I Am Not a Rule Breaker

By Emily Vo

Emily is the recipient of our Youth Scholarship Essay Contest for the 9th and 10th grade. They are a sophomore at Cleveland STEM High School in Seattle.

Their 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. Emily’s essay was selected by a vote of the WAESN YAB.

I am not a rule breaker. Goody two-shoes, teacher’s pet, coward. Whatever you could think of, it all described me. I never speak out of line, I complete everything on time, and I follow all directions given to me. I remember the last day of 5th grade. I sat there, asking my teacher who his favorite student was. Everyone knew who he would answer; me. It was obvious. I am not a rule breaker, but I have broken one of the biggest rules, one fed to me since I was born. I broke the rule of being a girl.

Being a girl is a series of unspoken guidelines. They guide you on how to act, how to talk, how to dress. Girls are pink. Girls are feminine. Girls wear dresses and skirts and paint their nails all day. This is not an essay on how I don’t follow those stereotypes, on how I am a girl who loves “boy things.” I follow those rules. My favorite color is pink, I only wear mini skirts, and one of my biggest hobbies is beauty. The issue is that I follow them when I’m not even a girl at all. I didn’t break the rules of being a girl, I broke the rule of being a girl.

The rules of being a girl have become more lenient. You can like blue, you can play sports, you can dress masculine. You can do all that and most wouldn’t bat an eye because you are still a girl. Even though you don’t fill out the checklist, you still follow the very title of it: Being a girl. I have flipped it. I have all the boxes checked out, and yet, I scribbled the title, and now nobody knows what label I belong in.

There is not just one singular time I have done this. I break the rule by existing. With every breath I take I have to justify my identity like a child caught doing something they were told not to. With every introduction, I am reminded that the rules say to use she/her and strictly she/her, not all the pronouns. That wasn’t allowed. With every skirt I put on, I am reminded that I will always look like a girl in a stranger’s mind. I will always be a girl to them. 

But with every breath, with every justification, I can see it making sense in their minds. I can see myself starting to open the blinds in their eyes to allow people a new light in. With every introduction, I can see others realize that you are allowed to be more than what you are given. I can see people relax, knowing they are not the only ones that have broken the rules. I have too. With every skirt I put on I can see how the line between femininity and being a girl gets blurred more and more until people wearing skirts aren’t just girls and girls aren’t just people who wear skirts. 

I am not a rule breaker. I continue following the directions that are given to me. I continue to stay in line. I continue being everything I was before. But I live with knowing that I am constantly fighting against a world divided into two as a third competitor that both are against. I live with knowing that there is a rule out there that I am chipping away at with a little hammer. And one day, someday, it will break.

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 President – and the first VP of color – of the United States. Regardless of one’s politics, she was undoubtedly breaking glass ceilings both for people of color and for women, taking a step toward representation that was completely unprecedented in this country. And yet, this teacher didn’t think she was important enough to learn to say her name. 

There is academic literature available describing the negative effects on children when their non-white names aren’t pronounced correctly in school; when they are given nicknames for the sake of the teacher or their peers; when they are asked to leave their identity at the door, leaving their rich histories behind them; asked to appear smaller and incomplete for the comfort of others. I corrected the teacher every time he mispronounced her name. He dug in his heels. He insisted he’s “just not used to it yet,” and that it was “just a difficult name” for him to remember, echoing what students of color hear on a daily basis.

At the end of the semester, he assigned a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning short essay (CER) as a final project based on our semester’s readings. I decided this class needed more than an analysis on a short-story. Instead, I wrote my CER on the importance and sanctity of names, and the racism and xenophobia underlying the disrespect of names. I cited academic sources and explained the pervasive impacts this has on students of color. I focused on why refusing to learn Kamala Harris’ name is blatantly racist. I said it tells students of color that when our names – our IDENTITIES – are not important enough to learn, we are robbed of the most basic and crucial of dignities: that of our own names. 

After I submitted my paper, the teacher was upset. He scolded me for writing it as my final project, even though he had failed to listen when I had approached him in other ways previously. He wrote me a letter saying this was not the way to protest a racial injustice, that “an academic exercise” is not “the best place for that.” Never mind that I reminded him I had brought it up multiple times in person and in the class chat. Multiple times. 

But if the teacher hadn’t offered a place within his rules in which to bring up our concerns, then I had to create a place of my own, outside of his rules.

Standing up to this teacher helped make me more confident speaking up in class. Although I’d previously expressed when I felt uncomfortable with lesson plans, I wanted to continue my advocacy efforts and make real change – part of which led me to work for the NAACP Youth Council, an amazing organization benefiting Washington’s youth of color. I have learned so much working for them and with other students, and have learned to leverage my privilege to support other marginalized voices and ensure all our experiences are heard. 

