May 30, 2020

The Schools We Want/the Schools We Deserve
A New Deal for Public Education
(DRAFT: 10-Point Program)

Education is a fundamental human right and a basic community responsibility.
Every child, simply by being born, has the right to a free, accessible, high-quality public education. That means that a decent, generously-staffed school facility must be in easy reach for every family. This is not at all difficult to envision: what the most privileged parents have for their children right now—small class sizes, fully-trained and well-compensated teachers, physics and chemistry labs, sports teams, physical education, and athletic fields and gymnasiums, after-school and summer programs, generous arts programs that include music, theater, and fine arts—is the base-line for what we want for all the children of our communities. Anything less weakens and then destroys democracy.
The curriculum must be forward-looking, recognizing the dignity of each person, and strengthening tolerance, understanding, peace and friendship among all people, and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights. Schools must be geared toward the full development of the human mind and the human personality, and that includes encouraging intellectual freedom and the ongoing consideration of fundamental questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? What does this time require of us now? Where do we want to go?
Given the harsh, unresolved history of white supremacy, and the adaptable and slippery nature of racial capitalism, it’s no surprise that the descendants of enslaved workers, African-ancestored youth, the children of First-Nations people and the laboring classes and immigrants from formerly colonized nations, too-often experience schooling as oppressive and colonizing rather than liberating. This must change. The public schools can and must become sites of resistance, vigorously combatting institutional racism, racial discrimination, segregation, and all forms of oppression.
A New Deal for Public Education will be shaped from the grass roots—fire from below. As organizers, educators, student, parents, and community members, we call for popular assemblies to mobilize in every town and county, every city, every neighborhood and community in order to build a bold, creative, and spirited mass movement—a red-hot fire from below—to demand the schools we need and the schools we deserve. These assemblies should “be realistic” and demand the impossible! We begin with a focus on first questions: In your dream of dreams, what should a good school look like in a free and democratic society? What do schools need to do in order to fulfill the needs of free people with minds of their own? What could schools be, and what should they become, as fundamental pillars of a free society? Dare the schools build a free social order?
TEN(tative) POINTS (for discussion)
1) Education is a basic human right and a fundamental freedom—it cannot be reduced to a product to be sold at the market place. We demand generous, full and equitable funding for public schools, and not another penny of public money used to advance the potent but deeply corrupt campaign to privatize public education.
2) Education is freedom. We demand an end to racism and white supremacy in both policy and curriculum, the termination of zero tolerance policies and the police-presence in our schools, and the elimination of the well-documented school-to-prison pipeline.
3) Education for free people stands firmly on two legs: enlightenment and liberation. We demand curriculum and teaching that allows young people to imagine and construct the kind of economy and society that they can thrive in, and that foregrounds, not obedience and conformity, but rather the arts of liberty—respect for oneself and others, initiative and courage, imagination and curiosity, problem-posing and problem solving, mutual aid and solidarity—which are essential to a free people.
4) Education must allow each person to reach the fullest measure of their promise and potential—in a strong democracy the full development of each is the condition for the full development of all, and, conversely, the full development all is the condition for the fullest development of each. We demand an end to the massively expensive high-stakes, standardized testing regime and its obsession with sorting “winners” from “losers,” and which only serves to exacerbate existing racial, social, and educational inequities.
5) Education, like life, begins in wonder, and so does art—learning to construct and create, to question and to experiment, to imagine and interrogate, to wonder and to wander—this is work of the arts as well as the sturdiest foundation upon which to build an education of purpose for a free people. We demand a full arts program in every school.
6) Education is embedded in community, and schools belong to and must serve the real material and cultural needs and aspirations of those communities. We demand safe and secure high quality public schools—community schools and after-school programs for all children, universal child-centered early childhood programs, nurses and counselors on-site, and free universal school meals—centers of community health and education embedded in safe communities, without regard to wealth or location.
7) Education builds on relationships, and sustainable relationships are difficult to achieve in large, impersonal factory-type schools. We demand smaller class size, and smaller schools.
8) Education depends on thoughtful, caring people in every classroom performing the essential ethical and intellectual work of teaching, and good schools build on the collective wisdom of teachers and staff in conversation with one another. We demand a standard starting salary for teachers of no less than $80,000 annually, and expanded collective bargaining rights.
9) Education recognizes that each person is the one-of-one—sacred, unique, and immeasurably valuable—and, at the same time, that we are each one part of the whole human family. We demand a curriculum that affirms both our individuality and our collectivity, that acknowledges the ongoing human struggle to achieve equality and justice, and that ensures generous funding for special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
10) Education recognizes that everything that counts can’t be counted, and that everything that’s counted doesn’t necessarily count. We demand schools that recognize children and youth as three-dimensional beings and not a collection of deficits and defects, and that acknowledge explicitly—and make count—the value of love, joy, justice, beauty, kindness, compassion, commitment, curiosity, peace, effort, interest, engagement, awareness, connectedness, happiness, sense of humor, relevance, honesty, self-confidence, and more.
We want schools that prepare free people to participate fully in a free society. We want schools that young people don’t have to recover from. We want schools that act as the hopeful launch pads for the dreams of all of our youth.


