Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thirteen Years Ago: My fresh Take on the December 26, 2004 Tsunami Tragedy

This moment 13 years ago totally mattered to me because our children were small and we had hard questions to answer like "Why does God let terrible things like this happen?"  This moment further coincided with my decision to start a blog in 2004.  As you can read below, I took it upon myself to respond to New York Times columnist, David Brooks' January 1, 2005 piece titled, "A Time to Mourn."

It began at 8AM on December 26, 2004 with a 9.3 earthquake in Indonesian waters close to 8 a.m., setting off a deadly tsunami that inflicted devastation from the coastlines of Somalia, in east African, to Sumatra in Southeast Asia, killing approximately 230,000 people.  It had the power of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs (National Geographic Society. "The Deadliest Tsunami in History?"  May 2, 2015).

I imagine that a good number of you remember this time period since most were home for the holidays, and our eyes were all glued to our televisions, watching this colossal disaster and its aftermath of historic proportions unfolding before our very eyes.  
While most earthquakes last for only a few seconds, it is reported that the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, as it is known to the scientific community, lasted almost ten minutes, triggering other earthquakes as far away as Alaska and causing the entire planet to move at least a few centimeters. The epicenter of the earthquake was 100 miles west of Sumatra, at the western end of the area known as the “Ring of Fire” for its intense seismic activity. That region has been home to more than 80 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes. Since 1900, when accurate measurements began to be made, only three or four earthquakes have rivaled the Sumatra-Andaman in power (see History Channel, for more information).
Instead of global warming being the culprit, it was Earth's tectonic plates pressing against one another to the point that the Earth "shuddered."
The earthquake was the result of the sliding of the portion of the Earth's crust known as the India plate under the section called the Burma plate. The process has been going on for millennia, one plate pushing against the other until something has to give. The result on December 26 was a rupture the USGS estimates was more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) long, displacing the seafloor above the rupture by perhaps 10 yards (about 10 meters) horizontally and several yards vertically. That doesn't sound like much, but the trillions of tons of rock that were moved along hundreds of miles caused the planet to shudder with the largest magnitude earthquake in 40 years. 
Sadly, and tragically, a third of all killed were children, countless numbers swept into the sea. 

Conflating God with nature, David Brooks raises an existential question regarding who we are as humans before "this catastrophic, genocidal nature," the latter of which often gets romanticized in literature.  Hundreds of thousands of individuals caught in its path seemed cruel and arbitrary, contradicting the view of God and nature as "a nurse or friend."
Rather than falling into an existential crisis myself, I chose to focus in my response (see below) to the building of a global community which I still think is a good response even if I dodged Brooks' question, stating that we need to "address the moral and ethical dimensions of our global relationships" and come together in times of catastrophe like these.  I write this even as FEMA is now an officially broken system (read Bill Weir, CNN, December 21, 2017 "Hellish summer of hurricanes smashes FEMA.")
My fresh take this evening is the potential survivability of a tsunami when local, indigenous knowledge is present and valued.  The case in point regards native islanders from the Indonesian island of Simeulue where the oral tradition together with historical memory of a tsunami that occurred over a hundred years ago in 1907, helped them to assess it accurately and retreat to higher ground with a total of 7 inhabitants dying out of a population of 82,555 that were otherwise vulnerable (read this blog post by Musfarayani which elaborates on this experience in detail; also check out this research study that also notes the importance of education and the oral tradition of native villagers).
The moral of the story here is that if our ways of knowing accord value to ancestral wisdom and local knowledge—and ideally teach this in the educational system itself—nature is no longer the culprit.  Instead, at the heart of the matter are "regimes of truth" aligned to systems of power that either disparage or simply disavow ancestral wisdom, local knowledge, and Earth-conscious ways of knowing.  
So perhaps it's not so much whether nature is a friend or foe, but rather how our epistemologies, or ways of knowing, risk or enhance, our own species survivability. 
Angela Valenzuela

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy Holidays from TCEP: We so appreciate your support

***Two Days of End-of-Year Giving Left***
Please consider TCEP for your tax-deductible

Dear Friends:

Happy holidays and new year, everybody!  For those of you that keep up with all of our work in Texas, locally, nationally, and statewide, you probably know how effective we have been in various policy arenas at multiple levels.  Some of you may wonder how we do it.  Aside from a lot of commitment of your time, energy, and love, the answer is that Texas Center for Education Policy at The University of Texas is and has been behind so much of this.  

