. 

New Business Item 143

NEA will use its existing communication vehicles to educate members and the public about the negative impact of excluding students from academic and extracurricular programs based on their natural hairstyles and from their hair being modified by any school officials, school staff, referees, or any other individuals in a public school or higher education environment.

ADOPTED 

Read more from Jon on his website: www.citizenshipandsocialjustice.com.

Decolonizing Education Through Dismantling Hierarchies: a Four Part Series

By Tracy Castro-Gill

Re-blogged from The Teacher Activist

I don’t think there would be much opposition to the following statement:

Social hierarchies of any kind result in oppression. Period.

When I teach my sixth graders about ancient history, one of the first concepts I introduce them to is that of the social hierarchy compared to the ideas of tribalism and egalitarianism. Haters will say, “But, wait! Ancient tribal societies were not egalitarian!” Yes, I know this, that’s why I said, “tribalism and egalitarianism.” While I know that many tribal structures include some type of a hierarchy, it is much less rigid than the hierarchies created by larger civilizations.

A VERY BRIEF HISTORY AND COMPARISON OF TRIBAL VS STATE HIERARCHIES

Francis Fukiyama, in his book The Origins of Political Order; From prehuman times to the French Revolution, does a great job of breaking down the differences between tribal and state governments. He does this mostly by describing the different ways in which personal property was valued, regulated, and shared. In tribal societies, personal property, mostly in the form of land holdings, was strategically traded between tribes, usually through marriage arrangements. Using this method required a sense of community and trust between different tribal governments. Yes, there were gender hierarchies and class hierarchies, but there was still a sense of family and community because of the cooperation between tribes. The leaders were in community and were familiar with the community, if not liked or loved by them. Leaders who lost the trust of the community lost power.

Fukiyama compares three ancient cultures and outlines when and why they went from tribal governments to state governments. All three, China, India, and Europe, started with tribal governments. The shift to state government came in waves in China because the tribal organization was so deep and the geography so wide. India remained largely tribal until it was invaded and occupied by European nation-states. Interestingly, Fukiyama points out that Europe’s transformation was the swiftest and strongest because of Christianity. Individualism, as discussed in the last blog post, and adherence to law are two important tenets of Christianity, especially after Reformation, and since early monarchies and Church leadership were virtually inseparable, Church law was law. This created a shift in how personal property was defined. It became more of an individual ownership and not something that is shared within community or to build alliances between communities. It laid the foundations for capitalism and individual gain over the common good. It also set the leaders apart from the people. Power was transferred to wealth instead of community agreements.

Through invasion, occupation, and colonization, other cultures eventually took on similar state governments creating the social hierarchies we are familiar with today: capitalist oligarchies, totalitarian dictatorships, constitutional monarchies, democratic socialism, etc. Those are just the state hierarchies. There are still the gender and class hierarchies, and we’ve added racial hierarchies. There are institutional hierarchies as well. I want to address the last few here, but as you can see… it’s going to take a while, which is why I’ve split this topic into a four part series.

DECOLONIZING THE CLASSROOM BY DISMANTLING CLASSROOM HIERARCHIES

“I am asking you to actively work to dismantle racial, class, gender, and institutional hierarchies in the classroom, in your school building, and in your school district.”

In part one of this series, I want to begin to argue that decolonizing our schools can’t happen unless we actively work to dismantle these hierarchies. No, I’m not asking you to dismantle capitalist oligarchies (though I believe if we do what I am suggesting, that will be a natural consequence). I am asking you to actively work to dismantle racial, class, gender, and institutional hierarchies in the classroom, in your school building, and in your school district. Until we do, we are still colonizing our students and each other. I will start with the classroom. Part two will address school and district-wide hierarchies, part three will address higher education, specifically in school administration preparation programs, and part four will be a reflection on how I’ve worked to dismantle hierarchies in my classroom.

