Episode 28: Make Your Life a Constellation

April 12, 2021

Sometimes we ask, What can one person do? The first step is to stop being one person. Move away from “me,” and take steps toward creating a “we.” From one to two, from two to three, step-by-step toward an irresistible movement for justice and peace, powered by love—the organizer’s credo. We’re honored to be joined by Mariame Kaba, educator and legendary abolitionist organizer who’s been building social movements for racial, gender and transformative justice for years. The founder of Project Nia, author of Prison Culture, the popular blog that shines a bright light into the carceral state and the punishment bureaucracy, her recently released book, We Do This ’Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice, is a powerful guide to justice organizing and abolitionist politics.


Episode # 27: Every Person is a Philosopher/Every Day Another Story

March 30, 2021

Every Person is a Philosopher/Every Day Another StoryThe stories people tell and share can become powerful tools against propaganda, political dogma, and all manner of impositions and stereotypes. Seeking honesty and authenticity in stories means oral historians become attuned, to contradiction—to disagreements, silences, negation, denials, inconsistencies, confusion, challenges, turmoil, puzzlement, commotion, ambiguities, paradoxes, disputes, and uncertainty. Oral historians (like teachers) dive head-first into every kind of muddle, the wide, wild world of human experience. We’re profoundly pleased to be joined in dialogue with Adam Bush, activist and organizer, oral historian and teacher extraordinaire, co-founder and provost of an innovative college that works both inside and outside carceral spaces to ensure that all adult learners are valued as scholar-practitioners and have a pathway to a degree.


John Merrow: Cancel the F~~~g Tests

March 18, 2021

Let me put it in caps, the typed equivalent of shouting from the rooftop, to make things perfectly clear: REQUIRING TESTS THIS SPRING WOULD BE CHILD ABUSE! Because this school year has been unpredictable, abnormal, and inconsistent, why would anyone expect anything but skewed (screwed up) data from mandatory tests, particularly because students who have been ‘remotely schooled’ all year do not have to take the tests, and no one is clear yet about how the tests would be administered to students now attending remotely? It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and anyone who cares about children should be demanding that the tests be cancelled.

When running for the Democratic nomination, candidate Biden told an audience of teachers in Pittsburgh that he was strongly opposed to mandated high-stakes testing. I was there and heard his pledge.

But in February of this year, President Biden’s Education Department said that states must give the tests mandated by ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, although the proclamation allowed states to request waivers and created some loopholes. Since that surprise announcement, many activists have been pressuring the Biden Administration to reverse the decision–and to keep his promise. No luck so far!!

Covid-19 revealed the depths of the inequalities in our society, including in public education, and we don’t need bubble tests to prove the point. You can find thoughtful discussions here and here.

The education historian turned activist Diane Ravitch summarized the problems with ever giving these machine-scored, multiple-choice bubble tests, whose scores, by the way, largely reflect the test-taker’s zip code, family income, and parental education :

The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong. … This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.

I gave this post the title “Cancel The F**king Tests!”, but in case that doesn’t happen, I hope (SHOUTING NOW) that parents and their children will “BOYCOTT THE F**KING TESTS!”

Here’s a useful guide from FairTest on how to boycott them.  

Please share your thoughts on the blog at this link: https://themerrowreport.com/2021/03/18/cancel-the-fking-tests/  

ThanksJohn Merrow


Under the Tree: A Seminar on Freedom

March 15, 2021

EPISODE # 25: To Be Truly Free!

We dive once more into the wreckage, and swim as hard as we can toward a distant and hazy horizon—a place of hope and possibility. To begin Malik Alim offers another installment in his growing Freedom Chronicle, and lifts up a remarkable Chicago moment when activist organizers built Freedom Square, a brave space brought to life in the spirit of love and abundance. We are then delighted to invite Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law to join us Under the Tree. Abolitionists and freedom fighters, co-authors of a remarkable and essential text, Prison By Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms, Maya and Vickie take us on a complex and jagged journey to the far edges of the carceral state, and offer abolitionist alternatives that are within our reach right now.


BIG DATA

March 10, 2021

When somebody comes into the pharmacy to buy medicines…they’re looking for some kind of order, since every complaint is chaotic. In a pharmacy numbers and arithmetic take on once again the no-nonsense neatness they had on blackboard at school.

How many capsules each dose? How many doses per day? During a meal?…During how many days? The answers are remunerated several times and written…on the packet…I ear people repeating figures to themselves as they go out: two on waking, three during the midday meal, two before bed, repeating them as if they were a telephone number, for like this…the silence of the unpredictable is kept at bay.

From A to X, John Berger, p 81, London, 2008 Verso


Happy International Women’s Day!!

March 8, 2021


On March 8 people around the world celebrate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women, and recommit to the struggles for gender equality, reproductive rights, and an end to violence against women.
International Women’s Day leapt from the labor movements in the early 20th century—the earliest version was organized by the Socialist Party in New York City in 1909. After women gained the vote in the Soviet Union in 1917, International Women’s Day was made a national holiday, and March 8 was celebrated as Women’s Day by the socialist movements and communist countries from then on. The holiday was adopted by the United Nations in 197


Episode # 24: Under the Tree

March 7, 2021

24) What Counts?

