Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
The California state capitol in Sacramento. (Flickr/Rafał Próchniak)
This article originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence and is reposted with permission.
After the Newtown shootings, the urgency to secure schools shot up. California Senator Barbara Boxer floated legislation to deploy the National Guard in districts nationwide; President Obama included grants for “school resource officers” in his since-mothballed gun control proposals; and districts, including Los Angeles, which already has the largest school police force in the country, called for more police or stronger partnerships with local law enforcement.
Across the country, students of color braced for the aftershock. School police are the bedrock of the school-to-prison pipeline, a system that levies harsh punishments for nonviolent behavior and, despite scant evidence of greater infraction, funnels disproportionate numbers of black and Latino students out of school and into court. This system of racialized discipline and punishment feeds off moments of fear like Newtown—from the Reagan-era war on drugs, when zero tolerance discipline was born, to the Columbine shootings, which led schools in Denver to increase student referrals to law enforcement by 71 percent over the next four years.
The most recent police surge is, however, only one part of the story. The commotion over school safety has also opened space for youth organizers to push the conversation in the opposite direction.
On May 29, the California state assembly passed AB 549 by a vote of 71-0. The bill is a sweeping attempt to clarify the role of school police, limit their involvement in student discipline and prioritize the use of restorative justice training, school counselors and related support in school violence prevention. In its current wording, it encourages schools to articulate the role of all school staff—from police officers to mental health workers—in state-mandated school safety plans. As it moves to the state Senate, activists are pushing to make that encouragement a requirement, while also requiring schools to emphasize practices like counseling and conflict resolution training. They also seek an explicit definition of school police as overseers of physical safety rather than student discipline.
AB 549 follows on the heels of related efforts in Texas and Connecticut—and a handful of laws passed in the state’s previous legislative session focused on rolling back zero tolerance discipline. The current bill, like the ones before it, builds on the coalition work of large advocacy organizations and organizing-based community groups across California. Some of these groups are affiliated with the national Dignity in Schools Campaign, which published a comprehensive set of policy recommendations authored by youth of color after the Newtown shootings.
For students, having a voice in school policy is a goal unto itself. “We were always told, when the cops pulled us over, and even with teachers sometimes, that this is who you are, and this is where you’re going to end up,” said Carlo Elmo Gomez, a 22-year-old organizer for Los Angeles’s Community Rights Campaign who was once shot at as a high schooler. “The reconstitution of schools, the constant attack on black and brown schools—how can you address this without addressing the conditions the youth are going through?”
The language of AB 549 has been watered down and tossed around by lobbies like the Association of California School Administrators, which has argued that the bill is “very prescriptive for a school safety plan” and would impose onerous legwork. No matter the linguistic turns of this bill, though, it’s only one plank of an escalating statewide strategy—and a lever for building power locally.
In Los Angeles, students and allies have a long history of resistance to the city’s deeply racialized disciplinary practices. In 2007, after years of pushing from CADRE, a South LA–based community group, the district ordered schools to adopt proactive mediation practices and decrease reliance on exclusionary punishment like out-of-school suspensions (though reports show schools have been slow to implement them). In 2011, the city agreed to back down on ticketing students hundreds of dollars for being late to school. In May, the school board passed a student bill of rights, which bans expulsions and out-of-school suspensions for “willful defiance,” a judgment-heavy category that includes fighting, walking out and talking back.
“When we were first writing the bill of rights, it was going over things, perfecting the wording, going over what discipline and punishment really look like—and what willful defiance really is, because it means so many things,” said Michael Davis, a sophomore at Manuel Arts High School in South LA. and an organizer with the Community Rights Campaign.
Students have yet to succeed at downgrading willful defiance on the state level, as Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a related bill, AB 420, last session. It remains on the legislative agenda for many of the groups backing AB 549.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, another hotbed of youth organizing, students won a process for filing complaints over school police misconduct. Now, in addition to advocating for AB 549, Oakland’s Black Organizing Project is in the process of setting up an area chapter of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, which groups in Los Angeles helped launch.
“I don’t think it’s been a huge shift in terms of our constituency,” said Black Organizing Project executive director Jackie Byers, describing the post-Newtown political climate. “The issues that have been affecting Oakland have been ongoing.” Still, regarding state-level advocacy, she noted, “It would be helpful to have policy to leverage districts to have these conversations.”
Similar bases of organizing are growing in California’s vast Central Valley. Along with students from Fresno, members of the Stockton-based Fathers and Families of San Joaquin have gone on two trips to Sacramento to meet with legislators and give testimony in favor of limiting police in schools.
“It was very powerful to see these kids saying that these people, who are supposed to protect them, are suspending them,” said Raerae Colden, an 18-year-old organizer and youth mentor. “How is that supposed to make us feel?”
Organizers from Stockton, a longtime bastion of farmworker organizing and more recently infamous for going bankrupt in the wake of the recent housing crash, won a four-year fight last month to prevent a new prison from opening in the city. Fathers and Families runs a youth empowerment summer academy, programming for formerly incarcerated people and conferences for boys and men of color.
“If we don’t have that strong foundation locally, we don’t have this larger strength,” said Alejandra Gutierrez, Fathers and Families’ executive director. “When we see young people coming in every day, that’s how we measure success.”