Not only have I felt more comfortable, last spring of 2022, I collaborated with a group of other students of color from Ballard to write a two-part protocol to present in all-staff professional development training. The protocol focuses specifically on the importance of naming, and quotes numerous published authors and our own lived experiences. Through this protocol, we hope to reduce harm caused by teachers disrespecting our identities and names. We wrote this so that other kids of color don’t have to wait 15 years for someone to pronounce their name with respect. As Uzoamaka Aduba says, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” Even beyond that, if white people can learn to say a fictional name like Danaerys Targaryen, pronouncing our names should not foster as much stress and disrespect as it does. We hope that our protocol contributes even a little bit to other teachers making their “rules” more approachable in their classrooms for students of color, so that they don’t *have to* be broken.

Hidden Curriculum in Earth Science

This month’s blog post comes to us from teaching candidate, Renee Torrie. Renee learned about different types of hidden curriculum in their Master’s in Teaching program at the University of Washington and reflected on how previously lessons they’d written contained hidden curriculum.

Explicit curriculum is the message we intentionally want to convey to students in a lesson. Hidden curriculum is what the students are taught regardless of our intent. Renee reflects on their learning and applies it to a lesson on the Arkansas River. To quote Renee, “There is no such thing as objectivity,” not even in science.

I’m fascinated by the concept of hidden curriculum. This whole concept articulates something that I’ve long had a feeling for, but never words for: the fact that we are never hearing the whole story. The idea that every single lesson we learn or teach will have biases and hidden curriculum. There is no such thing as objectivity – the teacher or curriculum designer always leaves their bias in the curriculum they teach.

When I learned about control, implicit, and null curriculum, I felt excited and validated to take this concept forward and use it to critically think about lesson plans. I also felt frustrated as we dug into harmful social studies curriculum from various sources such as Teachers Pay Teachers. The hidden curriculum in those lessons was nasty – and I knew that before even seeing them – but confronting them gave me shivers and a renewed sense of purpose for the future. 

Types of Hidden Curriculum:

Control Curriculum – curriculum, policies, and practices intended to control the bodies and behaviors of students

Implicit Curriculum – Curriculum that implies a norm or makes uncritical assumptions

Null Curriculum – Curriculum that omits various groups and their stories

I have to be able to analyze my own hidden curriculum to gain self-awareness around the positions I bring to the classroom. I want this to become a practice that I start now and continue throughout the year and into the future. In this journal entry, I’m going to analyze the hidden curriculum of an old lesson plan I made years ago when I was an apprentice in a high school science classroom. I was just a baby teacher, beginning to learn how to teach. The lesson plan is attached to this document – it is Part 2 of a Lab about the Arkansas River; the high school I was teaching at was located at the headwaters of the Arkansas in Leadville, CO.

In this lab, Part 1 included heading to the river to measure physical properties, stand in the river, and build some relational context with the river. Part 2 which is attached here was a guided Google Maps journey down the entire river. 

Here’s what I found.

Explicit, non-hidden curriculum: 

  • Rivers are varied and their properties change as we move downstream.
  • Humans have interacted with and heavily influenced the course of the Arkansas River. 

Implicit Curriculum: Who is centered? The curriculum that is implicated in the lesson?

  • This Lab is a large, quick, sweeping overview of a complex thing 
  • It implies that geomorphology can stand alone and need not be interdisciplinary
  • It centers features such as meanders, evidence of changing river bed, and human damming or diversion 
  • Farming is centered in a number of questions such as #6 and 16 

Null: Which stories are left out of the lesson? 

  • Indigenous stories of past and present. There is so much potential here for understanding Indigenous relationships with the Arkansas River – I found out about the Upper Arkansas Indian Agency and the Lasley Vore Site after only brief research. The Arkansas River has supported life since time immemorial. 
  • Stories of the people living in relationship to the river. I could have included questioning into: How does the Arkansas support life around it? How have humans used the river in the past and present? What are the stories of the farmers along the river today? How accessible are the recreation sites along the river? 
  • There are more than human beings along the river. I wonder: How do more than humans interact with the Arkansas River? Is the river key to any migrations? What is being done to allow humans and more than humans to coexist in this river? What’s going on with the Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi? 

Control Curriculum: 

  • This is a very guided Lab. # 3 even says, “Name 3 places…” What are other ways students can exhibit their engagement with understanding the dynamic ways of the river? 

In reflection now, I see that my Lab enforced the colonial mindset of seeing a complicated ecosystem as quickly understandable, and information gathering about a natural phenomenon as extractive and surface level! I specifically regret leaving out Indigenous and more than human perspectives. I certainly upheld an anthropocentric view of nature through this Lab. This was a really valuable exercise for me to go though, and I am excited to do this more in the future. This Lab had a lot of untapped potential for desettling and interdisciplinary exploration.

I’m so grateful for how much I’ve grown and learned since I wrote it.



Lab Overview: You will measure river properties at the headwaters of the Arkansas River near HMI. Back in the classroom you will use Google Maps satellite view to trace and investigate the Arkansas from its headwaters to its mouth. Turn in Part 2 when finished. 