May 29, 2020

A public lynching!
A lynching by armed officials of the State!
The president calls protestors “thugs” and urges cops to “shoot to kill.”
White liberals call for…more training?
You think they need training to know not to choke an unarmed man to death?
Note the facts:
Amount (in billions of dollars) of military equipment transferred to local police forces, 1997–2014: more than 4.3
Amount of money (in millions of dollars) paid to citizens because of police violence or misbehavior in five years (2010–2014) in New York: 601
Amount of money (in millions of dollars) paid to citizens because of police violence or misbehavior in five years (2010–2014) in Chicago: 250 

Amount of money (in millions of dollars) paid to citizens because of police violence or misbehavior in five years (2010–2014) in Los Angeles: 57
Amount of money (in millions of dollars) paid to citizens because of police violence or misbehavior in five years (2010–2014) in Philadelphia: 54
Amount of money (in millions of dollars) paid to citizens because of police violence or misbehavior in five years (2010–2014) in Baltimore: 12

Percentage of city budget dedicated to police in Baltimore (2011–2012): 20
Percentage of city budget dedicated to police in Oakland: 40
Number of civilian complaints concerning police misconduct in Chicago between March 2011 and September 2015: 28,567
Percentage of complaints that resulted in a police officer receiving discipline: less than 2

Start with Disarm the Cops.
Then, get the invading and occupying force out.
Ask what we need to create a free and safe society.


Demand the Impossible!

Letter to the New Yorker:

May 27, 2020

Letter to the New Yorker:

Nicholas Lemann’s (Books, May 25, 2020) central thesis comes as a warning at the end of his review of Walter Johnson’s new book,“The Broken Heart of America”: we should expect only “partial victories” when it comes to racial justice in America, and we ought to beware the likes of Johnson for “deflating and deriding” past progress—that pessimistic approach, he advises, “invites the hazards of defeatism.” Lemann worries that Johnson “discourages us from drawing much hope” from the recent election of an African-American president, the passage of civil-rights legislation, or the Thirteenth Amendment. But Johnson’s contribution—and the power of much of the recent scholarship on racial capitalism—is precisely to demonstrate again and again the poison that’s hidden at the heart of these and other celebrated and qualified steps forward, for example, the liberating language of the Thirteenth Amendment also contains the legal justification for convict labor, chain gangs, and eventually mass incarceration. One wonders if Lemann would urge an earlier generation to celebrate the 3/5 Clause of the Constitution as a step above 2/5. In any case, white supremacy is indeed an adaptable and slippery monster, and the real hazards to forward motion are naïveté, privilege, and a deficit of both imagination and courage.
Bill Ayers

Memorial Day!!

May 26, 2020

Yuri! Presente!

