Friday, August 19, 2016

Sex and Violence: The Dynamics of Prevention Education

The May 2016 Teaching Resistance column in MRR frankly reflects on doing the necessary (and difficult) task of teaching young students what consent means, and how that teaching is impacted and must be informed by the existence of very real structural and socio-economic schisms in society as a whole. The column's author is Sam Dillinger, a sexual violence prevention educator and advocate for survivors in the Bay Area. Sam can be emailed directly at

The Rotten Agenda

When I was in school, we didn't talk about rape, at least not in any educational context. We may have watched the news, overheard our parents talking about what “that poor girl” was wearing, or how much she had to drink, and lament the fact that their daughters would be advised of the safety precautions so they would never fall prey to becoming victims of their own ignorance. Consent, as it applies to sex, wasn’t a concept I was familiar with until my late teens, which was long after I had become sexually active. Rape, as far my peers and I knew, was something that happened to girls and women who didn’t know how to protect themselves, and was always perpetrated by an obese, pedophilic creep who would inevitably chop us up into little pieces afterward because he hated his mother (Any of you who were also raised by Jewish women can probably recall this familiar anecdote). This notion often led to confusion, however, as it seemed that anytime an act of sexual violence was perpetrated by one of our peers, it was almost always met with the age-old idiom, “boys will be boys.” Of course, no one ever mentioned that boys were victimized too.

At some point, our paradigm for discussing rape started to shift. Adult women grew tired of having their outfits, sexual history, alcohol consumption, and curfew policed and started demanding that we begin to hold rapists accountable for their actions rather than teach people how to avoid being raped. Straight men became sick of having their masculinity questioned every time they didn't want to have sex, or having their experience of sexual assault disregarded entirely. Still, based on my job title, people often assume that I teach rape prevention techniques that include self-defense, the buddy system, and how to ensure that no one spikes your drink. Rather, I teach a comprehensive curriculum that includes topics such as boundaries, consent, and date rape. To put it bluntly, I teach kids how not to be fucking rapists.

What We Do is Secret

I am a prevention educator and an advocate at a Bay Area Rape Crisis Center. As previously mentioned, I teach sexual violence prevention, and I also advocate for rape victims, which can be anything from accompaniments to forensic exams (known colloquially as “rape kits”) to assisting with emergency shelter. Most of the time, the education component of my job is fun as hell, but one of the biggest challenges that we face as educators is to confront the different ways that gender, culture, privilege and economic disparity all greatly affect how curriculum are received by our students and their ability to apply it to their own lives. Most of us in the Rape Crisis biz are cheerleaders for prevention but sometimes it feels like while we're patting ourselves on the back for all of our important work, we lose sight of a simple but important fact: Our curriculum needs to be effective in order for it to be meaningful. It's not enough to hand kids the legal definition of consent and expect them to know what to do with it, and it's not enough to tell them that rape is bad because most of them already know that. As educators, we have a responsibly to make our curriculum applicable to the lives of our students. Essentially what we're teaching is empathy, while simultaneously combating the institutionalized sexism, racism, and classism that they have been exposed to their entire lives.

The places where I teach span a wide range of demographics. The county where I work harbors some of the most elite and privileged youth in the Bay Area, as well as some of the most disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged. The schools that I go into are predominantly white and affluent, and the students in my juvenile hall groups are primarily black and Latino. A person enjoying a great deal of societal privilege is going to respond differently to prevention education than is a person who views the world from an opposing vantage point. The privileged person may have difficulty feeling empathy because they have never needed to in order to be considered a “good person,” while the disadvantaged person may struggle because they likely haven't felt as if anyone has been empathetic towards them. I am generalizing here, because this is not to say that privileged folks are never empathetic and that less advantaged folks are all callous. I'm only illuminating the fact that it's human nature to have our capacity to feel for others entangled with our own life experiences.

So, the big question is, what are the implications of this for prevention educators? How do we cater to students' sensibilities while being careful not to preemptively assign their responses to them based on their socioeconomic status? I don't fucking know, but I can make an educated guess. The primary difference between fortunate and less fortunate youth is this: Privileged kids have a hard time accepting the fact that sexual assault is prevalent in their affluent, well-to-do communities. Under privileged kids, on the other hand, are well aware of the sexual assault in their communities, but they find it hard to care about it because they face so many other problems that actually affect them more directly. Ignorance and apathy have both long been the peaks of the systemic plague concerning sexual violence, and it's imperative that they be addressed systematically but separately.

Hey, Little Rich Boy

Rich kids like rules. Well, maybe they don't like them, but they fear and understand them. Consequences can seem more severe to people who have never had to experience them. If I tell a classroom full of upper-class teenagers the definition of legal consent, they're more apt to pay attention if they think there will be legal ramifications if they inadvertently break the law during a sexual encounter. Most of their questions begin with, “Will I go to jail if...” and then they plug in some really obscure scenario. Conversations can continue with these types of hypothetical questions for an eternity if I don't eventually redirect and tell them we need to move on. Moreover, most of these kids are, conventionally speaking, “good students.” To them, that means participating and listening just enough to ace the rape-myth exam we administer at the end of every presentation. I have to wonder though, what are they really getting out of it?

