Friday, September 26, 2008
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Saturday, December 09, 2006
Ann Lynn Lopez Schubert, 1952-2006
Ann earned her Ph.D at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1993. She concluded her stunning dissertation with these words: "Nearly fifteen years ago, before our two children were born, my husband and I wrote that in order for education to be genuinely for children or anyone, it also had to be of and by them. By this I mean that students must be involved in authentic ways in the conceptualization of purpose, method and evaluation of consequences---the whole process of education. While it seems clear from my own experiences that the more formal the system of education the less education centers on meaning and sense of direction or purpose, there exist possibilities to create occasions for such learning through study of supportive and resistive factors, study of the environment and its history, ongoing dialogue with one's students, subversion, creativity, sheer determination, trust, courage, and love."
That's Ann, pure and straight-forward.
Ann's inquiry explored the possibility of employing progressive approaches in a city school, a dance class, and a unique home education project. It's an original and ground-breaking narrative study, focused on the deep meaning-making perspectives of participants. She writes: "urban...schools are experienced...as places of value, diversity, freedom, possibility, and complexity rather than barren wastelands of filth' corruption, decay, and vice...Until we learn to value the idea of the city,we can expect to see the streets paved with anger..."
Ann continues to teach me in ways subtle and surprising---- her words enlighten me and her life emboldens me.
I miss her very much.
Friday, November 24, 2006
World Education Forum
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
World Education Forum
Centro Interncional Miranda
November , 2006
President Hugo Chavez, Vice-President Vicente Rangel, Ministers Moncada and Isturiz, invited guests,comrades. I’m honored and humbled to be here with you this morning. I bring greetings and support from your brothers and sisters throughout Northamerica. Welcome to the World Education Forum! Amamos la revolucion Bolivariana!
This is my fourth visit to Venezuela, each time at the invitation of my comrade and friend Luis Bonilla, a brilliant educator and inspiring fighter for justice. Luis has taught me a great deal about the Bolivarian Revolution and about the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution, and I’ve come to appreciate Luis as a major asset in both the Venezuelan and the international struggle---I look forward to seeing how he and all of you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane. Thank you, Luis, for everything you’ve done.
I also thank my youngest son, Chesa Boudin, who is interpreting my talk this morning and whose book on the Bolivarian revolution has played an important part in countering the barrage of lies spread by the U.S. State Department and the corrupted Northamerican media.
On my last trip to Caracas I spoke of traveling to a literacy class—Mission Robinson— in the hills above the city along a long and winding road. As we made our way higher and higher, the talk turned to politics as it inevitably does here, and someone noted that the wealthy—here and everywhere, here and in the US surely—have certain received opinions, a kind of absolute judgment about poor and working people, and yet they have never traveled this road, nor any road like it. They have never boarded this bus up into these hills, and not just the oligarchy or the wealthy—this lack of first-hand knowledge, of open investigation, of generous regard is also a condition of the everyday liberals, and even many of the radicals and armchair intellectuals whose formulations sit lifeless and stifling in a crypt of mythology about poor people. Everyone should come and travel these roads into the hills, we agreed then—and not just once, but again and again and again – if they will ever learn anything of the real conditions of life here, surely, but more important than that, if they will ever encounter the wisdom and experience and insight that lives here as well.
We arrived at eight o'clock to a literacy circle already underway being conducted in a small, poorly-lit classroom. And here in an odd and dark space, a sun was shining: ten people had pulled their chairs close together—a young woman maybe 19, a grandmother maybe 65, two men in their 40s—each struggling to read. And I thought of a poem called A Poor Woman Learns to Write by Margaret Atwood about a woman working laboriously to print her name in the dirt. She never thought she could do it, the poet notes, not her-- this writing business was for others. But she does it, prints her name, her first word so far, and she looks up and smiles--- for she did it right.
The woman in the poem—just like the students in Mission Robinson—is living out a universal dialectic that embodies education at its very best: she wrote her name, she changed herself, and she altered the conditions of her life. As she wrote the word, she changed the world, and another world became—suddenly and surprisingly—possible.
I began teaching when I was 20 years old in a small freedom school affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The year was 1965, and I'd been arrested in a demonstration. Jailed for ten days, I met several activists who were finding ways to link teaching and education with deep and fundamental social change. They were following Dewey and DuBois, King and Helen Keller who wrote: “We can’t have education without revolution. We have tried peace education for 1,900 years and it has failed. Let us try revolution and see what it will do now.”
