Murder of the DREAM

I’d like to report a murder. The DREAM Act is unresponsive and appears to be gasping its last breath. The trouble is that the cowards who committed this heinous act didn’t even have the guts to show their faces. They killed it in secret, using political sleight of hand and parliamentary procedures. So we don’t know – as President Obama famously said during the health care debate – whose ass to kick. But, if it helps, we do have a last known address for the culprits: The U.S. Senate.

For the People: A Lesson Learned.

Something happened on my way to a good argument – I educated myself, applied reason and good sense, and found that I had less of a need to fight than I had previously believed.  In doing so, I realized that within the Texas text-book debate lies an opportunity to examine our current contentious political environment.

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about the Texas State Board of Education, new Board Commissioner Gail Lowe, and the revision of Texas Essential Knowledge Skills.  Most of the talk concerns the fact that Lowe is a conservative Christian and she feels our Founding Fathers intended for our country to be guided by Christian principles, thus making it acceptable to use those principles to shape the education of American school children.  Like most of the things regarding the country’s Founding Fathers, it is debatable whether that was their intention, and statements can be cherry-picked from each of them to support either side of the argument.  Those men were remarkable thinkers, interested in multiple disciplines of thought, and supporters of the advancement of science to achieve greater understanding of the natural world.  Because of that support, I have a hard time believing that any of the Founders would argue against evolution or the Big Bang in favor of creationism or a fundamentalist time-line, which Lowe’s predecessor did while serving as Commissioner.

I read several of the published criticisms of the Texas State Board of Education.  I became concerned with some of the changes that were being considered which seemed to defy reason in favor of promoting a conservative political agenda.  I wanted to help publicize this revisionist agenda, criticize the flawed logic of the changes suggested, and call people to action against the subversion of public education.  Before sitting down to type, though, I took an important step.  Rather than regurgitate information that had come to me through secondary sources, I found the drafts of proposed revisions to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, annotated with commentary from members of the board.

What I found actually came as a surprise.  Looking at the proposed changes for Social Studies, Special Topics Social Studies, US Government, US History, Sociology, and World History, I discovered that the proposed changes in these drafts overwhelmingly support a broad and multicultural point of view in public education.  Despite reports to the contrary, Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall are not being eliminated in favor of Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh.  Many, many historical figures are being proposed as additions to the curriculum (including Chavez and Reagan) that were not previously specified as part of the required teachings.  The majority of the controversy surrounds opinions made by one or two board members (or panelists appointed by those members) on the significance of particular figures, or the balance of “liberal” figures against “conservative” figures.  This again brings me back to the Founders.

The process underway in Texas to shape the education of our children is reflective of the Founder’s desire for elected representatives to debate the merits of public policy and act in the public interest.  They knew that a consensus would be rare, so they created a government in which debate could be used to sway opinion, and the opinion held by the majority would emerge victorious.  Checks and balances would be in place, though, to protect against tyranny by the majority.   Americans seem to have forgotten that this is the way the system works.  Follow this train of thought – if our students are subjected to an education that is scientifically deficient or politically slanted, it is because the Board of Education, chosen by the citizens, approved of that education.  If the Board approves of that education but the majority of citizens do not, it is because dissenting citizens did not adequately exercise their right to vote for the Board. And if they did not adequately exercise their right, it stands to reason that the eligible voters did not take the time to educate themselves on the gravity of that election.  In turn, if an unfavorable outcome occurs, the next election provides a means of redress.  Knowing this, I can only shake my head in disbelief when I see modern tea-party protesters claiming that they have no representation.  The representation is present, only now, that particular opinion is in the minority.

It is important to the core concepts of our government that we hold our elected officials accountable.  We must make clear before and after they are elected what we want them to do on our behalf.  This is true right now in Texas as the Board decides the things teachers will talk about with our children, and it’s important nationally as our lawmakers decide how to change the health care system.  Equally important is remembering that decisions will favor the majority, and as a member of the minority, one must maintain a rational opposition. Extreme vitriol not only reflects poorly on your point of view, but causes an immediate disconnect with the party you’re trying to persuade.  We have all been guilty of it at some point.

The Texas Board of Education is accepting informal feedback on TEKS proposals through October 9.  You can go here to find the annotated drafts, the contact information, and the appropriate procedure for submitting commentary.  Shouts of “you lie” are not considered valid.

Jake Negovan strives to shine a light on truth and hypocrisy when the mainstream media overlooks those small details. “…For the People,” Jake’s column, is his platform to address the issues that our country faces as we continue growing toward a society of equality.

