Monday, January 9, 2017

Yvette Felarca: Building the Movement to Stop Trump

December 2016's Teaching Resistance is written by the one and only Yvette Felarca, a bay area-based educator, activist, and tireless voice of anti-fascist resistance who is an inspiration to radical teachers everywhere.

Building the Movement to Stop Trump
Lessons From Victory in Berkeley by an Anti-Fascist, Civil Rights Educator

Donald Trump has used the presidential election in the U.S. to build a movement modeled on the semi-fascist ultra-right wing immigrant bashing parties of Europe, like the Le Pen National Front, and the historical experience of the rise to power of Mussolini’s fascists and Hitler’s Nazi’s. With Donald Trump’s assumption of the presidency, the first step would be taken in the creation of a fascist power over the American government and the American people. The feeble electoral tactics of Clinton’s Democrats have failed to prevent this disaster for democracy in the U.S. and around the world. Both the Democratic Party and the American news media have proven bankrupt in defeating Trump or even in speaking the plain truth about the threat he presents and the real character of the movement he heads.

Trump and his movement can be defeated, but only by a new mass movement committed to the principles of democracy, equality, diversity, and openness. Only such a movement can defeat Trump, his billionaire club backers, and his mass lynch-mob followers’ struggle to undermine those principles in order to carry out draconian attacks on immigrants, organized labor, and all oppressed communities. Trump’s movement is at war with the new majority-minority America with its progressive commitment to diversity, tolerance, and internationalism. Trump’s demagogy and even his personal image promises a return to a reactionary utopia of white-skin privilege and male power over women.

To defend the democratic gains of the past, and realize the potential for a fully human liberation in the future, and to avoid the destruction of both Americans’ most cherished principles and a world of increasing division, hate, and violence, we must build a new mass movement to defeat Trump and everything he stands for. The building of such a mass democratic movement is the greatest and most urgent challenge of our times. Our new mass movement, by mobilizing everything that’s best in us, can defeat Trump and his ugly mob, which concentrates everything that is worst in American history.

I know this first hand, because I just won my own victory against Trump’s Nazi and KKK backers. My name is Yvette Felarca. I have been dedicated middle school teacher in Berkeley, and longtime civil rights and trade union activist. I came under attack from the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) administration for my work as a progressive teacher and for my political activity. I teach ELD (English as a Second Language) and Humanities at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, where I’ve taught for 10 years. I consistently received strong teaching evaluations and support from students, co-workers, and parents. As a teacher and a political activist, I believe in engaging young people in their education by encouraging them to connect their learning to their own lives and struggles for social justice.

On June 26, 2016, during summer vacation, I protested self-identified neo-Nazi and KKK Trump supporters who scheduled a rally on the steps of the capitol in Sacramento. Instead they violently attacked us, and nine anti-fascist protesters, including me, were stabbed by the Nazis. These same fascists had already stabbed and almost killed black and Latino protesters in Anaheim earlier in the year, and had gone to Sacramento to try to do the same thing. The day after the Sacramento rally, violent threats were made by Nazi and racist Trump supporters against me and against my school if I was not fired.

Instead of defending me, the neo-liberal BUSD administration attacked me and began their witch-hunt. Four days after I was stabbed, the District issued me a formal discipline, then later, on August 31, they took my entire August paycheck. On Wed. Sept. 21, three weeks into the school year, the BUSD administration removed me from a faculty meeting, escorted me to my classroom to collect my personal belongings, and then marched me out of the school. I was placed on administrative leave.

Every witch-hunt includes a shameful round-up, and Berkeley was no exception. I found out that the same day I was placed on administrative leave, several of my immigrant and ELD students were removed from class and questioned about me by the school district’s lawyer, without their parents being notified or present. They were also questioned about their off campus, outside of school political activities and activism. They were forced to answer questions in English, which is not their native language. My other immigrant and international students, and only my immigrant and international students, were rounded up and questioned on a variety of days during the time that I was on administrative leave. Even Latina students who had been my students years earlier, but who had spoken out in my defense at school board meetings, were also interrogated by District officials. And just when it seems like it couldn’t be more shameful, students were told by BUSD lawyers and administration to keep their "interviews" a secret and to "tell no one."

The initial shock and fear that I and my students experienced from this victimization soon gave way to anger, and that anger galvanized me and my students to take action. Before I even left the school on the first day I was suspended, I asked my co-workers to announce what happened to the rest of the staff, and to urge them to get to the school board meeting that evening. Teachers, school support staff, students, and parents filled the school board meeting to speak out in my defense, and even shut down the meeting to demand the right of one my students’ parents to speak. The following school board meeting we had twice as many people there and shut down the meeting again. Me and other teachers, school employees, students, parents, and community members attended every school board meeting since then, and held mass organizing meetings where we voted on demands and a plan of action from week to week. Students, in particular, were incredibly courageous and inspiring—making speeches at School Board meetings, writing and circulating their own petition, wearing stickers and buttons, even organizing each other internationally to call in to the School Board meetings to make speeches from Mexico City. I spoke to the media every chance I got. And even though there were days where the pressure and uncertainty certainly took their toll on me, the movement sustained and bolstered me far more than anything else could have. I knew that I had to speak up, because if I didn’t, not only me, but other good teachers would get run out of teaching if I didn’t.

