A Teachable Moment for DeVos

At my children’s school here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, (hometown of Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos) the nation-wide “Day Without Immigrants” chalked up a barely 50% attendance rate, as immigrant families chose to keep their children home.

Other schools in the district with large immigrant enrollments forced the district to declare a “non-academic” day, lacking the required 75% overall attendance daily report. This may require an extra day added to the school calendar, if, more “snow days” come our way before Spring.

What this act of solidarity should teach us and our new “Head Administrator”, Mrs. DeVos, is that immigrant families depend on public schools, and school districts depend on the immigrant population to keep neighborhood schools viable, and open, for everyone.

So, this begs many questions, among them, “What impact with Trump’s new immigration policies, which are really repatriation orders, on public education as we know it?”

Another question for DeVos is, “Considering the role public schools play providing English as Second Language (ESL) services, adult education and non-traditional student high school completion courses, how will the diversion of public school funds to a voucher program, impact the ability of the district to continue to conduct these much needed resources for immigrant students and their parents?”

In addition, public schools are often the only support system for families with children who have special needs, be they immigrant children or not. How will DeVos square these high-cost, per-child services with what many school officials see as being in danger of severe cut-backs or elimination under a voucher system?

One champion of these and other questions for DeVos is the president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen García.

Nearly three weeks ago, she received a voice mail from Sec. DeVos, suggesting they meet.

Before agreeing to the meeting, Garcia asked that DeVos come with some answers to direct questions posed by Garcia, in the wake of the Senate confirmation hearing, during which DeVos gave vague or non-answers.

As of this blog’s writing, DeVos has not responded to the request.

Here is an open letter written by Garcia to DeVos while waiting for her reply. Note the specific numbered questions below.

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I am writing in response to your voice mail. I’m an elementary teacher from Utah. I’ve taught in middle-class suburbs. I’ve taught homeless children and hard-to-place foster kids in a residential home. I know how important it is for my students to have education leaders who understand their lives and the support they need. As president of the 3-million-member National Education Association, I look for partners to stand with us as we protect the rights of all our students.

We will continue to fight for students, educators, and public schools. We will make sure the voices of educators are heard and that policymakers understand that investing in public schools is an investment in the next generation of teachers, scientists, welders, and even politicians.

It’s important for educators, parents, and communities to know where you stand on some of the most critical work of the federal Department of Education. We must ask you to give us the substantive answers that we did not hear you give to the senators at your hearing on issues critical to our students:

  1. Do you agree that all schools receiving public dollars must be held to the sameaccountability and transparency standards?
    2. Will you agree not to privatize funding for Special Education of Title I?
    3. Will you stand with educators and protect our most vulnerable students from discrimination, including LGBT students, immigrant students, students of color, girls and English language learners?
    4. Will you focus, as educators are focused, on the civil rights of all children, regardless of their ZIP code, by challenging the inequities so many face in equal access to programs, services and support?

For us, there is a wrong answer to these questions. Privatizing and profiting from public education has not moved us toward equity, equal access, non-discrimination, and opportunity for all students. Educators will never waver in our determination to create a system that works for ALL children. Educators, students, and parents deserve to know that the U.S. Secretary of Education will do the same.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Lily Eskelsen García
1989 Utah Teacher of the Year
President, National Education Association

So, Secretary DeVos, not only is the NEA interested in your answers, but all of us parents of immigrant children, special needs students, and all who are public school supporters, await your honest, open and direct response.

This IS a timed test! Not a pop quiz!

The Unlikely Student

 

 

 

 

Dr.Seuss Meets Donald Trump

How to help your child make sense of it all?…Have no fear! Horton is here!

When our kids watch the marches, the protests at airports, the unrelenting, ever growing, global outcry over Trump’s edicts,  do we know how they are taking all this in, and if so, what it means?

After an evening’s digest of watching massive crowds protesting Trump’s immigration and refugee “executive orders” it was time to put the kids to bed, which is never without a bedtime story. This night our 5-year-old’s request was, “Dad, read Horton Hears A Who!”

Half asleep myself, I opened the bright orange Dr. Seuss book with that unforgettable Horton the elephant on the cover and I began…Perhaps you know the story.

Upon discovering a whole Who village on a clover’s head, Horton bravely protects them from Who deniers, evil birds of prey, and monkeys who beat and caged him, but all the while he holds the delicate clover and the Whos’ lives wrapped by his faithful trunk.

Then, these words clicked…sure as a Dr. Seuss rhyme.

“But he (Horton) managed to call/To the (Who) Mayor: Don’t give up! I believe in you all!/ A person’s a person, no matter how small! And you very small persons will not have to die/If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!”
After all attempts to yell, scream, bang pots and more, still the Who people were not heard. Still they were in danger of extinction by the hard-hearted jungle creatures who harassed Horton.

But, then, the mayor finds one small Who boy who had not joined the ruckus.

“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!/ The time for all Whos who have blood that is red/To come to the aid of their country!” he said./ We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!/So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

The young Who’s “Yopp” was the decisive voice!

“That one small, extra Yopp put it over!/ Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover/Their voices were heard!..”