Sometimes I have presentations that felt super productive, and then during the last fifteen minutes we'll do “anonymous questions” and my cardboard box will be filled with little pieces of paper written on in teenage boy scratch that say things like, “ur hot” and “do u like 2 choke on dick.” In those moments I think, god damn, what is the fucking point? It's frustrating to be sexually harassed by a little pissant teenager whose knowledge of sex doesn't span further than the porn he watches on the new iPhone his parents bought him, literally seconds after you committed the last two hours of your life thinking that you're doing your part to dismantle the patriarchy. But then, in that same class, there can be the girl who approaches you afterward with tears in her eyes, asking for help because a boy texted naked pictures of her to the entire school, or the boy who had never been told that women could rape men, and he wants to talk about the sexual assault he endured at age twelve. For every twenty teenagers that I want to cause grievous, bodily harm to, there's always one or two that make it worth my time.

Still Out of Order

The County where I work is not very diverse, but the groups that I facilitate in juvenile hall are predominantly comprised of black and Latino residents. These participants tend to be more respectful than the aforementioned demographic, but they often have a strict set of ideologies pertaining to sex, sexual orientation, and gender roles. It can be difficult to combat the ideas that they have about men and women, and who is allowed to engage in what kind of behavior. Again, this group can generally agree that rape is bad, but the challenge is getting them to understand that the way society functions as a whole contributes to the high rates of sexual abuse. It's not very labor intensive to explain the extremely high rates of sexual abuse in the United States; the task is asking them to think about why.

Most of these kids are not strangers to gender based violence, but likely have not considered the ways in which our attitudes and language largely contribute to the normalization of this epidemic. I usually ask them to think about ways in which they've been discriminated against based on stereotypes about their gender, race or class. Most group members can recall multiple times when they were treated differently from their white peers or had their morals or intelligence questioned by authority figures. We almost always talk about law enforcement's affinity for getting trigger happy with black and Latino kids, and I ask them to consider why these officers are seldom help accountable. They generally don't have to do much pondering before they realize that our list of discriminatory assumptions and stereotypes are the foundation of race and class based violence. This initial conversation sets the framework for these kids to begin to draw the same conclusions about gender based violence and sexual assault. They start to dismantle their own biases about gender and sexuality, realizing that the societal rules that they've learned only reinforce the status quo which, in turn, reinforces their own oppression. Once they realize that conventional, narrow-minded attitudes about gender, sexual orientation and sexuality are the rule, they become much more interested in breaking it.

Never Surrender

Everything I've written about so far really only scratches the surface of the dynamics and implications of prevention education. The suggested strategies for implementation are based only on my own observations. Moreover, I'm only recalling the best case scenario moments and what has worked; I have little insight to lend to all of the times that my techniques have been met with apathy and blank stares. The outlying factors are just too numerous to count and analyze. It would be naïve to think that two hours or eight group sessions with these kids is going to eradicate a lifetime of being exposed to implicit messages about gender and sexuality that are misleading and harmless. Sometimes my line of work feels thankless, but only insofar as its effectiveness is immeasurable.

I assume that many of these concepts are redundant to a lot of MRR's readers, however, I'm in the punk scene too, and I know how easy it is to become complicit when we begin to feel like we're preaching to the choir. We might think, Well, my community doesn't hang out with rapists or I'm not sexist or a bigot, and while those are commendable attributes, it's not enough. Anyone who goes out into the world is quickly acquainted with the stark reality that rape apologists, sexism, and bigotry are the norm. We are often confronted with these ideologies and the people who embody them, but we rarely take the opportunity to educate because if they're not in our scene, then they're simply not worth our time. I'm not suggesting that we leap to our soapboxes every time we hear someone make a joke about “surprise sex,” but we all might benefit from reinvigorating some of that political angst that we felt so strongly in our teens. Apathy and complacency are the pillars of a system that upholds the acceptance of sexual violence, and taking a moment to remember what drew us to this scene in the first place or occasionally standing up for our beliefs won't entirely dismantle this institution, but it might be a good start. --Sam Dillinger

What Are We Really Trained to Teach? Reflections on First-Year Practice and Specificity of Place

The March 2016 Teaching Resistance column in MRR is from Taylor McKenzie, who is a punk in his first year of teaching German at a secondary (middle- and high-) school in Oklahoma City. In this reflection on his teaching, Taylor honestly addresses some major issues and big questions about teacher training and practice in the U.S., including the very important fact that exactly WHERE one teaches will strongly impact exactly what and how that teaching is going to go down. Taylor can be contacted directly at

Hi everyone, I just started teaching middle-school and high-school German at a combined middle/high-school in Oklahoma City. I’d like to say that, before I started six weeks ago, I had no official training. No teaching degree or certification. No actual plans to teach. To explain, I was working at my uncle’s screen-printing shop. One day I made a t-shirt delivery to my former secondary school, and I decided to say “Hello” to the German teacher that I had all throughout middle-school and high-school. She said, “Hey! ….Oh man, can you come outside for a minute?” Then we walked outside where she told me that the school desperately needed a full-time German teacher. I was shocked and overwhelmed and told her that I definitely would have to sleep on it before I made my decision. Regardless, she took me downstairs to meet the principal and already got things rolling. The next day, I got in touch and told her I would take the job. Then after winter break, I became a substitute teacher for the classes that I’m currently teaching, and then I began the “emergency certification” process (a process in which the district starts and then streamlines the teaching certification process while you are teaching under a temporary contract).