Please consider us for your tax-deductible, end-of-year giving.  Any amount is greatly appreciated!  Please donate here.  We have big plans for the new year and really appreciate your support. 

Wishing you and your family the best for 2018!


Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D. Director
Texas Center for Education Policy
University of Texas at Austin

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Jackson on the Rise! The Movement to Build Economic Democracy in Mississippi

My earlier post on the subject of Black liberation took me to this inspiring work taking place right now in Jackson, Mississippi. We need cooperatives like these everywhere.  Inspiring!

-Angela Valenzuela

The Cooperative Movement in the South

Jessica Gordon Nembhard
In 1998 Clyde Woods wrote, in his path breaking book Development Arrested, that

As argued throughout this work, a new development path does not have to be invented. For over a century and a half, working-class African American communities and their allies have continuously experimented with creating sustainable, equitable, and just social economic, political and cultural structures. … In the 1960s, African American organizations that emerged from the civil rights movement had returned to the historic tasks both of building rural communities based on cooperative principles and of dismantling the plantation complex. …

If we are to build a society where working-class knowledge and participatory democracy are truly treasured, we must understand that the South is the center of African American culture, not its periphery. … Future political and economic movements must view African American folk culture as a central, and necessary, element in the construction of new institutions and new regional realities.
This theme of Grassroots Economic Organizing Newsletter celebrates the positive legacies and accomplishments of cooperative development in the past and lights the path to further growing the southern cooperative movement.  
Some of us will be in Jackson Mississippi the first week-end of May 2014 to celebrate Jackson Rising: a conference which will “serve as testimony to the vision and legacy of the late Mayor” Chokwe Lumumba, and will also serve as “a vehicle to help foster the development of cooperatives and other types of worker owned enterprises in Jackson.” See the first article in this theme:  Jackson on the Rise! The Movement to Build Economic Democracy in Mississippi.  We want to use this occasion to explore and highlight the cooperative movement in the South and Cooperatives in the South.

Dara Cooper’s interview witih Kali Akuno, Jackson, Mississippi is Rising: An Interview with Organizer Kali Akuno on Sustainability, Race, Class and Solidarity Economics, provides more details about efforts in Jackson to develop a cooperative commonwealth, that continue the 150 year legacy Woods mentions. Akuno explains that “If successful, Cooperation Jackson will represent a breakthrough for the Cooperative Movement in the South, as the first major network of predominately worker cooperatives to be established in an urban area in the region.”

Ed Whitfield, of Fund for Democratic Communities and The Southern Grassroots Economies Project, writes that what is needed to end the southern legacies of exploitation, enslavement, and wealth extraction is democratic ownership and democratic governance. Struggling to End Southern Bondage, reminds us of both the harsh past and the possibilities of economic democracy and cooperative solutions in the new south.
The Southern Grassroots Economies Project (SGEP) has compiled a handout with the international values and principles of cooperation, with comments and elaborations. This is an enhanced version of the International Cooperative Alliance principles, added to in order to eliminate the need for differing principles by some of the groups within SGEP. It consists of the original ICA principles with a few notes added to each description to make clear and expand some of the concepts included. The added remarks are delineated with brackets so that anyone reading this can see the principles as officially distributed.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives has been promoting cooperatives in the South for more than 45 years. John Zippert reminisces about the early struggles and achievements of the FSC, and delineates its benefits and accomplishments in Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund works to end poverty and start social justice in the rural South. The monetary impact of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance fund, representing 75 cooperatives, credit unions and community based economic development groups across the South, is estimated at $400 million.