I am a union and civil rights activist. I am member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) Executive Board, a founding member of the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary (EON/BAMN) Caucus in both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). I am a national organizer with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). If not for my experience as a political organizer, and the support of my national organizations, I would have felt too isolated to fight the way I did. Thanks to EON/BAMN and to teachers in my school and others who supported me, I got my union to file a grievance to restore my pay and to also advocate for my swift return to my classroom. My lawyers in BAMN also filed lawsuit on my behalf against BUSD for discrimination, violations of free speech, due process, and academic freedom. They also filed a lawsuit on behalf of my students and their parents for discrimination, racial targeting and intimidation, and for violating the students’ freedom of speech.

It’s a huge mistake, however, to rely on either the union bureaucracy or the court system to win justice. By far, credit for our Berkeley victory goes to the movement that spread nationally and even internationally with each passing day. Building that movement would not have been possible without the backing and movement organizing methods of EON/BAMN. Despite the best efforts of Trump’s racist threats and policies, our movement won, and I was returned to my classroom after six weeks.

The outcome of my struggle was and is vital to the rights of other teachers and to the struggle against racism and the growth of American fascism. In the context of growing violent racist and far right-wing attacks being waged across the globe, and by the racism and xenophobia of Donald Trump’s cabinet, the decision of BUSD to discipline and suspend me for my off duty political activities and political affiliations and activism place Berkeley on the wrong side of the historic struggle to stop the rise of the far-right wing and their violent attacks. That, in turn, discredited that neo-liberal school board members with each passing day. More importantly, I urge more teachers who face the same kind of threats and attacks in the future to stand up and wage a public fight, too—and to contact me and BAMN. We beat the neo-liberals who rolled out the red carpet for Trump. Now let’s defeat Trump! Se se puede! --Yvette Felarca

Liner Notes for the MRR Radio "Teaching Resistance" segment

---You can download or stream the MRR Radio broadcast featuring Teacher Punks (co-hosted by John No, editor of the Teaching Resistance column) right here: http://www.maximumrocknroll.com/mrr-radio-1522/

Cops and Teachers: Both have been the subject of shit-talking by punk bands since the first day some zitty kid from nowhere decided to pick up an instrument they didn't know how to play and immediately sing songs about how and why things suck, especially things they have to personally deal with. Both teachers and cops were and are worthy targets of hatred – cops always, teachers frequently. Both serve as instruments of coercive authority that is often institutionally supported, and both can act as lethal agents of oppression in that capacity (often in tandem). Both tend to treat their 'charges' in very different ways depending on the levels of structural privilege said 'charges' have from their individual circumstances and specific context, with highly dissimilar personal outcomes based on race, gender, sexuality, class, and other factors being the norm. In their modern form, both policing and teaching sprang from colonialism and capitalism, and both are subject to overwhelming, relentless top-down pressure from those who explicitly support those toxic practices/philosophies.

The difference between teachers and cops, however, lies in their basic functions on the social and individual level, and in the methods by which they work. Philosophically, the difference is simple and stark: Teachers are (at least on paper) expected to nurture, support, and protect their students as human beings, while the function of police is to protect private property and enforce law by capturing and punishing those who they suspect of breaking it. On the surface of it, these professions should not share any common ground. In practice, in the modern world these professions often dovetail into interconnected mechanisms of social control that explicitly and implicitly (quietly) maintain established hierarchies of structural inequality and injustice. We ignore the history of these institutions at our peril, and the history of both policing and modern state-directed teaching practice are full of stark disparities that forcefully (and often lethally) marginalize many while others benefit from levels of structural privilege carefully calibrated to maintain the status quo.

Punks are (and have been) right to go after both teachers and cops, as both have long track records of serving as agents of oppression. Yet we need to keep in mind that the basic function of these professions is different at the core. There is no way that policing can be utilized in a liberatory fashion for marginalized people who have to come into contact with police, and almost always ends up as purely toxic to those people who are being “policed”. In contrast, it has been shown time and time again that teachers who are genuinely dedicated to the core (non-institutional) philosophies of their profession can, through radically innovative practices and active subversion of the institutional aspects of their jobs, play a major role in helping empower their students to take greater control over their own lives and potentially become catalysts for affecting real structural/social change.

This difference is why there are punks who are teachers, but there are no cops who are punks, at least not by any definition of “punk” that makes any sense at all.

In celebration of the 20th entry of the Teaching Resistance column (this one), I (John No) recently hosted a segment on MRR Radio on the theme of radical teachers in punk, with a focus on songs from people who happen to be teachers and play in bands. These people also combine their teaching practice, radical principles, and the aesthetics+ethics of punk (the smart kind) into a deliciously flammable cocktail to lob at the nearest cop car or shitty administrator, all while simultaneously teaching students how to make a similar cocktail to lob at whatever they like. You can find it at http://www.maximumrocknroll.com/mrr-radio-1522/, and here's a breakdown of some details on what songs were selected. There will be more of these in the future!

1. SEEIN' RED: “Resist” (Marinus 7", Ebullition 1996) (tough choice between this one and "It Must Fall" from the Critical Pedagogy comp 12”, 2000)

Probably the most obvious choice of bands to lead this comp off with, Dutch HC legends SEEIN' RED are the first band punks usually think of when they imagine teachers in bands. Jos from SEEIN' RED is a teacher in Holland, and has been since before LÄRM morphed into SEEIN' RED in the late 80s. Radical politics are woven deeply into their music and life practice. SR continued to be really good through the 90s, which is when “Resist” was recorded. Though I didn't play it on the show, the song "It Must Fall" is also great, from the same period, and was the crucial “Critical Pedagogy” 12" comp put out by longtime teacher punk Athena K. on her label Six Weeks Records in 2000...a worthwhile record indeed.

