Breaking the Model Minority Myth

This month’s post comes from a student of Dr. Castro-Gill’s American Ethnic Studies course at the University of Washington. It is written by Sophia Mai.

By taking AES 340 – Race, Ethnicity, and Education, I have learned about how systems of oppression, especially racism and classism (which are intrinsically linked due to the historical and systemic oppression of Black Indigenous people of color) affects our education. Learning about many of these concepts challenged my thinking and made me reflect on and question many of my past experiences and presumptions. More specifically, learning about the importance of teaching critical race theory and the negative impacts of valuing schools and communities based on standardized testing has also made me think about how these issues are reflected in our society on a larger scale – not just in education. This class has taught me a lot about the world around me, but more specifically how to reflect critically on my own experiences as a person of color that has grown up in America and been taught, especially history, from a very Eurocentric point of view.

In history classes, I was taught about historical events in a way that praised the actions of White people and excluded the narratives of people of color. My first experience of learning about people of color was in my second-grade class the week of Thanksgiving. We sat obediently at our tiny wooden desks, the sounds of crayons and colored pencils scraping against the cornucopia coloring sheets droning in the background as our teacher told us about how the great Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas in 1492. She described him in a reverent way and made it seem like his actions were something to aspire to.

Asian Representation in American Schools

In our class of around twenty-seven students, there were only five Asian students, and in all the books, lessons, etc., I never once saw myself being represented in any way. Even outside of the classroom, kids would make jokes about Asian eyes or accents, but I always figured that it was supposed to be funny, so I laughed with them without realizing that they were laughing at me. During 3rd grade, I moved to an Asian-majority school. Despite this, I still rarely saw myself being represented in lessons. Growing up, I was never consciously aware of the impact it had on me back then, because the erasure of people of color was the only thing I had ever known in my education, and I assumed it was normal.

In class, I often felt disengaged from what we were learning about, because I could not relate to it and assumed that because of our lack of representation, people of color had not made significant enough contributions to this country to be mentioned or taught about. Through this class, I learned about how the experiences of people of color, specifically Asian Americans, affect the portrayal of them in history textbooks, and, therefore, why it is important for children to be taught critical race theory, which includes teaching history from marginalized perspectives.

When I read the article Disrupting Curriculum of Violence on Asian Americans by Sohyun An, I learned that this lack of representation was something nearly all Asian Americans experience if they are educated in the United States, and that this erasure makes students feel like they have no worth or value to their country, which is exactly how I felt when I was younger. In this article, An clearly explains many of the thoughts I have had about these topics, which was very impactful. For example, when she discusses how the “model minority” stereotype is detrimental to Asian Americans because it, “lumps diverse Asian Americans into a monolithic category and…dismisses the diversity and complexity of struggles within the Asian American community shaped by class, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and the like” (An 7). Through this article, I also learned about how the historical treatment of Asians in America, like the restriction of Asian immigration and naturalization and the exploitation of Asian labor for the Transcontinental Railroad, was connected to us being portrayed as perpetual “foreigners” or the “model minority” and how those stereotypes provided “justification” for us to be excluded from history textbooks. By reading this article, I was able to connect my knowledge of history about the treatment of Asian Americans to why we are portrayed the way we are now and better understand the importance of teaching children about the experiences of marginalized people, because, otherwise, they will feel the same isolation and disengagement I felt when I was younger.

Chinese immigrants provided much of the labor required to build the Transcontinental Railroad which was deadly work.

Through this class, I also learned about how the purposeful omission or downplay of contributions of people of color is used by those in power or those who benefit most from our society to maintain control and continue perpetuating systems of oppression. Before this class, I vaguely understood the concept that education was taught in a way to make marginalized people seem less important than the white, straight, cis, rich men that we frequently saw in textbooks, but did not fully grasp how education is used to continue the operation of oppressive systems. I learned that by keeping marginalized people out of history and other subjects, we are more likely to believe the narratives we are told from a Eurocentric perspective because we do not have other information telling us that those perspectives are not the whole truth, making it is easier to keep these systems of oppression in place, and thus the people in power will continue benefiting from them. Having grown up in a lower-income area with mostly white people and middle-class neighborhoods with significant Asian populations for most of my life, I never saw the struggles of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities, and by being ignorant, I was more susceptible to racist stereotypes and assumptions. This applies to other communities as well: without exposure to the struggles of others, we are less likely to question things such as the model minority stereotype, which lumps diverse Asian Americans into one category and ignores the struggles and experiences that result from intersecting identities. 

The Model Minority Myth has been perpetuated by various institutions, including mass media since the advent of racial categories.

After reading about this in An’s work, I reflected on my experiences and noticed that those who have a closer proximity to those at the top of our society, or people that benefit most from systems of oppression (white, cis, wealthy, Christian, able-bodied men) often succumb to these myths about race, class, etc. Because these people do not have intersecting marginalized identities, it is harder for them to understand the struggles of others, and are thus more likely to perpetuate these systems of oppression on other marginalized groups. Specifically in the Asian American community, I have noticed that because we are deemed more “intellectually competent” by White people and “allowed” to benefit from some systems of oppression, many will unknowingly buy into oppressive ideologies.

