#SEAstrike

Solidarity with Seattle Education Association

Dear Seattle Education Association,

Rethinking Schools editors and staff express our solidarity as you go on strike for better schools for your students along with their families and for just compensation and working conditions for your members. We have followed your negotiations carefully and we know that this is a strike for justice.

  • As Seattle has become one of the country’s most expensive cities, you have gone six years without so much as a cost of living increase and with no increase in educator health care.
  • You’ve been assaulted by standardized testing, which distorts the curriculum and robs students of essential instructional time. Students are not even guaranteed recess by the Seattle school district.
  • You are straining under enormous workloads, which results in students who cannot get the attention they deserve, and over-worked and exhausted educators and support staff.
  • You’ve noted unequal discipline policies and procedures that have led to vast racial disparities that need to be addressed immediately, in every building.

Seattle educators have said “Enough!” You have bargained in good faith and now are striking for your members, for your students, for the broader community—and, really, for people everywhere who are working for vital public schools and social justice.

Rethinking Schools thanks you for your vision and for your sacrifice. We will continue to spread the word about your important struggle and do everything we can to help you win.

A Lesson Plan for Strikebreaking Substitute Teachers

A Lesson Plan for Strikebreaking Substitute Teachers

By Russ Peterson

Editor’s Note: Portland, Oregon language arts teacher Russ Peterson sent this lesson plan to colleagues, who are preparing to strike beginning on February 20th. Given that part of the corporate reform agenda throughout the country is to attack conditions of teaching and learning for public school teachers, as well as to erode contract protections of all kinds, it seems that more and more teachers will be on strike “for the schools our students deserve.”

Russ Peterson teaches at Grant High School and has taught in Portland Public Schools for 13 years. Russ gave Rethinking Schools permission to share the lesson plan with teachers around the country.

— Bill Bigelow

Good morning, colleagues!  In the spirit of collaboration that teachers engage in, I have attached a lesson I put together as part of the district request that a lesson plan be provided in the event of a strike.  I thought it would be helpful given the circumstances, and would save you all the time and effort of putting one together yourselves.

Please feel free to share with your colleagues in other schools in the district, and with others in your department who I may not know.

– Russ

SUB NOTES

  1. Photocopy the attached poem, usually attributed to Jack London.
  2. Read the poem along with the class out loud.
  3. Have the class complete the  TPSS-FASST graphic organizer (copied below) as they deconstruct the poem.
  4. After reading the poem and completing the graphic organizer, ask the following questions for discussion:
    • What is a ‘scab’?
    • What images does Jack London use in describing a scab?
    • Given these images, what is London’s attitude toward those who work during a strike?
    • Why do you think someone would work during a strike?  What are the consequences of this?  How does this fit into the model of “ally, bystander, victim, adversary”?  Which of these is a scab?  Which of these are those engaging in a work-stoppage?
    • London assumes that the striker is a man. Why would he assume this? Does he also assume that scabs are men?
    • Why does management hire scabs?  What is their objective?
    • Many times in U.S. history, employers have used workers of different races or ethnicities to break strikes. How do you think these employer tactics have affected relations between different groups of workers?
    • Should unionized workers aim their hostility more at scabs or at those who hire scabs? Why?
    • Do you (students) know any scabs?  What do you think about scabs and what they are doing?

With the remaining class time, write either:

  1. a poem of your own about scabs
  2. an essay in response to London’s poem – do you agree with London’s assessment?  Why?  Do you think London is being unfair to those who cross a picket line?  Why? With either choice, support your thesis with evidence.

The Scab

by Jack London* (1876-1916)

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.

Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.

No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with.

Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.

Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver.

Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British army.

The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife, his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.

Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country.

A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

* There is some question as to whether Jack London wrote this poem.

TPS-FASTT ANALYSIS-GRAPHIC ORGANIZER

TITLE:  Examine the title before reading the poem. Sometimes the title will give you a clue about the content of the poem. In some cases the title will give you crucial information that will help you understand a major idea within the poem.  What does the title make you think about?  What images or ideas does it conjure?  What themes might it ignite?
PARAPHRASE:  Paraphrase the literal action within the poem. At this point, resist the urge to jump to interpretation. A failure to understand what happens literally inevitably leads to an interpretive misunderstanding.  To that end, “translate” the poem into straightforward, everyday English.
SPEAKER:   Who is the speaker in this poem? Remember to always distinguish speaker from the poet. In some cases the speaker and poet might be the same, as in the autobiographical poem, but often the speaker and the poets are entirely different.  What does the speaker value?  How can you tell?  What does the speaker like or dislike?  Can you discern anything about the speaker’s identity—gender, nationality, background, time period?  How?
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE:  Examine the poem for language that is not used literally. This would include, but is not limited to, literary devices such as imagery, symbolism, metaphor, simile, allusion, repetition, hyperbole, the effect of sound devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance, rhyme), and any other devices used in a non-literal manner.
ATTITUDE (or TONE):  Tone, meaning the speaker’s ATTITUDE toward the SUBJECT of the poem. Of course, this means that you must discern the subject of the poem. In some cases it will be narrow, and in others it will be broad. Also keep in mind the speaker’s attitude toward self, other characters, and the subject, as well as attitudes of characters other than the speaker.  Are there specific words that convey a particular tone?  What are they, and how do they work together to create that tone?
SHIFTS:   Note shifts in speaker and attitude. Shifts can be indicated in a number of ways including the occasion of poem (time and place), key turn words (but, yet, then, etc.), punctuation (dashes, periods, colons, etc.), stanza divisions, changes in line and stanza length, and anything that indicates that something has changed or a question is being answered.
TITLE:  Examine the title again, this time on an interpretive level.  Based on what you noticed as you examined the poem, what new or different resonances does the title take on?
THEME:  First list what the poem is about (subject), then determine what the poet is saying about each of those subjects (theme). Remember, theme must be expressed in a complete sentence.