You may be asking yourself, “Why would they desperately need someone like me, who has no prior experience or training or anything of the sort, to fill this position?” I have studied the language for over ten years and lived and worked in Berlin for two years, but that doesn’t mean I know how to teach it to kids ranging from the 7th to the 11th grade. In short, you could say that Oklahoma has been waging a war against education for some time now. Just within the past week, the state legislature voted to ban the AP U.S. History exam because it does not teach “American exceptionalism” (this is a direct attack on indigenous identities, a push to further silence any discussion about the atrocities that the U.S. has perpetuated...and so blatantly!). Teachers are also sick of meager pay in comparison to bordering states where teachers automatically get $10k+ more a year, so many have just left Oklahoma to live and work in Texas. To sum things up, Oklahoma is in a state of emergency when it comes to public education.

So here I am, winging it like a baby bird, taking first flight. Even though I’m a new teacher and sometimes I feel like I’m just treading water, in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight, it’s a wonderful job, in that you get to be around raw, still-not-so-beaten-down-and-molded-by-society bundles of energy all day. It’s exhausting, but learning all of today’s new dance moves and slang from teenagers sure as hell beats listening to adults groan about their miseries. And, most of the time, they’re honest, and if they do try to lie to you, they’re usually pretty bad at it.

But even though the students are mentally fresher than many of the adults in their lives, that does not mean that they are immune to opinions, biases, and rhetoric, regardless of whether these are humane or inhumane, open-minded or narrow-minded, considerate or anti-social, worldly or nationalistic, critical or blind. Then when I think of teaching resistance, I ask, “How do you accomplish this objectively, without just teaching them your own opinion and cleverly convincing them your way of thinking is right?” What I’ve tried to do in these past couple of weeks, when larger, difficult questions come up in class, I try to respond with questions that guide them to even more questions. I hope to, even if ever so slightly, instill a habit of constantly questioning everything, to not be afraid to ask authority figures as well as yourself questions that might shake any foundations you previously thought to be unshakable or off-limits. One of the hardest things about this is coming up with the extemporaneous, simple questions as answers to their difficult questions. I know there are some resistance teachers out there reading this who have experiences with this type of Socratic nudging, urging young people to keep questioning their peers, parents, family, and every other adult with an opinion out there. If so, how do you make this process effective? Do you have an arsenal of responses that you have at hand to use when these types of situations present themselves? I’ve found myself thinking about tangential conversations that I’ve had with the students these past couple of weeks and then only after the fact thinking of better, more open and accessible ways to frame an idea or a simple question that would have gotten their mental gears cranking.

A conversation that has stuck with me throughout all of the everyday chaos so far (teachers, you know what I’m talking about) is a brief back-and-forth about U.S.-erected, Japanese internment camps that I had with a student. We were reading a novel about the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the simultaneous, steady decline of Jewish civil rights leading up to the Holocaust. The student made some comment about concentration camps. I felt compelled to derail the class discussion a bit to focus a bit on the U.S.’ own political history to make some comparisons. Students in the U.S. are often taught about the big, bad Nazis, but this can allow for the other Western powers of the 20th century to catch a break when it comes to criticism of their warring strategies, crimes, or policies. I asked them if the United States had ever done something similar, for instance, the Japanese internment camps. I pointed out that the internment camps and the concentration camps existed at the same time and used similar methods of exclusion and isolation. The student did not want to recognize any comparison between the two countries’ actions. It was as if, just because there was not a calculated genocide taking place within the Japanese concentration camps erected by F.D.R., the fact that an entire people’s civil liberties were directly targeted and violated with the uprooting of families and forced internment was pushed aside in their mind, or at least less critically analyzed.

Is this a product of U.S. American historical whitewashing? Of living in a state where the legislature, in 2016 for chrissakes, votes to ban the AP U.S. History exam because it exposes the lies, genocide, and bigotry of the history of the U.S. government? Absolutely. So maybe that student still thinks I’m wrong, or maybe they think I’m just a lefty who’s seeing things too one-way. All in all, none of that matters if they managed to ask themselves at least one question regarding their opinion of the topic. Teaching resistance is teaching how to question. But it’s important to remember that questioning your own beliefs and opinions is just as crucial to questioning others’. As teachers, we have to remain open to new cultural developments, trends, ways of thinking and perceiving the world, and we should hold the students in our classrooms to the same critical expectations. But we also have to help guide them to their own personal avenues of self-questioning and questioning their environmental factors. Pushing them to question themselves is one of the first steps, if not the first step, to learning how to resist injustice.

