Monday, February 28, 2022

A Word of Thanks to Texas State Rep. Gina Hinojosa for her Recognition of my Work and Accomplisments

OMG! So very special.

I went to the office this evening and opened a large manila folder that I thought was a calendar from the Texas House and much to my surprise and deep honor, received this acknowledgment from 
Texas State Representative Gina Hinojosa!

Rep. Hinojosa, thank you so very much for this House Resolution that recognizes my efforts and accomplishments, as well as for your own unflagging support and caring for Texas' children! I'm very humbled as it is an honor and privilege to do what we do.

MuchĂ­simas gracias! Thank you so very much!

-Angela Valenzuela


Sunday, February 27, 2022

Teaching controversial issues when democracy is under attack," by J. L. Pace, E. Soto-Shed & E. Yeager Washington

To grasp just how profoundly democracy is under attack, look no further than states taking measures to limit the franchise, the right to vote, as captured, for example, in this December 4, 2021 column in the New York Times titled, "Voting Battles of 2022 Take Shape as G.O.P. Crafts New Election Bills." Lady Liberty has taken a bruising. The fight in Ukraine reminds us of how this is not just happening in the U.S., but globally. 

In any case, the Brown Center provides some helpful thinking and resources for teachers who are on the front lines of this attack in their classrooms. I hope you'll find these helpful.

-Angela Valenzuela


Teaching controversial issues when democracy is under attack

Judith L. PaceEric Soto-Shed, and Elizabeth Yeager Washington

Monday, January 31, 2022

A new poll released by the Harvard Kennedy School reports that 52% of young Americans believe our democracy is “in trouble” or “failing.” Conflicts over many issues, such as election outcomes, climate change, and police violence against people of color seem intractable.

Political divisions have erupted in education as well. Public discourse in school board meetings on critical race theory, transgender students’ rights, mask and vaccine mandates, and pandemic-related restrictions has become vitriolic. Attacks on critical race theory have driven bans on teaching about systemic racism, sexism, and other politically charged topics.

In this climate, discussion of controversial issues in classrooms seems more fraught than ever, and teachers are understandably fearful to engage. But exploring political questions from multiple perspectives is a cornerstone of democratic education. It cultivates civic reasoning and discourse, which embody the skills, understandings, and habits required of democratic citizens. Furthermore, research shows that discussion of issues in an open classroom climate generates increased political knowledge, interest, and engagement.

Classrooms are typically the only space where young people learn to exchange perspectives with peers from diverse backgrounds, identify credible sources, and weigh evidence to inform their thinking. As one of the authors (Pace) writes in her new book intended for use in teacher preparation and professional development, we know a lot about how to successfully explore controversial issues in classroom settings. In fact, a well-developed set of practices has been advocated by and for educators around the world.

We are former K-12 teachers who are now teacher educators, and we understand that teachers, especially now, are keen to avoid risks that may accompany frank discussions of volatile issues in the classroom. These risks could include loss of classroom control, recriminations from administrators, and attacks from parents and community members, among others. However, controversy often enters the classroom whether or not we plan for it. How are teachers to effectively address controversy during these intensely polarized times?

This research-based tool that Pace developed represents an approach to teaching controversial issues known as “contained risk-taking.” It encourages teaching controversy through inquiry and discussion while proactively addressing risks. This framework for reflective practice consists of eight elements:

1) Cultivate a supportive environment

Teachers first get to know their students and create a classroom culture of trust and respect. They spend time learning about their students’ identities and ideas, building group cohesion, and promoting collaborative learning. Their classes collectively establish and practice norms such as active listening, respectful dissent, sensitivity toward others, and evaluation of knowledge sources. These classroom practices are always helpful but are especially critical when charged topics are to be addressed.

2) Select authentic issues

Teachers select issues relevant to their subject matter and make judgments about which are open versus settled. Scholars explain that open issues generate critical examination of multiple perspectives underpinned by legitimate sources of knowledge. Teachers frame questions that generate inquiry and discussion on these perspectives. They start the school year with issues that are less contentious and gradually build to politically and emotionally charged issues. Empirically settled issues—for example, the reality of climate change—need to be studied but not framed as debatable questions.

3) Prepare thoroughly

Mindful lesson planning is essential. Opening up discussions on controversial issues without preparation on the part of teachers (and students) can lead to the reinforcement of uninformed opinions and potential harm. Teachers broaden and deepen their content knowledge on the issues they address to develop a robust purpose, rationale, and goals for lessons. They create developmentally appropriate curriculum based on knowing their students and school communities well.