Paolo Freire tells us that liberation requires a “praxis.” This can be defined as “theory in practice.” Recently, I learned from the leaders of the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson that the Aztec word for this is Huitzilopochtli, which translates to “hummingbird on the left.” It is taken to mean acting from the heart. Freire writes at length about what it takes to be a revolutionary leader. He says, “… but leaders who deny praxis to the oppressed thereby invalidate their own praxis… Revolutionary praxis is a unity, and the leaders cannot treat the oppressed as their possession.” How can leaders act from the heart if they are not only detached completely from the people they are trying to lead, but also feel they know better than the people? I, and Freire, argue that it’s impossible. That’s not leadership. That’s oppression, and the only way to avoid it is to dismantle the barriers created by hierarchies.

“Box checking educators are responsible for the rise of fascism in the United States.”

In the classroom, we are the leaders. We can further oppress our students, or lead them to praxis through education. I recognize that there are many of us in the profession who are box checkers. We show up, we check off the boxes for the standards we covered, and check off the boxes in our scope and sequence map, we collect a paycheck, and take our summer vacations. This is my official call to action: if you are this educator immediately cease and desist this practice! If you work with educators like this immediately organize educators who believe this is immoral and push those educators to immediately cease and desist their practice! Box checking educators are funneling our children into prisons, poverty, drugs, streets, and police brutality. Box checking educators are responsible for the rise of fascism in the United States. Box checking educators are killing public education.

We need to return to tribal values of community and cooperation through praxis and egalitarianism in our own practice. We must recognize that our students, regardless of age or ability, come into our classroom with an astounding wealth of knowledge, and for most of their lives, they have been told that their knowledge is not valid or not valuable simply because of their age. I am saying that this is a hierarchy; an institutional hierarchy, yes, because a classroom is part of a larger institution, but also an hierarchy based on age and perceived knowledge. I’ll go deeper into the perceived knowledge hierarchy in part three.

WHOSE KNOWLEDGE? THEIR KNOWLEDGE.

One of the first messages I give my students is that I see them. I see their lived experiences, and I value them as educators. I explain that I am at the front of the room only because I have the privileges of age and formal education, and that in no way makes me or my knowledge superior to theirs. I also share how much I love to learn with and from my students.

Dismantling hierarchies in the classroom requires a complete shift on the definition of knowledge. The human brain is wired to perceive the world and process knowledge through culture. From the moment we are born, how we interpret our experiences is painted by the culture we’re born into. Unfortunately, when we go to school to learn, we are expected to check those cultural perceptions at the door and allow teachers to fill our heads with the perceptions of white American cultural “knowledge.” Our brains become colonized.

I think it’s impossible for every educator to learn the culture of every student that is in front of us, and the beautiful consequence of dismantling age and knowledge hierarchies is that we don’t have to! Our students have what Dr. Anita Fernández refers to as “cultural wealth.” They bring with them all of the cultural knowledge and experiences of their communities. Learn from them! Don’t invalidate their knowledge! Utilize it! Value it! Teach your students the value of having diverse perspectives when solving problems and analyzing their world. You are there to give them resources and guide them. You’re not giving them wisdom, knowledge, or even a lens through which to see the world. They came to you already equipped with those things, but part of our own education has told us that they are ill equipped if it’s not the white way of doing things, and that children aren’t sophisticated enough to already have skills that we deem valuable.

LOVE AND HUMANITY

One thing I do think all educators have the responsibility to do is love their students. I love my students. I love who they are when they come to me. I love what they teach me and the joy they bring to my life. I love when they’re challenging and they push me to be a better human being. In order to fully dismantle hierarchies in the classroom we must love our students unconditionally. I have literally been laughed at in the past for suggesting this. It goes against what we’re taught – to be objective. Here’s another call to action: if you can’t love your students, get another job! If you know educators that don’t love their students, counsel them out of the profession!

If we don’t love and value our students, they won’t trust us as leaders. This is where we lose our kids. This is how we are funneling them into prisons or worse. Love your students! Be a valuable member of the classroom community. Don’t be a figurehead lecturing from behind a desk. Be with them. Learn with them. Commune with them. It’s not some hippy bullshit. It’s how we are meant to engage as human beings. Teaching and learning are part of the human experience, not some sterile, objective process.

