Author Speaks of Neighborhood Gun-Toting

January 11th, 2013

PORTLAND, OREGON, January 9th, 2013

(from katu News, Portland, OR)

Teaching Dr. King with a Gun in My Hand

January 2nd, 2013

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recommendation that Americans consider allowing teachers and school staff to carry guns is only as dangerous as the media blitz that surrounds him. Let’s take the focus off of his wacky idea, and consider the manner in which we, as a society, are entering into this conversation, and let’s remember that we came to this conversation because of our collective conscience–our feeling that we cannot tolerate the senseless violence in our society, and we must find real solutions to prevent it.

As a public high school teacher in Portland, Oregon, I ask you to consider what it feels like to consider returning from winter break to work in a school with 1300 students, a school that has faced budget cuts in the past five years, a school that draws from a diverse community of learners, a school where we try our best to know every single student, but cannot be sure of our ability to provide mental health services to all students because we lack resources, a school where we practice our school shooter drills diligently because we know, sadly, that it could happen here too.

I envision making a plan with each class, letting them know that when we are in lock down, we’ll also barricade the door in this manner—after I lock the door, James will flip the desks, and Ralph will help him push them up against the door; Raymond will flip the tables, and we, as a class, will hide behind the tables in silence. If the door rattles, we won’t scream, and you better believe that in those moments, there will be prayer in school.

While I will return to school at the end of break, these fears in mind, I still don’t wish I had a gun. There is no way that, with a gun in my hand, I could teach the non-violent philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, of Ghandi, and of many other political thinkers who inspired change through creative, peaceful means. I hearken back to the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King, edited by Coretta Scott King, “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education stops which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but with no morals”. While I have taken the time to consider the value of the rights guaranteed by the 2nd amendment, and by our founders, I also consider the values of those who, through non-violent protest, made the most significant structural changes to the system of public education in the United States by desegregating the school system. The values of the civil rights movement are just as important, in terms of the ideological trajectory of the nation, as the concepts first laid down by the founders. As we move forward, we must put down our guns, and rediscover, quite literally, King’s Strength to Love.

Arming teachers is not the answer, as it isn’t practical, and it is also a concept antithetical to the American values of non-violence, individual conscience, and personal will. Two 60 year old AP Calculus teachers with bifocal lenses and a hippie English teacher are not going to succeed in a shootout with an assassin. Legislation that limits access to guns, sensible school security infrastructure (like pass card systems that they have at athletic clubs), and more funding for mental health services in grade schools, high schools, and colleges are solutions that will help to heal this broken system.  I recommend that Governor Perry considers these options, but if he really wants to wield a powerful weapon, I suggest he also consider implementing non-violent communication curriculum in every Texas public school. Teachers take the risk of facing an violent attack every time we enter our classrooms, and until these changes are made, our students take the risk with us. As a mother and as a community member, I want to see our parents, teachers, students, and administrators linking arms to build nets of spiritual protection around our schools. As a realist, I want new laws, school safety measures, and more mental health services now.


Speech at MLK Remembrance, 1/16/2012

January 2nd, 2013

Text of Speech given by Susan Anglada Bartley, at the World Arts Foundation Dr. King Memorial Tribute at Highland Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon on January 16th, 2012. (Broadcast and webcast by KBOO Community Radio)

Thank you to the World Arts Foundation, Highland Church, and especially Kenneth Barry for his extraordinary dedication to keeping the dream alive.

I want to start with a personal story. I need to take you back to about 1987, in Buffalo, New York, when I was a nine year old girl. With the desolation of the economy due to closure of auto plants and steel mills, tens of thousands of people, many of whom were descendants of the wave of African American workers who moved to Northern cities for employment after World War II, had lost their jobs and homes. The crack cocaine and heroin epidemic had taken over the inner city, and even members of my own family. A sense of desperation gripped our urban landscape. My mother, a woman who moved to Buffalo from Detroit with no college education, had saved her money from the flower shop, one day telling my brother and me that we were going to New York City to stay, for just one night, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Looking back, I can see that she wanted to show us the world beyond our downtrodden city.

In contrast to the poverty of Buffalo, it was shocking to see how rich people lived. While I faintly remember the crystal chandeliers in the hotel’s foyer, there is one moment I vividly recall. After entering the elevator, a beautiful African American woman and two African American males in black suits entered. My mother pulled me close, whispering, “Never forget this moment,” she said, “That’s Coretta Scott King and her bodyguards.”