I walked out of jail and into my first teaching position—and from that day until this I've thought of myself as a teacher, but I've also understood teaching as a project intimately connected with social justice. After all, the fundamental message of the teacher is this: you can change your life—whoever you are, wherever you've been, whatever you've done, another world is possible. As students and teachers begin to see themselves as linked to one another, as tied to history and capable of collective action, the fundamental message of teaching shifts slightly, and becomes broader, more generous: we must change ourselves as we come together to change the world. Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions small and large. La educacion es revolucion!
I taught at first in something like a Simoncito---called Head Start---and eventually taught at every level in barrios and prisons and insurgent projects across the United States. I learned then that education is never neutral. It always has a value, a position, a politics. Education either reinforces or challenges the existing social order, and school is always a contested space – what should be taught? In what way? Toward what end? By and for whom? At bottom, it involves a struggle over the essential questions: what does it mean to be a human being living in a human society?
Totalitarianism demands obedience and conformity, hierarchy, command and control. Royalty requires allegiance. Capitalism promotes racism and militarism – turning people into consumers, not citizens. Participatory democracy, by contrast, requires free people coming together voluntarily as equals who are capable of both self-realization and, at the same time, full participation in a shared political and economic life.
Education contributes to human liberation to the extent that people reflect on their lives, and, becoming more conscious, insert themselves as subjects in history. To be a good teacher means above all to have faith in the people, to believe in the possibility that people can create and change things. Education is not preparation for life, but rather education is life itself ,an active process in which everyone--- students and teachers-- participates as co-learners.
Despite being under constant attack from within and from abroad, the Bolivarian revolution has made astonishing strides in a brief period: from the Mission Simoncito to the Mission Robinson to the Mission Ribas to the Mission Sucre, to the Bolivarian schools and the UBV, Venezuelans have shown the world that with full participation, full inclusion, and popular empowerment, the failings of capitalist schooling can be resisted and overcome. Venezuela is a beacon to the world in its accomplishment of eliminating illiteracy in record time, and engaging virtually the entire population in the ongoing project of education.
The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote a poem to his fellow writers called “The Poet’s Obligation” in which he instructed them in their core responsibility: you must, he said, become aware of your sisters and brothers who are trapped in subjugation and meaninglessness, imprisoned in ignorance and despair. You must move in and out of windows carrying a vision of the vast oceans just beyond the bars of the prison-- a message of hope and possibility. Neruda ends with this: it is through me that freedom and the sea will call in answer to the shrouded heart.
Let those of us who are gathered here today read this poem as “The Teacher’s Obligation.” We, too, must move in and out of windows, we, too, must build a project of radical imagination and fundamental change. Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education– a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation. This World Education Forum provides us a unique opportunity to develop and share the lessons and challenges of this profound educational project that is the Bolivarian Revolution.
Viva Mission Sucre!
Viva Presidente Chavez!
Viva La Revolucion Bolivariana!
Hasta La Victoria Siempre!
A Visit to Champaign-Urbana
To Daniel and the Energetic, Wondrous, and Hopeful Early Childhood Education Students:
That was fast! Zoom! Zoom! I was back in Chicago at 4:30, but sorry to leave so abruptly. Next time I’ll stay.
I think I answered a few of your question—3? 4?—but didn’t get to most. So here goes:
1) On discipline and classroom management: Try hard to create a classroom culture that is purposeful, varied, engaging, fair. Try to have a range of relevant activities available. Try to have materials that people can use without much external direction and assistance. Every day ask: Is the classroom engaging? For everyone? Is the pace and sequence and rhythm of the day appropriate?
Get this right (and it’s never perfect, but rather always a work-in-progress) and lots of behavioral stuff will take care of itself. But ok, people mess up. When someone does, that’s not an occasion for anger or shock, but rather, it’s the occasion for a “teachable moment”—a time to talk about why we use words and not fists, or why that hurt her feelings, or why…
The repertoire in too many schools is narrow, and runs from humiliation to exclusion. Promise yourself that you’ll never humiliate a student, and that you seriously, truly do not want to exclude anyone. We strive for the dignity of each in an inclusive community. Try to live up to that promise.