Through unconditional love we can fully value the cultural wealth that our students bring to us and each other. When we love our students we see and build on their humanity, which is my goal as an educator. I’m not here to check boxes or prepare students for “college and beyond.” My goal is to grow human beings who value their humanity and the humanity of others. We’ve lost sight of that in education for a lot of reasons, mostly corporate ed reform, but that’s a blog post for another time.

“Dismantling classroom hierarchies through loving and valuing our students means empowering them to be change makers now, not after it’s too late.”

By practicing unconditional love and valuing the humanity of our students we are modeling the kind of human beings we want them to be – not become! Emphasis on now. Part of dismantling the hierarchy is showing students that their cultural wealth can be put to use now, not when they graduate or turn eighteen. They can change their world now. In kindergarten? Change how they treat one another. In 6th grade? Change school policies. In 11th grade? Change laws and perceptions in their community. Dismantling classroom hierarchies through loving and valuing our students means empowering them to be change makers now, not after it’s too late.

Theater of the Oppressed in the Ethnic Studies Classroom

In partnership with the Creative Advantage, Seattle Public Schools teachers worked with guest teaching artists to develop Theater of the Oppressed strategies into Ethnic Studies classrooms. Pictured here: Ian Golash, Heather Griffin, Tracy Castro-Gill, Jéhan Òsanyìn, Lara Davis, Gail Sehlhorst, Jesse Hagopian, Jennifer Dunn Charlton, Rachel Atkins, Luke Azinger, Tina LaPadula, Tikka Sears.

by Jennifer Dunn Charlton

It is becoming clearer to me that Ethnic Studies is a mindset more than anything. It is the lens which we put on any particular subject or object of study. Once you understand the frameworks of the curriculum, any racial equity literate teacher could potentially deliver the content. But Ethnic Studies is not just content-it is a whole shift in the purpose and goal of education: Education for liberation-not assimilation. The challenge then becomes about moving away from traditional methods of content delivery and traditional assessments coded in white norms and what Paulo Freire referred to as “banking style education”. We remove barriers when we let go of high-pressure, independent assessments, but what do we replace it with? When I inform my students that we will be taking no tests, no quizzes and then ask students what they want to do instead, the default response is often a puzzled “give a PowerPoint presentation?” Students have been given so little autonomy over their own learning that they hardly know what to do-EVEN IN THE TENTH GRADE. Theater of the Oppressed (TO) is a gateway that leads to infinite possibilities beyond tests, quizzes, and PowerPoints.

In early spring 2019, I agreed to partner with a guest teacher to launch a series of lessons involving Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed in my humanities classroom. After meeting with the guest artist, we adapted lessons written by the Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies curriculum writers to incorporate TO moves. TO is a natural fit in the Ethnic Studies classroom because it transforms the room from passive consumption by spectators from traditional theater (and classroom?) space and everyone is a spect-actor. This can be a difficult shift for students who have learned to hide in the traditional classroom. Since everyone is involved simultaneously, no one can sit passively listening to a lecture, bubble in a long column of “C” on the quiz they didn’t prepare for or watching the clock for the class to end. Everyone is in because there is no “out.”

TO allows access to Ethnic Studies by making space to express through movements some of the things that are SO HARD TO SAY about topics like identity, privilege, indigeneity, white saviors, gentrification, etc. The work involves finding your real place in machines and confront your own role in perpetuating injustices-since we are all in the system-we are all guilty of complacency unless we as Mario Savio put it in his speech in front of his fellow students at Berkeley in 1964, “put our bodies upon the gears of the machine.”  

When I first agreed to pilot this work in partnership with Ethnic Studies, I worried that I would not be able to match the energy that experienced theater artists amaze me with, but by the second collaboration, I found myself almost talking over the teaching artist since I started having my own visions of how to help students create the motions and words in their work.