The Whos were saved. The menacing kangaroo, threatening their demise, finally listened and…once he heard, once he acknowledged the Whos’ existence, he had a change of heart.

“From now on, you know what I’m planning to do?/From now on, I’m going to protect them with you!/…From sun in the summer. From rain when it’s fall-ish, I’m going to protect them. No matter how small-ish!”

Someone send “Horton Hears A Who!” to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington, D.C. Address it to “Donald Trump and Staff” and inscribe it with these words, “For every bedtime until you hear us, Mr. President.”

And, perhaps, this Horton story just might help you explain to your children or grandchildren just how important their voices are, no matter how small. Perhaps this book may help them better grasp why YOU are out there, in the marches, organizing local resistance groups, getting up, getting out, and NOT giving up!

Good reading and sleep well! I have a feeling you’re going to need your rest.

The Unlikely Student

 

 

 

 

Solidarity Wins!

We have one thing to thank Donald Trump for and that is the reawakening of passionate people across the country who refuse to accept as a “new normal” the erosion of the progress made thus far on issues domestic and foreign.

Everywhere, organizations formal and informal, local and national, are emerging to stand up for the common good, for the disenfranchised, for equity and justice and Mother Earth.

Locally, I am a member of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club to stand for land, resources and climate change issues.

I joined Equity PAC, organized to support candidates who champion equity platforms while keeping watch over non-elected, appointed officials who influence public policies, reminding them they too are accountable to the public.

Just a few miles from my home town, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is formalizing their multi-issue strategies for this year, bringing together people who are passionate about any one or more causes.

On a national scale, the rise of “Our Revolution” is a movement inclusive of a broad range of key equity and social justice issues born out of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Another organization, “Indivisible,” published an online guidebook written by experts familiar with the workings of the national government. The publication is a great step-by-step, start-up manual for grassroots organizers.

All this is happening…now…as people emerge from their valleys of post-election despair  and begin mobilizing their hands and feet, hearts and minds and finding like-minded folk to join the struggle.

Each new organization has its own agenda, but, let us not be so “my cause-focused” that we divert ourselves from the overall national agenda of advocacy pertaining to the welfare of all, including the planet itself.

Part of my activism is to champion “Solidarity” – creating awareness and links among and between as many groups as I can come to know, in the struggle, no matter which cause is on whose agenda.

In my next blog I will detail my personal action plan for boosting solidarity!

All issues are linked. All organizations, I urge, need to link in mutual support of each other’s mission if we are to make our voices heard and actions count.

For starters, solidarity begins like this…

  1. Be aware of other organizations’ existence.
  2. Get to know each other’s missions and purpose.
  3. Attend each other’s events and encourage your supports to attend as well.
  4. Invite other organizations’ leadership to meet occasionally to discuss strategies, progress, challenges and ways to join together on common causes.
  5. Create a cross-organizations’ “watch lists” of legislators, candidates, (local, state, national) whose agendas threaten your or others’ causes. Prepare effective strategies to influence outcomes.
  6. Be aware of “open seats” on local commissions and advisory councils which you can urge people, who demonstrate equity and justice action, to put their names up for filling these open, non-elected seats. (Note: This is where real public policy happens.)
  7. Know the nominees for government appointments from the President’s Cabinet on down through all departments. Contact the review committees’ members and legislators and let them know your views on these nominees.
  8. Create and share an up-to-date “contact” list of legislators who are in positions to support your causes.  Demonstrate your solidarity with them. Encourage them in their struggle.
  9.  Start a multi-organization “call-chain”  with each member of each group contacting a chain of five others alerting each of pending legislation that must be blocked and defeated.
  10. Jointly sponsor and host local “teach-ins” to inform residents of the issues and their importance to their lives and how to get involved by taking action.
  11. Jointly host guest speakers, film showings, concerts, pot-lucks and other events to draw attention to key issues which are bound to impact some, and therefore, all of us.
  12. Live out what solidarity means by uniting in spirit and action, with your children watching and joining in when possible, advocating with and for each other’s causes…making these your causes too.

One more suggestion,  host a book reading or a book club, using Angela Davis’, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle.”

You will find, throughout the speeches and writings which make up this book, the theme of the importance and impact of solidarity among unknown, but dedicated, women and men, who collectively won great victories in struggles past and present.

There IS profound freedom IN the struggle!

Let’s find that freedom together…in solidarity!

Yours,

The unlikely student

“When one of us suffers at the hands of the few, all the people do!” from the song, “We The People Do!” by Dale Alan.  Album: “Where Does The Justice Go?”

 

Ghost of Christmas Future

“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or at least neglect persons of poor and mean condition…[is] the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.” – Adam Smith

Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” meets the frightening “Ghost of Christmas Future”as a foretelling of what the world would be like if Scrooge (and those like him) would continue lives of utter disregard for humanity.

So changed he was by this vision, that, upon waking he became known as one of the most generous, caring people in town.

I invite you to use this Dickens technique and peer into the next four years, a.k.a. The Time of Trump.

Recalling Trump’s rally tirades, Twitter-babble, and statements by cabinet nominees, it doesn’t take much imagination to conger up a haunting ghost of what shall be…unless our collective ways are changed…by us.