What counts? And who’s counting? For what purpose, and toward what social end? Some years ago the Business Roundtable and their Education and Workforce Taskforce issued an influential challenge: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” it instructed. “No executive can run a business without accurate, granular data that explains what’s working and what’s not. Our school system should be no different.” And yet, any third grade teacher will tell you that each child is unique—the one of one. Mention that to the Business Roundtable and they’ll tell you that teachers can’t be trusted because they’re just spouting “anecdotal evidence” when what’s demanded is granular data. We’re joined today by  Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez, a professor of mathematics education and Latino and Latina studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who will lead us on a journey into the contested question: What counts?


MARCH 6

March 6, 2021

A day for remembering our lost Loved Ones.
Fifty-one years ago today, on March 6, 1970, three dear comrades died in an accidental explosion in Greenwich Village, NY. Diana Oughton, Terry Robbins Ted Gold—we love you all, we miss you so, we celebrate your lives, and we mourn our loss.
Each was committed to standing up and fighting against imperialism and the US invasion and occupation of Vietnam, to stopping the genocidal assault; committed, as well, to standing arm-in-arm, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Black Freedom Movement, and committed to a future fit for all.
Diana, Terry, Teddy—Live Like Them!


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RED ROSA!!!

March 5, 2021

March 5th 2021 marks the 150th anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg’s birth. A Polish-born Jewish revolutionary, she was one of the greatest minds of the socialist movement.


SAVE THE AMERICAN ECONOMY! KEEP THE TESTS!!

March 4, 2021

SAVE THE AMERICAN ECONOMY! KEEP THE TESTS!!

John Merrow writes:

Many on the left are raising a stink about the US Department of Education’s insistence on having states give their annual tests. Critics say it’s unfair because most students haven’t been in physical schools for about a year. These critics maintain that it’s unnecessarily stressful to test students now. However, their hysterical objections only serve to demonstrate that they fail to understand that standardized testing is one of the main drivers of the US economy.

Please consider these economic consequences of canceling machine-scored tests. (I am certain that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen could enumerate others.)

Canceling standardized tests will endanger the health of students and teachers. Both test-prep and testing are natural environments for social distancing; students who are required to stay at their desks all day long are not at risk of either passing on or catching COVID. That’s a win-win that would be a loss if tests were cancelled.

Not testing will unsettle students, endangering their already shaky mental health. The rhythm of test-prep and testing is well-known and familiar to students. What could be better for students who have been trapped on Zoom for months than to have the familiar Zen-like peace-and-quiet of test prep and testing?

The companies that create, administer and process these tests are a vital cog in our national economy, employing thousands of men and women, who then spend their earnings in their communities, thus seeding local economies. Suppose our 13,000+ school districts were to cancel the (often) multi-million dollar contracts? That would devastate those companies and the lives of their employees.

Vital educational research will be jeopardized. The 400+ full-bore studies of “Learning Loss” would be useless without the results of this year’s mandated standardized tests. Although it’s a foregone conclusion that these studies will demonstrate the reality of “The Achievement Gap,” those headlines will enable us to continue the practice of not having to capitalize either opportunity and expectations gaps, meaning that we can continue to pretend they are not real.

Canceling testing will overturn lives. Somewhere between 175 and 3500 doctoral students are close to finishing their dissertations on “Learning Loss.” Without data from this spring’s state tests, they will be unable to complete their theses, unable to sit for their oral exams, and unable to qualify for their doctoral degrees. This will mean an additional year of graduate school tuition and hardship for the struggling families of the graduate students, who may also have to postpone child-bearing for another year. Heartbreak and even divorce loom on the horizon for many of these families….if state testing is cancelled.

Canceling testing will endanger the health of universities. Pre-COVID, the focus on test prep and testing guaranteed that every year at least 100,000 teachers would get fed up and leave the profession for some other line of work. This created a perpetual ‘teacher shortage’ that university schools of education could rely on as they prepared their budgets. That is, they knew that school districts would have jobs for their graduates, and so they could aggressively recruit students and train them for classroom work.

Canceling testing will mean that teachers will actually be able to do what drew them into the field–help students learn and grow. This means that fewer teachers will give up on teaching, districts won’t have teacher shortages, university education programs will shrink, education faculty will lose their jobs, and lives will wither. All because we cancelled state standardized testing.

I will admit that some students (perhaps even all of them) would benefit from returning to a pressure-free school environment so they can get reacquainted with their peers. And I also acknowledge that some teachers (perhaps even all of them) should not have their worth determined by unreliable test scores. However, those are necessary sacrifices and small prices for students and teachers to pay because canceling testing will endanger our national economy.

SAVE THE AMERICAN ECONOMY! KEEP THE TESTS!!