“We were preparing for real world communication needs without even realizing it.”

Over the weeks, a few days looked and felt similar: Warm up. Active machine or tableau work. Reflection. Warmups involved some fairly low stakes theater games. One game, red ball, uses imaginary balls of different colors being passed around a circle. Red ball requires making eye contact, listening, giving and receiving in a “gamified” format. We were preparing for real world communication needs without even realizing it.

The first full on TO activity we did together was build a machine. The machine represents the system; any system that we find ourselves inside of such as the patriarchy or racism. The machine that we rebuilt together was called the Machine of Gentrification. We first studied the Central District of Seattle by watching the music video “The Hood Ain’t the Same” by Draze and reading supporting articles and listening to a podcast about gentrification in Seattle housing and schools. We chose lyrics from the song that stuck out to us. Mine was “no white sheets but these suits and ties look the same to me.” Then we chose a gesture that would represent the words we were saying. After all coming up in partnerships with our gesture/word combinations, we moved into position on a pretend map of Seattle to identify where in the city this was happening and where we are in relation to the problem. We “ran the machine” in the order that we thought one thing was leading to another. This was very eye opening to students, “I think the machine of transformation really identified the problems we face and what it would look like if those problems were solved. It really got me thinking about how these problems are treated, where they’re located, and how our lives would be way different if these problems weren’t around.” -MH

Then we tried to imagine what the opposite of the problem would look like with our bodies. We created new gestures and words to demonstrate that change. This is where the magic happens. We identified a problem, imagined what we wanted to see instead and then we were able to explore different pathways to achieve the goal. Then we ran the machine sequentially with all of the moving parts cycling through problem, a change that needs to be made, and a solution. This was a little broad the first time we did it, but it absolutely led to students identifying real world problems that they were concerned about and helped them see ways in which they, as individuals, but also by forming alliances with other groups, could create change. I took photos and notes up on the overhead as they were creating all of this work.

We experimented in a few other activities such as tableau. In this activity, we built a tableau of the White Savior Complex. We read articles about different ways people accidentally or purposely do this in the world. Tableau is similar but different from Machines in that this activity involves identifying a problem, a change and a solution in the same way but differs in that it a robot style 3 pose sequence of movements as opposed to the machine which runs continuously with all of the parts moving at once. This was a good activity, since this class has a white majority. Had we just read about it, or even just discussed it, I don’t think it would have been as powerful as watching someone “act” a certain way and being able to see why it is problematic.

“Theatre of the Oppressed makes us ready to respond and ready for action.”

While I could (and probably will) write more extensively about all of the benefits of doing this work I really want to say this: TO makes us ready to respond and ready for action. In the first workshop I did to prepare for this work, it was suggested that this work is “acting like act-ivists until we become them.” I leaned into this energy to dive into topics that I am certain would have been harder for all students to engage in as a discussion and yet through TO, students were able to access the content, collaborate and create some truly meaningful projects using the same methodology that we developed in our theater work:  

The past few weeks have been very action-oriented. Students have organized open forums for the recent Abortion Legislation in several states, and also to some racist vandalism that happened inside the school among some really amazing other projects. These students have designed their own finals without feeling disengaged, left out, assimilated, bored or coerced. They are engaged in Freire’s “problem posing education”.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferIsDunn

Meet the 2019 “Black Education Matters Student Activist Award” winners: Youth leaders of an uprising for racial justice!

By Jesse Hagopian – Re-blogged from I Am An Educator

At the first NAACP Youth Coalition Racial Justice Conference on Saturday, ethnic studies teacher Jesse Hagopian and Superbowl champion/bestselling author Michael Bennett presented the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award (BEMSAA) to three of the most dynamic and powerful changemaking youth in Seattle.

The 2019 BEMSAA award winners are:

RenaMWB

Rena is an NAACP Youth Coalition leader  and one of the most outspoken leaders for ethnic studies and the Black Lives Matter at School movement.

