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Tucson students take over, shut down school board meeting (UPDATED)

April 30, 2011

This video is mind-blowing. Students outraged over the proposed destruction of an ethnic studies program took over the board room, with some chaining themselves to the directors’ seats at the front of the room. While we adults– especially those who are squeamish about direct action and deep issues of race, class, and gender– figure out how we’re going to go about making education reform work, we should keep in mind that the students know exactly what’s up. They know when they’re being discriminated against and deprived, and they will be heard.

ETA: Here’s some coverage of the event over at AlterNet.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2011 7:06 pm

    I’m not sure I agree that students know exactly what’s up. I’d say most of those voicing their opinions about ed reform are being driven by adults. But – it’s clear they can get angry about perceived injustices. I like it.

    • April 30, 2011 7:41 pm

      I dunno, I’ve found kids to be pretty savvy…On this and other issues, kids often have a keen sense of smell when it comes to bullshit, and when they’re given the time, space, and freedom to speak about it, they’re pretty well aware of what’s going on.

      On a simple level, I’ve found that even young students are clear on the core issues that adults like to gloss over. Everywhere I’ve taught/worked with poor kids, they knew they got less than their more affluent peers, that they weren’t represented in the curriculum, that they often felt disrespect while in school, and that their ideas and concerns were often ignored. I’ve had pretty deep conversations with kids as young as my fourth and fifth graders about things like that.

      In fact, some of my earliest doubts about widespread standardized testing arose when I first started doing extra-curricular academic work with middle schoolers in Chester, PA– who turned my planned lesson into a full-on protest of the PSSA. This was just before I got really serious about studying ed history and policy; I was aware of underfunding and cultural bias, etc., but still vaguely convinced that ::gasp:: poor schools’ main problem was that they had more than their share of bad teachers. (I grew up in the suburbs and have always been a good test-taker…Thank God I studied with professors who pushed me to develop a critical consciousness of these things!)

      Looking back, I totally wish I’d have thought to tape our classes; the kids had me in tears by the end. This particular session, I was doing a lesson on how music relates to math, and they opened up about all their beefs with the test-prep heavy curriculum, and how the administration at their school would tell them to shut up when they complained about what was going on in class. I followed the lesson where it took us, and they ended up creating a song and marching with improvised drums around Swarthmore’s Black Cultural Center. The two main hooks were “You will never, ever/never, ever/never, NEVER!/TELL US TO SHUT UP!!!/TELL US TO SHUT UP!!!” and “The PSSA…”(call)/”AIN’T ON OUR LEVEL!!” (response))

      More recently, I had a really in-depth conversation with some Denver high schoolers about ed reform…and they were more on point than the Denver Post!

      • May 1, 2011 9:26 pm

        I don’t really want to disagree with you. I’d like to believe that myself.

        I think we can agree that kids, and people in general, are quick to jump on people they feel are perpetuating injustice against them. But I don’t think most students’ understanding goes beyond that. Not because they’re not capable, but because few people, just in the general population, understand much of what goes on behind the point at which they feel injustice has been perpetrated.

        I’m also continually concerned with the way children are used and abused in education policy debates. The kids who appear in Waiting for Superman or Let Me Rise ( would likely have different things to say about current ed reform.

      • May 1, 2011 9:41 pm

        FWIW, I think they get that they’re being short-changed, because they are. Though they may not always get the nuances of why, they know the what. It’s our job to inform them, teach them how to sort through all the information for themselves, and figure out a way to create a more workable situation despite our differences.

      • May 1, 2011 9:45 pm

        I also agree about the concern for them being “used”, but there’s an extent to which that happens to adults, too– how to stop that? How can you identify when belief is honest and true vs. misinformed?

        To me, it comes down to identifying the situation and figuring out which side has more evidence.

      • May 1, 2011 10:50 pm

        Okay – this is going to sound overly pedantic (because it probably is) and condescending, so I apologize, but I think it’s worth saying.

        I’m afraid that people might read “they know exactly what’s going on” and understand the actions of angry students to be evidence that what they’re angry about is, in fact, wrong. Because they don’t know exactly what’s going on (I think a lot of the most important stuff is in the nuance), there’s a good chance they’re venting their anger over perceived injustice in an inappropriate forum or toward an inappropriate audience.

        I think saying, “they know exactly what’s going on” comes off as an attempt to hijack student actions in support of our own biases.

        I could hear the same thing being said at the Heritage Foundation as conservatives watch students protest the end of the DC Voucher Program.

        As much as I may agree with your bias, I think it’s important, in demonstrating we’re seeking truth in all this mess, that we’re discriminating in the evidence that we use to support our biases.

