This public testimony was given at the The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Education, not Criminalization! Town Hall. If you spoke at this event or have video you would like to share, please contact the blog at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you organizers, panel and everyone here who is working to find an end to the school to prison pipeline.
I’ve been asked to speak of my experience in putting together Ida B. Wells School for Social Justice@UW. This is hard to do in a couple of minutes so I will try to say a few things about this project. One way to approach this is to see it in contrast to the official Seattle Schools’ policy and action. What we have to keep in mind is that Middle College’s authentic mission no longer exists. It’s gone.
Now what functions as Middle College is what the Seattle District administrators (Asst. Supt. Michael Tolley, with directions from a Supt. and a Asst. Supt. who are products of the Gates and Broad Foundations) has wanted for sometime. Middle College will now be based on a corporate ed reform curriculum where students arrive at a site (Northgate or Seattle U.) and spend their time working on for-profit canned curriculum. Students will be isolated from one another, being trained to take on so-called careers as precarious, low-paid workers- passive and objectified- in the capitalist marketplace.
So it should surprise no one that what was Middle College Humanities, founded on critical examination of the globalized neoliberal world in which we struggle, is being replaced by a Bill Gates funded internet show called “Big History.” This ‘’history’ celebrates technology and some science as the driving force of history. However the history of those who in defense of social justice changed society is erased. Human agency in Gates’ video series is erased. The past and present record of people’s achievement to overcome barricades of conquest, exploitation, racism, sexism, class struggle is wiped out. Learning and teaching using methods of dialectic, critical analysis …gone. Learning to come to literature, writing, expression through the knowing of past and present voices of opposition in defense of authentic democracy is gone.
Middle College was, especially for students underserved and marginalized by class, race, gender, and ethnicity, a respect and value of them as individuals and of their lived experience. School was a place where these lived experiences became a means to put lives and personal knowledge into a bigger understandable context of international solidarity; a place to become strong people, subjects of their own lives. The school based itself on building the strength of a learning cohort.
For the district’s neoliberal education aim, these values mean nothing; students are data entries and test-takers. Asst. Supt. Tolley has said publicly that class size does not matter; that alternative learning and teaching is not worthwhile. And this year, Middle College@High Point has been shut down… due to according to Tolley, problem with attendance. Attendance at High Point was never the reason for shutting this school.
Students are quite astute about the quality and culture of schools. This is more so with alienated students. These are students with powerful potentials who desire to see themselves reflected in what they are learning; to be part of a cohort of learners and agents of change. They should not be abandoned and left to resist in ways that drive them into disaster and more pain.
Mary Ellen Cardella, Designed original Wells School education project, Humanities Teacher, Site Coordinator (1997-2010)
I’d like to add to this something that occurred at the Middle College and was shared with me by a teacher at Ida B. Wells.
Two representatives of Bill Gates approached a teacher at Ida B. Wells with the Big History Book (that doesn’t have much to do with history of any sort) suggesting that it should be used at the school.
The teacher said she was not able to make such decisions, that the principal of the school is the one who makes those decisions.
Bill Gates’ representatives then went to the principal, who, from where I stand, doesn’t care much about the history of social justice or have an understanding or concern about the reason the school was founded.
The principal made the decision to use the book that effectively wiped out the curriculum that was the basis for the school’s existence.
But Mr. Gates thinks he’s “helping”.
For more on Ida B. Wells, from UrbanMinistry.org:
Because history is largely based on perspective, many historical greats are seemingly omitted from history. For instance, it is believed by many that Rosa Parks was the first to protest the giving up of her seat to a white man. While this story is often heralded as a testimony of protest and change—particularly in relation to the formation of the Civil Rights Movement, there was a woman who refused to give up her seat 71 years before Rosa Parks. Her name was Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
A prolific writer, Ida B. Wells-Barnett dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of African Americans; she also dedicated her life to fighting on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. However, her fight for social equality started while she was traveling via train to Memphis. According to Lee D. Baker, Wells-Barnett was asked by a conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to give up her seat on the train to a white man (www.duke.edu). She refused, and explained that the “forward car [closest to the locomotive] was a smok[ing] car” (as cited in www.duke.edu). “As I was in the ladies’ car” she continued, “I proposed that I stay [where I was]” (as cited in www.duke.edu).
What ensued was a physical confrontation between Wells-Barnett, the conductor, the railroad’s baggageman, and another man. According to Wells-Barnett:
[The conductor] tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth to the back of his hand. I had braced my feet against the seat in front and was holding to the back, and as he had already been badly bitten he didn’t try it again by himself. He went forward and got the baggageman and another man to help him…of course they succeeded in dragging me out” (as cited from Baker at www.duke.edu).
While one would seemingly back down after being thrown off a train by three men, Ida B. Wells-Barnett not only hired an attorney to sue the railroad company, she won her case in 1885 after she filed it in the Memphis local circuit court system (www.wikipedia.org). Though this winning was later appealed (and eventually reversed by the Supreme Court of Tennessee) in 1887 by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, it was this legal battle that created a champion who diligently fought for the rights of African Americans and women. In this sense, Wells-Barnett was the victor in this dispute because she discovered—and used her gift of writing to–expose racial and sexual injustice.
To follow is video of students, teachers, and community members testifying before the Seattle School Board to save Middle College at High Point.
This post was submitted by Carolyn Leith and Dora Taylor