KW

Khabirah founded the Black Student Union at Madrona Elementary School and has served as the Garfield High School BSU president for the past three years. She has been a relentless advocate for Black students and lead many struggles for racial justice and initiatives to promote Black excellence.

CC

Cece serves as the Nathan Hale’s representative on the NAACP-Youth Coalition and has been a leader in the struggle for ethnic studies and for the Black Lives Matter at School week of action. Cece has also recently finished a documentary about the struggle and promise of ethnic studies in the Seattle schools!

The Black Education Matters Student Activist Award (BEMSAA) offers a $1000 package to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrates exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice, and against institutional racism.

Michael Bennett gave Rena the special Pennie Bennett award in the name of his mother saying,

“My mom worked in the school district for the last 30 years…Me and Jesse have been friends for a while and I wanted to be able to create an lasting award for Black education and give out an award out every year to represent what my mom believes in…My mom was looking at all the things you were doing and she said, that girls is amazing! And I’m lucky to be able to give this award to Rena!”

“I am so proud of this year’s winners of the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award,” said BEMSAA director Jesse Hagopian. “They have all contributed greatly to undoing institutional racism in the schools and have demonstrated brave leadership in struggles for social justice.”

Past award winners have been among the most impactful student leaders in Seattle, including leading mass walkouts against president Trump’s inauguration, leading the successful movement for ORCA transportation cards for Seattle students, leading whole teams to take a knee during the national anthem, launching the NAACP Youth Coalition, leading movements for food justice, and more.

Ifrah Abshir , 2016 winner of the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award, created this video to tell the 2019 winners what the award ment to her.

The BEMSAA award was started with funds Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian received in a settlement after suing the Seattle Police Department and the City of Seattle when he was wrongfully assaulted by a Seattle Police officer.

BEMawardLogos

On MLK Day 2015, Jesse Hagopian was pepper sprayed in the face by a Seattle police officer without provocation. The incident occurred not long after Hagopian gave the final speech at the MLK Day community rally.

Visit http://www.BlackEducationMatters.org to learn more about the award or to nominate a youth leader.


Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School and is an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse is the director of the “Black Education Matters Student Activist Award” and the co-editor of the new book, Teaching for Black Lives.  You can follow Jesse on Twitter or on his website, www.IAmAnEducator.com.

Ethnic Studies in Bellevue

by Terry Jess

Bellevue School District may not be the place that pops into your mind when you think of racial justice work, including ethnic studies. It is a historically wealthy and white district, and while for many of our students the wealth remains common, the district’s student population has racially diversified in the last twenty years. In 2016, Bellevue became the city with the largest person of color population in the state. However, this diversity led to very little change in the district’s curriculum or how we educate our students.

Seven years ago, through the hard work and dedication of select groups of students and educators, the tide began to shift. Much is owed to the creation of an equity department, and the excellent leadership of the departments two leaders: Jose de Jesus Melendez, and for the last four years, Shomari Jones. In 2013, building principals were asked to form Equity Teams, and I was selected by my principal to join our team. I had been interested in anti-racism work ever since I heard Angela Davis’ challenging words in my teacher prep program and was excited to learn more. Our new Equity Teams received 8 full release days over 16 months to attend equity training.

During my first four years of teaching, I looked for how I could “fit” more culturally responsive teaching into existing curriculum but was left unsatisfied with the results. The conversations I had been having and books I poured myself into demanded more for our students. I began exploring the idea of creating an elective class on racial issues in our society. Fortunately, Shomari had also been exploring a potential black history class in our district and from this shared desire, we created a committee of social studies teachers in various buildings who were interested. This group included some amazing teachers like Lane Lopus of Newport HS and Matt Daniels of Interlake HS.

I had a connection to Tim Jones, a political science professor at Bellevue College, and reached out to see if he would be interested in partnering. Based on our committee’s vision, he thought we would be better suited partnering with BC’s Department of Cultural & Ethnic Studies. This is when the amazing Kimberly Pollock entered the picture. She welcomed us into her course and was willing to not only partner in the development, but to oversee the implementation of this course as part of the College-in-the-High-School program. Now we would be able to offer our students a class that allowed them to explore the history and issues of race and get college credit for it! This was music to my ears as I was already disillusioned with the AP model.