PS Teachers! Please, if you have any wisdom to share, any good, simple questions to get students thinking and questioning on their own, please email me at . I would love to meet any teachers out there who might be reading this. --Taylor McKenzie

Neurotypicals and the Rest of Us

All teachers who have more than one pupil work with a diverse body of students who have different backgrounds, needs, learning styles, and methods of effective communication. It is very much part of our gig to figure out how to best reach every student individually, so at the very minimum they know the door to learning is being kept open for them; and there are a few useful techniques we learn for accommodating a diversity of student learning styles in our graduate teaching programs (along with a heaping helping of lip service and tokenism).

Most teachers, however, realize they have a much more complex task at hand when they actually step into the classroom and attempt individualized instruction. Some teachers work with student populations where individualized instruction isn't something solely for a few struggling or exceptional students, but rather the only way to reach any of your students. You will find that quite a few of these teachers also happen to be punks, because our entire culture is essentially a cult populated by beautiful weirdos who see the world differently from everyone else.

The Teaching Resistance column in MRR for January 2016 is by Ash, who teaches very young (5 – 7 year old) children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in urban England. She also plays in some bands you may have heard of like Frau and Good Throb, and she helps make pretty rad things happen with the beautiful weirdos of the London punk scene.

I teach year 1 children with severe ASD in an inner London school. I have 7 students who are all killer people. Their learning happens at a painstakingly slow pace sometimes and that’s fine. There are benchmarks that neurotypical children will reach before the age of two that some of my students are still working towards and that’s fine. It's all fine because at school, at least, we don’t exist in the neurotypical world, we exist in the realm of the spectrum. And that’s great. Because fuck integration politics, ASD is something that clearly (to me) demands that we change ourselves, our environments and our teaching methods to be personalised to each individual child.

Going backwards from that list lets look at teaching methods – change the learning experience so it becomes visual, kinaesthetic and relevant to that child's needs – once you know the child, that’s easy enough. We do this in punk too right? We encourage new bands to be experimental, we celebrate the addition of a hammer against a bell because when that thing hits we feel like, ‘fuck, I see’. Experiences are vital to our understanding, otherwise its just something that looks questionable on paper. I could say I saw Asesinato Del Poder play one of the toughest gigs I’ve ever seen in a basement in France, but unless you were there you won’t know what it felt like to stand in that room with your fists balled into the side of your ribs so hard you thought you’d puncture a lung and possibly die happy and angry all at once, screaming “INFIERNO”. Second – change the environment – my class is a low-stimulus room (and we have a playroom, and a separate workroom, and two outdoor pods – but who’s bragging – did I mention this is a state funded school? Who loves ya Hackney) and that’s exactly what each child needs – then they are way more able to focus on me and my teaching, ergo themselves and their learning. In punk we make our environments as open and safe as possible right? Right? Right?

Now the first thing I mentioned is what I mostly want to talk about in this article. This is the big one. Changing myself is something iv been learning to do slowly and begrudgingly over a long period now. Punk shows us that you either stick with something that’s already there (oh hey your band sounds like discharge, cool) or you steer off course and make something new (oh your band is a gothy plus sized greek woman singing about nightmares, hello dream lover - EFIALTIS is my girlfriend). Either way changing ourselves is something that to do actively we have to struggle with. To be reflective enough to say, ‘I don’t know what I'm talking about here’ or ‘maybe if I tried to be less A, I wouldn’t suffer so much B’ – whatever the thing that you don’t really want to admit about yourself is, be assured that to be truly reflective that stuff is gonna come up and you’d better be prepared to look at it if you want to handle your shit and change yourself. To look at yourself under a glaring light of ‘how do I make me better’ isn’t anything new – women have been taught to be self critical from birth so in a way perhaps we have an advantage with this – but it's important to remember that there is a history to your thought patterns, your responses and reactions, the way you organise yourself and the lifestyle you have chosen. The point is to have an objective – you can’t reshape all of that history, but you might be able to understand how it has left you and choose which specific parts of that might need tweaking, fiddling with or just straight carving the fuck out.

Things like misogyny for instance. You might not know that its there until you’re faced with someone saying that you did a fucked up thing. You might not have even seen your actions as harmful at the time or even a few months down the line. You still might not really understand what all the fuss is about when people stop wanting to hang out or won’t really look you in the eye at shows anymore all because one time this one girl said that one thing about this total non-event that you didn’t even think twice about. That’s something you might want to get the carving knife out on – I give you permission to bleed over this one. Just til you think its all gone, then I'm gonna need you to go for regular check ups in the mirror with a hefty dose of ‘what am I bringing to the world and why?’