2. THE OVENS - “Bureaucrats Know Best” (from "Settings", a cassette- and bandcamp-only release, 2012)

The OVENS are a queercore band who play early KRS-influenced, distortion-saturated punk with catchy vocals, and this song also has the distinction of being the only song in this set that is actually about specific issues that teachers face in our line of work. I think both Heather and LB from the OVENS are public school teachers in Chicago, and LB also writes the excellent, radical teaching-focused zine TRUCKFACE. . Chicago has become one of the most embattled school districts in the country under neoliberal overlord mayor Rahm Emmanuel (a former Obama administration official, natch). Under Rahm's forceful attempts to privatize public education, he has closed dozens of schools deemed to be "underperforming" in standardized tests, mostly in the poorest districts. This policy has forced students from these closed schools to either travel huge distances to go to the nearest public schools, or to attend private charter schools where profit motive is the main administrative priority and students can get kicked out for pretty much anything if they are threatening to bring down the school's test score or behavioral metrics. Here is some writing in TRUCKFACE a little while back from LB, talking about what was happening:

"Today I spent 8 class periods in the library, dressed as a zombie for our world war z book festival. Over 600 students came to the festival to play games about the book (bingo, zombie musical chairs, jeopardy) and get their faces painted. We dressed as zombies while other schools heard their sad fate.

We will survive, while other schools will not. Though we have received repeated threats this year and have begun to wither due to the excessive stress, our school was spared. We still remain on probation, an arbitrary designation when our test scores are higher, our attendance levels are higher, and graduation rates continue to move upwards, we still have that label affixed to our beloved school as a way to scare us, threaten us and control us.

Five years ago, i got a job at at a school that will be spared while thousands of other hard working teachers, just like me, will no longer have jobs. and thousands of students out there will no longer have passionate teachers. It was luck to get a job at a higher performing school. And as many words that the politicians will spill about resources and test scores, they are unwilling to admit that they are driving good teachers away either through school closings or excessive bureaucratic control.

To say it plainly, businessmen and women are destroying public education.

After an exhausting day of celebration with my students, I mourn the losses around the city and know that anyone of us could be next if we don’t do something first." --LB in TRUCKFACE

3. STRANGE FACES - “No Peace” (off their 2016 demo, also on the “Frequency of the Truewave Volume II” tape comp from Nervous Intent Records *shameless plug*)

Ben from this killer new bay area darkwave band (he also plays in KAPITAL and formerly of NEW FLESH) is currently inching his way closer to a masters' degree and doing a lot of teaching along the way, and I believe April is a health educator for at-risk youth. They are also recently played a benefit for the striking teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico, who have come under extreme government repression (including murder) for standing up for their own rights and those of their students as they battle pretty much exactly the same neoliberal forces of public school privatization and related "accountability" issues (i.e. union-busting) that we are dealing with as teachers in the US. The violence and repression that these teachers have faced, however, is markedly worse, and solidarity right now is super important. Also see the Teaching Resistance column in issue #401, which is dedicated to the subject of the teacher revolt in Oaxaca from first-hand perspectives.

4. DIAMOND GLAZE - “Diamond Glaze”, streaming on bandcamp, 2015

-Nani, who lives in London and recently visited here in the bay area, is a teacher who has worked at a school for students with severe learning difficulties for 13 years. She focuses on expressive arts there, helping students figure out a way to express themselves via art and music. I think she works with Richard Phoenix as well (with whom she also plays in the raging teacher-centric punk band KICHIGAI). Some of the most recent work Nani and Richard did was helping the students (all high school and junior high ages) form and record two band projects, ROCK PENGUINS and DIAMOND GLAZE - this is a powerful, snotty and noisy early postpunk (ala RAINCOATS) jammer from DIAMOND GLAZE!

5. SCHOLASTIC DETH – “Killed By School”. From the 2002 “Killed By School” 7” on 625 Thrashcore

-You really can't fuck with short-lived thrashcore legends SCHOLASTIC DETH, who formed in 2002, put out a bunch of music, and broke up that same year because B (of the crucial JUD JUD) was going off to graduate school – thus the song “Killed By School”, duh. B came back after a bit and has played in numerous innovative hardcore combos since including CONQUEST BY DEATH, NO STATIK, and REPLICA. In the latter, Julianna and Alicia are both teachers in Oakland, B is now a professor, and Dharma just schools everyone anyway. Just gonna go ahead here and say it's a crime that I didn't also include such a teacher-centric bay area modern band as REPLICA on this playlist, but I will get them in on the next one.

5. LOS CRUDOS - "Tiempos De La Miseria". From the 1993 "La Rabia Nubla Nuestros Ojos..." 7”.
Martin of Crudos, Limp Wrist, etc. was a teacher for many years. As is evident from this CRUDOS song and many others, just because you work as a teacher does NOT mean you have to act as an agent of a fucked-up government and structurally racist, capitalist system. If you are a teacher, resist that system and help your students acquire the tools to do the same. And while you are at it, teacher punks/punx/ponx/puunx/etc, submit a guest column to Teaching Resistance and let us know what is going on! teachingresistance[at]gmail.com --John No, Teaching Resistance Editor


The People and Teachers Unite Against the State and Neoliberalism in Oaxaca

While Teaching Resistance has frequently addressed the many problems with so-called public school “reform” efforts, it is important to note that the hypercapitalist and neoliberal forces which have forced teachers to defend themselves and their profession from destruction are not restricted to the United States. In Mexico, the teachers of Oaxaca state are in a state of open conflict with the government over its efforts to privatize the public school system there. This conflict, which has recently turned openly violent (generally violence inflicted by the state), has flared into the global news cycle a few times over the last several months – but while attention from the rest of the world comes and goes, the violence and repression by capital in full collusion with the Mexican state continues unabated.

