Dear Phineas

May 27, 2017

Dear Phineas:

Your letter finally reached me here in Chicago.

Thank you for writing.

Sounds like your eighth-grade research project is generating a lot of important thinking and insights.

People often confuse pacifism with non-violent direct action or civil disobedience.

Pacifism is a philosophy and a guide to living, and there’s much to admire about it. It asks us to look deeply and reverently at all of life, to respect the humanity of each person we encounter, to love everyone including proximate strangers and folks we’ll never know, and to seek balance and peace in relation to one another and all living things and the earth itself. That’s a pretty good start, don’t you think? We look to pacifists like Mahatma Gandhi  with a bit of awe.

But it’s only a start for finding your way through a vast and complicated history, and as a total world view, pacifism has its limits, as does every other belief system (religious or secular) when carried to its orthodox extreme. Gandhi, for example, urged Britain in 1940 to lay down its arms, to stop fighting Hitler, arguing that British resistance would be morally superior if the British people allowed themselves to be overrun by Hitler and yet  maintained their refusal of allegiance to evil. And in 1946—after the Holocaust and the millions of innocent lives thrown into the furnaces of war—he answered a question few pacifists ever want to face: What about the Jews of Europe? Gandhi answered forthrightly: the Jews of Europe should have committed mass collective suicide, he said, thus arousing the world and becoming models of heroism.

Both of these responses strike me as monstrous. And yet also weirdly consistent.

Non-violent direct action or civil disobedience asks us not simply to resist using violence ourselves, but to act in the public sphere to expose the exploitation and oppression and systematic violence that is quite real and yet mostly mystified and hidden. The Black Freedom Movement used civil disobedience brilliantly in the 1950’s and 1960’s to expose the fact that segregation and racial hierarchies are inherently violent, and they proved it to the world when they demanded their basic rights, and the powerful deployed the dogs and the clubs and the fire hoses against them. The actions of the civil rights protestors were courageous and brilliant precisely because by being actively non-violent (but not passive) in the face of an unjust reality, the system of inequality was exposed as violent at its core.

Slavery was a violent system; when people ran away or rose up, they were accused of being violent. But the violence was structured into the reality, and the resistance was justified even if Harriet Tubman carried a pistol and Nat Turner a torch and John Brown a rifle.

Violence may be part of our nature, as you argue, but so is love and generosity; selfishness may also be human, but so is collective solidarity and fellow feeling. In your life and your activism, you want to nurture the love and solidarity aspects of those contradictions.

You point to ISIS, and that makes sense to me. Terrorism, random attacks on the innocent, is wrong. But don’t lose sight of the fact terrorism is terrorism whether in the hands of a sect, a cult, a political group, or a recognized government. In fact in the last 100 years terrorism has mainly been the work of states, France, Great Britain, Russia, Israel, and the US, which Martin Luther King, Jr. called, “the greatest purveyor of violence on earth.” So while the world rightly mourns the victims of Manchester, let’s notice that each of the innocents killed by US drones and air attacks in Yemen, Iraq, Libya—hundreds last week alone—also had a mother and a father, a life, hopes and dreams, and a name. Who were they? Do they also count in our collective consciousness even if they don’t make their ways into our media or our consciousness.

A couple of things worth reading: King, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community; Mandela, Speech at the Rivonia Trial; Geras, The Contract of Mutual Indifference. Perhaps my book Fugitive Days.

Also read this:

And this:

Best wishes to you.

Maxine Greene Presente!

May 24, 2017!/status/1


May 24, 2017
Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

President Trump’s and Secretary of Education DeVos’ education budget was unveiled this week. It’s devastating news for public schools.


Rethinking Schools stands firmly against these unprecedented attacks on public education and we need your support to continue our fight against privatization—and to support and improve public schools.


Public schools remain the only educational institutions that have the potential and obligation to serve all students. Yet Trump’s education budget shows how this administration puts corporate interests over the needs of students and communities.

The budget gives to charter and voucher schools—and steals from public school children:

  • Gives $500 million more for charter schools (up 50% from current funding), $250 million to expand and “study’ voucher schools, and  $1 billion more to encourage school “choice” within districts.
  • Cuts $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher education and class-size reduction.
  • Cuts $490 million for college work-study programs.
  • Cuts $700 million in Perkins loans for disadvantaged students.
  • Cuts funding for mental health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, and science and engineering instruction.
  • Slashes $168 million for career and technical education and eliminates $96 million for adult literacy.


Fight the Trump/DeVos agenda by making a donation to Rethinking Schools so that we can expand our work and strengthen the educational justice movement.

Ryan in the NY Times!

May 12, 2017

Co-author of To Teach: The Journey in Comics, rocks the NYT:


Identity Politics

May 10, 2017

Sanctuary—It’s in your hands!

May 9, 2017

OK, folks.
Sanctuary is a big idea that can’t reasonably be left in the hands of the mayor, the State, or any government agency. Imagine if the Underground Railroad required mayoral or governmental approval before the Abolitionists undertook their brilliant and brave work. DOA! The racist, reactionary governor of Texas just signed SB 4, the anti immigrant bill outlawing sanctuary in Texas. Six hundred people testified on the bill, and a tiny group (and only one sheriff in all of TX) testified in favor. Overwhelming opposition did nothing to slow down the bastard governor. Everyone reading this imagines they’d have been an Abolitionist in the 1850’s. Now’s your chance: Immigrants Welcome Here! Sanctuary Lives in the Hands of the People!