4) Choose resources and pedagogies

Teachers select rich resources to stimulate thinking and provide entry points to discussion. They choose pedagogical approaches, such as structured discussion activities, that allow many voices to be heard and that align with the discussion issues and students’ identities. If the issue is highly charged and students from specific communities are directly implicated, then we recommend pedagogies aimed at surfacing, understanding, and analyzing different perspectives. If the issue is not highly charged and student identities are not implicated, then we recommend pedagogies such as role play or deliberation – as long as it doesn’t set up a “false equivalence” that normalizes what are plainly ill-informed or offensive viewpoints.

5) Think through teacher stance and roles

Teachers reflect on their own positions, the roles they adopt during discussion, and whether, when, and how to disclose their views. The ultimate purpose is for students to critically examine and discuss different perspectives, develop well-informed views, and understand that additional knowledge may prompt them to change their minds. Teachers take up roles to advance that purpose; for example, if students are stuck in groupthink, they may play devil’s advocate to introduce a competing perspective. Alternatively, if a student is expressing an important minority perspective, they may take up the role of ally. Scholars have deliberated on the question of teachers disclosing their own views. In the current political climate, disclosure is not advisable unless there is a clear and compelling purpose and potential consequences are considered.

6) Guide discussion

Teachers use questioning, discussion formats, and protocols to guide discussions. They facilitate exchanges among students rather than defaulting to teacher-student recitation-style interactions. Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) is a highly effective approach to deliberation. But as we note earlier, if issues are highly charged, implicate student identities, or set up false equivalences, we advise carefully facilitated, exploratory conversations instead of deliberations.

7) Communicate proactively

Teachers transparently communicate their curricular rationales to parents and administrators in advance. They make clear that the goal is not for students to take a particular stance on an issue, but rather to understand multiple perspectives and form their own views. They let students know the controversial issues they will be studying. If stakeholders understand teachers’ thinking behind their curriculum and practice, and lines of communication are open, they are far less likely to feel threatened and criticize them.

8) Addressing emotions

Teachers balance affective and intellectual engagement. They provide a space to process emotions, use de-escalation techniques when needed, and get students to think metacognitively about emotionally entrenched perspectives and social divisions. Teachers anticipate and acknowledge feelings of discomfort that may be part of the learning process, and they are careful not to demonize or alienate students.


An example of the reflective practice framework comes from Pace’s cross-national research. In Northern Ireland (NI), a student-teacher she interviewed, Margaret, described her approach to the political controversy over who should quality for government compensation as a victim of violence during the Troubles—a period of violent conflict that rocked the country for decades during the 20th century. Margaret chose this question because it was debated by the two main political parties in the NI government: the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), with roots in the Protestant community and loyalty to Britain; and Sinn Fein, the left-wing party that emerged from the Catholic community and wanted to join the Republic of Ireland. She decided to conduct a deliberation (SAC) after learning it was preferable to debate because it made students take up competing perspectives instead of trying to win a competitive argument.

Margaret prepared by researching the controversy within the Northern Irish Assembly and curating a packet of sources, including proposed legislation and excerpts from a question-and-answer session in which politicians argued over how to define a victim. She gave students a class period to examine the sources and prepare arguments for the deliberation, which took place the following session. For homework, she assigned students to find additional sources that expanded or supported their arguments.

Mexico’s First Liberated City Commemorates Its Founding, by Karen Juanita Carrillo, JSTOR

It's beyond interesting to learn of these otherwise-buried histories of liberation that continue to inspire many generations today in Mexico and throughout the Americas. Specifically, this is a story about a member of the Angolan or Gabon royal family that was enslaved and taken to Mexico where he resided outside of the City of Yanga located 93 miles from the port city of Veracruz after which he led a successful rebellion. I also learned from this piece that according to the 2020 Census, 2.5 million people in Mexico self describe as Afro-Mexican or Afro descendant. Many, if not most, among them, are Afro-Indigenous, as well—which, of course, can be separate from how they identify, considering that Mexico has a long history of vilifying it's many Indigenous peoples. Such is the long arm of colonization...

Thanks to NAACP President Gary Bledsoe for sharing. 

-Angela Valenzuela

Mexico’s First Liberated City Commemorates Its Founding

The City of Yanga was founded after a group of enslaved Africans, led by Gaspar Yanga, who four hundred years ago rebelled against Spanish colonial rule.

Karen Juanita Carrillo | Oct. 20, 2021 | JSTOR Daily

Mexico has spent the year 2021 celebrating its bicentennial: it has been 200 years since the nation won its War of Independence from Spain. About two hundred years before Mexico’s independence, in 1609, the city known today as Yanga, located in the state of Veracruz, won an important battle against the Spanish crown, paving their way to freedom and becoming the first self-liberated and independent town in the Americas.