The theory of Racial Triangulation explains how the Model Minority Myth is used specifically to further oppress Black Americans.

Standardized Testing, Meritocracy, and the Model Minority

My parents and grandparents (and a significant portion of the Asian American community) believe that standardized testing is an equitable way to “measure intelligence” and evaluate students. Because of this, growing up, my parents placed significant value on education. Throughout middle and high school, I spent my Saturdays going to supplementary classes to improve my math and eventually standardized testing skills. Prior to taking this class, I felt that standardized tests were more objective than other measures because I did not know better and did not understand that test scores are used to sustain oppressive systems under the guise of “progress” and “equality” through presumptive objectivity. By using lower test scores to devalue students, lower-income schools with less resources will continue to have less resources than their wealthier counterparts because there is seemingly no reason to invest in those schools if they are performing “badly”, further exacerbating the issue of education inequality.

After reflecting back after reading those articles and the lessons in class, I realize that I was only able to do well on standardized tests because of the test prep classes I had taken, my parent’s ability to pay for those prep classes, and going to a very good public school that had a rigorous curriculum as well as mock exams. Because public schools are funded by property taxes, students in low-income communities will not have the same access to resources, teachers, etc. that wealthier areas do, and because of this, their test scores are lower. Meritocracy 2.0: High-Stakes, Standardized Testing as a Racial Project of Neoliberal Multiculturalism by Wayne Au explains that by legitimizing standardized testing, we create markets related to education, (ie. those prep classes I took) and identify low-scoring schools as “failures”, leading to their closure. By pushing a narrative of presumptive objectivity about standardized testing, people begin to believe in the idea of meritocracy, which asserts that everyone has equal chances of success, and ignore the struggles that marginalized people face in order to obtain that success.

Upon reading this article, I reflected on my community of middle-class Asian Americans and noticed that many believe that if someone works hard, they can be successful because that was the story of many Asian immigrants – my family included. However, because many Asian Americans were allowed to benefit from society in order to be placed on a pedestal in order to compare us to other people of color, we see this myth of meritocracy as truth because we have not faced the obstacles others have faced ourselves. By learning about these concepts in this class, I intend to deepen my understanding and further my knowledge by doing my own research on these topics to learn more. I also intend on listening more to BIPOC experiences, especially with people whose experiences differ from mine in order to learn from them. I also hope to take this information and teach my peers, family, and community members in order to spread awareness of many aspects of how our modern education system today is deeply rooted in systemic oppression (like standardized testing) and how implementing things like teaching critical race theory will allow students to have a more diverse and complete education.

Olympia, Washington’s 2023 Legislative Session Recap: 105 days of purgatory?

By the WAESN Legislative Committee

It’s a wrap! Or is it? After a 105 day session from January 9th to April 23rd, retiring Governor, Jay Inslee, called legislators back for a special session to pass legislation near and dear to our hearts: a wealth tax, free school lunches, special education funding, and ending isolation of minors. Just kidding. Jay Inslee called back legislators to pass bills criminalizing drugs… There is a lot to unpack from this legislative session, so in this blog we are going to recap the session, what passed, what failed, and where we go from here. 

With control over the legislative and executive branches, we are one of 17 states nationwide with what political nerds call “trifectas.” Yet Washington’s Democrats failed to pass most of the crumbs of progressive legislation that WAESN followed this session. With this being their first, back-in-person session post-pandemic, lawmakers said they could finally have “thoughtful conversations” in the halls of Congress; the product of these “thoughtful conversations” is evidence that maybe working from the office actually isn’t more productive. 

If you didn’t follow along this legislative session, who would blame you? To get more involved in upcoming legislative work, please complete this form and we will reach out with opportunities to join our work. You can have zero experience. We are all self-taught and happy to share our experience with new members! 

What Crumbs did our Democratic Overlords Bestow upon Us? And How did the Far-Right respond to these Democratic “wins”? 

TLDR: Free Lunches! More SPED funding! And Assault Riffle Bans! with a side of musings regarding the role of parents vs. the government in caring for our youth.****** 

*****Before we are called out for being ungrateful, idealistic, and entitled, let’s recognize what our state legislature “accomplished” this session. The most significant education bills that passed were Inslee’s “Free Lunches” bill (HB1238) and the increase of SPED spending bill (HB1436). While both bills passed, each was watered down greatly from their original drafts. With the passing of HB1238, if you are in grades K–5 by 2025, you will receive free lunches so long as your school has at least 30% low income. The original bill called for K–12 free lunches without the classic liberal means testing of 30% low income, a standard that simply doesn’t account for student need. As we move into the short session next year, we will advocate for a full K-12 free lunch and breakfast program, as it was a program of the Black Panthers

For HB1436, which will increase the spending limit on special education from 13.5% to 15% of the total education budget, will bring an extra $417 million to special education this biennium. Legislators originally requested in earlier drafts up to 19% of the district’s budget, yet many districts have needs that are much higher, closer to 25%. Senator Rolfes is calling this the greatest increase of spending on education since the McCleary ruling, but with impending lawsuits, it’s clearly not enough to meet our basic education needs. 