I took on the course-lead role for our district and we spent a year working on developing the scope and sequence, reading materials, and lessons for the semester long course. Due to the flexible nature of the course at Bellevue College, we were given remarkable latitude in creating curriculum for the course that met the needs of our students. To this day, the course will look different in every building it is taught in. Matt and I each piloted the course three years ago, and it has now spread to all comprehensive high schools and has been melded into the Government/CWA graduation requirement as the second semester curriculum for seniors at Big Picture School, one of our district’s secondary choice schools.

While I am immensely proud of this course and enjoy teaching it more than any course I have ever taught, I can’t get past the viral photo of a student defining privilege as “your history being taught in the core class, and mine being taught as an elective.” Based on this frustration, I scheduled a meeting with Sharon Kautz, the Director of Curriculum for Bellevue School District to ask if we could make Race in the US a graduation requirement. BSD already requires students to take 3.5 credits of social studies, rather than the state-required 3, and so I hoped to use the extra .5 for an ethnic studies requirement. Sharon responded to my request by asking, “Why can’t this be imbedded into all our social studies courses?”

I’ll be honest. I thought she was dismissing the idea and offering a stereotypical “sprinkle some people of color and women into the existing curriculum” type of response. So, I responded that if I were to do that in a course like US History, it would mean a total decolonizing of the curriculum. I would want to throw out the textbook, the timeline, and most every lesson the district currently had. I fully expected a response emphasizing a slow incremental change, but I was completely floored when she said, “So do it.” So… I am.

Our amazing BSD Social Studies Curriculum Developer, Patty Shelton, was on board and scheduled a meeting for all U.S. History teachers in the district in the spring of 2018. At the meeting, I introduced the concept and process of using decolonization as the historical framework to use for the course, and my colleagues committed to using it. We also chose to transition to a thematic approach, rather than the typical chronological, so we could spend more time connecting history to current events and issues. I left that meeting feeling very optimistic that we would be able to create a core U.S. History class, that specifically focused on anti-racism and centering the voices marginalized by whiteness in our nation’s history.

Our district offered some project pay for those who would like to work during the summer, and as it goes, there wasn’t much interest. However, I was able to build a potential scope and sequence and flesh out the first unit on Identity, which centered race. My colleagues were pleasantly surprised when we met in August to have a strong foundation to move forward with piloting the course this year. As we approach the end of the year now, we have been able to put together five units of study.

The course will constantly be a work in progress and should be as we adapt to our students’ needs and interests. I am also hyper-aware that a team of white teachers will inevitably see our own whiteness impact the curriculum and our students. More training is needed; more compensation is needed; more perspectives are needed; and more accountability to our students and families of color is needed. I hope to put the whole curriculum out for review and use by educators sometime this summer, but in the end, I am optimistic about our small revolution and how it is sparking other fires in the English Department and in the work of our SOAR Teams (Students Organized for Anti-Racism).

Race in the US and Decolonized US History are only the beginning of Ethnic Studies in Bellevue. It will take an immense amount of work and failure to create something that truly meets the needs of ALL our students. I often have people ask me, “Why Bellevue? Why don’t you teach in Tacoma or South Seattle if you care so much about race?” The work of ethnic studies is not just for schools with high populations of black, Latinx, and indigenous students. It is for white people. It is for wealthy people. It is for Bellevue. Besides… I enjoy the discomfort that sharing truth brings on this community and my fellow white folx.

Organizing for Racial Equity: From an Idea to a Movement

By: Organizing for Racial Equity (ORE)

The fight for ethnic studies in Washington State has largely been led by educators, especially in Seattle Public Schools, thanks to the organizing of groups like Social Equity Educators and the Center for Racial Equity. Ethnic studies, however, needs to be rooted in deeper efforts to achieve racial justice, and not just in education. Below is a piece written about the accomplishments of grassroots organizing for racial justice at the State level at the Washington Education Association (WEA) Representative Assembly (RA) this past April. This is what’s possible when teachers lead on racial justice!