PART 2: Arkansas River Scavenger Hunt headwaters to mouth 

QUESTION: How does the character of the Arkansas change as we travel downstream? What natural and human-made features does the Arkansas create/pass on its passage to the Gulf of Mexico? 


Scavenger Hunt! Open up Google Maps in Satellite View. Locate HMI. Find the Arkansas River, and follow it all the way to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico using this guide. This will be graded for accurate completion and effort. Please read the whole assignment before starting your hunt. 


  • Switching into Map View briefly can help you identify towns and state lines.
  • Travel relatively zoomed in, but zoom out periodically to orient yourself.
  • Keep track of general trends and features as you go (see questions 1 – 3).
  • Questions 4 – 17 will guide you down the Arkansas. 

1. General observations as you go about the Arkansas’ progression across the US? 

2. Screenshot and submit (on post on Google Classroom) an example of: a. Meander scars around the Arkansas. 

b. Sandy point bars in the Arkansas. 

c. A major tributary emptying into the Arkansas. 

d. BONUS: An oxbow lake around the Arkansas. 

e. BONUS: A location where water from the Arkansas appears to be diverted away for agriculture/manufacturing/mining/other. 

3. Name 3 places the Arkansas is dammed (provide reservoir name or city/state):

4. How does the landscape change as the river flows into Canon City, CO? 

5. You just passed Pueblo, CO! Test how far you can zoom out and still see the Arkansas course. 

6. Zoom out at Garden City, KS. What do you notice about the surrounding area? What are these circles? 

7. You’re in Hutchinson, KS. According to Google Earth, the slope of the river here is -1.2% and river width is 108 feet. We are 582 miles downstream of Leadville, the Arkansas is 1469 miles total. Make an educated guess of the discharge here based on our Leadville site lab (in ft3/s). 

8. After the Kaw Lake Reservoir in Law City, OK, zoom out and observe the next couple of meanders. What kind of river have we here? 

9. Drop in on StreetView on a bridge in Tulsa, OK. Dang, that’s a _______________ river! 

10. Zoom out just south of Little Rock, AR. Can I get a MEANDERING RIVERS! Also, we are about to hit the border between AR and MI. What is about to Go Down For Real? 

11. ROUND OF APPLAUSE WHEN YOU FLOW INTO THE MISSISSIPPI!!!! Keep following the Mississippi. 

12. What state borders does the Mississippi River constitute? 

13. In the areas just north and south of Baton Rouge, what strictly borders the river?

14. You’re near Baton Rouge, LA. Test how far you can zoom out and still see the Mississippi’s course. 

15. You’re in New Orleans! What’s in the river? 

16. What struggles might you encounter as a farmer in Boothville, LA?

17. A few observations about the Mississippi River Delta? 

STARTED FROM LEADVILLE NOW WE HERE!! #1469mileslater #wetouchedthatwater 

CONCLUSION: Thinking about both the headwaters site you visited and your Google Maps journey, hypothesize the answer to: 

How do these river properties change as a river travels downstream? 

  • Discharge 
  • Depth 
  • Width 
  • Slope 
  • Velocity 
  • Sediment load volume 
  • Bed particle size 
  • Sinuosity

Who is Trying to Control Education in Washington State?

by the WAESN Legislative Committee

This upcoming WA State legislative session, beginning January 9th, 2023, will feature the newest attempt of right-wing organizers and politicians to privatize and further control what our students learn in school, according to a briefing from Senator Jim McCune’s office. McCune, from the 2nd District, calls his package of nine bills the “Parents’ Education Bill of Rights,” yet what it represents is an attack on the well-being of our students. While this may have the backing of a boisterous group of 9k Facebook parents, this bill might as well be called the “Bigoted Corporation’s Education Bill of Rights” in its effects. This “Bill of Rights” contains everything from banning “CRT” and hormone therapy, to funding private schools and regulating bathrooms. We hope to lay out the dangers these pieces of legislation pose to our students, especially our students of color, trans, and low income students, and call upon our community to rally to prevent these bills from having a hearing in the upcoming session. 

The right-wing education organizations behind this legislation, including the Family Policy Institute of Washington and Parents Rights in Education, would like us to think that these bills are about transparency, autonomy, and choice – key buzzwords of the conservative right – but in fact, they pose a threat to our students, our teachers, and the public school system. Following Representative Jim Walsh’s earlier failed attempts in the Washington State Legislature and Senator Hawley’s national “Parents’ Bill of Rights” in the U.S. Senate, this proposal has new support, coherency, and purpose behind it that challenges Washington State’s supposedly “progressive” reputation. On Facebook, where many Gen X and Boomer parents organize on the right, these groups are actively organizing behind Senator McCune and Jim Walsh, with 9k members of the “Washington, Parents’ Rights in Education” group. Itss on these platforms, and private meetings, trainings, workshops, and Zoom calls where like-minded right-wing activists engage in unchecked bigoted discourse, strategize, and build their legislative agendas. Our belief that we live in a liberal bubble is hurting our efforts to organize, not only in prevention of these attacks on human rights, but also to implement much needed changes to our school system for our students and families. At WAESN, we are working on educating the public on these issues, so we can come together to take action against these bills. With school strikes, budget cuts, enrollment down, and lawsuits piling up, the state of public education is in a dire condition here in Washington despite our Constitution calling education “a paramount duty”of our state. We are calling on our WAESN community members to join us to protect our students from further harm. 