It’s this landscape of community organizing, youth training and action research that grounds sweeping legislation like AB 549. Building youth power in Sacramento requires slow, intergenerational, often unsexy organizing focused on leadership development and targeted at local actors. The attention span of this organizing is longer than the post-Newtown scramble. The current bill—which organizers say would have waited until next year without the political climate shift of the Newtown shootings—is only one node in a larger, increasingly networked terrain of struggle.
California is at the forefront of a national movement that is slowly reaching higher stages. Just two days before the Newtown shootings, students and community activists descended on Washington, DC, for the first ever Senate hearing on ending the school-to-prison pipeline—the outgrowth of years of organizing leading up to and around the Dignity in Schools Campaign.
“In some ways, yes, Newtown, it presented a big challenge for us,” said Manuel Criollo, organizing director for the Community Rights Campaign. “At the same time, we’ve reached a majority where we have been much more engaged with each other. We were already in motion.”
A banner at a protest at Cooper Union in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user Michael Fleshman. Licensed under Creative Commons.)
This article was originally published by the Institute for Policy Studies website.
If lawmakers can’t come up with a solution, interest rates on federal student loans are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent starting July 1. When I graduate from college in December, I will join the 37 million Americans with student loan debt.
For me, college has always been synonymous with financial stress. I have spent the last three years on financial aid, scrambling to finish all of my credits in order to graduate early and save on a semester of tuition at my university. If the interest rate on my Stafford loan doubles, I will have to continue to put my dream of law school on hold. The fear of sealing myself into a tomb of debt will prevent me from seizing opportunities at the time in my life when I am supposed to be taking risks.
The number of students and the price of college continue to rise every year. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that not only are more people taking out student loans, but they are also taking out more money. The average student loan balance increased by 49 percent between 2005 and 2012, and more than half of borrowers took out over $10,000 in loans. Total student loan debt is increasing at a rate of about $2,853.88 per second and it is approaching $1.1 trillion. In the last ten years, this number has nearly quadrupled and has already surpassed credit card debt and auto loan debt.
Of particular concern is the effect on women. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW)’s study “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” 20 percent of women—compared with 15 percent of men—use more than 15 percent of their take-home salaries to pay off educational debt. This is directly related to the fact that women earn only 82 cents to every dollar that a man earns.
The plan proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), “The Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act,” would allow students to borrow money at the same rate that banks borrow: 0.75 percent. House Republicans passed “The Smarter Solutions for Students Act,” which would increase the rate to an even higher percent than if nothing is done before July 1, based on market rates and fluctuations. In President Obama’s plan, called “Pay as You Earn,” loans would also vary depending on the economy, though it would allow low-income borrowers to cap their monthly loan payments to 10 percent of their income. Among others offering solutions are Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) ,Tom Harkin (D-IA), Harry Reid (D-NV), amd Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT).
There are lots of ideas but one thing is clear: inaction is not an option. Doubling interest rates on student loans is not an option. Currently, 35 percent of people under 30 and 32 percent of those between the ages of 30 and 49 are near default on their student loans, numbers that will only continue to grow unless something is done. Recent graduates and current students like me have worked hard enough to hear messages of support and encouragement from our lawmakers—not that we are being forgotten about and taken advantage of. When I walk across the stage and receive my diploma this December, I want to feel that the sky’s the limit as it relates to my opportunities, not my debt.
In this October 6, 2011 file photo, Gan Golan, of Los Angeles, dressed as the “Master of Degrees,” holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
With interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford Loans set to double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, student debt has finally started getting the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, most of the coverage of the metastasizing student debt crisis fails to take note that the fight over interest rates is but one small battle in the overall war against exponentially mounting student debt.
Senator Elizabeth Warren recently introduced her first piece of stand-alone legislation, the “Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act,” which would set interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans at .75 percent, the same rate at which the big banks are able to borrow at the Federal Reserve’s discount window. According to Senator Warren, if we as a society deem it so vital to our economy that we need to subsidize the big banks that nearly destroyed our economy, then what is the rationale for charging students a rate nine times higher simply to obtain an education?
We’ve lost sight of the fact that higher education is not a product but rather both a public good and an investment in our collective future. How are we ever to compete on the global stage in the new, twenty-first-century economy if we’re saddling our best and brightest with mortgage-sized debts just as they’re starting out in life? What most media coverage fails to emphasize is that a well-educated workforce benefits everybody, not just the individuals obtaining the educations in question.
The debate over interest rates for federal student loans is not unimportant but only concerns current and future students and, therefore, legislation like Warren’s does nothing to address the more than $1.1 trillion in outstanding student debt that is collectively owed by more than 39 million Americans—nearly 60 percent of which, by the way, is owed by people over the age of 30, demonstrating beyond doubt that the issue of student debt is not just a young person’s problem—it’s everyone’s problem.
When the housing market crashed, you didn’t need to own a home to be affected by damage it did to the economy. The same can be said for student debt. The effects of this massive drag on the economy can be felt down the line—from auto manufacturers and dealers, to homebuilders and realtors. If you own a small business, your bottom line is affected by the fact that 39 million Americans simply do not have the disposable income necessary to purchase goods or services. And the problem is only getting worse.