Join me, as our ghost spirits us to a near-future American landscape, dodging toxic fumes of “clean coal” fired plants, across once-pristine tundras now pocked by oil drilling rigs feeding endless pipelines with that unmistakable petroleum-spill odor.

We soar above cities where infrastructures are falling into further ruin because tax dollars (from the working middle class) are diverted into the multi-theater war efforts which, under the guise of crushing ISIS and other “threats to American freedom,”are actually military actions to protect countries where Trump has his towers and investments.

We see our nation’s streets turned combat zones as peaceful protests escalate into armed conflicts put down, Kent State – style, by police and National Guard units, with live ammo.

Inside arenas, arrogant, militant hate speeches call out “No Lives Matter” unless they are White and Alt-Right!

Then, as if in lock-step, the crowds spill into this future America torching mosques, synagogues and Black churches.

Below, we scarcely hear the faint,  bewildered appeals from evangelical pulpits, pleading, “Can’t we just all get along?” “Let’s try to find some common ground.” “Don’t we really all want the same thing?”

As these scenes multiply, city-by-city, we find millions herded into open trucks heading for the border, with desperate children running after them shouting, “No. No. Mama. Papa.”

Our journey pauses at a tenement building. We are told to “look through any window.” We see people counting out their less-than-living wages trying to feed the kids, pay the now unregulated utility bills, with eviction notices posted on their doors.

There is something…a sound…getting louder and louder as we fly over city and town, urban and rural. It is  unmistakable wailing.

“Quickly move on,” we beg the ghost. “It is too disturbing! Too frightening. Too deafening.”

“You must hear it,” says the guide. “You must and never forget it. It is the cry of the mother, sister, brother, father who lost another to a shooting.It is the new sound track of America. It is the Second Amendment trumping ‘the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ ”

Though the sky is dark, no moon, no stars to light the way, we see flashing reds and blue beams below. We see bodies put into vans and others rounded up into police wagons heading off to jail.

“It’s called the new ‘stop and frisk,’ ” says the ghost, reading our frightened faces.

By now, we cannot bear any more of this. “Make it stop,” we cry out to the Ghost of Christmas Future. “Make it go away.”

“It shall be as you see it,” the  ghost replies.

“But, this is not America! This is not MY America!”

“It is YOUR America…You allowed this to happen.You thought all that election rhetoric was a joke. It is your future. Your nightmare,” the ghost chided.

“Is there is no way to change the course of events?” we ask, choking every word.

“The future is in your hands. These events need NOT unfold if you are determined in your resolve to stand up in solidarity. To be counted, no matter the cost, for this cost shall be dear,” the ghost retorts.

We wake. The ghost is gone. It is morning. Or, isn’t it?

The Unlikely Student.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Give Now!”………For What, Exactly?

These days following the Trump “upset,” non-profits are wasting no time sending urgent, almost panic-stricken appeals to  “give now”  so they may redouble their efforts to defend their causes which are in the path of Trump’s tornado.

Can’t blame them, really. Anyone who works for a non-profit knows how to turn any crisis into a cash opportunity.

I’m sorry. Was that too cynical?

My point is simply this; be editorially vigilant about how you posture the “how,” “why” and “to what end” you want to use donor’s funds. And, be specific, please.

Given, that Trump’s  campaign rhetoric and his “first one hundred day promises” is  good reason to imagine, no expect, strides made on so many fronts may unravel before the nation’s and the world’s eyes.

So, I suggest, don’t posture appeals using the same “fear” tactics used to rally the red-capped storm troopers. You’re better than that, aren’t you?

Blogger and fund raising expert, Mazarine Treyz recently wrote, “One in ten people in the US works at a nonprofit.” My guess is that some of these nonprofits rejoiced at the election results. Others did not.

So, if you are still standing and want to rage against the new regime, Trezy suggests,  instead of complaining, do something with the assets you have. If you are a fund raiser, give it your all. If you can throw a party, do one and speak to people. If you have tech skills, put them to use. (You can find her blog at mazarine@wildwomanfundraising.com)

In other words, be rational.

If you are an organization that is sending these “Give Now” appeals to “fight back” please use facts. Organize, not just for a few days in the streets with raised fists to Trump Towers, but, as thinking people, who do not let emotions cause non-profits to turn on each other competing for the post-election, knee-jerked, “anger-based” contributions.

My only “fear” is that like most protests, they fade without organized strategies on how they “will never give up.”

Sorry, but too much of this election postmortem talk sounds like those well-meaning people who come to your side when a death or divorce comes to your family. They say, “We’re here for you. We will be on your side through this.” And, then, within a month, a week, or even a day or two, you never see or hear from them again.

You want my dollars? Tell me what you are planning to do? Who will you partner with? What is really at stake? Show me the numbers, the stories, the evidence that you have a way forward.

How serious are you about raising watchtowers on the plains of battle to minimize the impact of the new administration’s executive orders, appointments and bills sent to a friendly Congress?

Are you so serious you are willing to merge? To join forces rather than protect your donor and program turfs? Solidarity comes with costs. Are you ready to pay up?

Yours,

The Unlikely Student

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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