Dara Cooper discusses with Monica White the historical contributions of Black farmers to land ownership, food security and social change, in Black Farming, Self Determination and Resilience: An Interview with activist and researcher Monica White, PhD.  White explores connections between southern Black agricultural cooperative traditions, the role of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and urban farming through the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN). She argues that “Growing food as a part of community resilience, organizing cooperatives as resistance are just a few of the many ways that people are working together to change lives.”
Another article in this issue focuses on one of the historic cooperatives in South Carolina. In 1948, on Johns Island, one of the Sea Islands in South Carolina, the Progressive Club owned a cooperative store and a credit union (the credit union is still in operation today).  In The Co-op that Changed the South, David Thompson traces the history of the Progressive Club’s cooperative activities and the Citizenship School the club established to teach literacy so members of the community could register to vote. By 1963, with 400 members in the co-op, the club received help from the Highlander Center in Tennessee to buy land, and build a larger store with meeting rooms that could also accommodate the Citizenship School.

Mississippi and other states are working to expand their laws on cooperatives. Jessica Gordon Nembhard wrote a white paper on the benefits and impacts of cooperatives to help legislators and others understand the importance of cooperatives to the economy and especially to community economic development and community wellbeing. Here we reprint excerpts from this study, and highlight information about the impact of cooperatives in four southern states: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida.
The South is on the rise! GEO will continue to follow this movement and to share information, with new articles relevant to this topic posted periodically. Happy reading!
Jessica Gordon Nembhard is a political economist and Associate Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Africana Studies Department at John Jay College, City University of NY; and author of Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. An affiliate scholar with the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan, Canada, she is a member of the GEO Collective, as well as the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, the Southern Grassroots Economies Project, and the US Solidarity Economy Network. Gordon Nembhard is also a member of the Shared Leadership Team of Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) DC (a community organizing organization in Washington, DC). Jessica is the proud mother of Susan and Stephen, and the grandmother of Stephon Nembhard.
When citing this article, please use the following format: Jessica Gordon Nembhard (2014). The Cooperative Movement in the South. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter, Volume II, Theme 18.
GEO Volume 2: 

Powerful and courageous testimonio by Dr. José L. Medina | Joe: My Personal English Learner Story

Powerful and courageous testimonio by Dr. José L. Medina, Director of Dual Language and Bilingual Education at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, DC.

Tomorrow is my birthday and aside from good health and mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, I only have two wishes. One, is to go and see Coco, the movie. I hear it's an intense, beautiful movie—a tear-jerker. 

The other is that all my friends and family read this compelling account that expresses in the clearest of terms, how and why assimilation to U.S. culture for many Mexican Americans and other language minorities is and has been a violent proposition. This is certainly so to the degree that it entails cultural and linguistic annihilation which happens to define so much of what passes for "education" today. 

Like Dr. Medina, I am also from West Texas and this story resonates on a really deep level. For me—and I think for the majority of most language minorities—the violence is mostly symbolic, beginning with the taking away and distortion, of our names and cultures. The accents in our written names also drop. Ángela and Angela were my childhood names, but in school it was just "Angela," anglicized, with no accent. I call this process of forced de-identification from one's culture, language, and community-based identities, "subtractive schooling," in my own work.

However, in Dr. Medina's case, it went beyond the symbolic to also consist of brutal and humiliating physical violence that for me harkens back to the forceful assimilation experience of the American Indians to Euro-American standards and values in the infamous Native American Boarding School experiment where many children died. Coined by Army Officer Richard Henry Pratt, "Kill the Indian, Save the Man," was a reigning motif and rationale for the perceived necessity of the schools themselves. 

Consider reading this historical account by scholar Ward Churchill of this terrifying and deeply shocking and saddening chapter in our history as a country. Another powerful text by David Wallace Adams that I have some of my students read is titled, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928.