While it’s important to stand in solidarity with current and future students to ensure that we never reach the $2 trillion mark, there is so much more that is needed to be done to address the existing $1.1 trillion that has already been accrued. There’s no shortage of good ideas, but there is a serious dearth of political will to lend a helping hand to the millions of Americans who did absolutely nothing wrong, other than seek to better themselves and to better contribute to society by seeking out a higher education.
First and foremost, basic consumer protections, such as bankruptcy rights and statutes of limitations on the collections of student debt must be restored. There is no justifiable reason why student loans should be treated unlike any other type of debt in America. Next, we must provide a right to borrowers to refinance their loans to take advantage of historically low interest rates—a move that would undoubtedly spur economic growth by putting more money into the hands of people who will spend it on ailing sectors of the economy.
Finally, we must invest in our own people by implementing a fair and equitable loan forgiveness program, such as the one my organization, StudentDebtCrisis.org, helped craft and which was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Karen Bass (D-CA)—HR 1330, The Student Loan Fairness Act, which would allow borrowers to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for a period of ten years, after which the remaining amount would be forgiven.
This would be a meaningful, fair and sensible step to help millions of people, both young and old, get back on firm financial footing. Contact your elected reps and implore them to co-sponsor and vote “yes” on the Student Loan Fairness Act of 2013.
Activists link arms in front of an Obama fundraiser in Chicago. (Credit: The Other 98%)
E-mail questions, tips or proposals to email@example.com. For earlier dispatches, check out posts from January 18, February 1, February 15, March 1, March 15, April 2, April 15, April 26, May 10 and May 24.
1. As Obama Fundraises, Undocumented Families Hit the Streets
On May 29, the Undocumented Illinois network organized two direct actions during Obama’s visit to Chicago to protest the record increase on deportations and separation of families under the national campaign of Not1More. I was one of twelve participants arrested in front of the Hilton Hotel, where Obama was fundraising for the Democratic Party. All who participated in the civil disobedience are directly affected by deportations, and eleven are undocumented immigrants. Later that day, while Obama was in the hotel, members of UI dropped a banner with Obama’s new title: Deporter in Chief. Today, Congress will start debating an immigration reform bill that could legalize many undocumented people; however, deportations haven’t stopped and we know that not everyone will qualify under the bill. That is why UI will continue to escalate tactics and push Obama to issue an executive order to halt deportations.
2. As Congress Talks, Immigrants Demand Single-Standard Health Care
As a young single mom, I know that I too often receive judgment and too seldom receive support. That’s why one of the best moments of my life was when my two sons accompanied me as I received my high school diploma. But I soon hit a major stumbling block to my plan of attending college. Because I am undocumented, I can’t obtain health care for me or my sons or take advantage of scholarships or financial aid. That’s why I’m organizing with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health to ensure that access to health care and higher education is included in comprehensive immigration reform. We support the efforts of Senator Hirono and urge members of Congress to elevate their voices to ensure immigrant families can live with health, dignity and justice.
3. Hundreds of Students Speak Up to Sallie Mae
On May 30, more than 200 students, teachers and community allies gathered at Sallie Mae’s shareholder meeting, demanding transparency in lobbying and political donations and imploring their executives to meet with students. While most remained outside, blocked by a wall of police, twenty-two students with shareholder proxies, along with the president of the American Federation of Teachers, presented a resolution for full transparency and challenged Sallie Mae executives on involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their bonus structure—which has allowed the top executives to make millions of dollars while students default on their loans at an alarming rate. After a year and a half of organizing, facing arrests and demanding Sallie Mae executives meet with us, students finally won a meeting with CEO Jack Remondi in June. The US Student Association, Student Labor Action Project, Jobs with Justice and other coalition partners will keep pressuring Sallie Mae executives to work with students to negotiate debt forgiveness.
4. Dream Defenders Bring the Debt Struggle North
Some two dozen people were in the Sallie Mae shareholders’ meeting with proxy shares. I represented the Florida State University chapter of Dream Defenders. I shared my personal story of being the child of working class Haitian immigrant parents who worked to achieve the American Dream—but had to take out $16,000 in student loans to cover my expenses. The Chairman, Anthony Terracciano, grew annoyed as we confronted him with our testimonies. We stood up one by one until the meeting was cut short. While we were promised a meeting this month—answering one of our major demands—our struggle continues. As a Dream Defender, I fight for the dreams of youth of color—who are less likely to graduate college and more vulnerable to financial issues. Florida Dream Defenders are building collective power and joining in solidarity with organizations like USSA and SLAP to ensure that all can access quality education and flourish.
5. In Raleigh, Teens Crack the School-to-Prison Pipeline
In response to extremely regressive policy proposals in North Carolina, ‘Moral Monday’ mass mobilizations led by the state NAACP have started to gain national attention. The plethora of Republican-sponsored attacks on people of color, youth, the undocumented and the working poor range from voter suppression to a bill that would grant prosecutors discretion to assign juvenile defendants as young as 13 years old to the adult justice system. NC HEAT (Heroes Emerging Among Teens), a group of high schoolers organizing around the school-to-prison-pipeline, have helped to mobilize youth at every Moral Monday—some of whom have participated in non violent civil disobedience. On June 3, “Mega Moral Monday,” more than 150 North Carolinians participated in civil disobedience, and crowds of over 2,000 cheered outside the legislature as they were arrested. In addition to Moral Mondays, NC HEAT, along with the Dignity in Schools campaign, is calling for a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions in Wake County, where there are 20,000 short-term suspensions annually, and in Orange County, where students of color are 17 times more likely to get suspended than white students for the same offenses. We’re pursuing financial support as we gear up for the summer Youth Organizing Institute, where we’ll train new leaders to organize around these issues.