The author of August 2016's Teaching Resistance is Scott Campbell, a radical writer and translator based in Oakland, California. He previously lived in Mexico for several years, including Oaxaca. His pieces appear frequently on El Enemigo Común and It’s Going Down. He can be found online at fallingintoincandescence.com and @incandesceinto on Twitter. Solidarity to our Mexican colleagues, and power to the people everywhere against hypercapitalism and imperialist hegemony over public education.

The People and Teachers Unite Against the State and Neoliberalism in Oaxaca

In the fall of 2008 while in the city of Oaxaca, I walked with David Venegas in the plaza in front of the Santo Domingo Cathedral, a massive four-block church and former monastery whose construction first began in 1572. We were returning from the courthouse nearby, where Venegas had to report every 15 days. A prominent member of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) and the anti-authoritarian group Oaxacan Voices Building Autonomy and Freedom (VOCAL), Venegas was arrested, beaten and tortured in April 2007, held for eleven months on charges of “possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin, sedition, conspiracy, arson, attacks on transit routes, rebellion, crimes against civil servants, dangerous attacks, and resisting arrest,” and eventually conditionally released. Until he was found innocent in April 2009, one of those conditions was his semi-monthly presentation at the courthouse. As with any trip he made in public, Venegas had at least one person accompany him to provide some security against being arrested or disappeared.

During this walk he recounted a story from July 2006, about a month after the people of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca rose up in open rebellion against the state government. From the plaza in Santo Domingo, which served as the center of the social movement in 2006 after it was forcibly removed from the city center – the Zócalo – one can see an auditorium on a nearby hill called Cerro del Fortín. This auditorium was built by the state government specifically for the annual celebration of the Guelaguetza. Guelaguetza is both an event and a concept. It is an indigenous Zapotec word meaning reciprocity or mutual aid, an important tenet of communal indigenous life. It is also a state-run occasion which brings dancers from Oaxaca’s seven regions to perform “traditional” dances, modified from indigenous festivals which marked the beginning of the planting season. The state’s biggest tourism draw, tickets to the annual July Guelaguetza cost around 400 pesos (at the time around $40 US dollars), beyond the means of the average Oaxacan, thereby excluding them from a celebration of their own culture.

Just before the state-run Guelaguetza was to be held in July 2006, Venegas told me, “During those days of freedom, I was walking here in front of Santo Domingo and saw people up in the auditorium painting ‘FUERA ULISES’ in huge letters on the seats.” (“Ulises Out,” referring to then-governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.) Opposition was so great that the state ended up canceling the commercial Guelaguetza, while the APPO organized its own, free People’s Guelaguetza.

The above anecdote of an anecdote serves as a microcosm for a story still unfolding. A story told standing in the shadow of a building which serves as a reminder of the 500 year legacy of colonialism, by a survivor of state repression, about a social movement not only fighting against a despotic regime, but at the same time working to reclaim and reimagine life and culture outside of the structures of an authoritarian state and an impoverishing neoliberal system. While the 2006 Oaxaca Commune was crushed by federal police and military force five months after running the state government and police out of power and administering affairs via popular assemblies, the embers which led to that rebellion remained smoldering. Fast forward a decade later, and the resistance in Oaxaca has just finished celebrating its Tenth Annual Teachers-Peoples Guelaguetza. For good measure, they also set up blockades around the Cerro del Fortín at 6am the morning of the second of two commercial Guelaguetza performances, causing the festivities to occur in front of a largely empty auditorium.

Just as in 2006, what started this year’s revolt was a teachers’ strike. Teachers belonging to the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), a more radical faction of about 200,000 inside of the 1.3 million-strong National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), the largest union in Latin America, have been on indefinite strike since May 15. Their primary demand is the repeal of the “Educational Reform” initiated by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013.

A neoliberal plan based on a 2010 agreement between Mexico and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the reform seeks to standardize and privatize Mexico’s public education system, as well as weaken the power of the teachers’ union. Publicly supported in his efforts by pro-business lobbying groups such as Mexicanos Primero and the Employers Confederation of the Mexican Republic (COPARMEX), Peña Nieto set out to implement the OECD agreement and then some, changing Articles 3 and 73 of Mexico’s Constitution. Together, they create a standardized system of teacher evaluation, as well as granting schools “autonomy” — that is, autonomy to raise funds from the private sector — in other words, to become privatized.

A standardized evaluation system that is imposed from above without the input of teachers, yet at the same time placing the fault for low scores solely on teachers’ shoulders, is extremely problematic. The attempt to create a monoculture, one-size-fits-all education system that produces a certain type of student, as Gallo Téenek noted, “doesn’t, knowing the cultural diversity that exists, take into account the reality and local conditions of each of the regions, municipalities, communities and states in the country, as well as the inequality and poverty that prevail throughout the nation — for example, in regions of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, contrary to the better conditions that exist in cities such as Monterrey, Guadalajara and the Federal District.

The second major aspect of the reform, making schools “autonomous,” opens up each school to be directly influenced by capital. As CNTE Section 22 from Oaxaca explained in a letter to parents, “Parents will have to pay for the education of their children, since the federal government has disowned its responsibility to maintain schools, meaning it will not send funds to build, equip or provide teaching materials for schools. It also clearly states that parents and teachers will manage the financial resources to maintain the operation of the schools, which will lead to the establishment of compulsory monthly, bimonthly, or semiannual fees.”

