Teaching Martin Luther King and the myth of the outside agitator.

rahm and bull

Melinda Anderson has a really good article in The Atlantic on teaching Martin Luther King and the perils, difficulties and benefits of teaching a social social justice curriculum.

Now 50 years later, seventh- and eighth-graders at Seward Academy on Chicago’s South Side study King and the very issue that brought him to their city. The Chicago teacher Gregory Michie says his lessons on the social-justice icon are designed to upend what he views as a simplistic and clichéd image often presented in schools. Since many of his students know King’s famous excerpt hoping for a day when no one is judged by the color of their skin, Michie’s social-studies class zeroes in on lesser-known sections of the “I Have a Dream” speech, like the “fierce urgency of now” and “tranquilizing drug of [white] gradualism.” The youngsters quickly realize that they’ve never really heard the full message of the speech, he said, and “it’s a lot more nuanced, and more fiery, than they’d thought.”

What has been lost in the King-as-dreamer mythology is that every place he went, including here in Chicago, he was branded an outside agitator by the white segregationist politicians in power, including the elder Mayor Richard Daley.

As we honored Dr. King this past weekend, that myth of social justice freedom fighters as outside agitators continues.

Mick Dumke reports in the Sun-Times today that following the release of the Laquan McDonald video, Mayor Rahm’s staff was spreading the word that outside agitators from Ferguson and Baltimore were invading the city to create violence.

As Emanuel went on to a holiday tree-lighting ceremony at Millennium Park, protesters took to downtown streets.

“I just got word from some of our friends, protest groups (outsiders from Baltimore, Ferguson etc) have arrived to city and will begin to mass at City Hall,” Henry wrote to other aides the next morning. “I was also told we should prepare for more aggressive, direct‐action, confrontations with CPD.”

This was, of course, a lie.

Who is “Henry.”

(Vance) Henry is a City Hall veteran who served as Mayor Richard M. Daley‘s director of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), the Police Department’s community-policing effort.

In December 2004, the Tribune reported that questions from federal drug investigators about a relationship between Henry and an indicted gang kingpin prompted a months-long Chicago police internal-affairs investigation.

At the time, Henry said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents had questioned him about his relationship with the alleged founder of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords, who had been arrested in May in a massive federal drug-conspiracy case.

The drug kingpin, Troy Martin, was a convicted murderer who later was found guilty in the federal case. Martin was a member of a church where Henry was an associate pastor. Henry said that he knew Martin through the church for several years and that other church officials suggested he offer advice to Martin through the church’s ex-offender program.

“I was assigned by my church to help an ex-offender,” Henry said. Their discussions took place mostly at church, but Henry did not recall when they began or how many times they spoke.

An October 2013 Tribune series, “Poverty and Profit,” cited public records in which Henry is listed as going to bat at Daley’s City Hall for a West Side developer who wanted to rehab and manage troubled apartment buildings despite a pattern of racking up unpaid taxes, fines and building code violations, including citations for tenants going without heat.

City payroll records now list Henry as a $145,000-a-year assistant to Emanuel.

Whether it was Bull Connor in Birmingham in 1963 or Rahm Emanuel in 2016, the myth of the outside agitator is in the bag of tricks of opportunist and racist politicians.



– By Ta-Nehisi Coates. From The Atlantic.

Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.

The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson ….

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims—if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him—a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves

Celia Oyler and Merryl Tisch.

Merryl Tisch is the wealthy chairperson of the New York Board of Regents, which is responsible for most of the educational policies of the State University and public school systems

Celia Oyler is a professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University.  We both were graduate students together at the University of Illinois at Chicago. At one time we shared teacher assistant teaching duties of undergraduates. I will admit that I stole most of my class activities from her.

She is the most decent and humane a teacher any student or colleague could ask for.

When something pisses Celia Oyler off, it is earned.

So when her employer, Teachers College, decided to award their Medal of Honor to the wealthy Merryl Tisch her outrage was not without just cause.

Professor Celia Oyler wrote the following message to her graduate students:

An Open Letter to Graduating Master’s Students in the Elementary and Secondary Inclusive Education Programs

I will not be attending convocation this year as I am on parental leave. I know if I were attending I would not be able to remain silent while Merryl Tisch is given a TC Medal of Honor. Her actions while Chair of the New York State Board of Regents have wrought incredible damage upon our noble profession.

Merryl Tisch has ushered through the Board of Regents many policies with which I vehemently disagree; these include: decoupling teacher certification and master’s degrees from university-based teacher education (approving Relay Graduate School of Education); allowing InBloom to collect and sell private data on each K-12 student in New York State schools; and requiring all school districts to tie teacher evaluation to Value Added Measures based on student test scores. There are numerous problems with using student test scores to evaluate teachers (Value Added Measures). See here, here and here to start.

Despite these well-documented concerns, Teachers College’s initial press release indicated that TC was awarding Merryl Tisch this honorary degree because of her efforts to establish this system of teacher evaluation. To be honest with you all, when I first read the press release, I sobbed. My chagrin is shared by many. For instance, read New York State Principal of the Year (2013) and TC grad Carol Burris’s comment about Merryl Tisch on Diane Ravitch’s blog posting about the Tisch award.