2) Alternative assessment: All this means is that teachers make judgments and assessments all the time, and you should search for ways to understand your students that go deeper than a score on a test. You should build a system to collect, save, and display student work—massive amounts of it. You should interview each kid regularly—at least once a month and often informally—to get a feel for how each is experiencing class. You should help each articulate goals and agendas. And you should keep observational notes (observe kids at work at least 15 minutes morning, and 15 minutes afternoon) on the class, review them regularly, and see who you’re missing. You can ask focusing questions to help you observe: Why have I not seen Maria in my notes for several weeks? When is Hector more engaged?
3) Starting with strengths: This is the challenge—to see human capacity in an environment that surfaces weaknesses. In a prison, toughness is visible; in too many classrooms there bad behavior is visible. Build a space with multiple entry-points and several pathways to success. I know an extraordinary prison (it’s true!) where writers’ workshops reveal the poet inside the thugish exterior, the gardener inside the felon. If they can do it, you—with a class of six-year-olds—can do it too.
4) Avoid burnout: Create provisions for Teacher Talk, a professional conversation where you can get support and ideas (see To Teach). Do things at your own adult level that you advocate and want your kids to do: read good books, eat well, sleep at night, be an involved citizen in some civic organization, make art, exercise. Being able to notice that the world is crazy doesn’t make you sane; resisting the madness actively, opposing things that offend your humanity is the path to balance.
5) Favorite teachers: I’ve loved so many—Miss Erickson in kindergarten because she was “nice” and she told marvelous stories and she loved me; Mr. Ainsworth, my gay high school math teacher, because he had two little dogs named “Trig” and “Geo” who came to class with him, and because he liked us; Professor Mayer because he challenged me to think deeply about the world and he liked us; Maxine Greene because she blew my mind, and she liked us.
Here’s the pattern: memorable teachers come to teach, and they embrace their students’ humanity—they like us.
6) I included “Everything I Needed to Know…” because it was just new when I published my first book—it wasn’t yet a cliché—and because it contains an essential truth: the deep and mysterious lessons are available to human beings from the start. Everything else is just elaboration.
7) As you teach, you learn. I’ve learned so much, mostly specific and local—Darryl loves to sing left to himself, Hannah gets disruptive when she’s hungry, Angel can work hard early but tires easily. Sometimes I’ve learned about myself—I need to read more in this or that area; I need to be more directive and less laid-back; I have trouble being patient with whiny people. Sometimes I’ve learned from students about huge (but invisible to me) parts of the world—illegal immigrants, alcoholism and anorexia, homelessness, gambling, workers at the race track. One thing I know: follow any human being two steps into her or his lived life and world, and all the received wisdom, easy assumptions, clichés, and stereotypes fall away. Each of us is an entire universe, the one and only who will ever trod this earth, a work-in-progress and an unruly spark of meaning-making energy on a voyage toward infinity. How great is that?
8) There’s more, of course. See www.billayers.org if you like. Peace!
Sunday, October 29, 2006
In Defense of Poetry....A Letter to the NYT, October, 2002
To The Editors:
The logic and structure of good journalism are poorly fitted for poetry. Spreading myths and printing falsehoods may violate the standards of a decent newspaper but they are the very stuff of poetry, and that's why no one with an ounce of sense goes to Homer or Neruda or Schymborska or Bob Dylan for the facts. When you instruct your readers that the "proper response" to reading Amiri Baraka is "discussion and condemnation" you both confuse the register of poetry, and you beg the question. The great Chicago poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, once asked, "Does man love Art?" Her response: "Man visits art but squirms. Art hurts. Art urges voyages."
October 2, 2002
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
A Letter to the Times Found Five Years Later...
September 15, 2001
To The Editors—
In July of this year Dinitia Smith asked my publisher if she might
interview me for the New York Times on my forthcoming book, Fugitive
Days. From the start she questioned me sharply about bombings, and
each time I referred her to my memoir where I discussed the culture of
violence we all live with in America, my growing anger in the 1960's
about the structures of racism and the escalating war, and the
complex, sometimes extreme and despairing choices I made in those
Smith's angle is captured in the Times headline: "No regrets for a
love of explosives" (September 11, 2001). She and I spoke a lot about
regrets, about loss, about attempts to account for one's life. I
never said I had any love for explosives, and anyone who knows me
found that headline sensationalistic nonsense. I said I had a
thousand regrets, but no regrets for opposing the war with every ounce
of my strength. I told her that in light of the indiscriminate murder
of millions of Vietnamese, we showed remarkable restraint, and that
while we tried to sound a piercing alarm in those years, in fact we
didn't do enough to stop the war.