A Letter to the College from my Comrade and Co-Author…

May 2, 2017

April 29, 2017


Office of the Dean

The University of Illinois at Chicago

1040 W. Harrison St. (MC 147)

Chicago IL 60607


Dear Dean Alfred Tatum and College of Education Community:


I am writing to thank the Department of Curriculum & Instruction for selecting me to receive public honor as a graduate of the College of Education (COE). However, after discussions with members of the College’s Decolonize Education Coalition, reviewing the data and analyses posted on the group’s Tumblr (Views From the Silenced), and reflection on my experiences as a COE graduate student, I feel that I must decline this award as well as participation in the honoree events. Because of my high regard for the COE, I don’t take this decision lightly. Yet, as the Nicaraguan poet Giocanda Belli wrote, “Solidarity is the tenderness of the peoples.” I offer this open letter to explain why I have chosen to forego this award and stand in solidarity with the students of COE and the Decolonize Education Coalition.


Accepting the award and participating in related events would be an implicit endorsement of the COE today, and based on the evidence offered by current students, that validation is not warranted. In contrast to the years I enjoyed studying and attaining two degrees in the COE, working closely with faculty who both professed and practiced education that centered democratic engagement, racial and social justice and critical perspectives, and fostered the thriving Curriculum Studies doctoral program from which I graduated, today’s COE has steered far from the University of Illinois’s land grant mandate to serve the needs of the state’s working classes, and from UIC’s social justice mission. There are four specific concerns that animate the work of the Decolonize Education Coalition:


First, the COE seems to have abandoned its commitment to the preparation of Black and other teachers and academics of color. According to Voices of the Silenced testimony, the numbers of admitted students of color are small (with only one Black junior year student enrolled) and declining between freshman and senior year. In addition, the COE does not support students of color who struggle academically in the Urban Education licensure program. Rather than provide these future teachers with resources (such as the individual and group tutoring the teacher education program I directed for six years offered students) aimed at retaining them in teacher education, as well as succeeding as the next generation of teachers in our public schools, the COE created a non-licensure undergraduate program with no clear employment pathway to which they are diverted at the urging of COE advisors. This bait-and-switch is devastating—emotionally and financially—to students. One undergraduate describes this on the Voices of the Silenced site:


I was admitted into candidacy conditionally with hopes of meeting licensure requirements. Faculty and advising staff ensured me that we would come up with an action plan for meeting licensure requirements. Soon, I learned that an action plan was merely meaningless discourse. The only action plan was them making me “aware of other options outside of teaching.” As a student of Color, I never felt like a priority…Failure costing me nearly four hundred dollars, I was out of money and time. Every time I took the test I became more and more disappointed and discouraged. There was no financial support or academic support for success. I also did not receive any emotional support during the obstacles I faced.


And COE programs, contra their land grant mandate, are now more exclusionary. The means by which I, a poorly performing high school and junior college student, was admitted to COE graduate studies was through conditional admittance—after a year of academic work and a favorable review I was accepted at full status. This option is now denied to freshman applicants, contributing to the declining numbers of students of color in the Urban Education program. In sum, despite the fact that public school students are increasingly of color, and research shows that these students benefit from teachers of color, there is little evidence that UIC’s COE is helping to prepare teachers of color for employment by our city’s public schools.


Second, and related to the previous point, new enrollment of students of color in COE doctoral programs has declined by almost half between 2012 and 2016, from 13 to 7 (UIC’s data is here).


Third, the COE has nearly decimated and seems determined to destroy Curriculum Studies, previously the intellectual home of many of its most critical scholars, including Dr. William Watkins, who researched Black curriculum orientations, Dr. Annette Henry, a critical race feminist who lifted up the educational lives of Black women and girls, and Dr. William Ayers, who wrote widely about social justice and education. The COE has not filled the vacancies created when faculty leave Curriculum Studies, as one concern, and in 2016 it admitted only one doctoral student (and no students of color) to the program, down from 13 admitted (of whom four were students of color) in 2012, according to UIC’s data.


Last, the COE has fostered a climate that suppresses dissent, critique, and critical scholarship, which has been particularly intimidating and destructive to students of color, some of whom have been removed from teaching appointments, encouraged to leave their programs, and in other ways been made to feel that their voices and perspectives are of little importance. They share these experiences to depressing effect on the Coalition’s Tumblr.


I encourage my fellow COE alumni to thoroughly examine the powerful words and well-stated demands of COE students, and ask Dean Tatum and the College to respond to the charges there by demonstrating (not simply stating) a commitment to the pledge to “Make Good on the Promise of Public Education,” before supporting the College with donations and affirmations. I plan to withhold my own donations until the College dialogues with its students and creates, shares, and acts on a plan to address the terrible conditions that the Decolonize Education Coalition and Voices of the Silenced have bravely brought to our attention. I am proud to stand in solidarity with them.





Therese Quinn, University of Illinois at Chicago

College of Education (MEd – Instructional Leadership 1999, PhD – Curriculum Studies 2001)

Associate Professor of Art History and Director of Museum & Exhibition Studies

Affiliated Faculty – Curriculum & Instruction, Gender & Women’s Studies