The popular “victories” of Democrats this session were controversial items that enraged the right perhaps more than CRT and ethnic studies. While not education, these issues are still central to one theme: our youth. Under the banner of “Protect our Children,” Democrats and Republicans both claim to have a policy that will “save our kids” from either guns, trans, the state, their parents, or the myriad of other threats to innocence in the 21st century, TikTok. The anti-CRT godfather, Christopher Rufo, theorized in his recent video that “the left” are not just Marxists, but “Synthetic Organizers” trying to wage an ideological war using “Trans Kids” as a “totem” for a “non-Normative future” of “trans Utopia.” ****These quotes are directly from the video. He’s not fully wrong here, as both sides are using the child as a marker of “innocence” that must be protected from some dangerous dark force. In this case, guns! and trans! are those specters. But these issues are not so black and white. 

The much celebrated ban on assault rifles, HB1240, makes Washington the tenth state to ban selling assault weapons, read more here. Of course, this regulation enraged many gun rights activists on the right, especially when viewed through the framework of taking away individual rights. To add fuel to the fire, the state also passed legislation that would, according to the right-wing, empower the state to “kidnap” youth from families who denied them gender-affirming care. Democratic advocates supporting SB5599 consider this “disinformation,” as they cite that, “Under current law, licensed shelters must notify parents if a child comes into their care, unless a compelling reason applies. This legislation allows licensed shelters to contact the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in lieu of parents in certain additional instances, like when a young person is seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care.” Right-wing protesters gathered at the capitol in Olympia on April 21st for a “Protect Our Children: Stand for Parents Rights” rally, but this didn’t stop SB5599 from passing. While this bill doesn’t criminalize parents, nor does it remove children from unsupportive homes, it presents a challenge to the value that parents have full rights over their children. This question is as old as education in America. How do we respect the interest of protecting one way of life, but not at the expense of others? Parents rights vs. State rights. Who is entitled to make decisions for minors? The question of who decides what we learn and how in education should be done by all, not the few of us, not with mono-cultural puritanism or multicultural neoliberalism, but with a collective and democratic approach focused on justice and a vision for the people we want to become. The words of Emma Goldman in 1916 seem relevant here: 

The two-legged animals called parents lack both. Hence, they make their children pay for the outrage perpetrated upon them by their parents–which only goes to prove that it takes centuries of enlightenment to undo the harm wrought by traditions and habits. According to these traditions, “innocence” has become synonymous with “ignorance”; ignorance is indeed considered the highest virtue, and represents the “triumph” of puritanism. But in reality, these traditions represent the crimes of puritanism, and have resulted in irreparable internal and external suffering to the child and youth. 

While we might not call parents “two-legged animals” like Emma Goldman, there is a more nuanced position to take when it comes to answering the two fundamental questions we are at war over: “What should we learn?” and “How do youth learn best?” The phrase, “it takes a village,” comes to mind. While waving the banners of “Protect our Children,” both Democrats and Republicans are failing to keep kids safe in our schools, not only from guns, but from the injustices of punitive practices, white supremacist curriculum, and the inequity of our education funding. Parents, education experts, community members, and youth should all be involved in determining how we answer these questions, but our legislature, as you will see in this next section, doesn’t know how to envision a process to mediate our current crisis in education. 

Because it takes a village, we invite you to attend our upcoming Legislative Recap, where we will discuss not only what happened this session, but also invite our community to begin envisioning the next steps in our legislative advocacy work. To join us, register here

Far Right-wing Legislation: a loud but unsuccessful campaign

WAESN began its focus this session following right-wing attacks on public education policy, namely Republican Representative from the 19th District, Jim McCune, and his Conservative Ladies of Washington backed “Parents’ Education Bill of Rights,” which we analyzed in a previous blog post. While only a greatly watered-down piece of the original legislation made it to a hearing (the first step after being read by the Education Committee), his bill SB5558 didn’t make it out of the Education Committee (the second step before being considered by the full House of Representatives). A small victory for teachers’ email boxes and mental health, as this bill would have put teachers under greater scrutiny from parents without a clear process of arbitrating and navigating curriculum/parent conflicts. We need a system of transparency and family involvement in our education system, but we do not need to rush to create a system of accountability that lays the onus on individuals, teachers or parents. If you are an educator or parent, fill out this survey to tell us more about your experience navigating curriculum conflicts.  

