Friday, December 16, 2011

Guiding Principles

Seven Principles that Inform Our Work

Young people want to learn.

Human beings are learning creatures. We don’t have to persuade babies to be curious and to seek competence and understanding. The same can be true of teenagers. Rather than trying to motivate teenagers, we support their basic human drive to learn and grow. Where obstacles – internal or external – have gotten in the way of this intrinsic drive, we focus on helping teenagers overcome or remove these obstacles.

Learning happens everywhere.

Conventional wisdom says that children “go to school to learn,” as though learning can only occur in places specially designed for that purpose. We believe that people learn all the time and in all kinds of places. It doesn’t have to look like school or feel like school to be valuable, and it’s not necessary to make distinctions between “schoolwork” and “your own hobbies” or “for credit” and “not for credit.” As one teenager who had recently left school observed, “Everything I do counts now.”

3  It really is OK to leave school.

Many young people who are miserable in school – academically or socially – stay because they believe that leaving school will rule out (or at least diminish) the possibility of a successful future. We believe that young people can achieve a meaningful and successful adulthood without going to school. It happens, over and over again.

4  How people behave under one set of circumstances and assumptions does not predict how they will behave under a very different set of circumstances and assumptions.

School success or failure is not necessarily a predictor of a child’s potential for success or failure outside of school. An unmotivated student may become enthusiastic and committed after she’s left school. A student who doesn’t thrive in a classroom environment may become successful when allowed to learn through apprenticeships or in one-on-one tutorials. When we change the approach, the structure, and the assumptions, all kinds of other changes often follow.

5  Structure communicates as powerfully as words – and often more powerfully.

It’s not enough to tell kids that we want them to be self-motivated, or that we want them to value learning for its own sake, if the structure of their lives and their educations is actually communicating the opposite message. Voluntary (rather than compulsory) classes, the ability to choose what one studies rather than following a required curriculum, and the absence of tests and grades all contribute to a structure that supports and facilitates intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning.

6  As adults working with young people, we should mostly strive to “make possible” rather than “make sure.”

Most of the time, we can’t truly make sure that young people learn any particular thing – learning just doesn’t work that way. A group of adults can decide that all fifth graders should learn fractions, but when it comes to each individual child’s genuine understanding and retention, we can’t actually make it happen or guarantee that it will happen. As adults, what we can do, however, is try to make things possible for young people – provide access, offer opportunity, figure out what kind of support will be most helpful, do whatever we can to help navigate the challenges and problems that arise.

The best preparation for a meaningful and productive future is a meaningful and productive present.

Too often, education is thought of in terms of preparation: “Do this now, even if it doesn’t feel connected to your most pressing interests and concerns, because later on you’ll find it useful.” We believe that helping teenagers to figure out what seems interesting and worth doing right now, in their current lives, is also the best way to help them develop self-knowledge and experience at figuring out what kind of life they want and what they need to do or learn in order to create that life. In other words, it’s the best preparation for their futures.

*** The above 'Guiding Principles' come from North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens, based in Hadley, MA. We chose to share them with you, our community, in hopes that they may resonate and provide inspiration as we move forward in creating an entirely new way of learning for New Orleans youth. ***

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Youth Led Social (R)evolution

Remember when that loud, unruly kid was a punk? Remember when that quiet girl doing art in the back of the room was weird? Remember when the kids who were leaders were predictable and understandable? What a cool world that we live in that none of that is true anymore!

Over the last 100 years our society has been busy birthing new realities, thrusting itself forward into an unfamiliar, unknowable future. Women's suffrage and civil rights were the cusp of these changes, as our family structures, social relationships, and cultural growth has reflected an even broader transformation. Young people, who at first were merely keeping pace with those changes, went from being the canaries in the coalmine to being the leaders at the front, taking charge, making movements, and driving social change as never before. Today, young people are the bellweather of the brave new future we continue to move towards.

Look around you! See those kids fixing their own problems on the playground? That's (r)evolution! See the teens in the alleyway finishing that tremendous graffiti mural? That's (r)evolution! See those tents and that meeting in the park where the Occupy movement is keeping hold? That's (r)evolution! Who is at the head of all this? Young people.

I challenge you to see today's reality: The (R)Evolution Is Underway. Can you see it? Can you feel it? The economy, politics, education... Young people are stepping in front of these speeding trains that are bulleting their ways through our society, and they're doing what appears to be "crazy stuff". But that crazy stuff, unfamiliar and scary as it may seem, is bringing us towards a positive, powerful future for all people everywhere all the time.

New Orleans Liberation Academy is steadily moving towards demonstrating this (r)evolution. Step with us into the future to see where we're all going - together!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Transformational Change

Our friends at the Q.E.D. Foundation have created a graphic that does a great job describing the type of transformational learning community we are working to develop. We hope it can also serve as a tool for anyone else working to make transformational change in learning and teaching. Q.E.D. Foundation is an organization of adults and youth working together to create and sustain student-centered learning communities. Their work is based on relationships and practices that first and foremost support students’ growth and learning while simultaneously improving the health of our communities and our society.