What about validation? We all seek that in a myriad of interesting ways, you ever stop to ask why? You ever stop to question if its meaningful – or purposeful or harmful and how? And again, WHY? You ever just stop?

At work I have to be reflective, anything less is a disservice to the community I work in. I guess my question is why this isn’t more of the norm in punk – and I don’t mean sitting around discussing intersectionality (though HI, that’s always good) I mean looking deeply in to yourself, the words you say, the body you control, the actions you choose and the cultures within cultures that you promote. You feel okay with them all? A good teacher is always reflecting, I reckon a decent punk will be too. --Ash 

The Elevation of Agitation

The Teaching Resistance column from December, 2015 is by James Lockridge from Burlington, Vermont. For over 20 years James has directed Big Heavy World, a volunteer-staffed youth organization which advocates for equity and inclusion in the arts and society by teaching useful skills (technical and otherwise) to teens and other young musicians/artists in Vermont. In this column, he talks about what people who are party to some institutional power can do to promote a better world by helping lift the voices of people who should have a chance to subvert the system.


With the small effort of turning our head from the practical world ahead of us, toward the roots of empathy and back again, we practice humanity; we practice aspiring to thrive.

I’m proud as a human when I discover other people acting like they want their species to thrive. I see this most often at hardcore punk rock shows at our teen center or in basements, where young people come together to share their art and speak to one another as messengers for a higher social order, where respect for one another is not just a code among themselves, but a universal and inclusive rule. There is an imperative to not just talk about a better world, but to accomplish it.

Willingness to share a vision for a better society, and a better world, emerges from having a sense of justice and faith that justice is attainable, and having the confidence to be an ambassador of this vision. But we aren’t born into having confidence. And as we grow we learn that human frailties find expression even in the fabric of the world.

Through our lives we all find comfort in the voice inside that, when it’s speaking, is reminding us of who we are. We make choices and commitments to our paths. Our actions have tone and timbre. Who we are and what we do contributes to something symphonic and much bigger than our selves.

There is significance when our personal choices start to give pattern to the weave of the world, and significance again when our time together ends and we contribute the combined wisdom of our lives to a cycle that renews with each generation. Our choices become our legacy.

The decisions we make depend on how comfortable we are in making them. When we see the consequences of our choices clearly before we choose, when we see the future that our choices will bring us in the real world, our choices are easy. We avoid pain and we strive for more comfort when we watch the path ahead. We navigate in this direction with the muscle memory of self preservation.

But we can see in the other direction, too. We can look backward, to the origin of our humanity, to where we are first shaped. In that direction, we find our neglected inspirations, the values that are fundamental and give us clarity. We value trust, and fairness, and compassion, and aspiration. These values would not exist without other people for our choices and actions to reflect from. With the small effort of turning our head from the practical world ahead of us, toward the roots of empathy and back again, we practice humanity; we practice aspiring to thrive.

As we each earn or by chance find ourselves in positions of authority, empowered by our civic framework, by our economy and our governance — as we are enabled to elevate or punish others, as we create the laws that touch every life; as we define the strategies of who will be served and who will be marginalized in our society — we choose that the moral handrails of trust and fairness be reached for.

Yet, I find leaders who asked to be leaders, but in their silence or evasion choose to not lead. I find leaders that pantomime campaigns of public engagement, choosing to not include. I find leaders who walk their paths without looking back to remind themselves that their decisions should foster fairness in our society. They choose other priorities. I find leaders who anathematize their critics and shrink from the conversations that would make their work fair and transparent and inclusive. They choose to not aspire.

What surprises me most, is that the brightest torchlight illuminating our future is held by the youngest among us. The young musicians who take their anger, the injustices and physical violence of the world and re-forge it into music and words, and share it with others as a transformative message, one that’s imbued with compassion and the confidence to construct a stronger community, a society of peers who because of this example of reflection and passion and inclusion, choose also to be ambassadors for justice.

The path of least resistance is a path of least-difficult choices. We are surrounded by values we don’t habitually reflect on. Our individual choices affect us all. And we recognize that it takes confidence to choose to make choices that are the bright lines from our values to our actions.

I found a photo online of someone holding a sign that said, “Punk Rock 101: When someone falls, pick them up. In the pit and in life.’ It was posted by a teenager named Sarah, who started a Facebook page to meet friends and spread an anti-bullying and autism awareness message. Sarah experienced complications from premature birth, has autism, learning and emotional challenges, but still reaches — from values of compassion and inclusion — for a better future with a page titled ‘I’m different, you’re different, let’s be friends.’

If Sarah can draw a bright line from values to actions; if the youth of Burlington can transmute anger into a halcyon catharsis, then every single one of us has the capacity to achieve — with confidence — a society that’s improved by our choices. By making values real through our actions we gain the footing to encourage principled choices by our peers. We don’t need more leaders. But we do need more people who know what leadership is. --James Lockridge

Get Cops Out of Our Schools!