Crazily, this motif was the "benign" response during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the actual killing of Indians which was policy and practice. Not surprisingly, then, many children literally died in the schools that held them in forced captivity—a logical, if horrific, outcome of stripping them of any and all vestiges of their "Indian-ness." 

Thankfully, Dr. José Medina survived schooling to tell his story. Today, he is a cultural and linguistic warrior in his position as Director of Dual Language and Bilingual Education at CAL. 

The takeaway from this story should never be, "Well, you made it Dr. Medina, so what's wrong with the system if it worked for you?" No, José, like myself, are the exceptions. The takeaway instead should be, "We need to stop harming and traumatizing children in our nation's assimilationist classrooms and opt through policy and practice for additive, late-exit bilingual—preferably, dual language— education, culturally relevant pedagogy, authentic caring, and Ethnic Studies. Ideally, all can work in concert to disrupt the corrosive effects of subtractive cultural assimilation. 

Dr. Medina also provides helpful guidance in this regard. Read on!

Sinceramente, Yours truly,

Ángela Valenzuela

Joe: My Personal English Learner Story

By: Dr. José Medina, Director of Dual Language and Bilingual Education, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC

Joe: My Personal English Learner Story

My name is José, but when I was six years old, my first-grade teacher changed it to Joe. Her decision to do so, continues to impact my life daily - as a person, as an educator, and as an advocate for all students, but especially for those who like me, are looked down upon for not having English as a first language.
It started when I was kicked out of Kindergarten. My parents, in their early twenties and recently having moved to El Paso from Ciudad Juárez, took me to my local elementary escuela in one of the large school districts in the city. Because I only spoke español like my parents, and also, because I was a nervous child, I did not react positively to school. I kicked, I bit adults, I urinated on myself, and I would run out of the classroom daily. After several weeks, the principal informed my parents that I "had to mature" and, therefore, would need to stay home and be brought back as a first grader.
I guess I was afraid that I would never be enough if people knew my real name – if people knew that Spanish, not English, was the language closest to my heart.
At the age of six, I returned to the same school only to do the exact same thing as before. Once again, the school principal informed my padres that I could no longer attend the school. This was in 1977 and the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Lau vs. Nichols, had not yet fully made its way to the border town in Texas. I was a six-year old English learner without a school to attend.
My Godmother, mi madrina, informed my parents that they should enroll me in a local Catholic School because there, the nuns would be able to "fix" me. On the first day at the private school, I once again did the things that got me kicked out of public school. However, this time it was different. Una monja, a nun, who my parents understood to be the principal, had a gurney rolled into her office from the nurse's office. I was placed on the rolling bed, strapped in so that my arms and legs were not able to move, and I was rolled through the school hallways to my first-grade class.
Even as I remember this life-altering event, I can see my young Mamá and Papá with tears in their eyes, seeing their firstborn child tied and delivered to his classroom. My teacher introduced me to the rest of the class as the new student – Joe. So, I lay there, watching my parents escorted away from the classroom, urine-stained clothes on my body, and flat on my back, wishing that I was somewhere else…anywhere…but not in that classroom.
Joe: My Personal English Learner Story
Continue reading to find out more of José's journey.... 