What do these bills call for, what threats do they present, and why? 

McCune’s package includes nine main measures so far: The Right to Choose, The Educational Choice Scholarship Program, The Individual Class Freedom Act, The Parent Consent in Youth Sexual Education, The Education Transparency Act, The Parental Involvement Act, The Safe Facilities Act, and a Ban on “Puberty Blockers”. These acts and measures have been taken from legislation passed in other states and come from well-organized and disseminated “anti-CRT tool kits”. 

In this first special report, we will document the dangers of privatization by responding to the two main “privatization” measures in McCune’s proposed legislation. In the coming reports, we will look at the measures that promote curriculum control and transparency, and finally we will look at those that regulate our students’ bodies and school spaces. 


According to the policy briefing released by State Senator McCune’s office, there are two measures that would work to further privatize our education system: 

Right to Choose – This measure would establish the right of all Washington parents to educate their children at the school of their choice, be it public, private, home-based or religious. It would require the state to provide parents with vouchers equivalent to their student’s portion of the public-school fund.

The Educational Choice Scholarship Program – This measure would provide students from designated public schools with the opportunity to attend participating private schools. The program also provides scholarship opportunities to low-income students who are entering kindergarten through 12th grade.

What is wrong with privatization? Don’t we want “the Right to Choose” and “Choice Scholarships” for low-income students? On the surface, the language used resonates with the American value of liberty, but these measures miss the mark when it comes to bringing racial and economic equity to our education system. If you are unfamiliar with the language of “privatization,” please watch this short introduction video. For a brief video on the dangers of privatization, here is a great introduction, via TedTalk

Scholars have studied and documented the racial and economic consequences of privatization over the last 40 years. Groups like the NAACP have also been fighting privatization on the ground, advocating against neoliberal privatization, because amongst one of the worst consequences is its contribution to racial inequity in our school system. The right to choose suggests that we all have a choice, but in most cases, there is no “choice” for lower income families and students of color.

As privatization increases, our public schools suffer the consequences of receiving fewer dollars per student. Washington State’s budget formulas depend on student enrollment, so using public funds for private schools will only further defund our schools. We cannot let Washington follow the 15 states with voucher programs across the country. 

The effects of privatization are numerous. In more conservative states, the path to privatization has been fought and won at the expense of students of color and low income students. The most infamous case of privatization in the U.S. occurred following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Naomi Klein’s famous term “Shock Doctrine” was used to describe how corporations used the natural disaster to prey on predominantly Black and low income families, which led to funding for private charter schools, many of which were found guilty of various fraudulent practices.

Since 2013, attempts have been made in Washington to pass a “voucher program” to shift public taxpayer money into private investments. This legislation would only exacerbate current trends of privatization in Washington, where 1 in 5 students in Seattle attends a private school. Over the last two years, Washington State has lost $900 million in its budget because of declining enrollment. Students are moving to private schools, religious schools, charter schools, and homeschooling at record numbers, exceeding national averages. This trend is not new, but a repetition of what the United States saw after desegregation, where white families fled to the newly updated suburbs. The racial costs of voucher programs have been well documented. The NEA released this report, which reminds us that voucher programs were banned following the Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision to desegregate, because vouchers are rooted in segregationists’ attempts to escape diverse school systems. 

As this session approaches, look for opportunities to join us in organizing against McCune’s attempt to further privatize our education system by contacting your state representatives demanding this legislation not be granted a hearing. We will be preparing and supporting community members with resources in this process, so stay tuned for ways to get involved. We will be collecting testimony from the community to send to the chair of the Education Committee, Representative Tomiko Santos, who is credited for giving Representative Walsh’s bill a hearing last legislative session.

Check out our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages for a slide deck that summarizes this article: @waethnicstudies. Share it in your stories and keep posted for ways to get your community involved in this important work.

In the next report, we will break down how McCune’s nine measures promote curriculum control and transparency, and finally we will look at those that regulate our students’ bodies and school spaces. 

Jewishness and Ethnic Studies

This is the third and final installment of this series. It focuses on identity and positionality. Jeff and I invited Gabriella Sanchez-Stern to this conversation to bring in the voice and experience of a Jewish person of color, since that has been a topic we’ve discussed in the past two installments.