May 25, 2020


May 23, 2020

No field trips, no senior proms or formal dances, no Kente commencements or graduation ceremonies. Welcome to May/June, 2020, and the world turned upside-down for everyone, and in quite particular ways for students and schools.
These rituals and experiences will surely return one day, but for young people on the verge of taking the next steps forward in their lives, the loss is level, and the disappearance irreparable.
Another passing away—one that ought to be embraced and not mourned—is the suspension of report cards, grades, and standardized tests. New York City announced a policy for public schools that suspends failing grades, and introduces an alternative mark: “in progress.” That sounds like a major improvement—why not make it permanent? Los Angeles adopted a “hold harmless” approach in which students can improve their grades, but cannot drop below where they stood before the shut down. And in Illinois school districts are encouraged to adopt a system of pass/incomplete, or credit/no credit. That, too, sounds like an upgrade—let’s keep that one as well.
Suspending and even abolishing standardized measures is impacting higher education too: California will allow teacher-candidates who have graduated from teacher education programs to enter classrooms and the profession next year without completing the controversial but formerly-mandated Education Teacher Performance Assessment (EdTPA) portfolios which were burdensome, ineffective, expensive, and widely unpopular; the College Board has postponed the SAT exam and has made the Advanced Placement exams an open-book test done at home; and 1,160 four-year colleges and universities, including Harvard and Stanford, have announced that SAT and ACT scores are optional for admission this year, and many plan to extend that policy indefinitely. Most dramatically (and hopefully) the vast University of California system will go “test optional” for two years, and then “test-blind” for two more years as it develops fairer alternatives to the SAT and ACT.
In the best of times, the use of high stakes standardized tests has been problematic—it exacerbates existing racial, social, and educational inequities by doling out rewards largely to the already privileged; it distorts the work of teachers by placing undue emphasis on a limited set of skills as it it devalues the most humane, creative, and expansive aspects of curriculum and schooling. Test results correlate strongly with traditional race and class disparities, and with parental income—choose the right parents and your scores will soar. Children of the wealthy, of course, have a host of advantages from the start—high-quality early child care, summer camps, music lessons, international travel, tutorials—and research shows that high stakes standardized tests only serve to further skew those privileges.
Further, the ranking of schools by test scores places unwarranted pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” rather than to the child, and it perpetuates the distasteful idea that good schools are for some and not for all in a democracy. Testing, of course, is massively expensive, money that could surely be better used to create smaller classes, expanded arts programs, and nurses and counselors in every school.And it’s become crystal clear in recent years that the weight placed on certain standardized measures combined with the huge consequences—high stakes—makes cheating inevitable. This explains in part why cheating scandals on standardized tests are rampant across the land—the root problem is incentivizing the wrong thing.
Standardized testing within K-12 schools has been a common-place feature for decades, and it’s unleashed an increasingly forceful opposition—parents electing to have their children skip the tests, stay home, or sit in the auditorium during test time. Hundreds of communities have concluded that the tests are disruptive but have no authentic educational benefit, and several are becoming sophisticated in analyzing the underpinnings of the entire test-and-rank obsession. The racket is additionally revealed by applying “Goodhart’s Law,” named after the British economist Charles Goodhart: A performance metric is only useful as a performance metric as long as it isn’t used as a performance metric. If you want to build a “good high school,” and you announce up-front that 100% college attendance is the indicator of whether you’ve achieved that goal, people will work frantically and single-mindedly toward that designated target, and it might even be achieved, but to the detriment of the larger goal. One hundred per cent of its graduates could indeed go to college (the performance metric) because every effort was bent in that single direction, but proponents glossed over an anemic curriculum, autocratic and rote teaching, a massive push-out rate, a sketchy list of what counts as “college,” and astronomical college failure. Not good. The target had become the goal, and the larger universe (the school itself) continued to be an educational wasteland.
The whole modern testing regime distorts life for students and teachers alike. It de-professionalizes teachers, turning them into clerks, and it focuses on a tiny set of testable things that then become glorified as the things-most-needful. The tail is wagging the dog. Albert Einstein famously noted that not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Think, for example, about love, joy, justice, solidarity, curiosity, beauty, kindness, compassion, commitment, peace, effort, interest, engagement, awareness, connectedness, happiness, joy, sense of humor, relevance, honesty, self-confidence, respect for others—keep counting.
Twenty years ago the College Board acknowledged that the Scholastic Aptitude Test had little to do with “aptitude” and dropped that word from its title, changing the name to the Scholastic Achievement Test. That wasn’t quite right either—the test can’t say what’s been achieved, and so the name was changed again. It’s now simply called the SAT. It makes some wacky, perverse sense that the most famous test in the land is named for itself and measures those skills needed, mostly, for itself.
The pandemic crisis illuminates anew intolerable circumstances and situations that we’ve somehow been tolerating all along. In Chicago African-American make up a third of the population and three-quarters of the Covid19 deaths; healthcare as a product to be sold at the market place is a catastrophe for most people; massive numbers of Chicago students have no computer, and when Lady Bountiful sweeps in to provide one, they still have no access to the internet.
And then, in the blink of an eye, we see clearly that what we’ve been told was impossible, is in fact, possible: the federal government can guarantee incomes and send payments directly to individuals; businesses can extend sick leave to their employees; healthcare can be guaranteed; people awaiting trial can be let out of jails.
High-stakes standardized testing will not be happening this spring, and yet schools will eventually open, and teachers, facing a complex set of new factors affecting children’s lives, will find ways to figure out what children have learned and retained, and how to approach a school year unlike any other. We will then face a critical choice: return to the inequities and inadequacies of the system as it was and assume that the testing frenzy naturally drives the whole educational enterprise, or create something more vital and robust based on the idea that every child is of incalculable value, and everyone should have the right to an education geared to their full development as human beings.
So step back a moment and ask a fundamental question: what could schools be, and what should they be, in a free and democratic society? Let’s rally to suspend standardized testing for the next three years, freeing teachers and students from the tyranny of the tests, and use that time to mobilize teachers, students, parents, and whole communities to examine innovations in assessment, and to generate alternative approaches for documenting school effectiveness and student learning that suit our wildly diverse population of students.
Abolish the test! Liberate the curriculum!