By forcing schools to continually fundraise in order to exist, CNTE Section 9 in Mexico City points out that the legislation “opens the door for, in the name of autonomy, and with the pretext of involving parents in the management and maintenance of the schools, the de facto legalization of fees, allowing the entrance of businesses into schools and turning the constitutional provision guaranteeing free public education into a dead letter. This has a name: privatization.

The teachers are also demanding more investment in education, freedom for all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, truth and justice for the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, and an end to neoliberal structural reforms in general.

While the CNTE has been fighting against the educational reform for the past three years, a teachers’ strike in and of itself is fairly uneventful. It occurs annually in Oaxaca as a tactic used by the union leading up to the beginning of the school year in the fall. Usually the strike happens, followed quickly by negotiations with the state. A compromise is reached and everyone goes home. This year, however, the CNTE upped the pressure by announcing a national strike instead of on a state-by-state basis. And this year, like in 2006, the state refused to even talk to the union, instead deploying thousands of federal police and gendarmerie to areas where the strike is strongest — primarily Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán and Mexico City, though also in states such as Guerrero, Tabasco and Veracruz.
In another echo of 2006, it was a brutal act of state repression that turned a labor dispute into a widespread revolt. Ten years ago, it was the pre-dawn raid and destruction of the teachers’ encampment in the Zócalo of Oaxaca on June 14. Following the beginning of the strike this year, there were several police actions against teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico City and Chiapas; as well as the arrest of the Oaxaca union’s leadership.

In response to police attacks, teachers in Oaxaca began setting up barricades and highway blockades around the state. By mid-June of this year, the CNTE controlled 37 critical spots on highways throughout the state, blockaded in part with 50 expropriated tanker trucks. The blockades were so effective that ADO, a major first-class bus line, indefinitely cancelled all trips from Mexico City to Oaxaca and federal police began flying reinforcements into airports in the city of Oaxaca, Huatulco (on the coast), and Ciudad Ixtepec (on the Isthmus).

Given the climate of escalating state repression, in a statement released on Friday, June 17, the Zapatistas posed the following questions:

They have beaten them, gassed them, imprisoned them, threatened them, fired them unjustly, slandered them, and declared a de facto state-of-siege in Mexico City. What’s next? Will they disappear them? Will they murder them? Seriously? The ‘education’ reform will be born upon the blood and cadavers of the teachers?

On Sunday, June 19, the state answered these questions with an emphatic “Yes”. The response came in the form of machine-gun fire from Federal Police directed at teachers and residents defending a highway blockade in Nochixtlán that for a week had been successful in preventing hundreds of federal forces from reaching the city of Oaxaca.

Initially, the Oaxaca Ministry of Public Security claimed that the Federal Police were unarmed and “not even carrying batons”. After ample visual evidence and a mounting body count to the contrary, the state admitted federal police opened fire on the blockade. In total, eleven were killed that morning in Nochixtlán. At the time of this writing, a total of fourteen have been murdered by the state in Oaxaca during the course of the conflict, including Salvador Olmos García, aka Chava, a community radio journalist and pioneer of the anarchopunk movement in Huajuapan, who was kidnapped, beaten, run over and left for dead by police on the streets of that city on June 26.

Following the Nochixtlán massacre the struggle has taken on an increasingly popular dimension. This has looked like direct actions, marches, material support and expressions of solidarity from across Mexico and beyond, in numbers far too large to recount individually. By way of example, here are some of the actions that have occurred since. Parents and teachers took over toll booths in both Mexico City and Durango for a day, allowing cars to pass through for free. On July 3, an explosives device was detonated at the headquarters of business associations in Mexico City who have been lobbying the government to crush the uprising. There were three days of intense mobilizations from July 5-7 in Mexico City. On the first day, there were at least 70 simultaneous blockades and marches, followed by four mass marches on July 6, and at least ten blockades on July 7.

The Zapatistas have continued releasing statements in support of the teachers’ struggle, stating, “To say it more clearly: for us Zapatistas, the most important thing on this calendar and in the very limited geography from which we resist and struggle, is the struggle of the democratic teachers’ union.” They also went further and announced that they were suspending their participation in the July 17-23 CompArte Festival for Humanity, which they had called for earlier this year. Instead, they sent delegations from all the Zapatista caracoles to donate the food they would have eaten during the seven day festival to the teachers in resistance in Chiapas. This amounted to 290,000 pesos (15,600 USD) worth of food.

In recognition of the contribution of the people to their struggle and the fact that the people have demands which extend beyond the immediate concerns of the union, on July 9, Section 22 of the CNTE in Oaxaca called for a gathering of teachers and indigenous leaders to “build a peoples’ agenda against structural reforms.” The union met with authorities from 90 municipalities in the state. Important to note is that these authorities are selected as the moral leadership of their communities not through a vote based on political party, but through nominations, discussions and agreements reached in community assemblies. A second such gathering was held in early August.

At the same time that all these actions have been occurring, the CNTE and the Interior Ministry have been holding negotiations – negotiations which the state agreed to following the massacre. They have met a total of seven times, addressing political, educational and social issues. At each meeting the teachers come prepared with specific proposals and ask the government to do the same. After each meeting the end result has been the same: no progress on the core issues.