Gabriella: Hello, I’m Gabriella Sanchez-Stern. My pronouns are she/her/ella, and I identify as a mixed-race Latina. My ancestors are Ashkenazi Jewish and Mestizo from Oaxaca, Mexico. I’ve worked as a community organizer, for city government, and now work as an educator in Seattle Public Schools. I’m proud to say that my Jewish roots in the Seattle community span four generations, and my participation and leadership in various Jewish spaces have solidified my commitment to working collectively towards a more just world. 

Tracy: Hi, Gabriella, and thank you for joining us! At the end of our last installment, Jeff said, “Studying how Jews became white folks should be a prerequisite for white Jews to see how Jewish complicity with whiteness has been harmful.” Jewish complicity with Whiteness. Let’s unpack that. A great example of this is Seattle’s own, Ari Hoffman, pictured below. Ari is an ultra conservative radio shock jock, akin to the likes of Tucker Carlson, who claims he’s a person of color. Again, the only way I might know he’s Jewish is his last name, but then again, several friends of mine have traditionally Jewish last names and don’t identify as Jewish, so it’s always hard to know. If we just met, he’d have to tell me he’s Jewish for me to know that about him. In conversations of intersectionality, we always talk about “hidden intersections.”For example, I am non-binary, but I present as cisgender; therefor, my gender identity is a hidden intersection. Presenting as cisgender provides me privileges that other non-binary or trans folks might not receive. Jewishness, for the most part, is a hidden intersection. Ari clearly benefits from white privilege in most circumstances. When Ari claims to be a person of color, he is complicit with Whiteness, because he is refusing to acknowledge his white privilege.

But Ari goes further than that in his complicity. Ari launched a smear campaign against Latina congressional candidate, Stephanie Gallardo, during which he contacted her endorsers and reported Gallardo as an antisemite, because she supports Palestinian sovereignty. Author and former presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson, took the bait and pulled her endorsement of Gallardo’s campaign. Williamson, who claims to be a progressive, would most likely disagree with Hoffman’s politics, and if she were paying attention, she’d see this for what it is: a conservative, white man viciously attacking a woman of color running on a Democratic Socialist platform.

Recently, racist Seattle education blogger, Melissa Westbrook, joined forces with Ari to attack WAESN’s Youth Activist Academy by attempting to interfere with a partnership WAESN has with a local non-profit. Fortunately, our community partner saw through the racist attacks, but this is another example of Ari’s complicity in Whiteness and trying to undermine learning opportunities for students of color. Westbrook used a hit piece written about me to goad Hoffman into engaging in personal attacks on me, another person of color. There is a clear trend of Hoffman using his whiteness to attack femmes of color and hiding behind his Jewishness to do so. 

I’ve asked this before, but I think we need more direct answers if Jewish identity is to be discussed in Ethnic Studies. How do we hold white Jews who are complicit in Whiteness (racism) accountable when they use their Jewishness to try to cover their deeds?

Jeff: I completely agree with your analysis of Hoffman’s complicity with Whiteness. I have watched several Jewish friends come into the realization that they use Whiteness as a shield in a way that a person of color is denied, so I know that consciousness can and does change. His assertion that he is a person of color is just plain stupid, but it is part of his shtick. Remember, he is in the entertainment business, and he knows who his audience is. His target audience is white, conservative Christians where his brand of Zionism sells well. I have to admit that I have never listened to him and never will. I have absolutely no interest in what he has to say, because he has nothing to offer me. But I know the type very well.

Ben Shapiro was not the first right-wing Jew. These people use ideology instead of reason to reach their conclusions. Jewish text has been exposed to thousands of interpretations, and Jewish thought ranges across the political spectrum, so it is not difficult for conservatives to justify knee-jerk reactions. According to the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, “Ideology is a systematically distorted communication.” In the case of Hoffman and Shapiro, that distortion is profitable. It saddens me that Jews like these are willing to push a right-wing agenda that is so harmful.

As to your question about holding Jews like Hoffman accountable for their complicity in Whiteness, what we are doing in this series is a positive step. You and the entire Ethnic Studies community have the right to push back when attacked. It is also on me and Jews like me to respond and point out that pandering to white, conservative Christians is self-defeating, because that is where racism and antisemitism find fertile ground. 

“Replacement Theory” is a belief among many white supremacists. It asserts that non-white people and Jewish people will ultimately “replace the white race.” In the infamous and deadly Charlottesville white supremacist rally, a group of largely white, Christian men chanted, “You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.”

Tracy: I very much appreciate you providing so much historical context. We can talk about intersectionality all we want, but without a deep historical understanding, we just start talking past each other. Folks of color need to understand this history, and white Jews need to understand the history of Whiteness and how they continue to benefit from it.  One thing you shared with me in a previous conversation that stuck with me is the knee-jerk reactions we’re seeing from some white Jews to Ethnic Studies programs supporting Palestinian Studies and criticizing the State of Israel.