Days later, having decided that I no longer wanted to be tied to a gurney, I told myself that I had to learn English…that I had to "act" like the other students. I asked my parents if I should let my teacher know that my name was José. Mi Mamá me dijo, "haces lo que te diga la maestra." Do what the teacher tells you. So, I dutifully and without objection, became Joe.
Joe: My Personal English Learner Story
In that moment, when my identity and name were taken from me, my life was forever altered. Spanish, my beautiful native language, la música de Juan Gabriel, my favorite telenovelas on the Televisa Network, and the TV show el Chavo del Ocho – were forbidden in my English world, in my school.
As you read this, some of you may be thinking, "but José, you made it; you are doing great for yourself." Stop. Realize. I am the exception, not the norm.
English learners today may no longer be tied to gurneys in a physical fashion, but many are still lying flat on their backs with their hands and legs bound by metaphorical straps. Some of you may even know teachers that are responsible for such situations. Perhaps, even you, have been the one tying language learners down without realizing it.
We are good people. We are educators. And, we became teachers because we wanted to help others have educational access. As we serve students who are adding English to their repertoire while in U.S. schools, we must remember the following three things:
  • Value all that a student brings into our classroom. If an English learner enrolls in our school and is placed in our classroom, we should not say to others that the student "doesn't know a thing." Each language learner is a unique and awesome individual who is just waiting for us, their teacher, to create connections between that which they know and that which we want them to learn. Just because a student does not speak and/or understand English, it does not erase all that he/she brings into the classroom!
  • Have an additive mindset about language learning. Our job is not to transition kids to English. The students' native tongue is not something to be exploited in order to ensure success on standardized assessments. We must instead, value our students' first language and culture as we strengthen connections between the native tongue and English simultaneously. English and other languages can co-exist in the mind and the heart of a student beautifully!
  • We must learn, practice, and write our students' names correctly. My real name is not Joe. My true name is José. José has an accent over the letter "e" and if you don't place the accent when writing my name, you are diminishing my language and culture. María is not Mary. Françoise's name should not be changed to Frankie. Nuan is a beautiful name, so we must learn it. The name Akmal-Alam signifies a beautiful universe and does not deserve to be change to Alan. We learned how to pronounce the names Dostoyevsky and Schwarzennegger and we must now, also give value to the names of the students and families we serve!
I want you to know that I often think of my first-grade teacher. A part of me wants to be angry towards her, but I am not. Although I will never know her intent in changing my name to Joe, the name is now a part of me.
It took me decades, really not until my twenties and thirties, to slowly begin to take ownership of my birth name, my family background, my culture, and my language. I guess I was afraid that I would never be enough if people knew my real name – if people knew that Spanish, not English, was the language closest to my heart.
So, there are those that to this day call me Joe – and I graciously respond because that is the name that at the age of six was given to me by an educator. But, now that I am fully capable of owning ALL that I am, I prefer to introduce myself using my real name.
¡Hola, mi nombre es Dr. José Luis Medina Hernández Franco López Jr. Díaz-Cruz!

Dr. José L. Medina is the Director of Dual Language and Bilingual Education at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington DC
Dr. José L. Medina is the Director of Dual Language and Bilingual Education at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington DC. In this role, Dr. Medina provides dual language technical assistance, professional development, and job-embedded support to dual language programs across the United States and globally. He is a former dual language school principal and has served as an administrator and educator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Dr. Medina is one of the authors of the third edition of the widely-used Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education and also serves as the Director of the National Dual Language Forum. Dr. Medina can be reached via email at or follow him on Twitter @josemedinajr89.

Arizona Can’t Ban Mexican-American Studies Anymore, Judge Says

Final judgement by Judge Wallace Tashima was issued in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Arizona case. It was a long haul for the plaintiffs—TUSD teachers and students—fraught with symbolic violence as expounded on in my earlier post this evening.  This means that such bans are against the law everywhere, thankfully.  
Amazingly, Arizona's struggle revived the seeds of our civil rights quest for meaningful curricular inclusion in our state curricula across the land.  Despite the devastating effects of the neoliberal agenda, Arizona helped those outside of it to re-anchor themselves in this proud history and legacy of struggle.  All else equal, these shifts make for exciting times to be in education.
Hats off to Huffington Post national reporter, Roque Planas, for providing coverage throughout.
Sí se puede!  Yes we can!
-Ángela Valenzuela

12/27/2017 08:26 pm ET

Arizona Can’t Ban Mexican-American Studies Anymore, Judge Says

The permanent injunction follows a two-week bench trial that found Republican-backed ethnic studies restrictions unconstitutional.


Former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, here at the federal courthouse in Tucson on June 26, was among the leaders of the attempt to ban ethnic studies.  CONTINUE READING HERE.