During our WAESN Organizing Assembly in late April, we unpacked what we learned from following right-wing organizing efforts in education. While their legislation failed overwhelmingly, their voices are loud, their organizing is well-funded, and their rhetoric shapes corporate Democratic thinking and policy. Washington’s chapter of Conservative Ladies of Washington, much like Moms for Liberty (recently named a hate group by SPLC), who organize nationally, are active in many different committees. Alongside the think tank-like groups, “Family Policy Institute” and “Washington Policy Center,” these groups make up the brains and brawn of right-wing organizing in Washington state. Nationwide, there are other groups like Moms of Liberty, that have a strong presence in many School Board races. From gun rights, trans issues, education, taxes, to drugs, these moms (and now dads, so inclusive!) are actively organizing a powerful group of ultra-conservative community members. Locally, they provide training, education, social events, wine hours, legislative reports, question and answers with legislators, Facebook groups and forums, and paid memberships with added benefits we can only dream of! Check out “Washingon Parents Rights in Education” facebook group for the best example of their active digital organizing platform. The efforts of right-wing groups is neither to be focused on, nor dismissed, as their organizing efforts have demonstrably created an environment in which Democratic legislators acquiesce to their far-right, Euro-centric positions. 

Democratic “Progressive” Legislation they couldn’t even pass:

There are a number of bills that we were in tepid support of that didn’t pass this legislative session. We testified, provided some education on our Instagram, and mobilized our community members to sign in pro to some of the following bills. We will keep some of these short, as we have varying degrees of involvement in each piece of legislation. 

SB5019: School Safety Staff

This bill would have closed a loophole that allowed for money meant to go towards counselors to go to cops. The Democrats love cops in schools and fail to ensure enough mental health services. 

SB5441: School District Curricula

This bill was developed by LYAC, a program that has been active since at least 2008, that serves as the official nonpartisan 14-17 year old youth advisory body to the state legislature. LYAC consulted with WAESN in the language of SB5441, and while we made suggestions, we also considered the bill to not go far enough to include community organizations, provide proper teacher training, and clear expectations and funding for the proposed new role of a “regional inclusive curricula coordinator.” Part of the bill was dealing with the question of what to do with two related issues: 1) formalizing a process to navigate parents’ complaints about curricula (from both sides) and 2) establishing an “inclusivity” framework through which to assess and screen curriculum content. In other words, this bill would have created a position to establish new standards, a mechanism to regulate classroom curriculum, and a system to maintain family communication. If that wasn’t enough, they would have to also develop an “open” resource database for pre-screened materials. The scope and breadth of this work is enormous, and the bill enshrines each district’s school board individual responsibility for this work. To measure the proficiency of each districts’ “inclusivity screening,” the districts must provide criteria, a rubric, and scores for superintendents, classified staff, certified staff, and all staff related to curriculum. This bill’s scope was too big for one new role district-wide, without a clear plan for family and community engagement. The bill also mentions that these new “inclusivity” standards would align with “best practices” of ethnic studies according to OSPI, but OSPI has all but shut down their ethnic studies work and the legislature has all but shut us down. We would love nothing more than a process to formalize this work, and we will be working in the legislative committee to develop a revised policy proposal on this important issue in the coming months. 

HB1377: Continuing Education K–12

This related bill tried to amend an issue of previous legislation (HB1426) of Education Chair Rep. Tomiko Santos’ to limit who could be considered a clock hour provider. The bill would give the Professional Educators Standards Board (PESB) the responsibility for establishing standards for who is a certified clock hour provider in order to fix the exclusionary policy. You might ask, why is it a problem to leave this discretion to the very board that is responsible for establishing these standards, but our experience at WAESN can speak to the volatility of OSPI, who currently manages clock hour providers. WAESN was removed, without notice, process, or communication from OSPI’s ethnic studies professional development providers list after a complaint that our organization is “too political.” This brings up the questions: what is allowed by our professional standards board? What is considered political? What do we do with complaints from families and communities? 

In this video our Legislative Committee testified: 1377 Testimony

We see a lot of hope in developing legislation around regulating clock hour providers. We have a lot of ideas to include community partners, families, and youth in the important work of collectively determining the fundamental questions of, “What is worth knowing?” and, “How do our youth learn best?” 

HB1479: Student Restraint and Isolation

We didn’t work closely on this bill, but many did. There was a lot of community organizing and support for this bill including the ACLU, TeamChild, OSPI’s Crisis Response Workgroup, PTAS, disability activists, youth activists, and other organizations. Testimonies were incredibly emotional during the session and are worth watching to understand the horrific practices at our schools. To learn more about this legislation, check out this Cross Cut article, TeamChild’s Call to Action, and League of Education Voter’s video discussion. We look forward to partnering with community partners on future legislation, so reach out to us! 

HB1432: Juvenile Justice

Organizers from Stand for Children Washington (SCW) and the Center for Children and Youth Justice (CCYJ) led advocacy for this important legislation, which would simply reduce the imposition of a cycle of poverty and debt for youth who are trying to reintegrate after incarceration. Like HB1479, this isn’t our main focus at WAESN, but we are excited to partner with these organizations to mobilize stronger action in the upcoming session for updated versions of these bills. For more information, check out CCYJ

HB5616: Nothing About Us Without Us

This bill would have enshrined that all special committees created by legislation relating to identity-specific issues must include representatives of that population. It was called: “Nothing About Us Without Us,” a Latin classic slogan of democracy: Nihil de nobis, sine nobis. This bill, no surprise, did not pass, despite already being a de facto practice in many existing committees and boards, such as PESB. This legislation would not have gone far enough to ensure that identity representation leads to ideological representation. As Obama showed us, skin folk are not always kinfolk. Representation is step one, redistribution must come alongside it. Speaking of redistribution…

