The Black Panther Party Was Founded on This Day in 1966: Here’s What We Don’t Learn About the Black Panther Party in Our Schools — but Should

By Adam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian

On Monday April 1, 1967 “George Dowell and several neighbors from North Richmond, California . . . heard 10 gunshots. Sometime after 5:00 a.m., George came upon his older brother Denzil Dowell lying in the street, shot in the back and head. Police from the county sheriff’s department were there, but no ambulance had been called. . . . [The] sheriff’s office reported that deputy sheriffs Mel Brunkhorst and Kenneth Gibson had arrived at the scene at 4:50 a.m. on a tip from an unidentified caller about a burglary in progress. They claimed that when they arrived, Denzil Dowell and another man ran from the back of a liquor store and refused to stop when ordered to halt. Brunkhorst fired one blast from a shotgun, striking Dowell and killing him. . . .

For the Dowells, the official explanation did not add up, and community members helped the family investigate. . . . There was no sign of entry, forced or otherwise, at Bill’s Liquors, the store that Dowell had allegedly been robbing. Further, the police had reported that Dowell had not only run but also jumped two fences to get away before being shot down. But Dowell had a bad hip, a limp, and the family claimed that he could not run, let alone jump fences. . . . A doctor who worked on the case told the family that judging from the way the bullets had entered Dowell’s body, Dowell had been shot with his hands raised. . . . Mrs. Dowell publicly announced, ‘I believe the police murdered my son.’ . . . A white jury took little time deciding that the killing of unarmed Dowell was ‘justifiable homicide’ because the police officers on the scene had suspected that he was in the act of committing a felony. Outraged, the Black community demanded justice.”
—Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party

Helping North Richmond’s Black community demand justice for the killing of Denzil Dowell was one of the first major organizing campaigns of the Black Panther Party, and the first issue of The Black Panther newspaper, which at its height around 1970 had a circulation of 140,000 copies per week, asked, “WHY WAS DENZIL DOWELL KILLED?” Anyone reading the story of Dowell today can’t help but draw parallels to the unarmed Black men and women regularly murdered by police. The disparity between the police’s story and the victim’s family’s, the police harassment Dowell endured before his murder, the jury letting Dowell’s killer off without punishment, even the reports that Dowell had his hands raised while he was gunned down, eerily echo the police killings today that have led to the explosion of the movement for Black lives.

Yet when we learn about the early years of the Panthers, the organizing they did in Richmond — conducting their own investigation into Dowell’s death, confronting police who harassed Dowell’s family, helping mothers in the community organize against abuse at the local school, organizing armed street rallies in which hundreds filled out applications to join the Party — is almost always absent. Born just over 50 years ago, the history of the Black Panther Party holds vital lessons for today’s movement to confront racism and police violence — yet textbooks either misrepresent or minimize the significance of the Panthers. Armed with a revolutionary socialist ideology, they fought in Black communities across the nation for giving the poor access to decent housing, health care, education, and much more. And as the Panthers grew, so did the issues they organized around.

Continue reading

Backpack Full of Cash: New Documentary Narrated by Matt Damon Explores School Privatization


By Barbara Miner

Like many supporters of public education, Sarah Mondale and Vera Aronow had become increasingly concerned in the last decade about the attacks on public schools and teachers.

They decided to do something about it.

The result, five years in the making, is their recently released documentary, Backpack Full of Cash.

“Everyone who values democratic education needs to see this,” Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities and other education books, says of the film.

Continue reading

Christopher Columbus: No Monuments for Murderers

By Bill Bigelow

Rethinking ColumbusNew York Times article, following the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer, described the growing calls to remove monuments that celebrate the Confederacy. The article went on to cite some who balk, however, when “the symbolism is far murkier, like Christopher Columbus.”

But there is nothing murky about Columbus’ legacy of slavery and terrorism in the Americas. The record is clear and overwhelming. The fact that The New York Times could report this with such confidence — adding that “most Americans learn rather innocently, in 1492 [Columbus] sailed the ocean blue until he discovered the New World” — means that educators and activists still have much work to do.

In fact, Christopher Columbus launched the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1494, when he sent back at least two dozen enslaved Taínos, including children, to Spain. In February of that year, Columbus dispatched 12 of his 17 ships from the Caribbean back to Spain with a letter to be delivered to the king and queen by Antonio de Torres, captain of the returning fleet. Columbus wrote:

There are being sent in these ships some Cannibals, men and women, boys and girls, which Your Highnesses can order placed in charge of persons from whom they may be able better to learn the language while being employed in forms of service, gradually ordering that greater care be given them than to other slaves.