October and early November are generally considered the most intense portion of the school year for teachers and students alike, particularly in the United States. This time period is characterized by an excess of standardized tests, midterms, and heavy front-loading of class materials that will be referenced for the remainder of the school year (to which there is no end in sight). There are very few breaks or holidays, so everyone is stressed and under-rested.

So, in commemoration of this “stress month” in school, there will be no guest entry for Teaching Resistance in the November 2015 issue of MRR – we will get back to our regular revolving author format next month. I do, however, have some thoughts on a current education-related issue that you might want to look more deeply into if you are a radical educator, student, or just someone interested in what happens (and why) in our schools.

Just about everyone in the U.S., and probably much of the world, has seen the video of a black, female-identified student in a South Carolina high school being beaten and dragged from her seat by a white cop who works at the school. The reason for this abuse of the student's civil and human rights has been cited as her being “disruptive” by refusing to relinquish her cell phone to the teacher, then refusing an order to leave class with the cop. The student's removal by force was welcomed and approved of by the teacher and school administration.

While this individual case is thoroughly and obviously fucked on about ten thousand levels, it is far from isolated, and undocumented versions of incidents like this happen to young black and brown students on a daily basis in many public schools across the United States. The core problem is racism, and there are specific structures of racist/white supremacist oppression embedded in modern public school disciplinary procedures that guarantee this situation will endlessly repeat itself unless things fundamentally change, from the institutional level to one-on-one communications in the classroom.

Let's get started with the obvious: Cops do not belong in schools, period. In fact, as radical educators (particularly in schools with high proportions of socioeconomically disadvantaged students of color), we should be doing everything in our power to insulate and protect our students from contact with police and the punitive, oppressive institutions they represent. Just about any contact with police becomes inevitably toxic for these students, begins a downward cycle into the modern slavery of incarceration, and often ends up being fatal. If we do nothing, the school-to-prison pipeline will only widen and suck more young black and brown people into its hungry maw.

Obviously, structural racism has been a constant in our institutions (including the schools), but how did we get to the specific, hyper-punitive point we are at? When did schools just become just an extension of the police state? Cops are only posted to active duty in urban (and low-income suburban) schools because of a lingering “law and order”-promoting Faustian bargain made between mainstream liberals and conservatives dating back to the 1980s and early 1990s. This was a time when the drug war and middle-class hysteria about teenage gang violence were at a fever pitch. Highly-punitive, often racist legal approaches - mandatory minimum sentencing, increased criminalization of drug addicts, disparate law enforcement/sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine, heightened profiling and mass round-ups of black and brown “gang members”, privatization of prisons, etc. - created a hostile new legal environment with dozens of nasty traps set primarily to ensnare young people of color.

During the peak of this hysteria, teens were widely tried in court as adults for the first time, setting the stage for entire lifetimes of total marginalization and slave-labor exploitation (yes, prison labor is slavery). Schools filled their halls with cops, metal detectors, and “zero tolerance” policies that resulted in countless arrests over minor (primarily drug-based) infractions - despite the fact that the vast majority of serious violence between students, particularly that involving weapons, occurred off-campus and away from the purview of these campus cops. Meanwhile, the gangs, which often provided the most potent social cohesion and sense of empowerment that many poor students of color had, eventually came to a state of relative peace with each other and ceased open warfare in most major U.S. regions (with a few notable exceptions).

This slowdown in organized gang violence combined with grassroots community building efforts, macroeconomic changes, and other factors to drastically reduce street violence in impacted communities. The decrease in overall violence in and around these communities was either ignored by by policymakers or erroneously credited to an increasingly militarized police presence and “zero tolerance” policies (including longer-term incarceration of young teens), which served mainly to increase tensions and make things markedly worse in many ways. Experts on the subject tend to agree that the constant presence of cops in urban+low-income suburban schools had little or no positive effect on those particular environments, and the involvement of law enforcement in many non-serious on-campus infractions has in fact had a very distinct negative impact that is reflected in a vast increase in the lifelong criminalization of young black and brown people (Na and Gottfriedson 2011, Heitzig 2009, etc.). We now must wrangle with the multigenerational fallout from this unprecedented widening of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Meanwhile, highly-publicized mass school shootings in rural areas and exurbs (well-off, predominantly white suburbs) like Columbine contributed to a lingering public acceptance for continuing and even increasing the armed police presence in urban (and low-income suburban) public schools. This is despite the fact that these heinous mass shootings were almost exclusively perpetrated by young white males and took (and still take) place in schools with predominantly white populations – schools which rarely have any consistent police presence on campus.

Fear and racial prejudice continue to drive support for punitive approaches in schools today, from parents, administrators, politicians, and others. Sadly, these approaches are also supported by many teachers, who have either bought into white-supremacist narratives, have been bamboozled by harsh “discipline” policies that just make us into cops ourselves, or are simply overwhelmed and poorly-trained in deescalation, empathetic communication, and restorative justice techniques. With countless resources available for these non-punitive techniques online, in print, and through direct training seminars, teachers and counselors should not only familiarize themselves thoroughly with them but be ready to openly agitate and fight for their implementation and full support at the district level and higher.