Yanga is commemorating its history with receipts: it now has digitized and certified copies of the city’s founding documents––paperwork originally received from the Spanish monarchy in 1618, now on display on the ground floor of Yanga’s city hall. To celebrate, Apolinar Crivelli DĂ­az, the current mayor of Yanga, recently held a ceremony with Leticia LĂłpez Landero––the mayor of the neighboring city of CĂłrdoba––where they showed off copies of Yanga’s founding papers. These copies of Yanga’s founding documents had been held for years in the archives department in CĂłrdoba, a city initially established as a military base specifically because it was close enough to Yanga to monitor the Black population there.

Located in east-central Mexico, the city of Yanga is named in honor of Gaspar Yanga, an African who was reportedly born in 1545 and who led the rebellion that led to its founding. Yanga, who was said to be a direct descendant of royalty in either Angola or Gabon, was captured and sold into slavery in Mexico, known at the time as New Spain.

Yanga was enslaved on the Nuestra Señora de la ConcepciĂłn sugarcane plantation, in an area just 93 miles from Veracruz, a major port city originally founded in April of 1519 by Spanish conquistador Hernan CortĂ©s, who designated it La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz (The Rich Town of the True Cross). Veracruz very quickly became an important harbor for African enslavement in Mexico. Enslaved Africans and Indigenous people were captured and sold there into a brutal caste system that privileged Spanish colonialists.

Yanga’s mayor, Apolinar Crivelli DĂ­az, and city representatives in front of the city statue that honors Gaspar Yanga. (Maria Toriz Caredo/City Council Press Officer.)

The historian William H. Dusenberry noted that, in Veracruz, enslaved Africans lived under strict laws in New Spain’s viceroyal system. Those Africans who were able to liberate themselves from slavery were treated even worse:

…the Negro or Negro woman absent from the service of his or her master for four days shall suffer fifty lashes of the whip… and if they should be away more than eight days, for a distance exceeding one league, each of them shall suffer a hundred lashes, iron fetters weighing twelve pounds shall be tied to their feet with a rope, which they shall carry for two months and shall not take off under pain of two hundred lashes for the first offense; and for the second, each shall take two hundred lashes and shall not take the weights off for four months.

Yanga would be only one of many enslaved Africans to rebel against this horrific slave system.

Yanga’s rebellion, in the year 1570, was comprised of several hundred enslaved Africans, who, once free, fled to shelter near the summit of the Veracruz mountains. Roaming from Cofre de Perote to the Sierra de Zongolica and to the highest mountain in Mexico, the Pico de Orizaba, the self-emancipated rebels established a palenque—a small town––where they could live on their own. For 30 years the YanguĂ­cos harvested their own foods (reportedly sweet potatoes, sugar cane, tobacco, beans, chile, squash, and corn) and raised livestock. Similar to other groups who roamed the highlands, they frequently used machetes and sticks to raid supplies from passing Spanish caravans.

Locals would transport goods in caravans that traveled from the Veracruz port to Mexico City. But as African and Indigenous people fled slavery and sought refuge in the surrounding mountain range, they took to raiding those caravans. These YanguĂ­cos were a threat to the viceroyal system’s colonial order. In 1609, when a rumor started circulating that the YanguĂ­cos were planning to overthrow local Spanish authorities in the neighboring towns and appoint Yanga as the king, the Spanish Crown’s Viceroy Luis de Velasco sent a battalion of a few hundred troops to subdue them. Both the YanguĂ­cos and Spanish suffered serious casualties during the ensuing battles, but Yanga and his compatriots could not be defeated. Yanga ultimately negotiated a ceasefire: the Spanish Crown consented to a treaty that in 1618 allowed the YanguĂ­cos to establish their own government and live in peace.

In an 11-point agreement, Yanga, as leader of the rebellion, negotiated a peace settlement with the Catholic priest, Alonso de Benavides, and Captain Manuel Carrillo, which granted the YanguĂ­cos freedom as long as they did not allow other fugitives from slavery to join their ranks. Although the Spanish Crown tried to back out of this peace treaty several times, it remained in effect until Mexico gained independence in 1821.

Since 1976, Yanga has held “Festival of Negritude,” and “Primer Pueblo Libre de las AmĂ©ricas” (Festival of the First Free Pueblo in America) celebrations commemorating the towns’ founding.