Within our union, there are still racial inequities that need to be addressed. However, during the WEA Representative Assembly held from April 25th to 27th, the conversation began again as racial justice seemed to become the theme of the convention. Marquita Prinzing and Kaitlin Kamalei Jenkins from Seattle Education Association (SEA) tag teamed as lead organizers for Organizing for Racial Equity, a statewide movement that brought forth many racial equity policies at the WEA RA.

Organizing for Racial Equity started as an idea between a few educators at the SEA Mock RA meeting. However, the thought quickly grew into a statewide organizing effort. Many different locals were represented on the core team, including Seattle, Shoreline, Edmonds, Tacoma, and Mukilteo. The team drafted policy submissions, crafted floor plans, and wrote informative documents. The team also ensured that there was a concrete promotional plan, including networking, engaging with caucuses, creating a social media plan, and branding materials. By the start of RA, we garnered support from locals across the state.

With the hard work of the team and the support of the WEA community, we were able to pass all eight of the motions that our team presented. Our motions included:

  • Amendment #3: Adding a racial equity analysis question to policy submission forms
  • NBI #32: Calling for racial equity training and tools for the WEA Board
  • NBI #31: Supporting a Statewide Educators of Color Network
  • NBI #33: Creating an Ethnic Studies Taskforce
  • New Resolution #9: WEA supports Ethnic Studies
  • NBI #41: Supporting Black Lives Matter at Schools
  • NBI #78: Calling for more equitable race & ethnicity data
  • New Resolution #3: WEA acknowledges White Supremacy Culture

There were also many other racial equity motions passed by other members of SEA and other locals represented by Organizing for Racial Equity. Another huge win for racial equity was NBI (new business item) 40: in support of the i1000 Affirmative Action bill—a key step to legalize diversifying the teaching force, which was authored and supported by ORE members.

Thank you for all your support and thank you to all SEA members that were on our core team. We look forward to continuing the movement, especially with the National Education Association RA coming up soon. If you would like to join Organizing for Racial Equity, please join our Facebook group to stay updated: https://www.facebook.com/groups/OrganizingForRacialEquity/.

SB 5023

by Tracy Castro-Gill

The Washington State Legislature has sent SB 5023, “Concerning an ethnic studies curriculum for public school students,” to Governor Inslee to sign into law. This is great news for many of us who have been fighting for years to get curricula that is relevant for our students and challenges white supremacy.

We should not, however, think our job is done. The bill reads very much like liberal multiculturalism and does not mention anything about anti-racism or the critical analysis of the the power structures in our country and the world. You can read the report here. But what’s disconcerting is the following language:

Summary: Essential Academic Learning Requirements.By September 1, 2020, OSPI must adopt EALRs and grade-level expectations that identify the knowledge and skills that all public school students need to be global citizens in a global society with an appreciation for the contributions of diverse cultures. The EALRs and grade-level expectations must be periodically updated to incorporate best practices in ethnic studies.
Ethnic Studies Materials and Resources.By September 1, 2020, OSPI must identify and make available ethnic studies materials and resources for use in grades 7–12. The materials and resources must be designed to prepare students for global citizenship in a global society, with an appreciation for the contributions of multiple cultures.

School districts are encouraged to provide ethnic studies courses that “incorporate” whatever materials are created by an OSPI Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee. So while this feels really good, and may be a win on some levels, it has no teeth. There is no mandate to provide ethnic studies. In a state whose teaching force is 90% white (some of whom feel emboldened enough to write trash like this: Diversity education is divisive education) I am not satisfied.

Please follow our website to keep up to date with what you can do to join the fight for ethnic studies in Washington State. Check the Follow tab to learn about organizations in your district and region, many of whom need your support!