Download PDF Version.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Graduation by Validation

The New Orleans Liberation Academy (NOLA) educational program for high school graduation is organized around a competency-based, outcome oriented curriculum.  In a competency-based system, desired learning outcomes are clearly defined and stated up front. Students are assessed by whether they can demonstrate those outcomes.  In the NOLA curriculum, the different learning outcomes are called "competencies." Students progress through the NOLA curriculum by demonstrating that they have met the learning outcomes through a process we call “validation” in a variety of skill and knowledge areas. We call this demonstrating a competency.
What is a competency?
A competency is simply a statement of learning outcomes for a skill or a body of knowledge. When students demonstrate a competency by completing a validation they are demonstrating their ability to do something. They are showing the outcome of the learning process. Lots of the things that people do in their lives can be defined as different competencies - job skills, living skills, etc. In the NOLA curriculum we've taken the different kinds of skills and knowledge that are important for our students success, whatever path they may choose after high school. and we have defined them as different competencies or validation areas.

In most educational programs, a student moves through the requirements by taking a class and being assessed and earning a grade at the end of that class on how well she has done meeting the requirements of the class. The assessment says how well a student has done in a class, but it doesn't necessarily assess what a student has learned. Wherever the student is at the end of the class - that's what the assessment shows. When the semester ends, the student is done with that learning and moves on to the next class.
NOLA’s educational program is different (and we think more like the real world). Students at NOLA know up front what the expected learning outcomes are and each student is expected to fully demonstrate them all.  It's not enough to be part way competent in something, our goal is to help every student reach the level of demonstrating their competence/mastery.  If it takes less than a semester to acquire a particular validation, the student can demonstrate the competency and move on.  If it takes more than a semester, that's okay, too.  All students are expected to demonstrate the required outcomes, but different students will do it in different ways and at different paces.

How do students graduate from NOLA?
NOLA students graduate by doing projects, performing internships, completing suplumentary learning packets and/or taking classes towards twelve different learning areas.  Not everyone’s learning experiences will look the same; each student, their advisor and their validators will create a plan that will best suit their needs and interests.  As the student works on the twelve validations, they will also receive traditional credits for the time they put in.  Student’s transcripts at graduation will consist of at least 30 semester credits, and twelve summaries of learning, called validations

NOLA’s competency-based graduation process allows learners to earn a diploma through demonstrations of competence in addition to or in combination with traditionally determined credits.  In addition to meeting the state’s minimum graduation requirements, the student must meet the desired outcomes in twelve validation areas, and must demonstrate competence through projects and summaries of real-world learning experiences.  Each of these validations must be signed by an expert in that particular area called a validator.  The validator should be involved in the creation and execution of the learning plan, as well as its final assessment.  Upon successful completion of all twelve validation areas, the learner will amass a portfolio consisting of the twelve validations, or summaries of learning, as well as projects that showcase the student’s work.  The student will then present the portfolio to a graduation committee comprised of the student’s advisor, one or more family or community members, a program director, other staff, and a current New Orleans Liberation Academy student who is also on the competency-based plan.

Some of the validation areas will be met through traditional classes; however, students are encouraged to create their own learning and assessment plans in most of the areas.  The following is a list of the twelve validation areas in which NOLA students must demonstrate competency in order to graduate:

à        Effective Communication
à        Literary Analysis
à        Effective and Informed Citizenship
à        Valuing Diversity and History
à        Mathematics
à        Science and Technology
à        Physical and Mental Well-Being
à        Artistic Expression and Appreciation
à        Accessing Information
à        Community Involvement & Leadership
à        Employment Skills, Entrepreneurship & Career Exploration
à        Philosophical, Emotional and/or Spiritual Awareness

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Humanizing Education

Yesterday, we met with a group of students at Sci Academy, a Charter school in New Orleans East. The students we met with are part of a ReThink club, a group of students who come together weekly to work on creating solutions to challenges students feel in the school.

One topic emerged as central to the students' experiences at school: dehumanization. Students have fealt that in their school they are unable to be their full selves, express who they are or the struggles they face.

Paulo Friere wrote that central to authentic liberation is the process of humanization.

What then is a human education?

Currently few schools exist that are actually designed for human learning.  Traditional school was designed to turn human children into adult factory workers.  It succeeded, but what if we no-longer desire such a system? What if our desired outcomes for children and youth have changed since the industrial revolution? 

Our desired outcomes for our children have changed. What are those desired outcomes today, and can the kinds of outcomes you would choose for your child’s life be effectively measured by a multiple choice test?

When parents are asked what outcomes they would like for their children, they often say “I want them to be happy. “ And they also report a desire for a better world for our kids to live in. They applaud ideas like bringing compassion, understanding, caring, creativity, and love.

As we were visioning a school here in New Orleans, we asked ourselves, students, parents, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who would give us the time: “What is the purpose of education?”  After a few months of asking this question to as many as possible, we’ve heard hundreds (maybe thousands) of answers, and have noted that very few of the answers we’ve heard actually have anything to do with traditional “academic learning.” Far more often, the answers focused on who our children and youth are and how we can support them in expanding that. In other words, it starts with the human.