Here, as in so much of world history, violence and exploitation is sprinkled with a perfume of benevolence. Later in the letter, Columbus explains to the king and queen that his plans for colonizing the lands he has “discovered” could be financed by slavery:

These things could be paid for in slaves taken from among these cannibals, who are so wild and well built and with a good understanding of things that we think they will be finer than any other slaves once they are freed from their inhumanity, which they will lose as soon as they leave their own lands.

Continue reading

Taking the Fight Against White Supremacy Into Schools

[This important article from Rethinking Schools editor Adam Sanchez was first published by the Zinn Education Project (where Adam works developing curriculum and organizing) and Common Dreams. We are republishing it now because the fall issue of our magazine — which has five cover stories and an editorial focusing on Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools — is hitting mailboxes and newsstands this week. Adam is the co-author of one of the cover stories in the magazine, “What We Don’t Learn About the Black Panther Party — but Should” along with another Rethinking Schools editor, Jesse Hagopian.]

By Adam Sanchez

As a history teacher, there are times when the past reasserts itself with such force that you have to put aside your plans and address the moment. Charlottesville is one of those times. The image of white supremacists openly marching in defense of a Confederate general, viciously beating and murdering those who are protesting their racism — is an image we hoped had died with Jim Crow. That this image is not a relic of the past, is a reality that teachers and students must face as they return to the classroom this year.

In his defense of the white supremacists marching against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, Donald Trump pointed out that George Washington owned people and asked, “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

durham_nc_statue_down-650x433

Many responded to this question by pointing out that unlike Lee, Washington and Jefferson were not best known for their defense of slavery. But The Onion cut to the heart of the President’s position with its headline: “Trump Warns Removing Confederate Statues Could Be a Slippery Slope To Eliminating Racism Entirely.” And activists have been making it clear that they hope this moment won’t end with the removal of Confederate monuments. In the wake of Charlottesville, former Rethinking Schools editor and current Philadelphia city councilwoman Helen Gym has called for the removal of the statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo, known for terrorizing Black and gay communities. In New York City, protesters have demanded the removal of a Central Park statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who experimented on enslaved women in the 19th century.

Continue reading

The Role Students and Educators Played Before NFL Players Protested on Sunday

Garfield 2

[This article first appeared in The Progressive in October 2016. We’re republishing it following Sunday’s unprecedented protests in the National Football League to highlight the role that students and educators played leading up to this moment. We also want to highlight the newest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine, which has five cover stories and and an editorial focusing on Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools. As educators returning to our schools this year, we must rededicate ourselves to building an education system and a society that values Black lives.]

By Jesse Hagopian

The jocks. The marching band. The cheerleaders. The Black Student Union. The teachers. And the administration. These disparate high school groups rarely come together.

But at times of great peril and of great hope, barriers that once may have seemed permanent can collapse under a mighty solidarity. The crisis of police terror in Black communities across the country is just such a peril — and the resistance to that terror, symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem — is just such a hope.

On September 16th, the entire football team of Garfield High School, the school I teach at in Seattle, joined the protest that Kaepernick set in motion by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. While the Garfield Bulldogs were among the first high schools to have an entire team protest the anthem, it has since spread to schools around the nation. Their bold action for justice made headlines. Their photo appeared in the issue of Time that featured Kaepernick on the cover and CBS News came to Garfield to do a special on the protest. And in the New York Times, Kaepernick himself commented on the Garfield football team saying, “I think it’s amazing.”

It was a rejection of the rarely recited third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which celebrates the killing of Black people, the ongoing crisis of state violence against Black people, and an affirmation that Black lives matter. As the Garfield football team said in a statement they later released:

We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.

And those conversations led them to analyze the way racism is connected to other forms of oppression and the way those forms of oppression disfigure many aspects of their lives, including the media and the school system. Yes, football players publicly challenging homophobia may be rare, but the Bulldog scholar-athletes aren’t having it.

Continue reading

Linda Christensen on the Second Edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up, What Role the Classroom Played in Revision, and What Needs to Change in How We Teach

Rethinking Schools published Linda Christensen’s Reading, Writing, and Rising Up in 2000. The original book, Linda says, was based on her first 20 years in the classroom at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon. Since then, Linda’s work has been recognized as an essential resource for integrating social justice into language arts classrooms. She followed the first edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up with Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-imagining the Language Arts Classroom and Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice, which built on her work of engaging students with writing by integrating their lives into the classroom.