Hispanic Parents and Children Have Options Too

I remember entering school in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a kindergartener. There were no Hispanic or bilingual teachers to help me overcome the language differences I encountered. We spoke Spanish at home. Many people think that this is just a problem for immigrants and that somehow we should go back to where we came from or just “Speak English…you’re in America now!” Well, interestingly enough I was born in Weslaco, Texas where my mother was born and my father was born in Chicago, Illinois. I know that makes me American. I never expected that I would encounter a system so resistant to accommodation for my family’s language and cultural differences, but I did and somehow survived to complete my studies. The closest role models in the teaching ranks of the schools were Italian American and Irish American teachers who understood the language issues and cultural assimilation issues my family experienced.

For the most part, White teachers told us to “Stop speaking Spanish at home…speak American… (English)…change your Spanish names to English …and fit in!” Perhaps these experiences have helped me to understand the emotional hardships of modern-day immigrants. We too, worked in menial jobs growing up harvesting crops in nearby Nunica, Hudsonville, Sparta, and as far away as Traverse City. I remember my escape from the fields to work in restaurants locally and later in the factories while attending school. These experiences made me well rounded by the time I reached high school. I left home at 16 and continued attending high school until graduating from Grand Rapids Central High School.

I hadn’t expected to go on to college but was recruited by a Chicano Counselor to Eastern Michigan University and the rest is history! I completed my degree and began working in the Grand Rapids Public Schools to change the system. I went on to earn my Master’s Degree at GVSU and Doctorate Degree from Wayne State University. As an educator I have been at the forefront of several movements to change the school system from within. Change has been slow to come and in recent years pushed back to the philosophies of yesteryear.

As I near retirement age, I often find myself at odds with individuals that seek to dismantle the progress we have made in hiring bilingual teachers and implementing programs to curb the horrendous Hispanic drop-out rate in the public schools. My two older sisters and my brother dropped out of school before the 9th grade from the Grand Rapids Public Schools. That left me, my younger brother and sister to navigate the system and graduate from high school. Therefore, the math worked out to 50% drop out rate for my family. Not much has changed in Grand Rapids according to the district’s dropout data for Hispanic children since…in fact, our drop-out rate is actually higher…nearly 75% and we are worse than Detroit and Flint pubic school districts.

A group of concerned Hispanic leaders met with Superintendent Bernard Taylor to express our concerns and were met with arrogance, condescending attacks and lack of respect for the elder leaders who expressed their concerns about the lack of progress of our district in meeting the needs of children learning English. The district is cutting back programs and in some areas has failed to meet state and federal laws regarding the education of ELL children in the classroom. We pointed out these concerns and challenged Supt. Taylor to address these issues. Dr. Taylor failed to take an opportunity to receive input about the concerns of the community which he had asked for in public meetings. He failed to be a problem-solver.

I am convinced that the Hispanic Community of Michigan will not meet success in our public schools classrooms until there is real reform. The statistics demonstrate that Hispanic children enrolled in private religious schools and in Charter schools are having greater success completing high school. The recent demographic statistics regarding urban flight to suburban schools by Black and Hispanic students also suggest that Hispanic parents realize there is a better standard of education in the suburbs. Wyoming, Godfrey Lee, Godwin Heights, Kentwood, Comstock Park schools all have experienced dramatic increases in Hispanic enrollments over the past five years. There is a lesson in this …Hispanic parents have options too! We can leave and take our children elsewhere if urban public schools continue to fail the majority of our children.

As a seasoned educator and community activist, I recommend that Hispanic parents consider enrolling their children in private schools or public charter schools where there are opportunities to do so. Many Hispanic parents live in the city and send their students to suburban schools by using friends and relatives’ addresses. Many Hispanic parents have moved and continue planning to move to the suburbs as a solution. I also recommend that we Hispanic educators who have the contacts and the knowledge base, expand the number of Charter schools with a Hispanic American centered theme in order to insure that more of our children achieve an education.

Public schools that cannot meet national or state standards should be closed or re-organized. Superintendents who can’t provide safe and orderly schools or provide “appropriate instruction” for ELL children to succeed should move on. I have reached new decisions on my next course of action. I strongly support the movement for a statewide demonstration of Hispanics to boycott our schools on the fourth Friday count day in September! Perhaps when districts lose the millions of dollars they reap as financial gain that we produce for them, they will begin to listen and act to properly educate our children.

Dr. José Angel Flores is the publisher of The Community Voice/La Voz Bilingual Magazine, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.