With the beginning of the school year fast approaching, the union and the parents committees that have been forming to support them, state that classes will not start and the strike will continue if the demands of the movement are not met. As the movement has grown beyond the initial framework of a teachers’ strike to object to the functioning of the state and neoliberal capitalism as a whole, the likelihood of an agreement reached around the negotiating table seems improbable. The conflict is far from being resolved and the peoples of Oaxaca have shown they will not be silenced in the face of the weapons of power, ten years later providing another lesson in dignified resistance. As the popular slogan goes, “A teacher fighting is also teaching.” --Scott Campbell

Mimi Thi Nguyen on Intersectionality, Radicalism, and the Reactionary Response

July 2016's Teaching Resistance is from punk lifer (and oft-contributor/shitworker at MRR) Mimi Thi Nguyen, who is an author, public speaker, and professor of Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois. Her column focuses on questions of what justice, intersectionality and radicalism actually mean at college campuses today, and she addresses the challenges of being a radical educator who actually gives a fuck about students in an often-reactionary, cynical and neoliberal modern higher education environment. Mimi can be emailed directly at mimi [at] mimithinguyen.com .

5 July 2016
In a faculty meeting to interview a prospective candidate (one I opposed, and my reasons will be clear in a moment), one of my colleagues said, “The students we get in Gender and Women’s Studies are so radical, so activist, but they don’t understand the real world. How do you think your scholarship could teach them about the real world?” The candidate happily agreed that radical students are impractical heads-in-clouds dreamers, and bubbled on about statistics and samples as useful instruments for familiarizing students with the truths of the so-called real world. (This, despite the fact that she admitted that her own samples in her studies of gendered expectations in the workplace did not disaggregate according to race, occupation, or economic status, while referring to Black women –and I suppose the rest of us—as “sub-groups” and trans persons as “statistically non-impactful.”)

I was absolutely furious at both these smiling, “nice” feminist scholars nodding in agreement, Oh, silly students! Because a candidate interview is not the time or place, I said nothing even as I sat stiffly, staring down at my notes (which the offending colleague kept trying to read over my shoulder) or Vaguebooking my outrage (my only outlet during the meeting). It is true that our students, our students in Gender and Women’s Studies, are among the more vocal campus activists. In past few years, our students successfully fought for trans-inclusive healthcare in the student insurance plan – a perhaps “statistically non-impactful,” but tremendously significant, concession to the necessity of more expansive practices of health and caregiving. They walk the picket line with our graduate student instructors and other non-tenure track faculty whose contracts (teaching each course for a few thousand dollars, far below minimum wage for all their hours) are held in suspension by the administration, year after year. Furthermore, our students often work multiple jobs on top of their course loads, which tend to be heavy because most of them come to Gender and Women’s Studies after they’ve declared other, more traditional majors – and complete our requirements too for love and rage. Many of them are women of color, or queer or gender non-conforming youth, who’ve either witnessed their friends and peers being policed by adults –administrators, cops, teachers, and other authority figures— or experienced these encounters themselves, for years. Because a substantial number of our students hail from Chicago, where the Chicago Police Department has committed racial terror for decades, I have met more than a handful whose friends or neighbors have been beaten, or shot in so-called “police-involved shootings.” For all these reasons I wrote on Facebook, in the heat of the meeting, “Our students are radical because they live in the real world.”

This is a bit of a side step, of course; so many people (young and old, students and professors) live in the so-called real world, and are not radical, as evidenced in this meeting. But it was important to me to refuse the condescension implicit in that declaration –our radical students don’t live in the real world— aimed at both our students and those of us who hope to encourage our students to fuck this shit.

I went to graduate school on a whim (back when it was more economically viable to be do so “on a whim”), to have an opportunity to think through my concerns about politics and activism, with no particular desire to become a professor – that decision came later, and when it did, I imagined (naively, admittedly) that “being a professor” (what I thought that meant) would allow me some autonomy, flexibility, and creativity, and I strongly identified with an idyllic view of the work –writing, teaching— and its non-material rewards. (We know now that these same qualities are pitched to us as pluses to ameliorate the troubles with uncompensated or undercompensated labor, as attributes of an ideally flexible worker of the neoliberal economy – increasingly subject to insecure employment, semi-secured in temporary networks.) I remember saying, as a young punk, that it was not my “job” to educate others, whether about race or gender or empire. I’m not getting paid to teach you! was and is a familiar refrain about such uncompensated labor, one we all learned from Audre Lorde.* And yet teaching others about race or gender or empire is totally (part of) my job now. It is how I access an income, healthcare, retirement, and, because I am in that increasingly minority of tenured faculty, status (however limited), and I hope to do so thoughtfully, and with intention.

That the neoliberal academy treats students as consumers is a frequent target of criticism, especially from professors who chafe at being confronted with students who complain that they did not pay tuition for a B+, or who treat evaluations like Yelp! reviews, complete with microaggressions about our accents, clothes, and characters. I agree absolutely that we should not treat our students as consumers; it’s a shitty way to teach and also to learn. But neither do I believe that we need to return to an older model of apprentice-master, and that is what galled me about the encounter with which I began: the condescension implicit in imagining that young persons are the ones caught in an impassable tower, and that we professors are conduits to the “real world.” (The reverse is also not true –I come from the real world too, not a tower.)

With that in mind, I try to bring a DIY politics to my classroom, as a refusal of the alienation and divisions of activities or skills (through formal conferrals of expertise, for instance), and as well a sliding under institutional or state overpresence. (No state, as the anarchists say, can give you freedom. Or as Foucault wrote, freedom is nothing more than the relation between the governors and the governed.) And because I know now how much I did not know as a nineteen year-old (without presuming that these nineteen year-olds in front of me also don’t know what I didn’t know), I hope to approach the labor of teaching with generosity and compassion, with regard to students’ critical capacities and foundational knowledges. (That said, I undermine the my own authority all the time – not as an anti-intellectual exercise of fuck knowing stuff, but as epistemological critique, or questioning how we know what it is we think we know, and that does include criticizing the premise that “experience” is somehow more real, less abstract, than “theory.”) I also do my best to recognize the histories that have put them there in those seats, saying those things because it has never occurred to them that other possibilities are sayable, let alone thinkable. I teach with this insight from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in mind, Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you? 