      • May 2, 2011 8:03 am

        I understand what you’re saying, but I think perhaps I’ve not been clear in my intended meaning. When I say they (students generally, not just these particular students) know what’s going on, I mean they know that they’re being short-changed (with inadequate resources, etc.). While we get stuck in our disagreements over the style and methods of reform, they’re grumbling about (or openly talking about, depending on their comfort with their teacher) why X school has laptops and theirs doesn’t, or why their building isn’t as nice, or is more crowded, than the school all the white kids attend. On one level, their very simple understanding is more advanced than our complicated ones; why the hell are we arguing over school choice, etc. when we haven’t ensured that every kid has the same materials and resources as every other kid? Basics before extras. When students protest, it’s usually from this place of simple fairness, a place perhaps the rest of us would do well to return.

        As far as these particular students are concerned, though, I think it’s pretty clear they have a very well-developed sense of ethnic identity and of racial justice and injustice– they’ve lived that their entire lives. I don’t think we’re watching students who’ve been manipulated in to anything; we’re watching students who are rightly outraged over an overtly racist attack on their program. (This issue isn’t like the discussion over charters or testing, which is harder to grasp even for adults. This is obvious: there’s a push to ban all ethnic studies classes in AZ; there’s a school board in an area with a strong Latino/a population that’s trying to get away with a back-door method of eliminating a popular program, by making it an elective right before budget cuts come through and eliminate these “extras.” This is really not hard to understand for most people, teenagers included.)

        And we do need to give students more credit. While I know there are times when students are unfortunately “used” to advance one position or another (and it’s usually obvious; they typically are either used as props, or can’t really articulate their ideas past a certain point), I think it’s unfair to immediately think that students (especially of *this* age) can’t be thinking for themselves when they get angry and protest like this. In generations past, people their age helped run farms and families. While they may still be more impulsive than they will be as they age (perhaps if facing a similar issue at age 30 they might not chain themselves to anything), they are very capable of advanced reasoning and forming solid opinions.

        When I was their age, I had no clue about education or reform, but had very firm opinions about things like the War in Iraq, for example. My reasoning– that I’d not yet seen evidence compelling enough to merit blowing anyone up– led me to start a black arm-band movement at school, and write and speak against the war and whatever else I thought could raise awareness. This understanding wasn’t something adults had to push me towards (indeed, most adults and elected officials at the time couldn’t get past their prejudice or political expediency quickly enough to realize it for themselves!); I looked at the situation and came to my own conclusion.

        I don’t think these students are capable of any less, especially in a situation that has to do with a subject they know this well– attacks on their racial and ethnic identity.

      • May 2, 2011 10:15 am

        I agree with all that, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that students aren’t capable of thinking or having opinions.

        I also appreciate the idea that returning to a more basic idea of fairness would be good for all of us.

      • markfriedman1 permalink
        May 2, 2011 12:03 pm

        I can definitely sympathize with a consistent awareness of the fact that youth are frequently used as pawns in education reform debates. Being as conscious as possible in order to inform our actions while working with and educating the youth on crucial issues of social justice is crucial. I strongly agree with Sabrina that “It’s our job to inform them, teach them how to sort through all the information for themselves, and figure out a way to create a more workable situation despite our differences.”

        This is one of the paramount responsibilities of community organizing in education if we intend to bring about meaningful change. Substantive grassroots change has rarely happened historically without youth. We need to simultaneously follow the lead of students who are building conscious, coordinated actions. This latter group, in my view, includes the students in Tucson who organized this action.

  2. April 30, 2011 7:55 pm

    I remember being quite the radical when I was in high school. Carried a black binder with BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL in big white letters in a Catholic school when I was in 9th grade in 1967. Among other things as I grew older…
    Don’t take young minds for granted.

  3. April 30, 2011 8:13 pm

    This is incredible. We want 21st Century students who stand up for themselves, can discern social justice (and injustice), can effectively communicate, and quell hegemonic leadership. These kids demonstrated COURAGE, and that is the prime thing that those making decisions about education lack. We can more easily take care of other countries around the world than pass legislation that takes care of our own. (Our CHILDREN!) These kids rocked it. I don’t even know them, and I’m very proud of them.

    • James F. Mothersbaugh, Jr. permalink
      April 30, 2011 9:54 pm

      I have to agree completely. I sat in the streets in the 60’s and 70’s to protest, and I am wearing my T-shirt as I am watching this. I am very proud of these students as well, and I hope to see some, maybe many, of you in DC this summer with us teachers and parents. Keep up the good work, young people!

  4. Yvonne Siu-Runyan permalink
    April 30, 2011 11:54 pm

    It’s about time. Go students. Take back your education.

  5. August 21, 2011 7:50 am

    Thanks for helping to make the case that unions are corrupting youth. Great work.

    • August 21, 2011 11:29 am

      Cases require evidence, Lisa. With that in mind:
      1. What evidence is there that this is union-driven?
      2. What evidence is there that these kids have been “corrupted”?

      I see nothing corrupt about engaging in acts of civil disobedience. Our country was founded on such an act.


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