Looking up at the woman, I saw her royal blue dress, and the confident, distant gaze in her large brown eyes. I didn’t breathe, and from that moment a life lesson was revealed to me that took me years to understand: To be wealthy was to be a woman like Coretta Scott King.

As I stand here in my eighth month of pregnancy, I wonder what was running through Ms. King’s mind when she was pregnant with her first child in 1955 – the same year when Claudette Coldin and Rosa Park’s refused to give up their seats, 1955; the same year that Emmitt Till was killed for whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi, 1955; the same year that Civil Rights activists Lamar Smith and George W. Lee were both brutally murdered.

I think of the faith it took to hold a child inside her womb, and to persevere, though her family faced death threats and her children would face hatred and discrimination in school because of the color of their skin.

When I think of the sacrifice of the very Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta, I come closer and closer to know, I think, a godly definition of true wealth. As A high school teacher, I try my best to keep the memory of Dr. King thriving. Franklin school has made some positive changes that do honor the legacy of Dr. King. Under the leadership of Principal Shay James and Vice Principal Lavert Robertson, we have created the Advanced Scholar Program, a program that requires students to commit to taking a minimum of four Advanced Scholar classes during high school. Though Shay’s leadership, all barriers to Advanced Placement classes have been removed. We have instituted a tutoring center to provide support for students who need help with high level homework. And all the way, the intent behind Shay’s leadership is not solely to push forward African American students; it is to create a rigorous environment in which all students can thrive. The result has been dramatic increases, over the past three years, in the numbers of African American students, and students living in poverty from all backgrounds, taking AP classes. The school was recognized by the College Board’s office of equity last summer because of the clearly documented success. Though we are seeing these results, we still face problems in finding continuous funding, in ensuring that every student has the support they need to pass the classes, and in completely eradicating racism from our school environment so that even more black and latino students partake in the most challenging curriculum available to them.

While I’m happy to share the positive news about Franklin, I remember that Dr. King’s legacy cannot be celebrated through boasting or partial success. Even on December 10th in Oslo, 1964 when Dr. King accepted his Nobel Prize speech, Dr. King began his speech by remembering the struggles of his people.“I am mindful,” he said, “that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death”.

So today, 48 years after that speech was given, I celebrate Dr. King by asking that we continue to walk in his footsteps by analyzing the places in our public schools where racism still exists, and praying for the courage to be willing to continue to fight for equality. I ask you to consider speaking up even more about issues of discrimination that you see taking place in Portland Public Schools. Many of you, who have African American or Latino children attending school in this district know, even better than I do, about the exact kind of discrimination that is taking place. I applaud the district for engaging in the <i>Courageous Conversations</i> curriculum, and I have participated in this program since the first pilot group. I also see a variety of structural changes that can be made, directly by Portland Public, in order to expedite the process of eradicating racism. While Doctor King was the greatest advocate for non-violent communication, we must also remember the aspect of King that practiced systems analysis. Currently, the district had hired some highly qualified African American and Latino staff to help with the process of restructuring systems that are negatively affecting black and Latino youth.

Black and Latino children in Portland Public Schools are still far more likely to receive a discipline referral. The discipline system for children in Portland Public Schools needs serious revision. We also need to look at our athletic coaching staff, district wide, and ask that the district make it a priority to hire more African American, Latino and female coaches not for assistant positions, but for Head Coaching positions. Shouldn’t our role models in athletics at least reflect the ethnic backgrounds of many of our teams?

Like Rev. Dr. King, let’s ask for strength  never to tire until our work is truly done. Also, let’s look beyond the goal of high school graduation for black and Latino youth, and begin more Pre-AP programs in middle schools and high schools so that we can create a College Graduation Initiative, expecting every student in Portland Public Schools, including Special Education students, to take at least one AP or Dual credit class, whether they are earning college credit in auto mechanics or AP Physics.

In closing, I humbly ask you to consider, when you meet any young man or woman, to look into their eyes and see a King. In my own experience, you never know when and where you might meet one. It could be at the bus stop, it could be in an elevator, and it could be in your own classroom, or it could be the child sitting next to you right now. Tell all the young people in the audience right now for me, let’s do this call and response style: “We believe in you,” “We love you” “We are working together to protect you.” 