Toward that end, I also disagree with my colleagues that to engage in (seemingly) impossible dreaming is somehow childish, foolish, or shortsighted; and that the path to “useful” knowledge must take the familiar forms of institutional or state appeals – such as policy or law, none which have not protected us yet from the violence of their evaluation and implementation. As someone who has a critique of reform-minded, ameliorative campaigns and yet also recognizes that what I do in the classroom might be understood as such, and as someone who has been inspired by revolutionary movements and yet also knows that these can foster authoritarianism and political arrogance, I hate prescriptions and imperatives. This is the right way! We have to do that! We hear all the time that our moment of ongoing crisis requires practical action, straightforward prose, clear reasoning, hard facts, common sense, and so forth, and we hear this from both reformist and revolutionary comers. I am not against these things, but I am against arguments that these things are the only forms through which we define “activism” or politics now. Our imaginative leaps and wild theorizing are what make it possible for us not to succumb to the already-known directives and demands --be practical, be straightforward-- that haven’t yet gotten us out of this mess.


  • It is a refusal to spend time and energies to augment others’ lack (or perceived lack) of critical knowledge about power or violence, oftentimes knowing that to name an act of power or violence is sometimes to be perceived as an agent of power or violence itself. This is what zinester Bianca Ortiz long ago called the trap of being either educator or enemy, and independent scholar Sara Ahmed calls the feminist killjoy.
--Mimi Thi Nguyen