As teachers, WE need to push for a paradigm shift in schools. We need to leave behind the lazy cop out of oppressive violence we perpetrate by pushing the big, shiny red panic button and call police in to handle problems that could be handled in a better way. We need to get rid of the cops in our classrooms AND in our heads. We need to fight to change the entire system from a punitive model to a healing/restorative model, and we need to say COPS OUT of our schools! --John No, Teaching Resistance Editor

The Big Takeover of New Orleans

Fall 2015 marks a decade since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. While the hurricane itself was destructive, the real damage and high death toll came during Katrina's aftermath, particularly in the city of New Orleans, where the forces of exploitative capitalism and a total failure of governance came together to create a truly monstrous outcome.

The October 2015 Teaching Resistance column in MRR details how the legacy of Katrina created a wide opening for the corrupt forces of education privatization, in the form of largely-unregulated charter schools, to effectively commandeer the public education system in the most-impacted areas – predominantly communities of color plagued by persistently high levels of poverty.

Writing from New Orleans, Roburt Reynolds has been working with young people for thirteen years and is in his seventh year as a full-time classroom teacher. He has taught History and English at different alternative, public, private and charter high schools across Chicago, Houston, and New Orleans. Contact Roburt directly through his email:

The Big Takeover of New Orleans

There’s no place like New Orleans. This is a statement that I’ve heard repeated endlessly and one I’ve even made. It can be made as a compliment. It can also be implied or inferred as a smear. It just depends on who’s doing the speaking and who’s doing the listening. New Orleans, LA, is home to almost 370,000 people, nearly 100,000 less than in 2004, before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. That notorious event changed how the future of New Orleans would be handled.

New Orleans’ history is tumultuous: seeped in corruption, the largest incarcerator on the planet, a long time capital of United States’ slave ports, murder, overt political seediness (David Duke), police abuse, intense poverty, racism, class struggle, and home to the largest slave revolt in United States’ History. The Crescent City is also home to the American foundations of jazz music, Creole culture, the first free black residential neighborhoods, and a long running tradition of incredible integration amidst stark segregation. Regardless of where citizens may land on these spectrums, the people of New Orleans retain a resiliency and a level of hustle that is so incessant, outsiders often wonder how it’s possible to stay so positive and hopeful amid so much overtly official deceit and plunder.

In 2004, New Orleans’ dropout rate was 70% and today, it disgustingly boasts the lead with incarcerations worldwide. This city and its poorer working class have never received much love from the status quo, nor the powers that be, even though the majority of US drilled oil comes from off the banks of the Gulf of Mexico. For those who look to Louisiana for their shadowy business, be they from the state or not, Katrina and its aftermath’s complications brought perfect opportunities for “The Shock Doctrine”, disaster capitalism and the ‘Chicago School of Economics’ financiers, spearheaded by Milton Friedman’s philosophies.

After the storm, American Secretary of Education and regular Chicago dart-board target, Arne Duncan, made the now infamous statement that the “best” thing to happen to New Orleans’ educational system was Hurricane Katrina. It was obvious to most working citizens that this statement was made out of salivating opportunism and glaring greed. Despite Duncan’s shiny smiles, his promises of education for all based on Race To the Top and No Child Left Behind, most thinking people were fully aware that the wolf was in the henhouse.

Since Hurricane Katrina, thousands of younger, whiter, less-experienced, and alternatively accredited teachers have replaced the 7,500 predominantly black and unionized teachers that were illegally fired right after the storm. At the time, many in the media argued that the firings were the result of a failing system that was being re-organized so it could be rebuilt correctly, in a new way that could show results through data. According to so-called experts like Arne Duncan and the lobbying group ALEC, a privatized charter school system with fewer oversight regulations could help in such a situation. Unions could be turned away and the people who own the charters could be freed of limitations in how they spend their money.

Since the inception of charter schools decades ago, spaces have been mindfully built with ideas of community and arts-integration, making good use of all-inclusive educational philosophies. It wasn’t until fairly recently that the world of privatized business interests started to use the methodology of charter schools as a practice for their business models. After 2005, charter schools began to popup all over the Gulf Coast, taking over public forums of education. After only a few years of study, many of the unsavory details of the privatization effort’s mishandling of schools’ funds have become more traceable and apparent. Nonetheless, the shift marched ever forward. Despite a forming, billion dollar class-action suit and legal victories for some of the fired teachers, most would not be invited back. A swift takeover was occurring in New Orleans on the tail end of the storm. In many ways, New Orleans is a Petri dish for the privatization of education experiment.

Companies like Teach For America (with financial ties to the Walton family), amongst countless others are examples of corporate entities that have invested in the idea of ‘alternative’ certification in efforts to quickly transform recruits of their programs into officially certified “teachers”. In the last two years, 96,300 people became teachers in the US. Nearly 1/10th of them were recruited by TFA and the majority of TFA recruits get planted in lower income communities and lower performing schools. There are 619 entities in the US that provide alternative, fast-track certification for people to enter the classroom as full time teachers with little to no experience.