Smith writes of me: "Even today, he 'finds a certain eloquence to
bombs, a poetry and a pattern from a safe distance,' he writes." This
fragment seems to support her "love affair with bombs" thesis, but it
is the opposite of what I wrote:
We'll bomb them into the Stone Age, an unhinged American politician
had intoned, echoing a gung-ho, shoot-from-the-hip general… each
describing an American policy rarely spoken so plainly. Boom. Boom.
Boom. Poor Viet Nam.
Almost four times the destructive power Florida… How could we
understand it? How could we take it in? Most important, what should
we do about it? Bombs away.
There is a certain eloquence to bombs, a poetry and a pattern from a
safe distance. The rhythm of B-52s dropping bombs over Viet Nam, a
deceptive calm at 40,000 feet as the doors ease open and millennial
eggs are delivered on the green canopy below, the relentless thud of
indiscriminate destruction and death without pause on the ground.
Nothing subtle or syncopated. Not a happy rhythm.
Three million Vietnamese lives were extinguished. Dig up Florida and
throw it into the ocean. Annihilate Chicago or London or Bonn. Three
million—each with a mother and a father, a distinct name, a mind and a
body and a spirit, someone who knew him well or cared for her or
counted on her for something or was annoyed or burdened or irritated
by him; each knew something of joy or sadness or beauty or pain. Each
was ripped out of this world, a little red dampness staining the
earth, drying up, fading, and gone. Bodies torn apart, blown away,
smudged out, lost forever.
I wrote about Vietnamese lives as a personal American responsibility,
then, and the hypocrisy of claiming an American innocence as we
constructed and stoked an intricate and hideous chamber of death in
Clearly I wrote and spoke about he export of violence and the
government's love affair with bombs. Just as clearly Dinitia Smith
was interested in her journalistic angle and not the truth. This is
not a question of being misunderstood or "taken out of context," but
of deliberate distortion.
Some readers apparently responded to her piece, published on the same
day as the vicious terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, by
associating my book with them. This is absurd. My memoir is from
start to finish a condemnation of terrorism, of the indiscriminate
murder of human beings, whether driven by fanaticism or official
policy. It begins literally in the shadow of Hiroshima and comes of
age in the killing fields of Southeast Asia. My book criticizes the
American obsession with a clean and distanced violence, and the
culture of thoughtlessness and carelessness that results form it.
We are now witnessing crimes against humanity in our own land on an
unthinkable scale, and I fear that we might soon see innocent people
in other parts of the world as well as in the U.S. dying and suffering
All that we witnessed September 11—the awful carnage and pain, the
heroism of ordinary people—may drive us mad with grief and anger, or
it may open us to hope in new ways. Perhaps precisely because we have
suffered we can embrace the suffering of others and gather the
necessary wisdom to resist the impulse to lash out randomly. The
lessons of the anti-war movements of the 1960s and 70s may be more
urgent now than ever.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
ISRAEL INVADES!!! (the NY public schools)
Two years ago Joel Klein, Chancellor of the NY public schools, bowed
to a heated and disingenuous attack by a group of zealots against any
American academic who had the temerity to deviate from Israel's
elaborate,self-aggrandizing, and thoroughly dishonest story of itself,
and announced that Rashid Khalidi, the esteemed historian from
Columbia University, would not be allowed to speak at school-sponsored
teacher development sessions. Klein in effect scuttled a program in
which Columbia provided, pro bono, academics from a range of
disciplines to engage with teachers in staff development activities.
Fast forward to September,2006---five years after 911. The New York
City Council's education committee approved a curriculum that will
grant graduate credit to teachers who take a 30-hour course of study
on Israel, written by the pr department of the Israeli Consulate.