HB5486: Wealth and Property Tax

A tiny 1% tax on wealth (not income) of Washingtonians greater than $250 million, which would impact somewhere between 300-700 Washingtonians failed. One woman testified she was sick and tired of seeing palms out. The delusion that this tax would ever impact those who testified was terrifying. Here is our Legislative Committee testifying on the bill: HB5486 Testimony

SB 5486 had a companion bill in the house, HB 1473, a technique to increase the likelihood of legislation passing both houses. Republicans and corporate Democrats used the rhetoric of “capital flight” over and over again, suggesting that this legislation would lead to mega-job creators to flee the state to evade taxes. We call that tax evasion, but it’s a free country. In order to combat tax evasion, over 8 states were running legislation to implement a wealth tax. These states represent 60% of the US’s wealth and are Democratically controlled. This is important to consider when business interests and liberal Democrats fearmonger that billionaires will leave Washington state if we pass this legislation. It seems like  “billionaire flight,” the elite form of “white flight” is a large concern of Democrats, despite their repeated virtue signaling to tax the rich.

SB5486 would have provided $3 billion in new revenue, one third of which would have gone to the general education trust. $1 billion dollars is a 3% increase in yearly state funds for our education budget. That is not enough in the first place, but this bill didn’t even pass. We will be pushing more wealth taxes connected to education spending, as this state faces increased pressure from pending lawsuits that echo the troubles of the McCleary era underfunding.  

In late May, it was reported that the recent Washington State Supreme Court approved capital gains tax brought in $849 million in revenue. Progressive “experts” predicted it only to bring in $248 million. This shows billionaires and ultra-millionaires are worth more than we expected, hoarding billions of exorbitant profit. While businesses and “soon-to-have” American dreamers might protest this tax as wage theft, it feels more like a very minor victory of economic justice, of redistribution. 

Next Steps: Join us for our Legislative Recap on June 9th

We did a lot of losing this session, but we also did a lot of learning. We know where these bills died, we know who chairs these committees, so we can begin the work of identifying chair members and articulating our policy positions. But in order to do that, we need you! 

Next month, WAESN’s legislative team will be hosting a Legislative Recap, where we invite our community members to come and discuss our ideas for not only coming up with policy, but strategies for pushing this legislation next session. 

If you read this far, don’t be afraid to sign up, watch, listen, ask questions, or share your voice.

Join us, July 9, 2023, 11am – 1pm on Zoom. REGISTER HERE.


Vulnerable Circumstances; giving grace to teachers tackling racism

A new-to-the-profession education, Jessica Dunker, taught a lesson on racial slurs to her English language learners. She was caught in the conservative crosshairs because of a still shot of the lesson that went viral.

Yes, we need to continue to teach about racism even when we make mistakes, and yes, we are going to make them – even educators of color.

The following was written by Jessica in response to the hateful media attacks against her by right-wing domestic terrorists. It is a call to those of us who want racial justice in our schools. We must show up to support young educators of color who are being vulnerable and doing the work we claim we want. It’s a call to those who may judge too quickly and harshly based on snap shots and conservative mischaracterizations.

We will make mistakes, and we must give grace.

This statement letter is in response to the recent incident that took place at Marysville Middle School on Tuesday, October 25 and Wednesday, October 26, 2022, involving pictures of our class that were spread through a student via Snapchat.

Many have seen this photo, and others have likewise shared the photo. In the photo, I am pictured with the white board reading two words: one racial slur and one racially charged word that has been reclaimed by the Black community. These two words were used as an example during our class conference on anti-racist education and anti-rascist practices we can implement as students and individuals.

I compared these two words on the board to avoid saying them aloud, and I apologize for the harm and damage these photos have caused upon sight regarding racial equity and racial justice. I made a mistake in writing them down, and in hindsight, I realize I took a chance with our intermediate multilingual learner students in their social and emotional understanding of topics concerning race.

I chose to have a week-long conference on anti-racism with my multilingual learners, because in our first week of school, several Latino students told me they felt some teachers at Marysville Middle singled them out because of the color of their skin. As upsetting as this news was, I held onto it. I sat in the uncomfortability of hearing these words from a 13-year-old boy. I asked who felt the same way, and I held on to the feeling of seeing the faces of my students who raised their hands.

My first thoughts then were to address the racism felt by our students, and I did. I spoke privately with our principal, Mary Ingraham, about the worrisome reports of racism coming from our students of color. Mary and I agreed that we needed to take action, and soon, but in order to have these hard, meaningful conversations, our school community needed the time to build the trust and rapport needed in a secure learning environment.

Talking about anti-racism practices in school is a necessity, not only for the equity of our students of color, but for the equity of our students who are being bullied in the halls with this hate language. I have 6th graders who have expressed their discomfort at hearing older students use this hate language with each other, some of them saying they were targeted by other students with this language. Other students have felt encouraged by the use of this language, so I have heard 6th graders using this hate language too.