6. At Berkeley, Students Stack the Title IX Deck
Despite its reputation for social justice, UC Berkeley is no stranger to administrative mishandling of sexual assault cases. The administrators responsible for overseeing campus disciplinary procedures (or lack thereof) have persistently been faulted for covering up sexual assault on campus. In April, the Berkeley student government passed “A Bill of No Confidence in UC Berkeley’s Disciplinary Policies Regarding Sexual Assault,” which incited outrage from the administration, claiming students were creating a “chilling effect.” Prompted by this additional evidence of decades-long neglect, nine brave survivors filed a federal Clery Act complaint against Berkeley with the Department of Education on May 21 along with other universities in the IX Network. In 1979, the administration similarly faced a Title IX complaint by the student organization Women Organized Against Sexual Harassment. And just two weeks ago, another Title IX complaint separate from the Clery complaint was filed against Berkeley and the UC Board of Regents for neglecting to respond to a case of domestic violence.
—Sofie Karasek and Anaïs LaVoie
7. At Evergreen, a Cross-Campus General Strike
On May 28, hundreds of Evergreen State College students, faculty and staff joined the Student Support Services Staff Union for a one-day general strike. The United Students Against Sweatshops chapter at Evergreen worked in solidarity with the union, educating students about the issues to gain support—and shutting the college down to show that nothing gets done without the support staff. Workers and allies want a fair contract, including protection from at-will termination, step wage increases and rewards for seniority. This fight has continued for more than sixteen months, as one third of these staff have left over the year for higher-paying colleges. Support staff remain in negotiations, leaving students and staff struggling to persuade the administration for a fair contract before summer. As seen in the strike demonstrations, though, there are hundreds on campus who support the workers.
8. Student Right-to-Work in Wisconsin?
On May 23, the same day the United Council of University of Wisconsin Students won a two-year tuition freeze, the Joint Committee on Finance included a measure in the budget that would effectively strip the council of its funding mechanism—similar to another right-wing maneuver in Arizona in April. One of the oldest statewide students associations in the country, UC, which is nonpartisan, is currently working on veterans’ accreditation, preventing sexual assault and keeping higher education accessible regardless of financial means. UC also engages in a non-partisan voter registration drive across the state that, last year, registered close to 10,000 students and educated 50,000 students on how to vote. Students are mobilizing by canvassing Republican districts and pressuring key targets.
9. Tuition Equality in New Jersey?
In January, students across New Jersey banded together to push the NJ DREAM Act, allowing undocumented students the ability to pay in-state tuition rates in NJ colleges and universities—which sixteen states already allow. New Jersey United Students, which represents college and university students across the state, has partnered with NJ DREAM Act Coalition, a collective of undocumented youth, and Anakbayan NJ, acollective of young Filipino activists, to organize for equality. Labeling the campaign as NJTED, New Jersey Tuition Equity for Dreamers, young people have conducted actions to raise visibility, met with key state legislators and pushed local city councils to endorse the act. The bill is up for passage on June 30.
—Dong Gu Yoon
10. The Common App Gets Punked
Our target: an anti-migrant institution represented here by the Common App, an institution that requires undocumented students to list themselves as “international” to get into private schools when public schools label us “out-of-state.” Our identity: Common App impersonators, hackers. We are a resilient team of undocumented leaders with a bench-mob of radical academics, civil-right giants and illegal-lovers of all denominations. Our message: We are here. The days of anti-immigrant rhetoric and citizen-controlled media are coming to an end. Hasta la victoria Siempre!
(Source: Creative Commons)
If you thought that corporal punishment was a relic of our educational system’s distant past, think again. Some nineteen states, clinging tightly to the Supreme Court’s 1977 ruling in Ingraham v. Wright, still allow corporal punishment in their schools, subjecting hundreds of thousands of American children to legalized floggings every year.
In 2012, Mississippian schools alone hosted 39,000 floggings, often for minor transgressions like “having a shirt untucked, being tardy, or talking in class or in the hallway.” According to a report from the Juvenile Information Exchange, more than 28,500 students in Georgia were spanked in 2008, mostly in rural counties. Children with disabilities fare particularly poorly in corporal punishment states; the 14 percent of American students with disabilities comprise 19 percent of the students beaten and, in some places, are twice as likely as their able-bodied peers to be assaulted by school personnel.
Moreover, even if parents are opposed to corporal punishment, there is little they can do, if a school district permits it, to guarantee that their child will not be hit by an administrator if it’s been decided that she or he has broken the rules.
No child should be brutalized in school, but assaults on the disabled are especially appalling given disabled students’ increased vulnerability. School-sponsored thrashings often leave disabled children less physically resilient and more prone to long-term psychological trauma. The grandmother of Landon K., a 6-year-old Mississippian with autism, confided after her grandson’s beating, “When a child with autism has something like that happen, they don’t forget it.… The next day, I tried to take him to school, but I couldn’t even get him out of the house.”