The second edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up captures her imperative of bringing students’ lives into the classroom not just to build literacy skills, but to help students uncover the roots of inequality and meet real and imagined people and movements who have worked for change.

It’s been almost 20 years since the original Reading, Writing, and Rising Up arrived. Linda has spent several years — in between her work as director of the Oregon Writing Project and working with teachers locally and throughout the country — rewriting, revising, and reteaching the lessons in Reading, Writing, and Rising Up.

The new volume is fully revised and features new sections, updated lesson plans, and exemplary student work. The book is a gift to a new generation of students and teachers. We sat down with Linda to talk about what readers can expect.

Rethinking Schools: What was the process of revising and putting together the second edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up?

Linda Christensen: I had a whole new body of material that I had been working on since the original Reading, Writing, and Rising Up came out, and a few people thought that some of the articles in Reading, Writing, and Rising Up (particularly the cartoon unit “Unlearning the Myths that Bind Us”) were dated.

That led me to think about whether I wanted to write a new book or if I wanted to update Reading, Writing, and Rising Up. I thought about it a lot, and there were so many teaching pieces in Reading, Writing, and Rising Up that I still used and that still resonated with other educators, so I decided to do a full revision of the book rather than creating a new book.

I talked to a number of teachers and professors who use the book and asked them what pieces they thought remained current and what pieces they thought needed to be revised. Then I went back through and looked at each of the articles. My production editor, Kjerstin Johnson, also examined the book for places that were dated. Then I retaught almost every lesson to see how they worked today, whether they were still relevant, and what needed to be changed.

IMG_3537

Educator Rosie Frascella from Brooklyn, New York, couldn’t wait to pick up the new edition of Reading, Writing, and Rising Up.

You said you retaught many of the pieces. What role did the classroom play in the second edition?

The classroom is my source of inspiration. Out of the classroom I can create curriculum, but I need to observe students, listen to their class talk, and read their pieces to determine whether the lessons land or fall with students. I needed to see how lessons resonated with students today versus students 20 years ago. I keep returning to the classroom because it’s where I find my joy. I can’t think about teaching in isolation, away from classrooms.

Continue reading

As the School Year Begins, Open Minds to Equality Offers Ideas for Teaching Against Racism and Hate

By Nancy Schniedewind

oepn mindsAs­­­­ the school year begins, we social justice educators must work harder than ever to make Black lives matter in our schools and to educate students about racism — especially given the hateful rhetoric, racist practices, and unjust policies that abound in our nation’s communities and schools.

While clearly a challenge, it is also an opportunity.

[The latest issue of Rethinking Schools focuses on making Black lives matter in our schools.]

Here in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York, Trump’s victory has emboldened some white students to express a sense of racial superiority in various ways. Soon after the election, one student strutted down the hall of a local high school exclaiming “white power” and waving both arms high in the air. In a middle school in a neighboring district a group of white students surrounded a cafeteria table of students who had immigrated from Mexico and chanted, “Build the wall.” And some undocumented elementary school students were not even coming to school because their parents were afraid they would be picked up by immigration officials.

As educators we have a responsibility to combat white supremacy in our schools and can bring an anti-racist, pro-justice pedagogy and curriculum to our classrooms. We can work to build a classroom community where Black lives matter and where students can share their concerns and fears and get support not only from us, but from their peers. We can also better respond to teachable moments by bringing a social justice lens to our teaching, and in age-appropriate ways we can implement learning activities to heighten students’ understandings of racism and other “isms” and teach them skills they can use to challenge and change them.

Ellen Davidson’s and my book, Open Minds to Equality: A Sourcebook of Learning Activities to Affirm Diversity and Promote Equity, offers a wealth of resources toward these goals. [Also, the latest issue of Rethinking Schools focuses on making Black lives matter in our schools.]

***

Ideas for Anti-Racist Teaching Against Hate from Open Minds to Equality

Open Minds to Equality is a valuable resource for responding to teachable moments about racism; as well as Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant discrimination. It also provides a sequential series of learning activities to educate students about racism and other forms of discrimination so they can respond with deep understanding and critical perspectives to current manifestations of structural violence and be more able to act for change in their schools and communities.

Below are examples of some of the many learning activities in Open Minds to Equality that contribute to these goals. Noted are the chapters they come from and a brief summary of the activities. These activities focus in particular on racism, but some link learning to other “isms” based in gender, class, language, sexual orientation, religion, and ability.

Continue reading