Meaning, Latino students are calling other Latino students racial slurs, slur words that have not been reclaimed. Black people are calling other Black people racial slurs, words that have not been reclaimed. I have heard racist slurs and hate language from Latino students targeted at Middle Eastern students. I have heard Latino students mocking Indian accents. This is unacceptable behavior from our students.

These offensive words are coming directly from our middle schoolers, aged 11-15 years old, despite the backlash students receive from teachers and their peers when this hate language is used in school. Still, the hate language persists.

In an effort to address this rising concern in our school’s student population, I chose to take a step back from my regularly scheduled content and focus on the psychological security and well-being of our intermediate, multilingual learners in a week-long conference.

In our discussion on Tuesday, I underlined the importance of understanding the history of hateful language and slurs used against minority communities. We discussed how word reclamation has been normalized in our society, but misappropriated by our students. We discussed the impact of using hateful language against one another and how these words should never be used, especially not from one student of color to another.

Word reclamation is not a new phenomenon. Word reclamation is a process whereby a minority community repurposes a slur word historically used by the majority to degrade and dehumanize the minority people. The most prominent word that has been reclaimed today is the “n” word, which is used by the Black community in casual, contextual conversations in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).

The act of word reclamation is to distinguish the differences in connotation between the historic use of the racial slur. In this case, I was noting the extreme difference between the “n” word ending with “-er,” and the reclaimed word, ending in “-a.” In order for word reclamation to have an impact, the word being reclaimed requires a society to acknowledge and understand the history of the word – its former connotation and its current connotation – for the minority community.

I posted the summary of our class conference in my meeting notes, which is posted on my Google Classroom for families and students in that class to access and review on their own.

While this incident has certainly challenged me both personally and professionally, I remain committed to the cause of promoting equity in our schools. I remain steadfast in this belief, because as a person of color, I have been directly affected by racism and the inequities of the American education system, and I have far more privilege than many of my students do.

I believe it is my job to ensure our students have an equitable chance at success, and that begins with their self-esteem at such a young, impressionable age, many in vulnerable circumstances.
I know anti-racist education has stirred up controversy in the news nationwide, and I believe America is at a turning point. If we, as educators, do not discuss the realities of all our students, then we are choosing to ignore the systemic issues that our students often carry by themselves. We, as educators, need to rise to the challenge of anti-racist education in order to address the inequities in our schools and communities. Leadership begins here.

Defend Bruce: Sign the Petition

written by members of the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators (SCORE)

*Signing the petition sends an email in your name to Seattle Public Schools administrators and board directors. You can read the message by clicking on “Read the Petition” in the box below.

Defend Bruce

Seattle Public Schools,

Bruce Jackson, a 17-year veteran at Aki Kurose Middle School, was unjustly fired by Seattle Public Schools on Thursday, February 9th. Bruce has had a significant impact on the special education program and hundreds of students. He was recently fired from his position because of lies, incompetence, and malpractice of an independent contractor, Behavioral Institute. I join the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators and Washington Ethnic Studies Now in demanding Bruce be reinstated in his position at Aki Kurose Middle School. Additionally, I demand that SPS hold the non-public and unregulated agency, Behavioral Institute, accountable for their failures.

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57 signatures

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During Black Lives Matter at School week on February 9, 2023, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) unjustly fired a Black educator, Bruce Jackson. Bruce and his allies are building a campaign to get his job back.

Donate to Bruce’s Support Fund Here

       Bruce Jackson is a long time educator and activist with 38 years of experience working with young people and people with disabilities. He has spent the last 17 of those years working at Aki Kurose Middle School, where he helped create a successful distinct program for students with high levels of physical and behavioral needs. In those 17 years, Bruce received no complaints and has been held in high regard by his colleagues and supervisors. As part of the Aki’s wonderful community-based skills development program that Bruce helped create and maintain, he would take his students to different community spots throughout the week to build up practical social skills. They established a routine; Mondays was a visit to the public library, Tuesdays was swimming at the community pool, Wednesdays and Thursdays were all about cooking delicious meals, and Fridays was a trip to the Dollar Store. Bruce did all of this to give those students a foundation of skills that would help them grow up to live more independent lives. This is what makes Seattle Public School’s (SPS) accusations against him, that have currently led to his removal from the program he helped to build, so shocking to those who know Bruce and have spent years working with him.

       At the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, Aki Kurose’s distinct program was hurting. Staff turnover and unfilled positions have kept the program from being able to function like it has in the past. SPS responded by bringing in a private company Behavioral Institute to “support” the high behavioral needs of one student. For much of the first three months of school, one or two Behavioral Institute employees isolated the student in the room for six hours a day. Bruce knew this was not in the best interest of the student, so he voiced his concerns. In response, a SPS supervisor pushed to have him take over supporting that student. Bruce was reluctant, knowing that the three months of isolation had created even more behavior issues he would need to address, but eventually was pushed into the role. 

