The Color of Debt

This article goes with the last one I posted, as they’re from the same community. Most of us have no idea what the lives of our students are really like, and all the hurdles they face. Unfortunately, we are rarely given the tools needed to truly be able to help our kids, instead districts throw around words like “rigor,” as if that will finally and magically be the “great equalizer.”

The Color of Debt: How Collection Suits Squeeze Black Neighborhoods

Posted in Poverty, Racism | Leave a comment

This superintendent has figured out how to make school work for poor kids

Success for many poor students involves more than just passing out tee shirts and sweatshirts from universities.

This superintendent has figured out how to make school work for poor kids

Posted in Education, Poverty | Leave a comment

We use science when it benefits us, and ignore it when it makes things complicated. We should not have a 2.5-3 month vacation in the middle of the year. Data shows us that the time off is detrimental to most students, and certainly to poor students who lack access to enriching activities in the summer. But we don’t let this data get in our way; you can’t pry summer from our cold dead hands.

Sleeping in: Later start times for high schools spreading across US as districts heed science

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

My thoughts on Pope Francis

I consider myself a struggling Catholic and haven’t been to church for over a year, though I still give money, earmarked only for my parish, none of it to go to the diocese.

Pope Francis is certainly no progressive and anyone who has labeled him that doesn’t understand the Roman Catholic Church. OTOH, his tone is certainly different from the previous popes, and he appears to focus less (notice I didn’t say “not” focus) on the regular list of sins that conservative bishops and priests rail against. Apparently he has made annulments easier to obtain and has said that priests should offer absolution for women who’ve had abortions and who seek forgiveness. I’m not aware of any pope expressing these ideas, and in fact, JPII said annulments were too easy to obtain. He’s also said clerical celibacy was something that could be changed, as it was not dogma; again, quite different from JPII’s comments.

Francis seems genuinely interested in the daily struggles and issues of his flock, more so than previous popes. He has bucked some traditions, like washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday, one of who was Muslim. Liturgical law says only men can participate in this ritual. Is that earth shattering? No, but it certainly rankles the church’s hierarchical way of operating.

Why he canonized Serra I have no idea, and he hasn’t really said anything to help me understand. His comments have been more on the fantasy end of what Serra *should* have done. Serra was also referred to as “Hispanic” and something special for the Hispanics in the USA, which sounds like pandering to me. Also, I wouldn’t refer to him as Hispanic (actually I hate the word and never use it). Francis’ words in Bolivia about the role of the church in the Conquest were correct, and yet he’s obtuse about Serra’s role here in California. (I wouldn’t refer to Serra as a “genocidal maniac,” as some have, but his missions certainly oppressed the natives.) There were then, as now, good priests and bad priests.

While I have my own issues with the church, it irritates me when people think the church should be hip, or on the cutting edge of modernity. Religion isn’t and shouldn’t be something that changes like the weather. That being said, religions should change as understandings of our world change. But I simply can’t stand faux tolerant-minded liberals who refer to “imaginary friends” or insist that the Vatican empty its coffers and take care of all the poverty in the world.

The church, which I consider my spiritual home, has comforted me in times of sorrow, supported me in my weakness, challenged me in my complacency and angered me beyond belief. While I may currently be wandering in the desert, I know that it will always be there waiting. I’d also like to add that I think my Mexican Catholicism is quite different from the more fire and brimstone brand of Irish Catholicism that has long been the standard here in the US. (And my parish is more on the liberal side, unlike our bishop.)

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Can’t We Just Be Nice?

After the unfortunate skit at a local high school that included Mexican stereotypes, mainly portrayed by Mexican students, some say too many people are too sensitive and let’s just be nice.

Here’s what anti-racist author Tim Wise says about nice, and I whole-heartedly agree.

Nice people change nothing. They never have and they never will. Those who are nice are so invested in their niceness, in their sense of propriety and civility that they rarely raise their voices above a whisper, even in the face of sweltering oppression. Nice white people were the ones who didn’t own black folks during the period of enslavement but also didn’t raise their voices against the ones who did. Nice white people are the ones who didn’t spit on sit-in demonstrators but also had no problem spending money with businesses that had remained segregated all those years.

To be nice is to have an emotional stake in the prevention of one’s own pain. Nice people don’t like to look at the ugly. It’s upsetting, and most of all because it puts us on the hook and calls forth our humanity to actually put an end to that pain. Precisely because most people are good and decent and nice, they turn away from any evidence that the world, and their society is less decent than the sum total of its citizenry. It’s too much to take in. This is the irony of niceness: unlike persons with antisocial personalities or severe sociopathy who quite enjoy pain and suffering and often seek to cause it, those who are nice are so wrapped up in rainbows and lollipops as to make gazing upon the truth a bridge too far.

Nice people do not protest, angry people do; and right now, I’d trade every nice white person about whom Chris Rock was speaking for 100,000 angry ones. But not those who are angry at black folks or brown immigrants or taxes—we have more than enough of them. I mean 100,000 who are angry enough at a system of racial injustice to throw ourselves upon the gears of the machine, as Mario Savio once insisted. A hundred thousand sufficiently enraged so as to join with our brothers and sisters of color and say enough. A hundred thousand who are tired of silence, tired of collaboration, tired of nice, and ready for justice.