The triumph of Yanga serves as an inspiration for the ever-growing Afro-Mexican movement: Yanga’s achievement was impactful—and many scholars of Black history in the Americas record it as a seminal event in the story of how enslaved Africans freed themselves from captivity.

Afro-Mexican activists, who are today fighting for wider recognition of the 2.5 million people who self-described as Afro-Mexican or Afro descendant in the 2020 Census, turn to the image of Yanga as a model for political activism. “Yanga, the prince, is considered the founder of America’s first Free People,” enthused Isidro RamĂ­rez LĂłpez, president of the Afro-Mexican organization,  Socpinda. “In 2017, the Socpinda AC organization established the “Prince Yanga” School for the Training of Afro-descendant Social Leaders in his honor.”

Some Mexicans have even lauded Yanga as a national hero, a figure to be admired as the nation recalls the independence struggles that pushed Mexico to its national liberation. But Sagrario Cruz-Carretero, professor of anthropology at the University of Veracruz, cautions that Yanga has only been associated with the Mexican independence movement by the nation’s intellectual elite. “Yanga is mainly seen as a symbol for those of us in the Afro Mexican movement,” she said. “In Mexico itself, your average Mexican most likely does not know who Yanga was.”

The artist Frida Kahlo also taught painting to a politically active group of muralists known as Los Fridos, who she encouraged to venture to areas like Veracruz, says Dr. Cruz-Carretero:

Los Fridos came to Xalapa––here where I live in Veracruz––and they were the ones who painted the large majority of the murals here in Xalapa which have Yanga in them. These were the first images of Yanga in murals, and they represented him as a leader. But this was thanks to Los Fridos––and, in fact, the actual statue of Yanga, in the town of Yanga, was sculpted by one of Los Fridos, his name was Erasmo Vásquez Lendechy. But, to this day, the government of Mexico has not included lessons about Yanga for our children, in our schools.

The name of the municipality has changed over time: first it was called San Lorenzo de los Negros, then San Lorenzo de Cerralvo, and, finally, Yanga, in honor of its founder. Those who visit the UNESCO Slave Route project-designated city will encounter the Vásquez Lendechy statue of Gaspar Yanga in the town square. It depicts a large, muscular man, wielding a machete: an African who has broken the chains of slavery.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Putin’s attack on Ukraine echoes Hitler’s takeover of Czechoslovakia

I'm glad to learn that Donald Trump's shameful praise for Putin's contemptible invasion of Ukraine was opposite that of prominent GOP/republican voices, thusly isolating him, as covered in yesterday's Washington Post.

Interesting parallels indeed between Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia and Putin's invasion of Ukraine as covered in the piece below. However, there are important differences. Unlike when Hitler invaded Poland, we have the Internet such that we are all witnesses to this unspeakable violence and are in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Another is a deep context of struggle manifest as a beyond-admirable and impressive resolve of the Ukrainian people—everyday people—to defend their country as powerfully captured in the must-see Netflix documentary titled, "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom [trailer].

As for my followers from Ukraine that have stayed close to this blog for many years, do know that we detest Putin and the evil he represents. As captured in the film, you valiantly fought for your country at tremendous cost.

We, as Americans, are horrified with what we are witnessing on the national stage. Yours is a sacrificial love of country and democracy. Your patriotism, your fight against oppression, is time-tested and unimpeachable. 

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and top leadership just expressed publicly, 

"We are all here. Our military are here. Citizens and society are here. We are all here defending our independence, our state. Glory to our independence! Glory to Ukraine!" 

For your President, the head of the military and his leaders to not abandon ship but stay with the Ukrainian people and state, is unsurprising. Ukranian's insistence on a life a freedom, dignity, and democracy is what we should all hold up and cherish. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with you. And Putin should stop his troops and bombings and engage in diplomatic efforts if he wants legitimacy—despite his tortured logic that this attack demonstrates—as the world leader that he clearly seeks to be.

-Angela Valenzuela

The Nazi leader used similar tactics to dismember and devour Czechoslovakia before World War II

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his army parade in Prague on March 15, 1939, the day of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Wehrmacht. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael E. Ruane | Feb. 24, 2022 | Washington Post

By 1939, parts of Czechoslovakia had already been carved off and taken over by Nazi Germany, which claimed that millions of ethnic Germans were being persecuted there.

The previous September, European powers, seeking to avoid war, had acquiesced and done nothing.

But six months later, German troops were massed on the Czech border, as Nazi leader Adolf Hitler railed and threatened the country with destruction.

On March 15, 1939, the sickly Czech president, Emil Hacha, was in Hitler’s study surrounded by the FĂĽhrer’s henchmen.