Even without adding the threat and reality of official violence, school life can be terribly trying for children with disabilities. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder are at a three-fold increased risk for being bullied, often physically. Children with muscular dystrophy, ADHD, cerebral palsy and spina bifida are also disproportionately bullied. On an emotional level, many students with disabilities complain that their peers, ostensibly cordial, refuse to befriend anyone who seems different. To kids simply trying to fit in, facing rejection just for appearing “weird” is devastating.
When disabled students act up, frequently in misguided efforts to attract their peers’ affection and attention, as most children do at some point, we should remain cognizant of their disadvantages and aim to redirect their energies towards productive social activity. When the misbehavior persists, we should employ counselors to help identify its roots. Schools should model civility and creative problem solving, not vengeance and anger.
Alternatively, I suppose, we can continue to throw caution to the wind and treat children as demonic lumps of clay to be smacked around at teachers’ discretion. We must then be willing to forgo the social benefits of students learning how to deal with problems nonviolently. We will also have to accept the unwavering hostility of students who, after being beaten once, will forever despise their teachers and the schools that let it all happen.
What we need is legislation that would first outlaw corporal punishment of disabled students, and then of their able-bodied peers, to affirm the dignity of those for whom institutional support is absolutely vital. Will nineteen states heed our call for a civilized schooling system? The security of thousands of students depends on it.
Selma Aly of United Council of UW Students
Student organizations nationwide are facing an onslaught of what should be named “student right-to-work” laws as state legislatures across the United States are proposing bills that serve to debilitate statewide student associations and other student advocacy organizations.
“Right to work” laws are state statutes that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees’ membership, payment of union dues or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. The most recent case of a student right-to-work law is the back-door budget deal struck by Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and his right-wing cronies that will undermine student activity funding for the United Council of UW Students, the same statewide student association that worked tirelessly to win a tuition freeze for University of Wisconsin students.
The current system allows for students to opt out of these fees if they choose to; however, the new bill specifies that students will now have to specifically opt in to the fees, making it nearly impossible for United Council to sustain themselves. Student leaders consider this an aggressive attack on students’ right to organize themselves and the United Council, a group that has been able to reliably fight for college affordability for UW students is facing an uncertain future. “The Joint Finance Committee voted to end decades of advocacy for lower tuition and college affordability. This vote is a complete breach of trust between legislators and students,” said Geoff Murray, president of United Council of UW Students and a student at UW-Stevens Point.
I first heard about these laws a month ago when Arizona state legislature passed HB 2169, almost an identical law to that recently passed in Wisconsin. This law included a clause that states that any organization that sought to influence “the outcome of an election” would be ineligible for university funding.
As a result of this law, Get Out the Vote (GOTV) drives, which have been an integral part of getting students and other young people out to the polls in swing states, are under threat in Arizona and Wisconsin. In fact, any organizations that support, for instance, the DREAM Act or oppose budget cuts to education or any other public service could now be completely defunded. Importantly, these laws continue to disproportionately affect left-wing student organizing efforts across these states.
In Wisconsin, students affiliated with United Council are not taking these attacks lying down. United Council has reached out to labor organizations for support in targeting politicians who are seeking re-election to repeal the Joint Finance Committee decision. Labor leaders have expressed solidarity with the students’ struggle to maintain access to their own student activity fees. “The agenda of Scott Walker and his right-wing followers in the legislature is clear. Last session they made it harder for UW students to vote. This session they want to make it harder for students to even speak,” said Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 40.
As we continue to organize for more accessible and democratic educational institutions, our student organizations will become more effective and, thus, more threatening, and our budget streams will be the first things under attack, as Arizona and Wisconsin show us. Politicians of both parties are scared of students who are willing to attend every budget meeting, who will listen to their peers and who are militant and organized.
Today, in the wake of impending threats to all of our organizations, there’s a critical need for a national movement to protect students right to organize. This growing pattern of ‘student right-to-work’ laws needs to be fought on a national level, with states who are not yet affected helping to strategize across state lines before it’s too late.
The deadline for the 2013 Nation Student Writing Contest has been extended until midnight eastern standard time on Sunday, July 7, 2013.
Eight years ago, The Nation launched an annual Student Writing Contest to identify, support and reward some of the numerous smart, progressive student journalists writing, reporting and blogging today.
This year, we’re asking students to answer this question: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why?
Essays should not exceed 800 words and should demonstrate fresh, clear thinking and superior quality of expression and craftsmanship. We’ll select ten finalists and two winners total—six from college students, six from high schoolers. Each winner will be awarded a $1,000 cash prize and a lifetime Nation subscription. The five finalists will be awarded $200 each and subscriptions. The winning essays will be published in The Nation magazine and featured at thenation.com. The ten finalists will be featured at thenation.com.
Entries will be accepted through Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 11:59pm pacific standard time. Winners will be announced by Monday, September 16.
The contest is open to all matriculating high school students and undergraduates at US schools, colleges and universities as well as those receiving either high school or college degrees in 2013. (We're endeavoring to open the prize up to non-US students next year.) Submissions must be original, unpublished work. Each entrant is limited to one submission. Past and present Nation interns are ineligible.
Submissions and questions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the essay in the body of the e-mail. All e-mailed submissions will be acknowledged. Each entry must include author’s name, address, phone number, e-mail and short biography and school affiliation—and say “student essay” in the subject line.