NAME:  __________________________________________  Poem/Essay/Extract __________

Won’t Back Down won’t be real about school reform

Thinking about seeing a movie this weekend?  Take our advice and avoid Won’t Back Down. Below, Helen Gym, a Rethinking Schools editorial associate and parent activist in Philadelphia, shares why.  Her commentary was first published at The Philadelphia Public School Notebook

Won’t Back Down won’t be real about school reform

by Helen Gym

Last week I attended a local screening of Won’t Back Down, the latest flick from the producers behind the controversial documentary Waiting for Superman.

The film stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal as two moms of special-needs children, one also a teacher, trapped inside their failing public schools while battling an evil union leadership. They decide to take advantage of a state law called the FailSafe (known as the “parent trigger” in most states) in order to take over their public school, close it down, and re-open it under their personal and private management.

The film has its tender moments, particularly between Viola Davis and her bullied son. A scene where Maggie Gyllenhaal stares into the soulless eyes of her daughter’s do-nothing teacher induced shudders of similar experiences.

At the end of the day though, Won’t Back Down is a Hollywood fantasy, complete with the requisite soap opera melodrama, a cheesy love interest sidebar, and an all-star cast. The union hack caricatures and Gyllenhaal’s eager beaver mom role were particularly grating, if not outright insulting.

But let’s face it. Movie producers Philip Anschutz and Rupert Murdoch didn’t bankroll Won’t Back Down to win Academy Awards. They’ve entered it as a yet another piece in the contentious education reform debate using as their premise the idea of “parent empowerment” and “parent choice.” And on that level, there is some serious substance to reflect upon.

One of the ideas promoted by the movie is that failing public schools deserve to be closed down or “blown up” in some way. In place of that public institution, so says the movie, is the belief that motivated individuals should run these schools as they see fit. After all, anything must be better than this, right?

I’ve faced jaw-dropping school environments and leadership. I understand the knee-jerk frustration and the grasping at quick solutions. But what strikes me most is not the easy idea of “blowing things up.” Rather it’s how those who propose these measures are so thin on how to put it all back together in a truly transformational way.

Won’t Back Down takes excruciating pains to emphasize how terrible the public school is and how it has failed children. It’s interesting that the movie focuses on students with special needs, who are rarely served in non-public settings. When the actors explain the school of their dreams, they speak in simplified platitudes almost meaningless in their generality: “I just want a place where I can teach.” “I just want a school that works for my kid.

But there’s almost no explanation about what kind of place or school that is, how it operates and functions, how heart and love — which all of us share for our children — translates into meaningful classroom and community practices. The movie never explains how the new school transforms into a great one that serves these children. Yes, the takeover school has a new paint job. Butterfly mobiles hang in the hallways, and there’s a brief scene about how the curriculum will now include Shakespeare.

But were more resources brought in? Many of the original teachers stayed. Did the professional development suddenly improve? Did they get trained in special-needs teaching? How did a dyslexic child, neglected if not effectively abused at the school, suddenly learn to read? Is there even a mission to the school? None of that is explored.

The second point to consider is the contentiousness of the new education reform efforts today. The FailSafe law in Won’t Back Down seems to glorify division. Parents are pitted against one another. Teachers are pitted against the principal. And the teachers’ union is pitted against all humankind. One of the most telling scenes of the movie is a climactic rally where one side has signs stating: PUBLIC SCHOOL ADVOCATES. The other side has signs that say: GOT SCHOOL CHOICE?

I’d like to think that even if you supported school choice options that you could also be a public school advocate and think about public systems responsibly. Instead we get heroes vs. villains and a my-way-or-the-highway approach to ed reform. On the heels of a seven-day Chicago teachers’ strike, we should be reminded that we need a reform movement that brings all of us to the table in a communal and collective effort to build our schools.

