Monday, January 9, 2017

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:

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, 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] --John No, Teaching Resistance Editor

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