Read last year’s winners and please help spread the word!
Students and teachers link arms around Chicago City Hall. (Credit: Sarah-Ji)
E-mail questions, tips or proposals to email@example.com. For earlier dispatches, check out posts from January 18, February 1, February 15, March 1, March 15, April 2, April 15, April 26 and May 10.
1. Chicago Students Stage Citywide Boycott to Protest School Closings
On Monday, May 20, the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools organized a citywide boycott so that students could join a three-day march in protest of school closures. More than two hundred students participated from high schools across the city. In the morning, students met at Williams Elementary, which the school system ordered to be put on lockdown. From there, we marched three miles downtown, where 26 activists were occupying City Hall in an act of civil disobedience. The action ended with a large rally at Daley Plaza, with speakers ranging from teachers union president Karen Lewis to third grader Asean Johnson. On May 22, as activists occupied the central lobby, Chicago’s unelected board of education voted to close 50 schools. Students and allies are overwhelmingly upset—but the fight for these schools is not over.
2. After Thousands Walk Out, Philly Student Union Heads to Chicago
I was one of the 2,000 Philadelphia students who walked out of school on Friday, May 17, to assert a student voice in the face of school closings and disinvestment. By Saturday, I was in Chicago joining the struggle against school closings there. Chicago’s closings, like Philadelphia’s, are primarily in black and Latino neighborhoods. After marching through the north, west and south sides of the city, I spoke alongside students from Chicago at Daley Plaza. Next, we marched and held hands around City Hall—where teachers and community members were arrested for sitting in. Students from Philly, Boston, Baltimore and Detroit came to support Chicago’s fight. As students, we will continue fighting in every city until we have the schools we deserve.
3. Sparked by the LAPD, USC Mobilizes Against Racial Profiling
On May 4, the Los Angeles Police Department deployed 79 officers in riot gear to shut down a peaceful graduation celebration attended primarily by black and Latino students at the University of Southern California. Nine student leaders were arrested, six spent the night in police custody and others were herded off the block and physically assaulted. Charges against arrested students are still pending and await court proceedings on May 30. This incident, along with a string of similar happenings, sparked what has become known as the #USChangeMovement. On May 6, more than 200 students, faculty and local residents sat-in at Tommy Trojan to protest and exchange stories of discrimination and racial profiling at USC and in the greater Los Angeles area. On May 7, more than 1,000 people attended an on-campus discussion with students, the LAPD, the USC Department of Public Safety, the HR Commission and USC senior administration members to seek answers and draft joint solutions. USC students are propelling citywide movement to end racial profiling, excessive force and selective law enforcement—all while embracing peace, intellect and understanding.
4. In South LA, Students Defend Community Schools
In October 2012, Crenshaw High School received notice from LA superintendent John Deasy that the school would undergo a “transformation” starting this summer. Under the transformation, more than half of Crenshaw’s teachers—many of whom are older, black or active in the union—have been rejected from returning. The conversion of Crenshaw into three magnets means students have to reapply—likely pushing many out. This move comes at a time when Crenshaw has been showing improvements through its innovative Extended Learning Cultural Model, which prioritizes culturally relevant education and project-based learning. Connecting Crenshaw with recent upheaval at other black and Latino high schools in South LA, the Crenshaw community has been organizing against the transformation. As part of the Coalition for Educational Justice, Taking Action and the school’s Sierra Club, we’ve given presentations and developed a survey to ask our fellow students about their experiences at the school. The data from the 500 students we’ve collected will be presented at a forum on May 28 for students to voice their opinions about school transformations all over South LA.
—Jonathan Alvarado, Keeja Stewart, Tauheedah Shakur, James Law and Erick Galvan
5. In Sacramento, Trans Justice Hits the Senate
On April 29, dozens of Gay-Straight Alliance club activists joined together in Sacramento for Queer Youth Advocacy Day to rally for middle schools and high schools where all students can succeed. We spoke to legislators about the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), which makes sure California schools know that transgender students have the full right to participate in all school programs. Students shared their experiences of how not being included with students of the gender they identify with can have disastrous consequences such as forcing them to drop out of school. Others talked about school districts that do allow them to participate fully, like LA Unified, which shows that implementation of this bill is possible and positive experiences can come from it. The bill has now passed through the assembly and is headed for the senate, where we will continue to advocate to keep all students in school.
—Keanan Gottlieb and Logan Henderson
6. Across California, Students Put the School Police State on Trial
When students in California have problems like not getting to class on time, fighting or breaking school rules, schools handle these situations with suspensions, expulsions, and school police tickets that hit youth of color hardest. For the past five years in LA, the Community Rights Campaign has built a student movement that organizes on buses, in our neighborhoods and at city hall and the school district board. We led a fight against the top school police citation—$250 truancy and tardy tickets—and won big changes to that policy last year. We have now joined with other youth and community groups, allies and advocates across the state around a new legislative agenda. Last year we passed five bills to reform zero tolerance policies. This year, in response to the post-Newtown push for more police in schools, we are trying to pass AB 549, a bill that would help limit the role of police in school districts and prioritize funding for counselors, intervention workers and other mental health services. The bill will be headed for a full assembly floor vote if it clears its final committee hearing this week.