Huff Post Conversation On School Violence

December 21st, 2012

New National Standards Will Not Fix Deep Problems in American Public Education

December 3rd, 2008

The problems with Public Education in the United States are far too severe and varied to solve them by applying national standards at this time. I write as a teacher in a high poverty urban school, as product of the extremely succesful public school (City Honors School rated #1 public middle, #4 public high school nationally), and as a person who has experience teaching all levels of high school language arts including both Alternative Ed. and Advanced Placement, which I currently teach in an untracked setting. I write as a person with a Master’s degree in education from Portland State University, and a B.A. from NYU where I studied the history and literature of marginalized communities in America. I write from a place of hope, and from moments of brokeness. I from having seen the system fail, and from the miracles that can come from it. I write from the place of knowing that teaching is the work that life gave to me, and that writing is my tool of reform. I write to express the injustice, inequity, backward methodologies, failed philosophies, awful discipline strategies, poorly planned and gruesomely implemented government-produced solutions that I see everyday. At the end of the day I love teaching, and I love the rebellious souls of young people. At the end of my life, I must be able to look back and say that I tried to liberate people’s intellectual and creative power, not that I sat on my ass in at a sixty year old desk and watched the system waste energy to produce people who resented their teachers, their schools and felt that education was about social control rather than freedom. I write because I know that there are many teachers who experience isolation, but also know the solutions. I write because I can see the reforms that the system needs. I believe in everyone’s right to a free and public education, and I want to see my ideas implemented in the society so that we can produce well-educated, compassionate people who are in touch with their own creative spirits (whether they be mathematical or artistic) , who make life decisions in a conscientious way, who read and understand societal and global changes, who produce work that enhances or improves the society, and who act with compassion toward one another.

Recent administrations have attempted to solve problems in public education through the implementation of standarized national programs and standards. No Child Left Behind and the Striving Readers program are examples of such failed national policies. The basic concept is this: problems in public education (including well-studied inequities in quality of education for racial and ethnic minorities, inequities in quality of technology and general funding in high poverty schools, lack of resources for teachers and students in high poverty environments where ethnic minorities are often served (or under-served)) will be solved through the implementation of professional development programs that will educate teachers in superior pedagogical practices. Then, standarized tests will be applied to assess the progress of the school, the community, the teacher, and the student.  The problem? Unsuccessful teachers are often the people available to teach these “professional development” workshops, the content of the workshops are mundane to the extent that even Socrates couldn’t have made this challenging or interesting, and none of the problems related to poverty or true inequity are ever addressed. While some government officials seem to be pushing for national standards, I disagree with the idea of starting there. Here is why:

2) The level of cultural and linguistic diversity, and the giant population of the United States renders us incomparable to France or any other European or Asian country that has national standards. Though France has a sizable immigrant population, their school system is still a thousand times more homogenous than ours. National standards work best in highly homogenous nations that have clearly defined histories of academic literacy. We just don’t have that here. We have to build it from the ground up.

3) We do not have a unified cultural definition as Americans of what schooling should mean. This varies from state to state, and from classroom to classroom. The recent immigrant from China is often miles ahead of the child of white poverty from Coos Bay, Oregon. Likewise, there is tremendous diversity even within our Mexican immigrants. Some are coming from highly literate (in Spanish) backgrounds, while some are coming from illiterate backgrounds where no parent ever attended school. Some Mexican students are coming with knowledge of ancient tribal languages, but without the ability to write in any language. This example is meant to demonstrate the huge diversity even within one population that we see in our classrooms.

Applying the national standards now is working the problem backwards. It would be too easy for Washington to design a new set of standards, and not fund them properly, not design proper implementation, not translate it into Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese, Spanish, Bosnian, Polish, Somalian, Ancient Latin American dialects, etc.,etc.), and not find proper translators to explain the standards.