       Not long after stepping in, Bruce had a complaint filed against him by Marcus Woods, a supervisor from the Behavioral Institute, which led to his firing. Woods alleged that Bruce was unnecessarily physical and repeatedly swore at the student. Two other witnesses are on the record saying Bruce did not swear or use unnecessary physical force against the student. However, neither of their eyewitness accounts were included in SPS’s case against Bruce. Bruce ensured that all students in the class remained safe and would support students to become calm by using strategies, such as deep breathing, engaging in other tasks, or finding other outlets for their aggression. The accusations against him from Woods, sounds much more like Bruce is a scary Black man who is trying to hurt children. 

       Bruce has now been fired from the program by SPS. In addition to Bruce being a remarkable educator who has spent his life supporting young people with disabilities, he is also a tremendous activist. He was a core part of the original movement to build Black Lives Matter at School, has been instrumental in the fight for ethnic studies, helped with implementation of the Racial Equity Teams throughout Seattle Public Schools, and has consistently spoken out against SPS when they have tried to roll all of these efforts back. So in firing Bruce, the District not only gets to pin the blame on him for a program they grossly mismanaged, but they also can get rid of someone who has aggressively pushed against the status quo, something the SPS has done many times in the past.

Click here for more information on this story and ways to support Bruce.

Defend Bruce

Seattle Public Schools,

Bruce Jackson, a 17-year veteran at Aki Kurose Middle School, was unjustly fired by Seattle Public Schools on Thursday, February 9th. Bruce has had a significant impact on the special education program and hundreds of students. He was recently fired from his position because of lies, incompetence, and malpractice of an independent contractor, Behavioral Institute. I join the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators and Washington Ethnic Studies Now in demanding Bruce be reinstated in his position at Aki Kurose Middle School. Additionally, I demand that SPS hold the non-public and unregulated agency, Behavioral Institute, accountable for their failures.

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What Have Dems Done for Us Lately?

by the WAESN Legislative Committee

This post is a companion piece to our WAESUP WAESN?? episode, Bursting the Blue Bubble.

Addressing the Equity Gap in Washington State’s Education Equity Work 

What Gaps?

As recent studies have shown, Washington faces a harsh equity and achievement gap. According to figure one from EdTrust’s 2020 report, students of color and low income students graduate at lower rates than average. The data go on and on. 

(EdTrust Report Figure 1)

The achievement gap and equity gap is best illustrated in the chart below that shows the relationship between SBAC testing (Y axis), school spending (X axis), and percent of students who are low income (color of circle). The numbers show us that students with higher-income houses (green circles) are significantly more successful than schools with higher percentages of low income students (red circles). With no changes being made to how our schools are funded, there is little chance of the inequities here going away. 

There are many approaches to addressing various inequities, including a push for more culturally relevant curriculum, teacher professional development and teacher education, recruiting and retaining more educators of color, and addressing the inequity of the school funding code. We need to not only diversify our teacher workforce, but undergo transformative change by investing in building capacity and leadership from communities that have been excluded. 

What Has the EOGOAC Done for Us Lately?

Since its foundation after the McCleary ruling in 2008, the EOGOAC has been empowered as the official government body that makes recommendations to OSPI on the best ways to address the inequities and bias in our education system 28A.300.136 (EOGOAG) . As we have reported in our blog, the EOGOAC has had fifteen years to pursue multiple strategies to address these inequities, but the incrementalism and exclusion of community has limited any progress. The chair of the House’s Education Committee, Tomiko Santos insists of “reaching across the isle” in order to make changes in education. Not since the McCleary decision, where our state legislature was forced to increase education spending by the Washington Supreme Court, did we significantly increase spending on education. If our lawmakers are left to their own devices, we will continue to see incrementalist changes made to our school funding formulas.  

Instead, we have the EOGOAC and OSPI saying a lot of the right words, but not doing enough. 

OSPI report card data on 9th graders on track to graduate by race 2021-2022 school year

OSPI report card data on graduation rates by race 2021-2022 school year

OSPI report card data on discipline by race 2021-2022 school year

OSPI report card data on classroom teachers by race 2021-2022 school year

To understand the dissonance in speech and action, we take our first inquiry into the latest EOGOAC report from January 2022, which provided their recommendations and summary of the laws passed in the last sessions. 

In their report, they summarize SB5044, a bill we reported on in WAESN blog:

The EOGOAC, who worked on this bill, voiced the need for training once per term, the need for representatives of color, the need to be informed by communities’ of color needs, and representatives accessible to families and communities. These are important measures to uphold. In 2022, we must recognize that representation matters, and yet representation is nothing without redistribution and restructuring of access to power and decision making. 

We have tried to work with the EOGOAC members and partner on pushing racial justice legislation forward, however, we have been consistently deemed to “radical” for doing the very things the EOGOAC claims to support, including holding our representatives accountable.  Here’s a list of what they claim to prioritize followed by our actual experience trying to work with them.

What they say they want:

1A) recruiting more diverse members 

1B) building more interdepartmental and community relationships

1C) providing a support system to build relations amongst current board members of color and potential board members of color. 