So what is the disconnect that allows parents and educators to then turn around and send children into schools where their success and often self-worth is measured purely through a set of multiple choice tests in math, science, and reading, and some letter or number grades which tell us nothing of value?

Why do we not act on what we know intuitively… that who our children are is much more important than what they know?  It is who they are in terms of character that will shape our world.  All the knowledge in the world has never yet assured that our knowledge will be applied with wisdom.

Fortunately there are schools that get this and parents who are willing to allow their children to go to them, or who even get involved in creating them.  Through our continued relationship with the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) and the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA), we have been able to connect with and learn from some of them.

Many of these schools are democratic schools run by partnership between adults and children. These schools provide education for humans, not for industry.  They know that future industry must change to fit future humans, and not the other way around.  A human education system serves the human children within it first and foremost.  The interests, skills, talents, and physical, mental, emotional and spiritual requirements of children are top of the list when designing schools. 

So as we begin with the human, the first task at hand when our students join us is keen observation of how the youth acts, the things they are drawn to, the foods they choose, the friends they empathize with, the information they choose to learn, the clothes they wear, the way they speak, listen, and interact with others. All of this is quite valuable in facilitating the expansion and learning of each student. 

Once their strengths and interests begin to emerge, we can then begin to support their journey.  This is how New Orleans Liberation Academy functions: in service to the human.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick-or-Treating in the Lower 9th Ward

Last Friday at the Lower 9th Ward Street Library, we hosted a special event for the neighborhood children and youth as way to bring the community together in celebration. We had face painting, told scary stories and went trick-or-treating! We were joined by about 30 of our young friends, another 10 neighborhood teenagers and nearly 20 parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. Thanks to everyone that came out to the Guerrilla Garden for our Halloween celebration! Special thanks to Books for Kids for the free give-aways and to the Brassaholics for leading the parade! Here are some pictures of the fun!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Get Involved to Help Grow Our School

Do you want to have a significant impact in the lives of New Orleans youth and thier communities?

Do you want to gain experience incubating a grassroots, democratic, community-based school?

Are you interested in contributing to and learning from a powerful learning community of educators, organizers and youth?

Get involved with the next phase of the development of New Orleans Liberation Academy.

We are looking for teachers, artistds, youth development workers, counselors, organizers, youth, community members and others who have experience working with youth and/or are committed to creating an education that is relevant, meaingful and inspiring. We need dedicated, creative and hardworking people interested in working collaboratively to plan and develop a new small school in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.

Our mission is to engage, educate and inspire empowered New Orleans youth to transform their lives while positively contributing to the betterment of their community.  Our vision is to support our students in becoming independent thinkers, problem solvers and self-directed learners. Our school community will model the values of dedication, care, creativity and interdepenence that will help shape our students into successful learners and community leaders.

If you are interested in learning more about us and/or think you might be interested in joining a team of committed educators, organizers and youth in furthering the development of something new, unique and empowering for New Orleans youth, please contact us at and tell us a little about yourself and why you are interested in getting involved.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reflections on Organizing towards Collective Liberation at Occupy NOLA

Over the last few weeks our students and advisors have been partipating in various aspects of Occupy New Orleans actions and working groups. Most centrally though, we have all been deeply engaged in the Anti-Racism Working Group meeting 3 times a week a diverse collective of anti-racism organizers and activists from participating in the Occupy movement and other longtime organizers from the community. Fellow member of the working group, provided great analysis and a look at the anti-racist organizing that is coming out of the Occupy Movement in New Orleans in her post published today on the Monthly Review Zine, and we are happy to share it here:

Reflections on Organizing towards Collective Liberation at Occupy NOLA
by Lydia Pelot-Hobbs

Over the past few weeks, I have been invigorated and moved by the energy surrounding Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots across the nation.  Yet, at the same time I've been faced with the tensions being articulated by so many folks on the Left: how can this energy be connected to and further long-standing organizing work for social and economic justice?

Here at Occupy NOLA, I have been excited about the potential of making these bridges through the project of the anti-racism working group.  In less than two weeks, this working group has been developing a collective analysis and strategy that I think has the possibility of contributing towards long-term movement building.

From Difficult Moments to Moments of Promise

This is not to say this work has been easy.  Many of these conversations are painful and difficult.  At the second General Assembly (GA), a debate emerged regarding the use of the livestream at the GA.  Since the initial planning meeting, Occupy NOLA had been posting photos and videos on Facebook without those in attendance's permission.  Myself alongside several others from the anti-racism working group raised the concern that having the entire area videotaped led to the space not being safe or secure for a variety of folks: immigrants, trans folks, queer folks, etc. and offered the proposal that 1/3 of the space not be included in the livestream.

In response, several white men got up and declared the purpose of the movement was to be recorded and that having folks on video couldn't possibly have the ramifications that we had explained such as immigration sweeps or people losing employment or housing.  Listening to these responses I was frustrated by concrete concerns being seemingly disregarded, but even more so at how privilege operates to convince individuals that their experiences within society are universal -- how security for some makes the lack of safety for others invisible.

Following the GA's inability to reach consensus on this subject, those of us on both sides of the debate were tasked with further discussing the issue.  Cynically, I found myself assuming the people we had been debating weren't actually committed enough to the process to enter into further conversation.  However, immediately after the meeting, one guy came over to continue the discussion.  Within a few moments, a group of a dozen people were talking about how power functions, how Latin@ folks are racially profiled as undocumented immigrants, the policing of trans folks (especially transwomen of color), the precariousness of service industry workers employment, and so much more.  Here we were, mostly strangers, spending our Friday night standing in Duncan Plaza engaged in political debate.

Did we end up agreeing on everything?  No.  Did we make steps together?  Yes.

Making these steps together is why I'm involved in the Occupy movement.  I recalled that my political analysis was not developed over night; rather it took investment from other activists.  I've had years of guidance and mentorship within movements for social justice that has gotten me to the place I am today.  Now is the time to offer the constructive encouragement to others that was offered to me when I was first becoming politicized.

But I also know about the rapid politicization folks can go through during moments like this -- moments that radicalize people's understanding of power, systems of oppression, the state, global capitalism, and empire.  These moments can literally transform people's understandings of not just what we are struggling against but also what we are dreaming about: what collective liberation can potentially be.

Building Strategies for Collective Liberation

For me, this is why it's so crucial to organize with the anti-racism working group to build a structural analysis within Occupy NOLA of how we got to this period of advanced capitalism.  Luckily, I think we have more resources to draw on for this than in pervious periods.  Even before the first GA to plan Occupy NOLA, white anti-racist folks here were reaching out to one another to discuss how to critically engage this moment.  Many of us had been moved by the writing coming out of OWS by activists of color on their struggles to build an anti-racist and anti-oppressive politic in New York.  Several of us were also encouraged by the conversations happening within the national US for All of US network of white anti-racists about the potential for catalyzing this moment.  Others of us were calling on our knowledge gained from our participation, both as local New Orleanians and outside volunteers, in anti-racist organizing at Common Relief following the storm.  Looking around the space of Occupy NOLA, instead of feeling lost and overwhelmed as I have so many times before in these spaces, I felt hopeful and inspired.

By the second day of Occupy NOLA, a multiracial crew of folks had come together for the first meeting of the anti-racism working group.  Gathered together was a group of people with a range of backgrounds: long-term organizers, folks new to activism, people who already knew and trusted one another, and individuals who came knowing no one but believing in the purpose of the group.

Over the course of our first meetings, we strategized together what the purpose and goals of our anti-racism working group would be.  Drawing on our collective knowledge gain from previous activism as well as our initial involvement with Occupy NOLA, we solidified together that our goals are based in the belief that this is a moment of possibility and potential.

We committed to working towards: Occupy NOLA being accountable to local community organizing and acting in solidarity with their local struggles; fostering an intersectional structural analysis of power through political education projects; encouraging both Occupy NOLA and the broader #Occupy movement to center both the US South and the Global South; deepening our analysis of how US financial power has been built off the ravages of slavery and colonialism; and continuing to build off the momentum of this moment over the next year regardless of the outcome of this occupation.

We have also committed as an anti-racist working group to be actively participating in other working groups and building with other potential allies.  Also, by participating in other working groups, we are able to share our skills in areas such as facilitation, media, and direct action.  For me, this is us moving beyond a critique from the sidelines to a structure that is focusing our efforts towards the success of other working groups.

Central to our strategy has also been the ongoing dialogue and discussion with long-time New Orleans organizers of color.   Folks from a range of organizations affiliated with the Greater New Orleans Organizers' Roundtable have generously entered into conversations with the anti-racism working group about how Occupy NOLA can be pushed in a strategic direction that furthers the aims of local economic and social justice movements.  This work has the potential to strengthen both Occupy NOLA and the work of already existing organizing by building a united front on the social justice issues in New Orleans.

It's also been incredible to be organizing collectively with folks who are dealing with the reality that we need to move quickly since we don't know how long this occupation will last while also thinking through how this work can make a long-term impact on movements for justice.  Instead of organizing in crisis, we are organizing for the long haul.

Moving Forward

We're still grappling with a lot of questions: How do we actively engage and support other working groups?  What are strategies for building an accountable Occupy movement here in New Orleans that supports and strengthens the long-term community organizing in the city around housing, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and immigration?  Is our goal to build Occupy NOLA as a multiracial, multiclass movement or is there a benefit in leveraging the white and class privilege of the current formation in solidarity with community organizations?  How do we both embrace the spirit of participatory democracy while also recognizing how these processes can be alienating?

These are complicated questions for a complicated moment.  While I am sure that both the anti-racism working group and the broader Occupy NOLA will make mistakes along the way, I am just as sure of the necessity in critically engaging in this movement.  We're in the middle of a powerful opening to connect fresh new activists to radical political analysis, to develop their leadership skills, and to introduce them to the ongoing social and economic struggles here in New Orleans, across the US, and around the globe.  Getting down in this messy process is more than just a commitment to the present Occupy moment; it's an investment in our future movements for justice.

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs is a member of and trainer at AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance).

Friday, October 7, 2011

We Are the 99%

Yesterday we participated in the first day of Occupy New Orleans, a solidarity protest and march with Occupy Wall Street. Check out New Orleans Liberation Academy student Anthony Johnson during the march:

Day 1 of Occupy New Orleans. Solidarity protest and march with Occupy Wall Street.

Here is also a great video that captures some of yesterday's actions:

As expected, the Occupy New Orleans actions have already proven to be an incredible, experiential learning opportunity for our students in civic engagement, social action, democracy and consensus building. We look forward to continuing to Occupy and engage in powerful conversations and learning across difference.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Occupy NOLA

New Orleans Liberation Academy believes that Occupy Wall Street is a profoundly important form of social action that is deeply connected to the struggle against the racial and economic oppression of poor, working, people and people of color. We are, as Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, said in a statement, “…fed up with the corporate greed, corruption and arrogance that have inflicted pain on far too many for far too long.”

Occupy Wall Street has become less of a movement for a specific cause and more of a space, a space in which people who feel a similar frustrations with the world as it is and as it has been are coming together and thinking about ways to recreate it.  Building from our school's philosophy of using the city as our school, and learning from the transformational events happening all around us in the world all the time, New Orleans Liberation Academy students and advisors will Occupy NOLA. As we begin today with a solidarity march and occupation, our goal is to create and maintain a space for true democracy, learning, growth, community and solidarity in opposition to the status quo that is destroying our lives, our neighborhoods and our cities. "It can't rain all the time."

We will be assembling at noon today at the intersection of Tulane and Broad in front of Orleans Parish Prison to highlight the continuing crisis of the prison industial complex that wreaks havoc in New Orleans and around the country.  We will be marching past Lafayette Square and the adjoining Federal Reserve Bank of New Orleans to call attention to the greed of the Federal Reserve and corrupt financial institutions that have caused so many to suffer.  Following the march, participants will establsih an encampment at Duncan Plaza near City Hall which will be a space where we work to practice true democracy in contrast to our current political system. Read the full press release from Occupy NOLA HERE.

We hope you will join us! Occupy together! We are the 99%! We stand in solidarity!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Undoing Racism

This weekend, New Orleans Liberation Academy student Anthony Johnson is participating in the Undoing Racism workshop at Tulane University facilitated by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond.

The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond focuses on understanding what racism is, where it comes from, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be undone. Our workshops utilize a systemic approach that emphasizes learning from history, developing leadership, maintaining accountability to communities, creating networks, undoing internalized racial oppression and understanding the role of organizational gate keeping as a mechanism for perpetuating racism.

Anthony is participating alongside Students Organizing Against Racism, a multiracial, multicultural Tulane University student organization dedicated to antiracist organizing at an individual, institutional and cultural level. Their goals are to analyze and organize around issues of race and racism at Tulane, as well as to respond to specific problems on campus while also striving to forge meaningful relationships between Tulane and the greater New Orleans community.

How Can We Undo Racism?

The fabric of racism is inextricably woven and constructed into the founding principles of the United States. Racism was done and it can be undone through effective anti-racist organizing with, and in accountability to the communities most impacted by racism. The People’s Institute believes that effective community and institutional change happens when those who serve as agents of transformation understand the foundations of race and racism and how they continually function as a barrier to community self-determination and self-sufficiency.

This nation has always reflected rich diversity from the innumerable multitude of indigenous cultures that inhabited and sustained this land prior to arrival of European explorers to our present composition. Yet, unequivocally, whites continue to fair significantly better than all people of color. In our workshops, we analyze power and how it is used to maintain this racial divide, in hopes of achieving equity and equality across all cultures and races.

Through dialogue, reflection, role-playing, strategic planning and presentations, this intensive process challenges participants to analyze the structures of power and privilege that hinder social equity and prepares them to be effective organizers for justice. We look forward to sharing updates and reflections on Anthony's experience and his antiracist community organizing to come.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wishing John Taylor Gatto a Quick Recovery

Recently we received the sad news from our friends at the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) that John Taylor Gatto has had a serious stroke.  Gatto has an incredible inspiration to us in our work to develop a learning environment for New Orleans youth that is not manipulative and doesn’t follow the familiar pattern in compulsory education of dumbing us down and programming us conform to economic and social norms rather than being really taught to think. Please join us in wishing him a speedy recovery.