Typically, a recruit in an “alt-cert” program can become officially certified after a six-to-eight week in-service, teaching in a school for a year, and being rated favorably by superiors (within the school and within the respective programs). All recruits are required to pay a large tuition fee. Adversely, most highly qualified, veteran, career educators go through a full, four year education program, incorporated with a student teaching practicum, where they observe for a number of months before they are even allowed to teach under the guidance of their mentor. Beyond that, the majority of them fulfill a Master’s program while still continuing regular certifications and accreditations in an area throughout their teaching spans. Ironically, an alt-cert recruit only needs a Bachelor’s Degree to qualify. The contrasts in preparation for the future teacher in these two scenarios are complete opposites.

Recruits in alt-cert programs often sign contracts that allow them to be farmed out to new locations that are mostly determined by the overseeing program. Some alt-cert programs require a recruit to stay in teaching for a very short time. Often, that time period is one to two school years. Then, they are allowed, if they wish, to completely leave the teaching profession. However, we are beginning to see recruits fulfill their initial time requirement in the classroom, and rather than quitting, getting pulled up into an administrative position (sometimes tripling their salary) by a colleague from their same alt-cert group. This is not an exceptional practice-it is becoming the norm. In less than seven years, a novice teacher with little-to-no experience can become a full-fledged principal, overseeing an entire school.

Another major issue with this overall scenario is that recruits are more often than not, sent to serve communities that they are not from and/or may know nothing about. Recruits are sent to states, cities, schools, and neighborhoods where they do not know the culture, the people, and they are not expected nor prepared to become involved in any other way than to show progressive data that “proves” student achievement. Are these recruits sent to affluent areas or predominantly white environments? No. To be clear though, some teachers go through alt-cert programs after teaching in alternative or private schools for years, where a state certificate has only been required more recently. The numbers of these types of recruits in alt-cert programs are extremely low. Conversely, some recruits fulfill their requirements from their alt-cert programs, staying in the teaching profession for countless years, making tremendous impacts with scores of young people. Unfortunately, these types of recruits are also few and far between.

Efforts by companies with these recruits are superficially set up to “save” “underprivileged” populations under the falsely philanthropic banner: “Every student can learn”. These types of charters often trickily refer to themselves as “No Excuse Model” schools, allowing “no excuses” for data that does not show student growth. If a school does not show enough growth, it can be closed and another charter can be purchased.

Despite philanthropic involvement, many charters allow their boards to appropriate their funds however they see fit. This opens the door for financial corruption and fund misallocation to a staggering degree. When misappropriated fund scenarios abound in the schools due to corruption, who feels the negative effects most? Students, teachers, their families, and the future of working society at-large. Many of the teaching recruits fold under the pressures that are created by such scenarios. If a recruit quits for any reason-they still must fulfill their tuition debt. Millions are made by the alt-cert companies every year on thousands of new recruits entering the teaching force around the US, only to quit due to lacking resources, non-realistic preparation and/or a lack of support, often leaving students with no teacher at all and a “failed” recruit in serious debt.

So, whom are these programs REALLY serving? Neighborhood schools are a thing of the past; they no longer exist in New Orleans. Millions are spent out of budgets every year to bus students out of their neighborhoods, all across the city to different schools, filled with other students in exactly the same set of confusing social and sometimes dangerous logistical circumstances. Many students are waiting for the school bus at 5:30am, only to start class hours later. By the time they arrive, many are already understandably exhausted. So, more pressure is put on the teacher to show favorable results, or they can be fired. After all, Louisiana is a “right-to-work” state. No excuses.

Subsequently, student achievement is directly related to ANY out-of-school circumstance. If recruits move to completely unknown areas that they are benign or insensitive to, working with groups of kids that they know nothing about, how will that scenario’s design and arrangement affect the overall learning and educational environment of the students? Quite simply: negatively. More often than not, this equation will come out positive mostly for investing disaster capitalists and their shareholders. There are reasons that oil companies like BP and Exxon have gotten involved in education. There are reasons that banks like Chase and Capital One have gotten involved in education. Think it’s the overall wellbeing of young people? Every year, the US spends about $500 billion on education from ages 5-18. In 2011, a single year’s profits in k-12 education reached $389 million for investors.

The overall data for New Orleans has shown, quite clearly, that when 80% of the schools in New Orleans were charters (about three years ago), 56% were graded D or F schools. Since Katrina, 4 of the 107 schools taken over could report operating above the state’s average. Statistics show that most New Orleans high school seniors have not been able to meet the ACT’s state-college acceptance requirement, requiring new college students to pay for remedial classes that do not count toward their graduation. Since 2010, New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD) has closed more than twenty schools. In fact, only minorities of charter schools around the nation outperform district schools. This clearly exposes, with its own data, that the corporate charter monopolization of the public school system IS NOT PROVING EFFECTIVE. --Roburt Reynonds