If I were at the graduation convocation, I would wear a sign on the back of my robe. It would probably say, “USING STUDENT TEST SCORES TO RATE TEACHERS DISHONORS US”. Some people are suggesting that students and faculty could turn their backs when Tisch is talking; other people have the idea to hold up signs. In any case, I know that I couldn’t be silent. I would feel complicit; my silence would be condoning the award. I would make sure to sit next to a colleague or two or three who would also agree to take an action with me.

I cannot sit silently while teachers across this country are being viciously attacked and demeaned by the junk science of VAM. For instance: A district in Florida fired A Teacher of the Year based on her VAM. In Los Angeles, a well-loved community-minded teacher committed suicide after his VAM scores were published in the newspaper and he was ranked as one of the lowest teachers in the district; he specialized in welcoming children who spoke little English.

When I was a child, I voraciously read all the books I could find about the Underground Railroad, the Abolitionist Movement, the anti-Nazi movement (including the White Rose Society), the Civil Rights Movement. As a teacher I often included a focus on the South African anti-apartheid movement. For as long as I can remember, I have asked myself, “Would I have stood up?” “Would I have had the courage to defend the side of freedom and justice?”

There are activists in the educational community and TC alumni who are debating whether to call for a protest of the Merryl Tisch award at your graduation. While there are different opinions on this topic, they are all asking if there will be a protest from the graduating students. They realize that you are entering teaching at a very difficult time and they admire your courage. They are hoping that as beginning teachers you can find small ways to protect both the children and our profession by protesting the horrible anti-child and anti-teacher policies pushed through with Race to the Top funding. They hope you are entering the field of education knowing we need to fight courageously for an education that is based on children’s individual needs and does not try to reduce them to test scores; that you want to teach subjects even if they are not on the tests, such as the arts, music, drama, science investigations, and social studies inquiries. I have assured them you are visionary and courageous and that you see urban communities of color as full of multicultural resources and assets to be cultivated rather than as sinkholes of deficits that need to be corrected into middle class mainstream discourses as measured by the tests.

My heart is beating as I type these words, as I know that public education is under an organized assault by corporate reformers who seek to script your curricula and make you teach to their tests. These corporate reformers—The New Schools Venture Fund, the Gates Foundation; the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and so on—seem to have nearly unlimited funds.

What we have on our side is our vision for a different kind of education: one that supports children to dance and sing and debate and play and create and dream and make art and design projects that show their ideas about how to make the world a better place. What we have on our side is our belief in humanity, relationships, solidarity, diversity, democracy, freedom, justice, and equality. I know that none of you entered our teacher education program with the mere goal of helping children score well on a standardized test. You entered teaching to touch the hearts and minds of children, and to listen to and value their stories. And to tell them through your words and your actions, “I see you, I expect huge successes from you, and I love you.”

Please walk with dignity into St John the Divine, no matter what you choose to do or not do about Merryl Tisch. And always remember that no Value Added Score can EVER measure how much value you have added to a child’s life.

With love,
Celia Oyler

Thousands of Philly students marching down Broad Street now.


Thousands of Philadelphia public school students are marching down Broad Street as I am writing this.

“We are willing to break the stereotypes and expectations of urban youth, and are taking this opportunity to tell the world that urban school districts deserve funding, and it is your responsibility under the Commonwealth Charter to provide us with more than a ‘bare bones education.’”

Read the back story in The Nation.

Saturday coffee.

It is coffee at home on this gloomy autumn morning. And the coffee is good.

I reported in the earlier post about the sit-in at Rahm’s fifth floor city-hall office last night. We begin the next big wave in the movement to save Chicago’s public schools from closings, charters and private management.

There are some who love calling everything the Civil Rights Movement of our time. But since I am old enough to have been through the last Civil Rights Movement (granted, I was a teenager), I think I am qualified to say that you can draw a pretty solid line from then to what is happening in Chicago now.

Even if some folks had to read their iPad for the lyrics to We Shall Overcome.

The pictures of folks, Black, Latino, Asian and white, practicing non-violent civil disobedience and being loaded into police wagons, while chanting, “Whose schools? Our schools!”

Protestors singing We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest.

And most importantly, the goal. Social justice in the hard-as-nails city that played a key role in the Northern Civil Rights Movement.

That Movement included the historic struggle against school segregation. It was symbolized by the notorious Willis Wagons, the trailers used as classrooms by Mayor Richard J Daley and his school superintendent Benjamin Willis to preserve racial segregation. The right of children to schools they deserve has always been a center piece to the Movement here.

So, here we are again.

This will be a long cold winter for the Mayor. Some speculate that he has presidential ambitions. Or at least a Senate seat. Maybe the governor’s mansion.

But that may all turn to dust in the coming fierce battle for Chicago’s school.

As Mayor Washington always said about Chicago politics: “It ain’t bean bag.”

The lesson may have been lost on the Mayor in the teacher’s strike.

But the thing about teachers is that if we haven’t done a good job at teaching a lesson the first time, we go back and teach it again.