I understand the point you made about the rise of antisemitism since Trump. Again, I suggest it’s not a new normal for Jews only; communities of color, im/migrants, queer folks, trans folks, and Muslims are also feeling that. In fact, of all hate crimes reported to authorities in 2020 62% were race motivated and only 13% were motivated by religious bias (antisemitism is categorized as religious bias by the US Department of Justice). Racially motivated hate crimes increased in 2020 while religious hate crimes decreased. A difference that I see, however, is that the latter groups advocate open conflict, because we understand that conflict results in change. We also know that conflict gets our leaders killed and our people arrested, ostricized, beaten, murdered, etc.

DOJ data

Emily Alhadeff, in her piece about Ethnic Studies, specifically conjured up images of Jews being bloody in the streets as if, again, this is an experience only Jews have. These types of narratives feel, from my perspective at least, like Zionists want to silence folks of color to satisfy their own sense of safety at the expense of the safety of folks of color, including Palestinians.

In her blog post, Emily mentioned an organization called FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism). It’s led by an (arguably) diverse group of people, but there is a strong Zionist influence. They promote colorblindness as a solution to racism and appropriate Dr. King’s words, like many do. How is this both related to the Jewish ideal of universalism and a perpetuation of white supremacy? What do Jews need to understand better about the historical contexts of racism and anti-Blackness in the US?

Gabriella: Thank you for inviting me into this conversation. I have learned so much from both of you and am grateful to be included. 

When I think about Jewish complicity with Whiteness I think it is important that white, American Jews (of which I am partially included as I have benefited from the privilege of my white family) reflect on the ways that we have benefited from structural racism and perhaps were complicit in upholding racist institutions and laws in search of attaining the “American Dream.”For example, my own Jewish roots in Seattle trace back to the early 20th century community in the Central District. At the time, Jews (both Ashkanazi and Sephardic) lived alongside Black, Italian, and Irish Catholics. These communities were excluded from more affluent neighborhoods through the practices of redlining and racial restrictive covenants, which lasted until the late 1950s. But how many of us also participated in white flight and were able to buy homes in View Ridge, Wedgewood, and Laurelhurst a generation later? How many Jewish families living in the Southend have chosen to send their children across the city or to private school rather than to their neighborhood public school? While these may have seemed like individual choices at the time, we need to be able to reckon with how these choices on the individual level have come at a price on the community level. While these types of decisions are not exclusive to Jewish families, if Jews are to understand our complicity with Whiteness we must understand how we have participated in some of these broader trends throughout history. 

Jeff: The FAIR board of advisors is an impressive roster of public intellectuals and writers who’ve written some very in-depth and provocative works. I can see why Emily would refer to them as some sort of model of rationality; I’ve enjoyed reading many of them for deep insights into many issues, however I don’t always agree with their conclusions. It is true that there are a number of Zionists on the board. There is also an absence of Marxists. These are independent thinkers, but they seem united in opposition to CRT. None of them speak for the entirety of their representative communities, and other voices should be noted. Jews have nothing to fear from Critical Race Theory. 

I want to refer back to Hillel and Shammai. The advocates for color-blindness are like Shammai, what should be the norm is right for paradise, but now, Hillel would say, we have some work (study) to do. Which reminds me of one of my favorite passages of the Talmud:

Love work. Hate domination, and don’t get involved with the authorities.

Avot 1:10

Just because these authorities have a Ph.D. from Harvard doesn’t make their judgment any better than any person on the street.

Gabriella: I also wanted to share some thoughts regarding how Jews of color are received in Jewish spaces. First of all, who am I talking about when I say Jews of color? In general, the term “Jews of color”includes all Jews with ancestry in African, Asian, and Latin American countries. Jews of color may identify as Black, Asian, Latinx, American Indian, or multi-racial. In certain circumstances, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Jews of North African heritage may also identify as Jews of color. According to recent studies, approximately 11% of Jews in the United States identify as Jews of color. I identify as multi-racial as I have both European Ashkenazi heritage and Mexican mestizo heritage. 

Now, Jews of color are not a monolith, and our experiences are as nuanced as any other individual walking through this world, but some general rules apply. In particular, our sense of belonging is often influenced by colorism. By colorism I mean discrimination that is based on how dark a person’s skin color is, or how far outside of whiteness they are perceived to be. Some Jews of color have shared experiences of being questioned in Jewish spaces from ways that are other-izing (“Are you visiting?””Did you convert?””Do you need help finding…?”) to being mistaken for security guards or nannies. 

Depending on the time of year, my skin can either look like a light caramel or a dark olive, and in my experiences growing up in Jewish spaces, I was often perceived as Israeli, Middle Eastern, or Sephardic. Because of this, my sense of belonging was not directly challenged in ways that other Jews of color with African, Asian, or Indigenous heritage are. While this light-skinned privilege means that I am not prevented from participating in Jewish spaces, it often means that I have to check a large part of my identity (my rich Mexican heritage) at the door. For many Jews of color, the price of our acceptance in Jewish spaces comes with erasing a part of ourselves to fit into the European Ashkenazi norm.  