From Jerry Mintz at AERO: Last night I talked to his wife who told me that John was in the hospital for a week and has been in a rehab center for three weeks. He has speech problems and problems on his left side. But she said he can walk 40 steps now and his speech is getting better. We need John to return to full health! If you would like to send some good words to John you can write to me and I’ll put them together and get the messages to him. Send to

Schooling is not Education - part 1

About John Taylor Gatto:

John Taylor Gatto climaxed his teaching career as New York State Teacher of the Year in 1990 after being named New York City Teacher of the Year on three occasions. He quit teaching on the OP-ED page of the Wall Street Journal in 1991 while still New York State Teacher of the Year, claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children (click here to read his full OP-ED).

Schooling is not Education - part 2

Later that year he was the subject of a show at Carnegie Hall called "An Evening With John Taylor Gatto," which launched a career of public speaking in the area of school reform, which has taken Gatto over a million and a half miles in all fifty states and seven foreign countries. In 1992, he was named Secretary of Education in the Libertarian Party Shadow Cabinet, and he has been included in Who's Who in America from 1996 on. In 1997, he was given the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for his contributions to the cause of liberty, and was named to the Board of Advisors of the National TV-Turnoff Week.

Schooling is not Education - part 3

Recently, John Taylor Gatto has launched what he calls an “open conspiracy” to destroy the standardized testing industry. This “conspiracy”, is being called the Bartleby Project. "The Bartleby Project begins by inviting 60,000,000 American students, one by one, to peacefully refuse to take standardized tests or to participate in any preparation for these tests; it asks them to act because adults chained to institutions and corporations are unable to; because these tests pervert education, are disgracefully inaccurate, impose brutal stresses without reason, and actively encourage a class system which is poisoning the future of the nation." Read John Taylor Gatto's full statement on the Bartleby Project.

Schooling is not Education - part 4

We support the Bartleby Project the rights of students and parents to opt-out of standardized tests. Just say: I would prefer not to take your test.  Learn more about the growing movement to opt-out of standardized tests by visiting United Opt Out National: The Movement to End Punitive Public School Testing.

Schooling is not Education - part 5

We encourage you to join us in sending your well wishes as he recovers, and please, check out some more of our favorite works from John Taylor Gatto:

The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling

A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling

Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Comulsory Schooling

We Speak for the Trees

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not!" - The Lorax

The Lorax, written by Dr. Seuss in 1971, focuses on environmentalism and the consequences of increasing industrialization.  Published the same year as the founding of green peace, this children’s story marks the beginning of the environmental movement.  Using colorful and animated characters, Seuss personifies big industry in an entrepreneur, the Once-ler, and the stereotypical environmentalist in the Lorax. The Lorax is a mysterious character who attempts to protect animals’ habitats from the Once-ler's destructive and greedy actions.  The message Seuss portrays about the detrimental effects of environmental apathy is one that resounds strongly still in today’s world and we think it is a great book to teach students of all ages about the power they have to make a difference in our world and our environment.

Learning Objectives:
  • Students will understand the symbolism of both main characters
  • Students will analyze the environmentalist theme of the story
  • Students will discuss parallels from the story to our own society
  • Students will understand the interconnectedness of elements of the natural environment
  • Students will search for potential solutions to the growing problems represented in the story

1.  Together, read the book aloud and give all students get a chance to read at least a page or two.
2.  Start class discussion with open ended questions such as:
a.  Was it fair for the Once-ler to destroy natural habitats for his business?
b.  Could the Once-ler have kept his business going without cutting down every Truffula Tree?
c.  What destruction of natural habitats have we seen in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and/or the rest of the country? Where does it happen?
d. How does the destruction of natural habitats affect humans?
3.  Transition into a class activity by dividing the class into groups.
4.  Give each group ten plastic cups and tell them to stack the cups in a pyramid shape.
5.  Next instruct each group to choose one cup from the bottom row and try to remove it without knocking any of the others down.  When the pyramid collapses tell them to try it again but choosing a different of the four bottom cups.

1.   Lead a class discussion based on the observation that removing one cup automatically affects the entire pyramid.  Prompt the class to find the connection between the pyramids’ dependence on every one of its cups, to an ecosystem, where every change in some way affects the whole ecosystem.  Discuss the effects of specific man made changes, big and small, to the environment as a whole.
2.   Divide the class into groups and assign each group a section of the story to act out for the class (e.g. the section describing the land before the Once-ler came, the scene where the Lorax appears in the story, when the different animals are forced to leave their homes).  At the end, have the class discuss possible ways the Once-ler could have continued his business without damaging the environment as much.

Follow-up: activities
1.  Students develop independent or small group service-learning projects in the community based on the themes of The Lorax. Examples of projects may include (but are not limited to) working to preserve and restore the natural environment of Louisiana's Gulf Coast, developing an advocacy campaign to put pressure on businesses to be environmentally friendly, teaching The Lorax to younger children at the Lower 9th Ward Street Library, and many, many more ideas.

    Check out The Lorax Project for more ideas of what you can do to help protect our environment.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Multiple Lines of Defense

Last Friday, New Orleans Liberation Academy student Anthony Johnson had the opportunity to go on a boat tour with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), the Gulf Restoration Network, and other local community leaders.