5) American culture itself needs to transform and develop a culture of intellectual and academic success for young people. Barack Obama is in a unique position to be able to plant seeds of this kind of culture. It will take some time to develop. A set of national standards is the final step in such a transformation, not the first step. First we must deeply examine where the resistance is coming from, specifically in our low-performing Latin and African-American students. I can tell you where it is often coming from: the often racist and culturally deaf practices in Public Schools. The deep-seeded resentments that many parents of color (not all of course) feel toward the system comes from a history of education that has unabashedly attempted to erase home culture in the name of education. Schools are often deeply racist places overwhelmingly run by whites who have little understanding of the diverse populations they serve. Why are rates of failure and discipline referrals and dropout so high in particular communities? Because the schools themselves are failing to adjust to the real needs and values of the communities they serve. The teachers are often too overwhelmed to understand that children are coming to school stressed by poverty, parenting of younger siblings, etc. Many African-American children are taught (thank god) to question authority. This questioning is not tolerated by the white power structure in schools, and leads to drop out, discipline referrals, etc rather than to true listening and deep productive conversations between humble teachers and strong students from historically oppressed communities. Paolo Friere’s article The Banking Concept of Education is an excellent one to read on this topic. Schools need greater tolerance in order to solve those problems. National Standards will only exacerbate the problem, and could backfire for Obama by re-empowering an educational power structure that oppresses minority voices. It seems to me that a set of national standards would be the last thing that many African-American parents and students want to hear about. I am hearing a desire for teacher accountability and greater respect for the diverse needs of students. More funding for Early Childhood Education would be the first place to start if we want to reach out to our African American and Latino populations in inner cities. We know that works and has lasting effects.

6) Poverty creates inequity in school resources. Until American schools have equitable environments, technologies, access to higher-level classes like AP and IB, counseling staff and equitable numbers of teachers per student, there will be no change. National standards will not put equipment in the hands of athletes who want to play on teams but can’t afford to participate, nor will they enable high-poverty schools to open well-staffed late-night and weekend computer labs so that students living in poverty can finish their homework. If we want equity, we have to address our poverty issues before spending more money to pay for programs that will not have the desired effect of social equality in the form of equitable access to educational program in U.S. public schools. 

One potential answer could be to use the AP system nationally. That is a system that is already functioning in many schools. A great education leader named Joan Cone is teaching untracked AP down in LA. There are many of us who are following her lead. This would allow students to chose the area or areas that they wanted to excel in, and teachers get to design and submit our own class designs to the College Board. We should use this existing program and allow it to go forward and multiply. We must, at the same time, get rid of uninspired teachers and mandate greater cultural competancy. We must define, nationally, what we mean when we say hard work, be on time, ask questions, behave, and stand up for yourself.
We can ask that all teachers involve reading, writing, and speaking everyday in every class. This simple philosophy will reinvigorate learning and make it more student centered. Teachers also do not necessarily need more pay, just 30 students or less and four classes per day so that they can really focus on other aspects of their jobs like program design, parent communication, and checking in with students. The four class day with another period for home communication would work wonders for Public Eduaction. This would be a great place to enact the much-desired teacher accountability initiatives. Teachers could be required to provide weekly or daily evidence of home communication. In exchange, we would get the actual time we need to do the social work part of the job. To those who believe that teachers should not have to make any extra effort to get students to participate, I have two words for you: good luck. Today’s students need us to play a tremendous role in their lives, and yes, we must sometimes reach out and ask them to engage and believe in the power of education. God knows they have seen it fail. We, the teachers, must have faith where the student, the parent, the society does not. That’s what we signed up for. The society needs to give us the time to do it through the implementation of a four class day with one prep period, and one long block for student/teacher/parent communication. This plan will make our schools thrive. This plan will also require the hiring of more new teachers, and so more money must be directed by the federal and state governments toward education for the exact purpose of hiring teachers to meet the demand of 30 students per classroom or less, and a four class day with the prep and the aforementioned required communication block.
Teachers must be accountable for reaching out toward students. Education also will not work if teachers are allowed to sit back and wait for student work without helping to define the terms of their specific class and their expectations for every single student. Teachers must work harder to reach out to students from diverse backgrounds who may encounter fear, feelings of rejection, or resentment against a system that seems like it is attempting to change them and rub their cultural fur the wrong way. Teachers must be accountable for this, so they need just one more hour per day for the Social Work aspect of the job. 
Until these issues are addressed, the system of Public Education in the United States will remain in a state of inequity. We need change now. Please comment and come back next week for my next articles: The Need for Fearless Administrators: This is What a Good Principle Looks Like and Bartley’s Utopia: Portrait of a Well-functioning U.S. School in a Diverse and High Poverty Community.

Just Starting Out

November 26th, 2008

For many reasons, a school may not be meeting the needs of its students, or of society. Maybe it was slow in adapting to changing times. Or maybe it was hijacked by extreme ideologues with simplistic answers.

What is needed now is a sea-change in our educational institutions, that involves the people affected by them. Achieving this will require intense engagement of all the stakeholders in the educational process, i.e., the ones who have a stake in education — not the parasites.