What I have shared is just based on my experiences and the experiences I have heard from some others and is just scratching the surface. Last year, one of the first comprehensive studies of the experiences of Jews of color was published by the Jews of Color Initiative with some interesting findings, as well as difficult truths that I encourage all to read (even just the summary!) when you can.

Jews of Color Initiative data

Tracy: Thank you, both, for teaching me. I have learned so much from both of you and commit to learning more about Jewish intersectional identities and how Ethnic Studies can help educate others. I was recently asked what I would want people to know about Ethnic Studies. My response was that the goal of Ethnic Studies is to eliminate all types of oppression, including racial and economic oppression, settler colonialism, and antisemitism. The human mind, heart, and spirit are capable of holding multiple truths, but only if we are able to have conversations like these, so thank you.

Jeff: One last thing. Thanks for inviting me into this conversation, I found it very useful for my own growing understanding. It is very consistent with Jewish tradition to dialogue and argue. It is one of our cultural particulars, embedded as it is in our “sacred texts”. It is my opinion that the Jewish Zionists who have attacked WAESN are supporting a right-wing agenda, are authoritarian, and are dead wrong. OSPI needs a much more well-rounded voice from the Jewish community in regards to their planning for state-wide Ethnic Studies.


What does it mean to be complicit in Whiteness?

What is the difference between hidden and visible intersections, and how do hidden intersections provide varying degrees of privilege that visible intersections don’t?

How does an individual’s various identities affect their experiences in different situations?

What is the political gain for conservatives and white supremacists when marginalized groups fight among each other?

Reflections on Critical Race Theory

by Althea Haug

Below is a continuation of student work, this time from a Master’s in Teaching candidate from the University of Washington.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has had so much media attention recently and I don’t think a lot of people who talk about it know what it truly is. I learned a lot from the readings we did about CRT and from the conversation we had in class about it so that’s what I want to talk about for my reflection.

Centrality of Racism

This means that racism is the norm; it’s the default. White people have set things up so that racism is at the center of everything. In the reading Critical Race Theory and Education, Dr. Christine Sleeter says, “White people, generally believing that racism is a thing of the past, tend not to notice racial disparities, and when they do, attribute them to something other than the workings of racism.”  I chose this quote because it resonates so deeply with me. I have lived for so long in my little bubble of privilege. I went to a high school that was 97% white. I graduated high school so unaware of what was really going on in the world I remember thinking that racism didn’t exist anymore. It’s honestly so embarrassing for me to admit that.

The good news is, I have taken the time to educate myself and I have taken the time to listen to people of Color (POC) when they tell me things. One of the most important books I read in my undergrad was So You Wanna Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. In that book, she says something is about race if a POC says it’s about race. That stuck with me. It’s the responsibility of the white person to take the time to learn about racism and how it affects POC. It’s the responsibility of white people to actively fight against the racism that is underlying pretty much everything that has ever existed in this country.

One thing that stood out to me that was talked about in class is that when POC do things that seem to go against their own interest, like voting for Trump, that is their response to white supremacy. That is how they protect themselves from white supremacy. This was really meaningful to me, because I have always wondered why POC would vote for Trump or participate in something that is actively racist. I have always thought they must just be stupid, but I think it’s important for me to not have that judgement. This is just their way of protecting themselves from systems built by and for white people. 

Challenges to Claims of Neutrality

Even knowing that everything is racist, I still never considered neutral language being a tool of white supremacy. The activity we did in class when we went back through our cohort norms to change them so they weren’t so neutral and as a result, racist, was a really important activity and helped me a lot. Neutral language like “embracing our differences” is so loaded. Seeing the Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN) Racially Equitable Discussion Norms in class that were different for POC and white people was so cool. I had never thought of doing it that way.

WAESN’s Racially Equitable Discussion Norms

The last few days I have been thinking about neutral language and how I can challenge that in my own life; put the responsibility back on the white people to call out racism and take some of the emotional labor from the POC. In the reading Critical Race Theory and Education, Sleeter wrote about the law and how people have widely considered that to be neutral. In class we talked about education being the great equalizer and in one of our discussions we talked about how people say, “We are all in this together,” when talking about the pandemic. All of these things might appear neutral to someone who doesn’t know better, but in reality, all of these things exist as a tool of white supremacy and none of them are neutral. We have never truly “all been in this together” regarding anything. Because we live in a capitalist society, literally everything that has ever happened has negatively affected poor people. Who are disproportionately living in poverty? POC. Neutral language seems so innocent to a white person, but it’s an act of violence against POC, and it’s on us white people to call it out and change it when we see it. 

Whites as Beneficiaries of Racial Remedies

This tenet of CRT is one that I know the white guys in power just absolutely get their panties in a bunch over. They love to pat themselves on the back for the things they have done to “fight racism,” or whatever they think they are doing, but in reality, every single thing that has ever been done has had benefits to white people or it wouldn’t have been done. I never thought about the ways white people benefited from school desegregation, and having those discussions and reading about that has been really beneficial for me in shining a light on what the true motivation was for these things to happen.  It bums me out that anything that has been done to “improve” things for POC has really just been a smoke screen and never would have been done if it didn’t benefit white people in some way, shape, or form. 

Centrality of Experiential Knowledge

I love that this is a tenant of CRT. I am still really trying to figure out my way around these conversations about race, but one thing I have always believed is that voices of POC are so important. I have learned that going out and talking to POC and asking about things isn’t always the best way to go about it due to the forced emotional labor, but listening to counter stories and experiential knowledge is a perfect way to learn more. There are so many books and poems and movies and documentaries and just a wealth of information that is available. I need to listen to people when they tell me their stories. I don’t have personal knowledge, but bringing these counter stories into my classroom will be a fantastic way to help my students. I am so excited that we learned this, and it’s definitely something I will be implementing. 

Commitment to Working for Social Justice

I don’t always know how to do this, but it’s something I am deeply committed to. Just over the last few weeks I have felt this commitment deepen. Learning about how hard some people are fighting against allowing children to learn Ethnic Studies made me realize that teaching is a profession that needs people like me. I might be just another white lady, which I know there are already plenty of, but I am a white lady that is prepared to do the work to help dismantle these systems of power that have existed since the country was founded. I believe that teaching young children is a perfect way to do that. These kids are our future, if they start learning at a young age how messed up this country is, we might have some hope to change it in the future.

Recently, a friend of mine said something about people just complaining about things that happen on social media but then moving on and doing nothing about it. I told him that’s not true. I am doing something about it, as are plenty of other people. He might not be able to see that because some of this work is being done behind the scenes, but I know that for now, taking these classes and learning everything I can about how to be a good teacher is me taking action.

Black is Beautiful

Jordyn Bryant

This month’s guest blog post comes from a University of Washington undergraduate student, Jordyn Bryant, and reflections on learning from a course called, Race Ethnicity and Education.

Black history is rich. Black history is painful and traumatic. Black history is intricate, beautiful, empowering, and full of complexities. It is also overpowering and violent, especially to a young Black student. To a White student it may be shameful and embarrassing. But history is history, right? We must teach history through a lens of neutrality, right? “Teach facts as they have occurred. Incorporate the perspectives of both sides. Don’t make White students feel uncomfortable. Exclude the despicable. Teach the American Dream.” How do we unpack a history as complex and gut-wrenching as Black history? How do we teach a history that is still ongoing? How do we show our students that they are both products of history, and catalysts for meaningful change? 

Manifest Destiny | John Gast | 1872

For decades, American history has been taught from the limited perspective of the victor. We have been taught concepts of Westward Exploration and Manifest Destiny. We learn about our founding fathers, while they look far from being closely related to many of us. Black history is squeezed in between lessons. It is short. It is vague and uninspiring. It is a story of inevitability and peaceful rebellion. Black history should be centered in the history classroom. Black Excellence should be shouted from the rooftops. I argue that in order for this shift to occur, we need more Black history teachers, we need to teach Black literature in a way that is meaningful, and we need to teach Black freedom struggles in a way that is accurate and uncensored.

As we work to facilitate a history classroom that incorporates meaningful, impactful lessons that will leave a lasting impression on the students, we first must start with who is standing before the class. At the University of Washington, I have taken Black history courses by Black professors that were incredibly inspiring. Given their positionality in teaching this history, they were able to share personal anecdotes and connections to the pervasive nature of racism. They were also unafraid to argue that a true retelling of Black trauma involves the exposure of many atrocities committed by White Americans throughout history. 

Data from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction show that, while Black students make up 4.6% of the State’s K-12 student population, Black teachers (orange) make up less than 2% of the teaching force.

As explained by Gloria Ladson-Billings, “The first reason for naming one’s own reality involves how political and moral analysis is conducted in legal scholarship. Many mainstream legal scholars embrace universalism over particularity.” The beauty of particularity is that it humanizes history. It reminds students that they are active members of history and have the agency to determine the trajectory of their own future. By having a personal relationship with this history as a victim of systemic oppression, Black teachers are the most qualified to convey such a dynamic to students of all backgrounds.

Black history is not, and should not, need to be confined to a standard social studies course. The teaching of Black history through authors such as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Octavia Butler can be an extremely powerful tool in conveying the emotions of those experiencing slavery, or those grappling with Eurocentric ideals of beauty today. Through literary devices and personal narratives, the incorporation of Black writing into a language arts course can be quite effective in conveying the ways that systems of oppression affect the individual. In Morrison’s writing, for example, she grabs her audience by the throat and forces them to hear the cries of Pecola and feel the rage of Cholly in The Bluest Eye