It was his first time ever on a boat and he says that at first it was a little scary, but eventually had a great time and even learned a lot too. After all, this was "Science Class"

CLICK HERE for more pictures of Bayou Bienvenue, the Mississippi
River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) and Lake Borgne from the Multiple Lines
of Defense Boat Tour. Photos courtesy of Sarah DeBacher.

The purpose of the trip was to highlight the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy, not just relying on the levees to protect us. The strategy works on the premise that coastal Louisiana must be protected from storms and flooding by both man-made features, such as levees, and by the natural coastal wetland buffer along the Louisiana coast. Levees alone will not work.

By building up the 11 lines of defense and restoring the historic wetland habitats to thier past natural health, we can protect our region.

Lopez, John A., 2006,  The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy to Sustain
Coastal Louisiana, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Metairie, LA January 2006

A Time to Speak

Essential Questions
  • When is the right time to take action and/or speak up?
  • What can we learn from the past to help us be better citizens today?
  • What does it mean to be an ally? Can an individual really make a difference?
  • How has being an activist changed over time?

On Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, four young girls—Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14)—were attending Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. They died—and several others were injured—when a bomb blast ripped through the church. The bomb had been placed there by four Ku Klux Klan members.

The next day, Charles Morgan, a young white lawyer and activist, gave a powerful speech at Birmingham’s Young Men's Business Club. “We are a mass of intolerance and bigotry, and stand indicted before our young,” he said. Morgan also said: “Every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred is at least as guilty as the demented fool who threw the bomb.”

Studuents will:
  • Assess when is the right time to take action or to speak up
  • Make connections between modern events and issues that are directly tied to past events
  • Understand the significance of the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church and of Morgan’s speech as part of the civil rights movement

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Building Literacy in the Lower 9th Ward

During June of 2011, through the initiative of our student Anthony Johnson, New Orleans Liberation Academy engaged in partnership with ATD Fourth World Movement, the Backyard Gardeners Network and Jude's Grove to develop the Lower 9th Ward Street Library to support intergenerational literacy and offer opportunities for rigorous, thought-provoking, value-centered humanities experiences for children and their families. Our format is simple, colorful blankets on picnic tables in the garden, story telling, independent and group reading, art projects and gardening activities for neighborhood children, youth and families.

We are excited for the opportunity to expand the Lower 9th Ward Street Library with the potential support of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and PRIME TIME FAMILY READING TIME® grants program. With this support (should we be selected), we'll be able to expand our current program that typically serves 10-15 children to begin offering transportation, food and family reading time to 25 children and their families once a week!

As a collaborative, we'll submit our grant application tomorrow!!! Wish us luck, and come out to join us this and every Friday at the Guerrilla Garden for the Lower 9th Ward Street Library. Don't forget, we're always looking for donations of children's books, art supplies and more volunteers, so we'd love to see you!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Values, Attitudes and Capacities for Democratic Citizenship

As we prepare to begin our first school year at New Orleans Liberation Academy we wonder what this journey will bring. We are also spending time reflecting a lot on what it means to learn and grow in a "Democratic Community" and considering what it means right now for our students to be "Democratic Citizens" and working to understand what our role as educators will be in helping them to develop values, attitudes and capacities they'll need to find success in the 21st Century.

In engaging in this type of personal reflection while reaching out to our allies in democratic schools around the country, we were reminded of some work by David Sehr (Social Studies Teacher at West Orange High School in West Orange, New Jersey) in his 1997 book (part of a series on “Democracy and Education” edited by the Forum for Education and Democracy's George Wood), Education for Public Democracy. Sehr offers the following detailed description of what our students will need to exhibit as global citizens that resonated deeply with what we are hoping to achieve and seems to provide a very thorough framework for all of us as classroom teachers, school administrators, educators and community members concerned about developing democratic, global citizens:
1. An ethic of care and responsibility as a foundation for community and public life
    (a) understanding of the interdependence of people as ‘individuals-in-relations’
    (b) understanding of the need for individuals to live as responsible members of communities

2. Respect for the equal right of everyone to the conditions necessary for their self-development
    (a) a sense of justice based on that right
    (b) principles of equal individual civil and political rights, and equal political power and vice, within a context which balances the right of individuals against their responsibilities to the larger community
    (c) acceptance of the fundamental equality of members of all social groups in society including that of social groups other than one’s own
    (d) acceptance of a person or a groups’ right to be different from oneself, or from accepted norms and vales of the community, as long as the rights of others aren’t threatened

3. Appreciation of the importance of the public
    (a) appreciating need to participate in public discussion and debate, and to take action to address public issues
    (b) recognizing need to expand and create new public spheres as sites for discussion and debate of public issues
    (c) understanding public nature of certain person problems

4. A critical/analytical social outlook
    (a) habits of examining critically the nature of social reality, including the ‘commonsense’ realities of everyday life
    (b) habits of examining underlying relations of power in any given social situation