—Carlos Elmo Gomez
7. Investments on Check at Middlebury
On Nakba Day, in solidarity with global demonstrations for Palestinian rights, a coalition including Palestinian, Israeli, and American Jewish students staged a checkpoint at Middlebury to call on the college to divest from companies doing business with Israel. At Middlebury, Justice for Palestine has united with an array of campus groups, including environmentalists calling for the college to divest from fossil-fuel companies, to make the call. Politicized by the trustees’ failure to honor their initial commitment to vote on divestment in May, students are refusing to budge from an intersectional analysis of oppression in divestment organizing—for which four students were arrested in March and five were nearly expelled in the fall—and are gearing up for escalation.
8. A New Union at Penn
On March 28, after a year of planning and relationship building, subcont
—Penny Jennewein and Leslie Krivo-Kaufman
9. How Long Will Sallie Mae Profit Off Student Debt?
On May 9, twenty students from the United States Student Association, the Student Labor Action Project and allied organizations met with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss the DOE’s relationship with Sallie Mae, the largest private owner of student debt in the country. Sallie Mae made $84 million in profit on federal loan servicing contracts last year alone. The students came to the table to pressure Secretary Duncan to break Sallie Mae’s contract or incentivize the companies processing federal loans to enroll debtors in programs like Income Based Repayment that prioritize helping people with student debt get back on their feet. On May 30, students from across the country are going to Sallie Mae’s shareholder meeting in Newark, Delaware. We plan to pressure Sallie Mae to open up about their relationship with ALEC and their process for paying their top executives.
10. How Long Will Students Wait for Arne Duncan?
On June 1 and 2, student debt advocates from across the Midwest are coming together in Chicago to discuss a national student debt campaign, the first of a series of regional meetings to tackle educational debt. The campaign’s focus and strategy will be hammered out this summer with participating organizations. Based on existing conversations, the initial goals and strategies revolve around a commitment to quality higher education as a public good that should be affordable and accessible to all. Three areas to advance this long-term goal include: providing support to borrowers currently paying off the existing $1 trillion in debt; addressing causes of declining affordability and quality, including changes to state funding and financial aid policies; and addressing the role of Wall Street and the growing financialization and privatization of higher education without the burden of financial hardship.
In February 2012, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, after a lengthy feud with the state teachers’ union, came to an agreement over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system for the state. The arrangement was made so that New York State would be eligible to receive $700 million of Race to the Top funds, a national sweepstakes spearheaded by President Obama that allocated monies to states that adopted his education policies.
Under the new system known as the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on standardized test scores, while the remaining 60 percent would be based on subjective measurements, like classroom observations and student surveys. Then, teachers would be sorted into four categories: ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective.
However, there’s one catch. In the bill, it states: “The new rating system would prohibit a teacher or principal who is rated ineffective in the objective measures of student growth from receiving a developing score overall.” In other words, if a teacher is unable to raise their students’ test scores for two consecutive years, even if he or she is deemed highly effective on the subjective measures, the teacher could be fired.
I recently graduated from Syosset High School. My district’s APPR plan was approved at the beginning of this school year. A month later, the Student Learning Objective (SLO) exams were unleashed on all the students in my school in every subject, including art, music, and physical education. Yes, in gym class, multiple choice exams with colorful green Scantrons were doled out. I wish I were kidding.
Teachers would administer the same exam at the beginning and at the end of the year. By means of value-added measurements and an obtuse formula, the teachers’ effectiveness would be determined. Moreover, in New York general state aid for schools is now tied to teacher evaluation, which puts further strain on the most impoverished communities in our state.
I cannot begin to describe some of the conversations I’ve had with educators, many of whom are veterans with decades of experience in this profession, who are feeling humiliated, demoralized and beaten down by this process.
I didn’t want anything to do with the tests, so I opted out of every single SLO exam. Each time, I put my name on the test booklet and Scantron and then handed the blank items back to my teacher. There were no consequences.
At the same time, a groundswell of opposition was growing. Two principals, Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School and Carol Burrris of South Side High School, took the lead and drafted a letter protesting the evaluation system. As of January 2013, 1,535 principals as well as 6,500 parents, educators, and students have signed onto the document.
If there’s one thing that is absolutely clear to me, it’s that Governor Andrew Cuomo has ignored the voices of students, teachers, principals, and parents who have grave concerns about the evaluations. He is frankly telling millions of students and teachers that their value is no more than a number in a spreadsheet.
What he’s forgotten is that evaluation is best done when the purpose is not to punish and reward teachers but to lend them support, to foster collaboration, to encourage self-evaluation, and to allow for rich and lengthy observations by principals and fellow colleagues.
So Governor Cuomo, tell it how it is. You can fire my teachers. You can close down my school. You can break up my community. You can kill the love of learning in children. But don’t tell me that it’s because you want the best for me. I’m not a stupid little kid. Do you hear me?
This week, everything is falling apart: Syria; the Canadian environment; the Times’s coverage of Honduras and Venezuela; higher education as we know it. But if activists’ creative roasting of neo-philanthropic tycoon Carlos Slim is any indication, the best response may be laughter.
Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform,” by Aaron Bady. The New Inquiry, May 15, 2013.
In a lengthy essay, Aaron Bady describes the speed at which higher education has been smacked by MOOCs. His piece hints at the ways the rhetoric of “innovation,” especially in education, masks practices that serve to reproduce hierarchy.