Student Literacy and the Digital Divide

Late June 2016's Teaching Resistance is written by Brian Moss, who teaches at a public Junior High School in San Francisco. From his personal teaching experience and careful research, he has reached some strong conclusions about the relationships between perceptions of student literacy, the infamous “digital divide” stemming from unequal access to resources, and overall inequity in education that can severely impact student success. Brian can be reached directly at hurricanewe@gmail.com.
While it may be a philosophical foundation of the country, the existence of true and thorough equal opportunity in the United States is a mere myth. It is used as a fabricated defense of greed and ironically, our greatest divides. Belief in it perpetuates false hope – bread and circus. In a society that is built around and encourages extreme competition and economic individualism, inequality is inherent. Children are born into our world as subjects of their parents’ circumstance, with the odds inevitably stacked to varying degrees for or against them.
Sadly, public schools often further exasperate these differences. Whether it’s a matter of resources, the quality of teachers, technology, community support, or familial/guardian support, all too often, the education system aides in keeping obstacles in place for the unlucky, disadvantaged, and marginalized, while making sure the upper hand stays with those who were born with it. As educators, we see an array of these disparities on a daily basis and must strive to narrow or eliminate them, no matter how difficult or insurmountable the task may seem.
The value and power of technology in the workplace and society at large is undeniable, and its place in schools has created new equity issues and perpetuated preexisting polarizations. It has become apparent that there are vast differences in both students’ and schools’ levels of access to and uses of computers. This phenomenon, in schools and society at large, is often referred to as the digital divide. The following is an excerpt and summarization of a field research project I conducted during the 2014/’15 school year:
Following a growing trend to utilize technology in the administering of testing, the now implemented Common Core Standards involve computerized testing of students. During the Language Arts test, students are required to both navigate a basic operating system and type timed writing responses. Thus far, public research on the new test/s, their effects, and what factors influence student performance, has been minimal.
For students who lack prior experience with computers, either at home or in their educational histories, test scores may not be indicative of a lack of comprehension of the curriculum that they have been taught. One potential factor that could affect scores is that based on their prior experience with technology and/or their access to it, students simply do not have the skills required to convey their knowledge in the medium of computerized assessment. Since the inception of computerized testing, both educators and social scientists have shared concerns regarding differences between paper-and-pencil and computerized administration modes. Essentially, a test that is designed to strictly measure content area mastery in English Language Arts could simultaneously be unfairly measuring students’ basic computing abilities.
As many students with limited or no access to computers come from socioeconomically challenged backgrounds, this issue could additionally perpetuate preexisting gaps in public education. In Technology and Equity in Schooling: Deconstructing the Digital Divide, Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone (2004) address this threat. They suggest that there are “a host of complex factors that shape technology use in ways that serve to exacerbate existing education inequalities.” Perhaps computer-administered testing is an example of this phenomenon. Technology in schools with low socioeconomic majorities often is not functioning properly, is not up-to-date, or is not used in educationally enriching manners (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone, 2004). Conversely, students attending schools with a high socioeconomic status majority had a significantly higher rate of access to both computers and the internet at home (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone, 2004). Furthermore, in a country with a vast population of residents for whom English is not their native language, studies that draw correlations between English fluency and computer literacy present the possibility that computerized assessment could increase divides in education along ethnic and cultural lines (Ono & Zavodny, 2008).
My research situates itself in studies that have uncovered the presence of the digital divide. The digital divide, as previously mentioned, is defined as an unequal distribution of technology based on varying factors such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, geographic location, and language ability. The growing trend of moving from paper-and-pencil assessment to computer-administered modes presents a new set of concerns. Considering that in public education, standardized test scores weigh heavily on the judgment and direction of students, teachers, administrators, schools, and entire districts, ensuring fairness and equity in terms of assessment and analysis of data plays a crucial role in narrowing the achievement gap.
My study sought to answer the following question: What is the relationship, if any, between sixth grade students’ access to and prior experience with computers and their short written response scores on computer-administered practice test items? As of yet, research on relevant material has not provided students with much of a voice. It is my belief that in order to truly understand the topic, they must be heard. Thus, my study also delved into the following subquestion: What are students’ thoughts and opinions regarding computerized testing and its relationship to their own experiences with technology?
The study commenced by giving sixty 6th grade English Language Arts students a questionnaire survey. The survey included seven questions with four point answer scales regarding access to computers at home and in school, extent and length of experience with computers, and frequency and type of computer use. Following the survey, students were grouped into groups of high, medium, and low prior computer experience based on their responses. Thirty five participants were female, and twenty five were male. This number was a result of certain students failing to provide individual and/or parental/guardian consent. The sample groups consisted of fifteen students in the low survey range, twenty nine in the medium survey range, and sixteen in the high survey range. The survey administration process, gaining consent, and grouping students took roughly one month. No students were made aware of their groupings.
Once the sample was been obtained, students were assigned numbers to ensure confidentiality and then randomly selected to complete either a paper or computer-administered version of one question from the Common Core 6th Grade English Language Arts Practice Test. The question was identical on both tests and asked participants to make an inference in paragraph form with textual evidence based on a short reading sample. Both the paper and computer tests were administered in a randomized order. Two weeks was provided as a resting period. The group that initially took the paper version of the test was given the computer version and vice versa.
Six students were then selected for interviews. They were selected based on the principle of ensuring an equitable sample of gender, ethnicity, and computer grouping. Students were interviewed individually for roughly ten minutes after school in my classroom. The interviews sought to gather information regarding their feelings and experiences with prior technological use and education, both at home and in school, as well the computer and paper-and-pencil assessment administered in the study.
The numerical data gathered supported the study’s hypothesis. Participants in the high computer skills and exposure group showed less of a difference between testing modes than those in the low and medium groups. Additionally, a somewhat significant percentage of participants in the high group also scored higher on the paper test. Data collected from the medium group showcased a substantial increase in lower scores on the computer-administered test question. The low group, as expected, contained a large number of participants that scored substantially lower on the computerized version of the assessment tool. Additionally, score differences favoring the paper assessment showed greater point variances in the low group.
In a localized context, the findings of the study showcase a highly problematic disparity between paper and pencil and computerized assessments based on students prior exposure to and experience with computers. As made evident by a steady increase in higher paper scores within the medium and low groups, it is clear that within the sample group, computer access and experience affects consistency in scores between paper-and-pencil and computer-administered testing modes. Furthermore, given that the high group also had 19% of its participants scoring higher on the paper test, with none scoring higher on the computer test, the findings also foster additional questions about computer testing in general. This is further supported by the fact that when examining the entire sample without grouping, the majority was equally split at 46% each for no score difference and lower computer scores, with only eight percent scoring higher on the computer test. In consideration of the findings of existing research, and the percentages from this study being so heavily weighted in favor of paper-and-pencil testing, a strong case is made against potential flaws of computerized testing.
Additionally, based on follow-up interviews, it is apparent that many students in the sample group who come from backgrounds lacking in computer familiarity and education feel as though they have not received adequate computer education and experience increased anxiety and lack confidence when asked to carry out academic tasks, specifically testing, on computers. Furthermore, many of these students may go into computer tests believing that they could score higher on a paper version. Even students who have had a fair amount of exposure to technology in terms of access and education often feel unprepared when it comes to computer testing. Much of the anxiety, lacking confidence, and feelings of being underprepared can be attributed to a lack of typing skills and having to type a test within an allocated time frame. The findings showcased a broad desire amongst participants to increase their computer skills, specifically typing, regardless of prior exposure and education. The data suggests that exposure to computers, computer education, and computer access needs to be increased, not only for students who lack experience and education, but for those who have had it.
Ultimately, on account of the relationship between computer experience and access and score differences, and students’ recurring expressions of anxiety and lacking confidence when it comes to computerized test-taking, the validity of Common Core computerized assessments comes into question again: Are these tests simply measuring the content areas they claim to, or are they additionally measuring students’ ability to effectively use technology, and therefore placing students who have had more exposure, access, and education at an advantage? Are these tests equitable?
In order to narrow the digital divide and foster equity in technological education, more computer access and instruction needs to be provided in schools where the student population comes from backgrounds lacking in access and prior education. Additionally, perhaps even for students who feel as though they have had ample technological access and education, more is still needed. Without it, technological disparity is inevitable and students may continue to experience feelings of anxiety and lack confidence when asked to take tests on computers. They may also feel and be unprepared for the modern world’s workplaces and educational institutions that rely so heavily on technological proficiency.
In order to meet the technological demands set by Common Core computerized testing, typing and fundamental computer navigation skills must be taught. If we are going to ask students to take computer-administered tests that to some extent factor in computer proficiency, we must provide them with the skills needed to take them or allow for an option in the form of a paper test. If not, some students may be facing unjust obstacles. Given correlations between primary language, ethnicity, and class to computer access, we must additionally consider what populations are being marginalized by these obstacles and what the resulting effects could be. Furthermore, results suggest that even those with experience could also be judged unfairly, as computerized testing may still be a rather unfamiliar process for many students.
Educators, administrators, policy-makers, and students face countless and immense challenges in the push to overcome the obstacles that lead to and perpetuate polarization and imbalance. Technological access, education, and assessment is now situated at the forefront of these challenges. Common Core computerized assessment, a tool by which all students, teachers, districts, and states are evaluated by, must be diligently studied and scrutinized to ensure that students have a fair chance to express their knowledge without being judged according to extraneous factors. --Brian Moss