5. The capacities necessary for public democratic participation
    (a) analysis of written, spoken and image language
    (b) clear oral and written expression of one’s ideas
    (c) habits of active listening as a key to communication
    (d) facility in working collaboratively with others
    (e) knowledge of constitutional rights and political processes
    (f) knowledge of complexities and interconnections of major public issues to each other and to issues in the past
    (g) self-confidence, self-reliance, and ability to act independently (within context of community)
    (h) ability to learn more about any issue that arises

Sehr goes on to describe the “Characteristics of School Life Likely to Engage Students in a School’s Programs”, all of which we are proud to say that we have worked hard to create as New Orleans Liberation Academy continues to develop.
1. an atmosphere in which students feel a sense of belonging or membership in the school community
2. a feeling of students’ safety, both physical and emotional/psychological
3. schoolwork with intrinsic interest for students
4. schoolwork that is meaningful not only for school purposes, but also in the real world outside school
5. a sense of student ownership of their school.

However, all of these things alone will not bring about the Liberation we seek with our students, their families and thier communities, as Washington State University Professor of Education Walter C. Parker challenges in Educating the Democratic Mind (1996),
“Without democratic enlightenment [knowledge of the ideals of democratic living, including the ability to discern just from unjust action and the commitment to recognize difference and fight prejudice], participation cannot be trusted: the freedom marchers of the Civil Rights movement ‘participated,’ but so did Hitler’s thugs and so did (and does) the Ku Klux Klan. Participation without democratic enlightenment can be worse than apathy.”

So, what do you think are the “values, attitudes and capacities” of a democratic, global citizen? What do you do in your school to teach these to your students? We, at New Orleans Liberation Academy would be very interested in you sending us information about how you teach these “skills, knowledge, attitudes/ dispositions” while achieving "democratic enlightenment."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Tradition

A poem by Assata Shakur

The Tradition
Carry it on now. Carry it on.
Carry it on now. Carry it on.
Carry on the tradition.
There were Black people since the childhood of time who carried it on.
In Ghana and Mali and Timbuktu we carried it on.
Carried on the tradition.
We hid in the bush
when the slavemasters came holding spears.
And when the moment was ripe, leaped out and lanced the lifeblood of would-be masters.
We carried it on.
On slave ships,
hurling ourselves into oceans. Slitting the throats of our captors. We took their whips,
And their ships. .
Blood flowed in the Atlantic – and it wasn't all ours.
We carried it on.
Fed Missy arsenic apple pies. Stole the axes from the shed.
Went and chopped off master's head.
We ran. We fought.
We organized a railroad. An underground.
We carried it on.
In newspapers. In meetings. In arguments and streetfights. We carried it on.
In tales told to children. In chants and cantatas.
In poems and blues songs and saxophone screams, We carried it on.
In classrooms. In churches. In courtrooms. In prisons. We carried it on.
On soapboxes and picket lines, Welfare lines, unemployment lines. Our lives on the line,
We carried it on.
In sit-ins and pray-ins
And march-ins and die-ins, We carried it on.
On cold Missouri midnights
Pitting shotguns against lynch mobs. On burning Brooklyn streets,
Pitting rocks against rifles,
We carried it on.
Against water hoses and bulldogs, Against nightsticks and bullets. Against tanks and tear gas. Needles and nooses.
Bombs and birth control.
We carried it on.
In Selma and San Juan. Mozambique. Mississippi. In Brazil and Boston,
We carried it on.
Through the lies and the sell-outs. The mistakes and the madness.
Through pain and hunger and frustration, We carried it on.
Carried on the tradition.
Carried a strong tradition.
Carried a proud tradition.
Carried a Black tradition.
Carry it on.
Pass it down to the children. Pass it down.
Carry it on.
Carry it on now.
Carry it on

By Assata Shakur, from her Assata: An Autobiography.
(Westport Ct: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1987) p. 263.

This week, as we begin the school year, our students will be reading, discussing and responding to Assata Shakur's poem and reflecting on the traditions that have had the greatest impact in thier lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Keep That Fire Burning: Freedom Rides, Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action

We've come a long way since the days when the first students courageously integrated America's public schools after Brown v. Board of Education struck down "separate but equal."  Still, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides, the abhorrent state of our public schools denies our youth their most basic civil right - access to quality education.

Freedom Riders for Justice in Education at the National
Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, AL
 Recently, New Orleans Liberation Academy students and teachers participated in the Freedom Rides for Justice in Education, a bus trip with other youth and adult allies from New Orleans to Washington D.C. for the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action with visits to Civil Rights landmarks and conversations with some of the original freedom riders along the way. For the ride, we were joined by youth and adults representing Rethink: Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, Fyre Youth Squad, People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, Students at the Center, The Porch Cultural Organization and Center, Parents Organizing Network and the Plessy and Furgeson Foundation.

Qasim & Anthony at the National Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, AL
CLICK HERE for more photos from National Civil Rights Museum.
 While in Washington D.C. at the Save Our Schools Conference, New Orleans Liberation Academy student Anthony Johnson participated on a panel facilitated by our friend Scott Nine, Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA). Below are a couple clips of Anthony on that panel.

Like Anthony said, lets "keep that fire burning!"