State Moves to Close East Oakland Community High School

I read a disturbing article in the Chronicle today about the closing down of the East Oakland Community High School. The article's lede opened up with:
Failing to follow the rules in a public school system can result in expulsion, and the rules apply to everyone: students, teachers, administrators and -- in Oakland -- even the schools themselves.

The most recent expulsions in the state-run Oakland Unified School District are East Oakland Community High School and nine teachers who walked off campus with students in tow last Monday to protest a district decision to close the school. They held "Freedom School" classes at a nearby church.
I remember late in 2006 going to East Oakland Community High School to see my girlfriend's niece perform in a play that her church was involved in and the play involved kids from her church and the school since one of the pastors at my girlfriend's church was a music teacher at the middle school section of the East Oakland Community High School.

Walking into that school was a real pleasure. All over the walls in the gym and in the school's hallways were posters of Black Panthers and civil rights leaders: Cesar Chavez, Huey P., Angela Davis, etc. There were student drawn posters of people of color uniting to fight oppression, poetry on Black and Brown power, history display cases on revolutionary movements within the U.S., past and present. It was quite the invigorating experience.

I turned to my girlfriend saying. "Wow, this is definitely a school I would love to teach at in the future."

This wasn't the typical white-bred curriculum and mindless memorization of history "facts" and numbers. It was a school that seemed to actually want to jog the mind of it's students and teach them their history as well as empower them to make a difference.

So, what was the crime of this school? Well, for those of us steeped in the history (or even a casual observer of race in America) of racism and white supremacy it's not hard to see why this school was shutdown only three years after its inception.

The report went on to say:
"The district accidentally found out school administrators had submitted a master curriculum, and none of the classes they held were on the district's required list of classes," said Alice Spearman, the school board member who represents the district. "The school didn't offer physical education classes, and that's state law. They had an after-school program that was integrated into daily classes and had people teaching there who weren't employed by the district," she added. "If any school ever needed to be closed, it was this school."
Oh sweet Jesus! No physical education programs! Oh for shame East Oakland Community High School! For shame indeed! And outsiders teaching children! Oh the humanity!

Dramatics aside that list seems a pretty pathetic excuse to shut down a school, especially when other high school and middle schools in the same district have much worse problems than no PE program (and those schools haven't been shutdown).

Of course, that's not to say there weren't any problems at that school. I'm sure there were. As 17-year-old Glenda Frost can attest too:
"We weren't getting required classes, teachers didn't use textbooks, and I felt like if I took the state test, I don't think I could pass it because we weren't learning what we needed to pass that test. We'd learn about the Black Panthers, Cesar Chavez, and it seemed like we were just learning the stuff over and over again," said Glenda, now a senior at Skyline High School. "In ninth-grade humanities, we learned about the Black Panthers and in 10th grade, we learned about it again."
There's much more to a radical take on history than learning about the Black Panthers and Cesar Chavez. And to relearn about them two years in a row? That's just bad research and shows how some (maybe not all) teachers aren't critically engaging their students as they claim. But, again, this school is only three years old, hell, schools that have been around in this district for 50 years still have problems!

But Frost went on to say this:
"I had a teacher who told students to pull out a history book and find Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez, and when they didn't find them, he said the books were biased and full of lies. And that was the last time we opened the history books."
Now, in my mind that's a good thing. To have a teacher tell it like it is about state approved history books is a fresh of breath air from the norm; which is teachers just forcing their kids to open up those books and to force feed them lies and to make them memorize the "facts" in those books instead of critically engaging in them (and yes, I do know how hard it is to get teenagers to critically engage in anything, but that's why you're a teacher).

Also, the fact that this was the only student they quoted and this story didn't include any defenders of the school or quotes from students and parents who loved the school shows the bias of the story as well as the utter lack of critical reporting that I've learned to undertake in my four years of schooling on the subject (I'm a journalism major).