James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.
“Oaxacan Teachers Challenge the Test,” by David Bacon. Truthout, May 9, 2013.
Mexico’s education system is awash with the same neoliberal orthodoxies that rule the United States, and in both countries there are pockets of organized resistance and refusal. While this piece falls short in critical ways—it doesn’t implicate students as agents in Mexico’s political economy of education, and it says that “the national union in Mexico is an entrenched part of the power structure,” as if the United States is categorically different—it does highlight Mexican alternatives that should be taken seriously. The Program for the Transformation of Education in Oaxaca, for one, “sees a teacher as an agent of social change…someone who has roots in a community, is interested in all the problems of the children, is familiar with the culture of the people, who can promote education projects with parents. In other words, a teacher the ruling class doesn’t want.”
Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“Infographic: Africa’s natural resource wealth.” Al Jazeera, May 12, 2013.
The annual Africa Progress Report released on Friday highlights the dubious attitude and “unconscionable” practices of some foreign companies involved in the exploitation of natural resources in Africa. Indeed, as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan points out, “Some companies, often supported by dishonest officials, are using unethical tax avoidance, transfer pricing and anonymous company ownership to maximise their profits, while millions of Africans go without adequate nutrition, health and education.”
Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“What if people told European history like they told Native American history?” by Kai. An Indigenous History of North America, May 9, 2013.
If this counterfactual seems far-fetched, dig around for your high school textbook and look at the chapter titled “the Americas before 1492.” Little-known fact: the city of Cahokia, located near present-day St. Louis, had the same population as London and Paris in 1250.
Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“Is laughing the mic check of 2013?” by Laura Gottesdiener. Waging Nonviolence, May 14, 2013.
This, my last article of the week, is a call to up the ante. In the post-micro-credit business model era—which supposedly will save Africa and Africans—various business venturers with pseudo-altruistic hearts surfaced. In the same way that The Nation has published essays about how NGOs in Haiti have been undermining the state and ultimately the sovereignty of the nation, the magazine, thanks to people like Laura Gottesdiener and others reporting, can also assess critically neo-philanthropic yet for-profit business expansion projects extending not only into Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America but also into online education.
Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the United States and Islam.
“The Syrian Heartbreak,” by Peter Harling and Sarah Birke. Middle East Report Online, April 16, 2013.
Harling and Birke offer insight into the horrifying violence and suffering so vividly described in today’s front-page New York Times article. Arguing, ultimately, that the conflict is “the product of international standoff,” the authors refute sectarian explanations for the violence, in part by outlining the disintegration of a strong Syrian national identity.
Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“I Heart Syria,” by Gary Brecher. NSFWCorp, May 13, 2013.
Gary Brecher breaks down the video of the Syrian rebel cutting out his victim’s heart and taking a bite out of it. Rather than taking this as a smug affirmation of Western values in the face of the horror of the Middle East, we should see this for what it is, Brecher argues: a recruitment video aimed at recruiting 17-year-olds for an undermanned Al Qaeda–inspired brigade. And a PR boon for the Assad regime.
Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.
“Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform,” by David Kravets. Wired, May 10, 2013.
Wired looks at mission creep in the immigration bill that has privacy advocates up in arms.
Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“Ask Polly: Jesus, My Struggling Writer Friends Never Shut Up!” by Heather Havrilesky. The Awl, May 15, 2013.
This doesn’t fall so much into the Advice For Writers category as it does the Advice For People Who Have To Talk To Writers, Whether They Are Writers Themselves Or Something Else Altogether category. There’s a lot here worth keeping in mind, although—as ever—it all seems to boil down to this: “Calm down… and get back to work.”
Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“When drone strikes collide with stop-and-frisk,” by Natasha Lennard. Salon, May 11, 2013.
As a landmark trial challenging New York’s notorious stop-and-frisk policy begins, Lennard connects the criminalization of young black and brown men through policing and incarceration in the United States to the military targeting of the same demographic overseas.
Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“Noam Chomsky, Scholars Ask NY Times Public Editor to Investigate Bias on Honduras and Venezuela,” by Keane Bhatt. NACLA, May 14, 2013.
Keane Bhatt, a Washington-based activist who blogs for NACLA, is spearheading an effort to demand accountability and accuracy in the mainstream media’s often errant reporting about Latin America. For months he’s used social media and his platform at NACLA to call attention to inaccuracies in John Lee Anderson’s New Yorker article “Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez Wrought in Venezuela,” and has compelled the magazine to run two corrections (hopefully with a third forthcoming as pressure mounts). Now, expanding his critique from individual errors in a single article to habitual mischaracterizations in one of the country’s most widely read newspapers, Bhatt has brought together a group of experts who specialize in Latin America and media studies to sign an open letter objecting to The New York Times’s biased coverage of Honduras and Venezuela.
Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“B.C. election: Christy Clark pulls off an upset for the ages,” by Tim Harper. Toronto Star, May 15, 2013.
It was a disappointing Tuesday night for progressive voters in British Columbia. Center-right premier Christy Clark bucked the pollsters and their predictions to pull off a shocking victory—a majority government, no less—retaining the premiership, while losing her local race for member of Parliament. American environmentalists: take note. Clark’s re-election all but guarantees the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.