The Almighty Endowment!!

May 17, 2020

William Barr Goes for the Gold

May 12, 2020

Michael Flynn is an arrogant, lying jerk—no doubt about it—a criminal and a war-monger. It’s entirely believable that he was eager to do whatever it took to get his pot of loot from the Russians. And it’s likely he did exactly what he said he did—and pled guilty to.
And William Barr is doing what he did with Roger Stone—whatever it takes to block the prosecution of one of Donald Trump’s mafia buddies, and bolster the autocratic power of the commander, the Godfather himself.
But there’s also no doubt that the FBI and federal prosecutors do whatever it takes to get their indictments and guilty pleas, including making up the “predication,” fabricating evidence, gross overcharging, asset seizures, threats to family members, bribes and extortion, public shaming, and more.
The liberal outcry about Michael Flynn’s slipping-the-knot focuses on the Attorney General’s outrageous intervention, but fails to mention (and may not believe in or care about) the common, everyday bad actions and practices of the FBI, CIA, and other police forces.
A friend makes the same argument about the “Varsity Blues” cases: privileged parents cheating to get their kids into top colleges is despicable, and it’s the kind of thing lots of folks rightly hate about “elites.” But I don’t doubt that the FBI encouraged their star witness to lie to the parents, and that the prosecutors then withheld evidence of those lies from the defense, and that over-charging, deception, and threats were all in-play. They may still be hiding even more evidence that would support the parents’ entrapment defense. We’ll likely never know.
I’d like to see them all go down—Flynn and Stone, as well as the rich, cheating parents. But let’s not get into the position of cheering on the FBI or prosecutors—they are their own distinct and much more dangerous criminal enterprise.
William Barr is vile and villainous, but he’s not a fool. When asked how history might judge his actions regarding Flynn, Barr smiled like a sly fox and said, “History is written by the winners.” If undermining faith in “law enforcement” is the price of his misdeeds, so be it—that specific sabotage may actually grease the slide toward fully realized authoritarian control and autocratic rule. William Barr is going for the gold.

Loud and Clear

May 12, 2020

It’s Virtual, and Free!!

May 8, 2020

Please join me at the Illinois Humanities Award luncheon, and honor the work and lives of Sylvia Ewing and Eve Ewing. It’s free! Please RSVP and sit at my table.