What their actions really say:

1A) We have been making calls for more diverse members of the EOGOAC beyond the designated official representatives, such as community members, families, and students with little to no response from EOGOAC members.

1B) The model of ethnic studies we advocate for is interdisciplinary, while OSPI is seeing it as a stand alone alternative housed in their social studies work. We’ve asked the EOGOAC to open up membership to non-profit leaders and other community members of color, but they blatantly ignored our request.

1C) When asked why there isn’t more diverse representation on the EOGOAC (most members who actually show up are Asian or Latinx), we are given a lecture on all the wonderful things the EOGOAC did 15 years ago.

Recommendations 1D and 1E are also good on paper, but in practice we are excluded: 

While in their recommendations they include collaborating with organizations like WAESN as a list of priorities, in our email exchanges, our meetings, and in our legislator’s votes, we have been discounted, and deemed too radical to have the continued inequities facing our children addressed. In fact, our critiques of the EOGOAC and its members, most notably Representative Tomiko Santos, was used by OSPI to determine WAESN is a “political organization,” legitimizing the decision to remove WAESN from the list of professional development providers OSPI created for ethnic studies. Take a moment to reflect on that. The EOGOAC is a political organization making decisions for students in Washington State, but community-based organizations that criticize them are “too political” and penalized.

Shifting Voice to the People

In Washington State, we continue to face devastating consequences of the achievement gap and equity gap for our students of color and low income students. As advocates for ethnic studies, we see our role as one part of building capacity and the foundation for addressing this harmful structural inequity. The system is, however, designed this way and players in the system continue to deny the statistics, academic research, popular opinion, and the experiences of students in our rapidly privatized and defunded school systems. At WAESN, our work advocacy work begins by being the watchmen to the watchmen. In other words, we try to hold OSPI, the EOGOAC, SBE, and PESB accountable to the communities they serve, the students and families we work with as educators.

One necessary step to reducing the equity gap and achievement gap is for educators to be properly supported and trained to provide students with a learning environment that is culturally restorative and builds critical consciousness with our students. As such, one of the main resources we provide at WAESN is professional development for educators on how to be a critical educator of decolonized ethnic studies. After years of organizing, we are in the final stages of developing an ethnic studies endorsement in Washington State using our PD model. However, since Superintendent Reykdal removed the list of ethnic studies PD providers from the state ethnic studies framework, we have seen providers from predominantly white institutions (PWI) awarded contracts to lead ethnic studies PD in our local districts. We are calling on OSPI to provide clear guidance for the resources they provide and prioritize organizations led by people of color working in local communities. The exclusion of POC-led organizations in equity work is harming our ability to serve our students, teachers, and families. 

These official government bodies developed for making toothless recommendations are a hackneyed gesture to quell the good minded liberal who is sure a “task force will take care of it.” The EOGOAC was constructed by the government to hear from “the unheard,” yet they just use a private back channel to exclude us. How has anything changed? 

Calling In and Calling For

After reviewing the EOGOAC 2022 January Report, we have our own recommendations that follow from the equity and accessibility gaps the EOGOAC has created because of their exclusionary practices. 

Section 4 of 28A.300.136, the composition of the EOGOAC, would be amended to include 1-2 POC members of community organizations working in ethnic studies and/or education equity. 

28A.300.136 would also need to be amended to include more specific requirements for the types of resources and support provided for parents and community. As previously mentioned, this should include a list of PD providers that are POC majority led when it comes to DEI and ethnic studies work. 

We call on Representative Tomiko Santos to stop insisting on trying to find common ground with conservative members of the legislature who support the rise in domestic terrorism against Black and Brown Americans, trans and queer folk, and im/migrants of color. Until these conservative members of the legislature demonstrate they oppose the actions of their fellow party members, we must work over and around them to achieve what these conservative members fight the hardest to prevent – racial and economic justice.

Learn to Say Her Name

by Anya Souza-Ponce

Anya is the recipient of our Youth Scholarship Essay Contest for the 11th and 12th grade. She is a junior at Ballard High School in Seattle and a member of the NAACP Youth Council.

Her essay below is in response to the prompt created by the WAESN Youth Advisory Board (YAB): Tell us about a time you broke the rules and why. Anya’s essay was selected by a vote of the WAESN YAB.

The first time a teacher correctly pronounced my name on the first try, I was fifteen.

Typically, substitutes and new teachers would just use my first name, which was familiar to them, while calling my white peers by their full names. They would laugh at their poor pronunciation as if it were something “cute,” treating my name – my identity – as a joke.

In my freshman year attending Ballard High School, my Language Arts teacher was a white man. He considered himself a social ally because he “has native friends,” and they “love him,” and “aren’t bitter.” He would dismiss the vastly unequal effects of racial violence on different characters in a reading, equating the racialized experience of a Black protagonist to that of a white one. Two weeks before the 2021 presidential inauguration, he decided it was too hard to learn to pronounce Kamala Harris’ name.

Kamala Harris. She had just been elected the first female Vice Presid