The article went on:
"The program was not delivering the type of instruction our kids need," said Alex Katz, a school district spokesman. "They had the largest drop in test scores in the district, and possibly the largest drop ever, and they didn't attract the numbers they needed to stay open. They had classes listed on the schedule, but we found no evidence those classes actually existed."
Test scores are low in almost any area were there are people of color because of the way the school system creates their test as well as teachers their own kids. While this high school may have been good it's very hard to erase eight years of previous education from a school system that is steeped in white supremacy. Also, does low test scores actually equal low intelligence? And low IQ? Plus, many opponents of IQ state that IQ tests are culturally biased as well as irrelevant to many people. Could it be the case that this high school refused to force it's kids to memorize mindless facts and numbers in order to be good test takers and instead taught it's kids history relevant to themselves as well as empowering them. What's more important? Study machines or critically engaged citizens? To the Oakland Unified School District and the state it's study machines. Which gives us a window of opportunity to see white supremacy in action and what they view as "smart" and "success."

This is just another example of how when well meaning teachers and parents and community leaders try to teach their children empowerment and the truth and try to make them critically engaged human beings the system shuts it down and puts it to a halt. It doesn't matter that Oakland Unified School District has a majority of people of color on it's board, all that matters is, is that the institutional racism is so embedded in the school system that whenever someone tries to actually teach the students something that is based on reality and in exposing white supremacy and racism they get halted and cries come out that they are deviating from the norm and not "teaching."

The article ends with Frost:
"I felt like I was wasting my time at that school, talking about revolutionary stuff and saving our kids, but not teaching us anything," Glenda said.
Now that's just sad.

Image From:
This East Oakland Life


Anonymous said...

Uhhh ... sputter.

1. I've actually taught students that graduated from that school. They were perfectly smart, or at least, smart enough to pass college classes and all.

2. Knowing something is one thing, and knowing how to take a standardized test and do well on it is a different thing. Yes, they can overlap, but they are still different. This is not new news.

3. Textbooks are helpful for the first time you teach something, or when you get assigned to teach something that is not in your main area of expertise. They show you how someone put it together, what they did, etc., and input and ideas are always helpful. They are also useful if you have students who cut class a lot, or who are behind for some other reason and are getting tutoring. You can then tell them, "well, it's in the book, read and reread."

But when you really know what you are doing, and when your students are showing up pretty regularly, you can dump the textbooks and just use original source material. It is more interesting and fun, and it is why they hire actual teachers instead of just using robots or something.

Francis Holland said...

Teaching our own children is part of self-determination. Here in Brazil, my step-daughters' teachers are often on strike, the textbooks are old, and the teachers tell the students NOT to submit computer-typed reports because of the risk of copying from the Internet. They're teaching the children to be dumb and discouraging them from learning skills that would be useful to them in the present and the future.

So, I bought my daughters computers and broadband access and I tell them about what Mark Twain said: "Don't let school be prevent you from getting an education." When school is closed because of strikes or lack of cleaning staff, I encourage my step-daughters to think of something they are curious about and do a search on the Internet to learn more about it.

I remind them that some Black people became well-educated even when it was illegal to teach Blacks to read (e.g. Frederick Douglass), and this should remind us that it is WE who educate ourselves, not whites who educate us.

With computers and broadband access becoming nearly as omnipresent as color televisions in Black homes, we each have a mega library available to us to engage our curiosity, research our questions, and teach our kids about the world.

My daughters both have blogs and are teaching themselves to use Microsoft Front Page to edit HTML and make their blogs prettier. This interest in making their teen blogs prettier is what motivates them to learn a computer language that is being used everywhere, not just in teen blogs.

They are also learning to use PhotoShop and I'm teaching them CorelDraw, the computer program used in creating graphics for business.

I've also taught them to use online English translators, and my daughter got the highest grade in her class in English.

I can't afford to put them in an expensive private school, but I can use the computer and broadband access as a classroom, and my access to Internet educational resources is just as good as that of someone with ten times as much money to spend.

Francis L. Holland Blog

Anonymous said...

I'm so with you. Elementary school teacher here but in the same area and wow...


Anonymous said...

Until the entire system is fixed, not being able to pass state tests or take classes that fulfill college application requirements will lead to high school students who can't pass the graduation test or go onto decent colleges. Is that what's intended in the short run?