Finally, I had some serious issues around the race dynamics of the movie. I was troubled that the school in Won’t Back Down was portrayed as majority White because it masks the frequent focus of parent trigger legislation. Nationwide, parent triggers target schools with predominantly poor children of color: Black, Latino, and immigrant.

The fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal saunters into the school in her very first year and decides to take it over for herself, while scolding parents of color who seem to have given up hope, also bothered me. In one scene, she talks to an Asian father and references rat tails in restaurant food to explain the significance of the school’s failure – bizarre to say the least.

In fact the only parent choice or empowerment presented in the movie is having low-income parents sign over their permission to empower Maggie Gyllenhaal. There’s no indication that other parents were engaged with designing the vision for the future school.

In Philadelphia in particular, the idea of two individuals closing down a public school in order to run it themselves is more likely to raise eyebrows than to elicit cheers. We’ve seen far too many charter school scandals, corruption investigations, and failed independent efforts to feign naivete that all you need is a good heart and some roll-up-your-sleeves attitude

I am no apologist for failing schools. I’ve seen South Philadelphia High School at one of its worst stages and worked for the past four years to see it evolve into something far greater. I’ve lived with horrible principals, “Dawn of the Debra” zombie teachers, and seen countless children, sometimes my own, written off. There’s no excuse for that. Ever.

There’s a real need in our schools for parent empowerment that’s meaningful and lasting. We don’t need fictional movie heroes to bring that point home. I see real-life Maggie Gyllenhaals and Viola Davises partnering in our schools everyday.

We are real people on the ground, in our schools and communities, working to create real models of transformative education practice that inspire great teaching and learning. We need help to make that happen, not derision and division. We want change that’s sustainable and makes a real difference in the lives of our children, in their classrooms, with their teachers, and within a system that works for all students. We don’t just want a “parent choice.” We want a real parent voice.

And that’s the difference between Hollywood and the true reality of our schools.

Related Resources

Trigger Laws: Does Signing a Petition Give Parents a Voice?  by David Bacon, Rethinking Schools Magazine, Fall 2011.

Parents Across America Toolkit for Won’t Back Down

Missing the Target? The Parent Trigger as a Strategy for Parental Engagement and School Reform, National Education Policy Center

Former Stand activists speak out on ballot initiative

Rethinking Schools supporter and education activist Alain Jehlen is involved in an organized effort to halt the corporate-driven reform agenda of Stand for Children.  Here’s the latest from Alain, including a call to action.

by Alain Jehlen

In the fall 2011 issue of Rethinking Schools, Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez described how Stand for Children abandoned its grassroots and started promoting the corporate, anti-union agenda of the Gates and Walton Family foundations at the same time that the foundations began pouring millions of dollars into Stand’s coffers.

My sidebar article on Massachusetts told the stories of local leaders who quit the organization in disgust when Stand pushed aside their priorities to get with the new national program.

But these activists didn’t go away. Now, many of them are fighting against Stand’s latest Massachusetts effort, a ballot initiative that would restrict collective bargaining and have the effect of handing more power to school administrators. At last count, 55 former Stand activists had signed an open letter blasting Stand for doing the corporations’ dirty work.

“The proposed ballot measure . . . does nothing to improve teaching in our schools,” they wrote. “What it does is put the careers of our teachers at the mercy of an untested rating system, violating the recommendations of the people who designed that system.

“We fear the result would be to drive some of our best teachers away from the schools that need them most.

“This ballot measure fits the ideology of its corporate sponsors, but it is not what we want for those who teach our children. Most of all, it is not what we want for our children.”

Among the biggest contributors to Stand for Children in Massachusetts are principals in Bain Capital, the private equity company co-founded by Mitt Romney.

Read the letter—and sign on if you’re a former Stand member.

The Silence of Struggle in the Curriculum

by Bill Bigelow

One of the great silences in the mainstream school curriculum is the role that social movements have played in making this a fairer, more peaceful, more democratic world. If you think things are bad today, imagine what they would be like without the movements to abolish slavery, to demand women’s rights, to end unjust wars, to fight for civil rights, to defend the environment—or for workers to bargain collectively for a living wage and workplace dignity.

Bread and Roses CentennialOne of the most significant struggles for workers’ rights began exactly one hundred years ago, on January 12th in Lawrence, Mass., when thousands of textile workers began a walkout that would come to be known as the Bread and Roses Strike, as well as the Singing Strike.

You’re unlikely to find much more than a mention of this important strike in a typical high school history textbook, if that. But as Norm Diamond points out in his article for the Zinn Education Project, “One Hundred Years After the Singing Strike,” this was a remarkable struggle that united mostly young women workers speaking dozens of languages in a dead-of-winter contest with some of the richest men in the United States. And the workers won.

The Zinn Education Project includes a number of teaching materials about the strike:


The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the use of Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States and other materials for teaching a people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country. The website offers more than 100 free, downloadable lessons and articles organized by theme, time period, and reading level. The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.