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.