Consul General Aryeh Mekel understood the import of this unprecedented
initiative: "through the teachers a generation of leaders will be
educated to maintain the special relations between the US and
Israel....We are not bringing politics, but are exposing them to
Israel as we know it and as we would like people to know it." But no
Education is about asking questions, seeking the truth, challenging
dogma and convention, pursuing evidence, opening doors, upending
received wisdom. The City Council is promoting blatant propaganda,and
it should be resisted with the power of real education.
I'm writing these words on September 12, 2006--- the fifth
anniversary of the spectacular hijacking of the monstrous crimes of
September 11. That's right, the hijacking of the hijackings, carried
out in plain sight by a different band of right-wing zealots just as
determined to impose their arid ideology on America and the world as
the thugs of 9-11. It's a hijacking still underway, a work-in-progress
whose disastrous consequences are only partly apparent. But let's
start at the beginning, and remember how we got into this fine mess.
The attacks of September 11 were--- no doubt about it--- pure
terrorism, indiscriminate slaughter, crimes against humanity carried
out by reactionary fanatics with fundamentalist fantasies dancing
wildly in their heads. And in the immediate aftermath Americans
experienced, of course, grief, confusion, compassion, solidarity, as
well as something else: uncharacteristic soul-searching, questioning,
and political openness, but not for long.
A headline in the Onion got it only partly right: "Unsure What to
Do, Entire Country Stares Dumbly at Hands." Actually Cheney, Rumsfeld,
Ashcroft, and their gang knew exactly what to do, and they did it---
they pulled out their most ambitious plans to create a new American
empire, to remake the world to their liking, to suppress dissent, to
bail out the airlines by transferring $20 billion without safeguards
or benchmarks from public to private hands in a matter of days with a
single no-vote in the Senate, to scuttle aspects of the law that
checked their power, to deliver the country, in the words of Arthur
Miller, "into the hands of the radical right, a ministry of free
floating apprehension toward anything that never happens in the middle
of Missouri." The ideologues filled up all the available space with
their fantastic interpretation of events, and they shouted down anyone
with the temerity to disagree, donning the mantle of patriotism to
defend their every move.
The "Boondocks" and Bill Maher came under steady attack, Susan
Sontag and Edward Said were told to shut up, give up their jobs, and
by implication to retreat to their caves with their terrorist
soul-mates. When mild-mannered, slightly right wing Stanley Fish
suggested that all the mantras of the day--- we have seen the face of
evil, the clash of civilizations, we're at war with international
terrorism--- are inaccurate and unhelpful, failing for a lack of any
available mechanism for settling deep-seated disputes, he was targeted
as a destructive leech on the American way of life. Asked to apologize
for his post-modern devil work of forty years, he cracked wise,
telling me he could picture the headline: "Fish ironically announces
the death of post-modernism, millions cheer."
The president said repeatedly that America was misunderstood in the
world, and that what we have here is mainly a failure to communicate.
He sounded like the sadistic warden of the prison plantation in "Cool
Hand Luke," whose signature phrase is the focus of ridicule and
reversal. What's clear in both cases is that a failure to communicate
is the very least of it.
The press rolled over, gave up any pretense of skepticism, and
became the idiot-chorus for the powerful. When the president looked
soulfully out from our TVs and implored every American child to send a
dollar for Afghan kids, no one asked how much money would be required
to feed those kids, or how the food was going to get there and by-pass
their parents. Starvation ahead. The so-called war on terror was
simply accepted on all sides, no one qualifying with the necessary,
"so-called." No one asked whether a crime didn't require a criminal
justice response and solution---perhaps a massive response, but within
the field of criminal justice nonetheless. No one in power asked what
the field of this war would be, or how we would know if we'd won. No
one demanded evidence or proof.
And here we are: international law shredded, torture defended,
citizens rounded up and held without honoring their Constitutional
rights, nationalism promoted relentlessly, disdain for human rights on
the rise, militarism ascendant in all aspects of the culture, the mass
media flat on its back, people nodding dully as we accede to an orange
alert and march in orderly lines through security checkpoints and
random searches, organized vote suppression and rampant fraud at the
polls, mass incarceration of Black men, war without end, and on and
Five years after, we might stir ourselves to impeach the criminal
heading up this cabal, we might prepare for the criminal trials these
domestic hijackers deserve, and, at the very least, we might tell the
truth in the public square and thereby contribute to building a mass
movement for peace and justice.