In short, and though I know it won’t strike some folks as particularly, well, nice, it really must be said: fuck nice. And the fact that there are many who would be more disturbed by my language here than by the death of black men at the hands of police, tells us all we need to know about the poison that is niceness, and about the dangerous souls who cling to that self-concept like a badge of honor. They have made clear by virtue of their silence what side they’re on; and that will not, cannot, be forgotten.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ethnic/Racial Insensitivity Revisted. Again.

I received a call yesterday urging me to tune  into KBBF at 7pm, to listen to some students, and their parents, from Maria Carrillo High School complain about a recent rally.  I listened to the girls and their parents, speaking both Spanish and English, talk about what transpired at their school.

The leadership class presented a short skit that apparently showed undocumented workers being harassed and arrested by border patrol agents.  At some point a green card is offered to the agent, which he rips to shreds.  After the skit, a few girls dressed as maids come and sweep up the pieces of paper.  The skit was either named or performed by “The Refried Beans.”

I was outraged.

But wait.  There’s more.

A group of students asked to speak to the principal about their concerns.  According to them, he was dismissive, and said he wasn’t responsible for what happened, and that it was “freedom of speech.”  A mother (a white woman who has an adopted Latina daughter) also spoke to him and received the same line:  he wasn’t responsible and it was freedom of speech. She quoted him California Ed Code that prohibits racist acts sponsored by a school.  His response, according to her, was that freedom of speech takes precedence over Ed Code.

As the girls told their story, I was very proud of their courage and determination to bring the incident to light and to try and make the school understand their truth.  I called in to thank them and to encourage people to write to the board and superintendent.

I wasn’t aware of it, but the girls and their moms also appeared on the radio show that followed, which was mostly in English. The Mexican mother who spoke in Spanish nearly brought me to tears. She  said “…parents shouldn’t be intimidated… Day after day we get up and go to work, no one gifts us anything.  We are proudly in this country, producing with our work…We shouldn’t permit our children and raza to continue to be humiliated in this way. We are human beings…”

The local paper has also covered the story.

Here’s a short video of the skit. It’s hard to glean much from the short clip, if you don’t know the background story.

As the one mother alluded, there are sections in the California Ed Code which address schools and racism.

  • Education Code section 51500 prohibits teachers and school districts from instructing or sponsoring any activity which reflects adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, heredity, national origin, or ancestry.
  • Education Code sections 51501 and 60044 prohibit the State Board of Education and local school boards from adopting any instructional material for use in schools which contains any matter reflecting adversely upon persons because of their race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, handicap, or occupation.
  • Education Code section 56000et seq. mandates the provision of free appropriate public education, including special education facilities and classes, to persons with exceptional needs.
  • Education Code 66252 California’s postsecondary educational institutions have an affirmative obligation to combat racism, sexism, harassment and other forms of bias, and a responsibility to provide equal educational opportunity.

To reduce Mexicans to stereotypes of undocumented workers and maids is highly offensive. To let this skit go forward was a bad move by the teacher and the administration. Listening to students cheer it on (in the video) was maddening and heartbreaking. To know that Latino students participated or supported the play was also heartbreaking. Not only do we need to educate our youth (and adults) about what’s racist and not acceptable, we need to educate our students of color how this struggle is theirs, and the power they have to work against prejudice and racism.

Which is why I stand in awe of the girls who pursued this because they knew it was wrong. I want to thank them for the courage and commitment to being heard, and to call out what offended them.

For those, including our own Latino youth, who view the skit as “no big deal,” prejudice, stereotypes and racism exist because we let them.  Our silence gives our consent. If you can’t stand up for human beings when they are denigrated and humiliated because of their ethnicity, if you turn your head and and dismiss it out of hand, you are part of the problem.

And guess what?  If you engage in racist behavior, or behavior that promotes and condones negative stereotypes, that makes you a racist. PERIOD.

This is the official statement from Santa Rosa City Schools:

Name: Jason Lea
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources
We are deeply concerned by the recent student performance at Maria Carrillo High School and are actively examining the situation to determine appropriate action. Reported to portray messages of intolerance and disrespectful racial themes, the activity, and all student activities, must comply with the District’s expectations of respectful behavior in school related activities.
The Santa Rosa City School District does not condone intolerance or bias of any type. The circumstances surrounding the skit in question are being investigated, including the approval process and impact. District personnel are working with school personnel to identify the teachable messages and to strengthen our approval process for all student-led activities.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

This is Religion

THIS. This is what it is to be Christ for someone.  As simple as this.  As complicated as this. All the rest of it is trappings.


[For those of you unclear as to what you’re watching, this poor Mexican woman is throwing food to migrants making their way north to the United States. It is a dangerous journey, a dance with death. She knows this and she shows some kindness to them.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment