Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
Submitted by Mara Luz, Oakland educator
I was just checking my email and noticed an email from GO Public Schools and was shocked by what I saw – an endorsement of an NAACP letter that referred to students as lacking “civility.”
The GO email, written by paid staff member Iman Gills Gordon, is centered on addressing the extreme controversy that’s rippled across OUSD and throughout the city of Oakland over the past 6 weeks around the attempt to privatize 5 schools. (If you’re not up to speed on this, please read our articles on it here, here and here.)
The email attempts to delegitimize the critiques that students, parents and educators have put forward in opposition to the Superintendent’s plan when it states that, “the level of discourse is so negative that the NAACP made a formal response to the shocking personal attacks on our superintendent. That is unacceptable.” Clearly GO Public Schools is simultaneously endorsing and amplifying the NAACP’s critique. So what did they say?
Before we even go on to respond to the NAACP’s statement, take a look at it for yourself. They state that,
“Unfortunately, most of the students who spoke were quite disrespectful in addressing the OUSD Board Members as well as the Superintendent. For example, one student addressed Superintendent Wilson as ‘Antwon.’ [SIC]
Unfortunately, the speech and behavior at this meeting did not meet the standards for appropriate conduct and cannot be tolerated . . . We know that such behavior . . is inconsistent with civility.“
Let’s leave aside for a moment that the president of the Oakland NAACP, a lawyer at that, doesn’t know how to spell Antwan Wilson’s name correctly. Rather, the main problem with this statement is that it states that the student speakers at the January 14th board meeting made statements that were “inconsistent with civility.”
What’s the opposite of civility? Savagery. Who uses this type of rhetoric? People who adhere to a eurocentric and colonial perspective of what it means to be “civilized.” Who in this case is guilty of such a racist and paternalistic view? GO Public Schools and the Oakland chapter of the NAACP.
All this problematic paternalistic rhetoric begs the question: Why are these critical student voices so scary to the NAACP and GO? Why do they refer to them as being “disrespectful” and lacking “civility,” without even providing reference to the arguments the young people were putting forward.
The students that GO and the NAACP are attacking are from various Oakland high schools, but predominantly from Fremont High. The young people raise point after point critiquing the OUSD administrator’s policies regarding the Intensive Support School initiative. Their critiques are aimed at privatization, the Superintendent not showing up to community engagement meetings, lack of community power and resources, the problems with Measure J and other topics. (See below for a rushed transcription of their comments and link to full video.)
When students make their voices heard in opposition to a school district administration that has earned itself the frustration, distrust, and anger of so many people throughout the city of Oakland, they should be applauded for being brave. They should be honored for being analytical, critical thinkers. Adults should study their rhetorical moves and attempt to to understand their analysis.
What GO Public Schools and the Oakland chapter of the NAACP do is the opposite; they disparage the students, write off their critiques as “disrespect,” and attempt to mobilize public opinion against the righteous and rebellious energy coming
from the grassroots of Oakland’s school communities. Further, they censor and invisibilize youth voices by leaving them out of the various videos that they sample from the board meeting, conveniently leaving them in the relatively inaccessible vaults of OUSD’s website.
Unlike GO and the NAACP, we will not censor these youth voices by erasing them from your email accounts. Instead of highlighting the vast minority of speakers who spoke in favor of the district’s ISS policies, we encourage you to see what the students said by watching the video of the school board meeting yourself.
And in case it’s helpful, we offer a very rough transcription of what the students said so that you can make an informed decision about who you trust when you get emails about Oakland schools in your inbox. Please keep in mind that this was a rushed transcript, so there are definitely mistakes. We offer it as a reference point to use along with the actual video of the board meeting.
Students begin commenting 32min in
Shauna/O High → was unaware of attempt to turn multiple schools into charter schools; I found it disrespectful that we were unaware of this plan; why not give us the money we need to make our schools better; i implore the school board to listen to the voices of angry parents and students like me.
Zoe/Oak Tech (35min) → OUSD supt. Wilson addressing the changes happening to the 5 schools has one key sentence: our proposal includes offers from charter schools; Or is the key word, it indicates that if we don’t stand up for our schools the district will rely on charter organizations . . . this could privatize our public schools; another series of fake plans to change our schools; the problems of overpacked classes . . . we need resources, dignity and respect . . . full and equal funding for all schools; establish magnet programs at each school;
Jessica/Fremont (36:45) → This whole transparency process is going very wrong and is so disrespectful; it’s wrong for someone who has not been for long to tell us the right education we can get; he’s telling us to open up our options to see how we can succeed; but switching up the staff will continue disrupting the system and waste a bunch of money; to bring in teachers who don’t understand our background is degrading; especially for you to speak about your passion for helping our schools, but not even show up to our meetings. It’s clear that it’s not about the students but the money;
Edgar/Fremont (38:00) → Fremont is a great school with lots of diversity; we are not failing, we are constantly improving; a large percentage of people is started 9th grade with are now graduating; we need you all to get involved; how can you help us if you don’t understand our need? we need more voice, better facilities and better resources
Senior @ Fremont (38:40) → honestly, i feel like the decisions made in this process should be left up to the schools; we’ve been left with scarce resources; how do you expect students to graduate without providing us with what we need; you guys are not scientists so don’t try to experiment with us, breaking us up into small schools; i’m not sure if you guys are businessmen or not, but this is not a business – this is education, we need it, it’s a necessity; another thing is, at this community engagement meetings, allow the people to speak, do not hold them back and what I have to say is that I’m tired of sitting around waiting for change to happen – just want to see it. i don’t want no privatized education here, i want my children to come to these schools without having to compete with other students; we need all students to thrive and achieve.
Bianca – 9th @ Fremont (40:20) → even if you say there will be no charter, it’s still an open gate opportunity for whoever to grab these schools; it’s an open bid, even wal mart could bid for it if they wanted to; you’ve violating your own policy because the schools board didn’t even know what was going on when this started. Other than that, we don’t want to know the failures of our schools, or what’s wrong with us, we want to know what the support that we’re all receiving. We’re desperately wanting to know. We want to know the data of our success, not of our failures, we want to know our improvements; all schools were promised to get intensive support but I’m here to ask you – where is all the intensive support the schools promised? yeah you guys have given us 6 months and expect us to have this impossible change; all we need is time and that’s what you’re not giving us; this takes time, it’s a process, it can’t be done overnight. And yet, if you guys really wanted us to trust you, then you mr. superintendent Wilson should actually come and participate in all these events.
Daisy @ Fremont (43:00) → not a failing school; if charters are off the table, then why are they still in the RFP process? why is it taking so long for Measure J money to come to Fremont? How can you expect us to improve if you’re constantly changing our schools – breaking us up, putting us back together, etc? I do want you guys to help us, but the best way you can do this is to let the community make all the decisions; that’s only fair.
Rosa @ Fremont (45:00) → we’re not failing, you don’t even know us; I helped campaign for Measure J 2 years go; how are you going to say you’re going to delay the money more? How do you expect us to raise those percentages if you’re not giving us those resources? It was the community that raised that money – I knocked on those doors. I’m a senior and i’m about to graduate, but what about the rest? I want you Antwan to be part of our meeitngs; I’m tired of sitting here and not seeing change; I’m a student . . .
Angel @ Fremont (47:00) → you’re not pointing out our positives, us passing . . . it’s not being disrespectful; we’re standing up for what we want, standing up for our community.”
Federico @ Fremont (49:00) → just because you’re higher classes than us doesn’t mean that we don’t have rights . . .
Zap @ Tech (51:00) → what will all these outside groups gain from this? you’re treating these schools like they’re businesses;
Nautica @ O High (51:50) → LCFF; Instead of charter schools, trust the process of engaging the community . . . we need to work together with the community and students to build up the schools with new strategies; these schools are not quick fixes and with our education in the balance, we need to take our time . . .
Luis @ Castlemont (53:00) → what you’re doing to our schools is messed up; I was there at the KDOL forum and the Castlemont forum; I felt proud at that time . . . could we even trust you? I feel betrayed by all of this . . . we all showed up here today because we care about our education; at Castlemont we haven’t had a steady principal for 3 years, but we don’t even know what to believe in our school anymore . . .
Ends at 57:31