“Hitler was at his most intimidating,” historian Ian Kershaw wrote in his 2000 biography of the Nazi leader. “He launched into a violent tirade against the Czechs.” The Nazis needed to take over Czechoslovakia to protect Germany. Hacha must agree or his country would be immediately attacked and Prague, its capital, bombed.

Hacha fainted, according to Kershaw, but was revived and gave in to Hitler’s demand. German troops marched in a few hours later. Hitler said it was the happiest day of his life.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin did not bother to speak with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, before launching his assault Thursday. But some observers see brutal similarities to Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia just before World War II.

“This is all truly dictated by our national interests and dictated by care for the future of our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday after the Russian assault began.

Putin on Monday claimed pro-Russian residents of Ukraine faced “genocide.”

“The killing of civilians … the abuse of people, including children, women and the elderly, continues unabated,” he said. “There is no end in sight.”

“Neanderthal and aggressive nationalism and neo-Nazism … have been elevated in Ukraine to the rank of national policy,” he said. “How much longer can one put up with this?”

A German field kitchen is unloaded in Prague on March 16, 1939. Hitler completed his occupation of Prague and the rest of the Czech state and proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia as part of Greater Germany. (AP)

In March 1938, during the run-up to World War II, Hitler had first engineered the Nazi takeover of Austria, which already had strong pro-Nazi sympathies.

Seven months later, he was plotting the seizure of part of Czechoslovakia, claiming that ethnic Germans in the Sudeten regions bordering eastern Germany were being mistreated.

“I must also declare before the German people that in the Sudeten German problem my patience is now at an end,” Hitler said on Sept. 26, 1938. Czechoslovakia must “give the Germans their freedom, or we will get this freedom for ourselves.”

Four days later, during the famous Munich conference — now known as the centerpiece of the “appeasement” of the Nazis — Great Britain, France and Italy agreed to the handover of the Sudeten region to Germany, hoping it would prevent further aggression.

“It is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe,” Hitler said. Within six months, he took the rest of Czechoslovakia, and on Sept. 1, 1939, he attacked Poland, starting World War II.

During the Holocaust, about 263,000 Czech Jews were murdered by the Germans and their collaborators, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The notorious Theresienstadt concentration, transit and labor camp, where 33,000 people were killed, was about 40 miles north of Prague.

In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, with Putin saying, “In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia.”

Before invading Ukraine this week, he first stationed at least 150,000 Russian troops along that country’s borders.

A woman holds an image depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin as Adolf Hitler during a demonstration of Ukrainian citizens in front of the Russian embassy in Paris on Feb. 24. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

He claimed in a speech Monday that “Ukraine actually never had stable traditions of real statehood. … It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.”

He recognized two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine — the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic — which had separated from Ukraine in 2014.

He ordered Russian troops into the area on a “peacekeeping mission” and then began a full-scale attack Thursday morning, bombarding cities, towns and villages and advancing toward the capital, Kyiv, where air raid sirens were heard.

“The argument that Hitler made is very, very similar to the one Putin’s made,” said Dov S. Zakheim, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, and a former undersecretary of defense. Putin, he said, is claiming that the Ukrainian government is “mistreating these poor Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine,” who need Putin to come to their defense.

“So it’s the same playbook,” Zakheim said. “When [Hitler] bit off the Sudetenland, his argument was: ‘These people don’t want to be part of Czechoslovakia. They’re Germans.’ Putin’s saying the same thing about these people in Donetsk and Luhansk: ‘They don’t want to be part of Ukraine. They’re Russians.’ Same exact argument.”

With Thursday’s attack, “he’s expanding it,” Zakheim said. And the example of the late 1930s hints at how far that expansion could go.

“Hitler wanted to take over all of Europe,” Zakheim said. “Putin … wants to restore Czarist Russia, the Russian empire. It’s a threat in particular to Finland, which was part of the Russian empire, to the Baltic states, which were part of the Russian empire, and to Poland, which was part of the Russian empire.”

Stephen J. Blank, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, said Putin moved more quickly than Hitler: “We never had a Munich conference, so they rolled the tanks in.”Although their actions are not exactly the same, “the resemblances are still there.” The Russians appear to believe that “they are the conquering people, and the Ukrainians are a bunch of softies and fascists,” Blank said.

Hitler’s aims in 1938 and ’39 were simple: He wanted war, Kershaw wrote.

“Long live war,” Hitler told the Sudeten German leader Konrad Henlein at the height of Sudeten crisis, Kershaw reported.

After Czechoslovakia fell, Hitler had only six months to wait.