Micro Review: Joy Ann Williamson, Lori Rhodes, and Michael Dunson, “A Selected History of Social Justice in Education,” Review of Research in Education 31 (2007) p.195-224.

Jonathan Fisher

March 19, 2020

Micro Review: Joy Ann Williamson, Lori Rhodes, and Michael Dunson, “A Selected History of Social Justice in Education,” Review of Research in Education 31 (2007): 195-224.

I came down with a fever two days ago, which I was afraid might be the COVID-19 bug, but turns out to be just a regular cold. Anyway, on the advice of my family and coworkers I have stayed home these past two days, which has given me a good chunk of extra reading time in a quiet house. So, I’ve been able to dig into some of the pieces I downloaded connected to my matriculation at UW in the fall, my future advisers there, and the topics which I will pursue leading up to the research for my dissertation.

This piece, I am proud to say, was co-authored by one of my future advisors, Joy Ann Williamson-Lott (I am guessing she has gotten married since the publication of this piece 13 years ago, since her last name is hyphenated now). It appeared in the AERA Review of Research in Education while Dr. Williamson-Lott was still at Stanford University. And it is important to me both because of its scope, and the force of its concluding argument for the necessity of historical research to projects of social justice in education.

That this is a “selected” history of social justice in education, I suppose is meant to be a nod to other groups such as LGBT people or to other religious or cultural minorities such as Jews or Muslims whose stories are somewhat conspicuously absent from this narrative, which is inclusive of Asian, Native American, Latinx and Black as well as White ethnic groups in its discussion. But from the beginning, this piece, importantly sets the stakes as more than just an enumeration of identifiable sub-groups within educational jurisdictions of the United States, but as the struggle of what constitutes education for social justice in the first place, broadly education that promotes assimilation, or education for cultural maintenance (“or something in between”). Will it “give students skills to alter the social order,” or “enable students to fit themselves into a higher station in that social order?” (195). Also, citing Donato and Lazerson’s earlier essay on contemporary problems in educational history, the authors consider the ends to which history of education is deployed, and caution against flat historical arguments that employ unbroken chains of causality through time.

I suppose this last caveat is aimed at a Marxist critical historical view, although I need to dig more deeply into the pieces cited by Donato & Lazerson, as well as Franke, (2000), to be sure. And yet, the conspicuous absence of a specifically materialist critique in this selected history is perhaps its most intriguing fault. It is an especially glaring absence in light of the inclusion of W.E.B. Du Bois quote, resonant not only among Black people, but, as the authors acknowledge, across a range of ethnic minority communities in the U.S.: “The Negro needs neither segregated schools nor mixed schools. What he needs is Education.” I read Du Bois here as making the materialist (not identitarian) argument. For, as the authors of this paper show, in the case of the Chinese American community in San Francisco who revolted against a 1971 desegregation order issued on behalf of students in predominantly Black schools. Assimilationist arguments are not the be-all, end-all of social justice education. Indeed, assimilationist calls for social justice may be wielded just as easily as segregationist racism as a tool of capitalists to exploit minority groups.

Despite a possible blind spot in the area of class analysis, the authors rightfully see the duty of historians of education as one of making sure previously untold stories make their way into policy discourses. They rightfully characterize this discourse as a “battle over our national collective memory.” They also note the power of historical scholarship to bring out narratives of how racial and ethnic groups and individual members of these groups have thought about their own struggles, and “defined social justice for themselves” (215). This mode of intellectual history is particularly attractive to me, and one which I want to pursue in the future.

For instance, I am interested in the question of how teachers or activists in various educational movements/ struggles through history of held up or looked to figures from other movements for inspiration or guidance, despite their goals or particular ideological stances differing. The contemporary case I’m thinking of is Tsuru for Solidarity, survivors of Japanese incarceration, and others recalling the voices of members of those activist movements to fight against the incarceration of children at the US/ Mexico border. Or else, Black Lives Matter’s use of Palestinian Liberation movement, but in a more specific educational context. I need to go back and read that Angela Davis essay about Palestine and Black Power… But also, I imagine somewhere amongst imprisoned Japanese Americans during WWII there were those who saw their plight as of a piece with earlier oppressed groups– students at Indian Boarding Schools perhaps.

I’m rambling on a bit here, but this is illustrative, again, of the power that history of education has, as a mode of research to inform policy decision shape the narratives that define curriculum at a variety of levels– personal, community, regional, state, and international.

3/11: Remembering Those Killed And Displaced by the Earthquake, Tsunami, and the Ongoing Nuclear Disaster in Tohoku, Japan

This Japanese documentary is about a Japanese man who sets up a phone booth in his garden as an invitation to those who are mourning family missing after the tsunami of March 11, 2011.  The public radio mainstay, This American Life, produced an audio version of this story in English in 2016, which I’ll link below

 https://www.thisamericanlife.org/597/one-last-thing-before-i-go

This is a really powerful story about the bonds of family tested by world-historic disaster.  Spoiler alert: family wins!  But you may need a box of tissues to get through these tear-jerker docs.

I want to say that the major theme of this story– a metaphysical connection that defies space, time and death– is one that appears in a lot of great Japanese pop culture as well, most recently, the animation and manga, “Kimi no na ha” is a teenage romantic twist that was very commercially successful.

Micro Review: From Student Markets to Credential Markets (Beadie, 1999) The History of Education Quarterly

Micro-Review: From Student Markets to Credential Markets: The Creation of the Regents Examination System in New York State, 1864-1890 by Nancy Beadie (HEQ, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 1999, pp. 1-30)

Well, it’s really happening. I am finally going to be enrolling in a doctoral program in History of Education at the University of Washington. The two History of Ed. Professors there are Joy Williamson-Lott, and Nancy Beadie, both of whom I have now been in contact with, if briefly. But in two weeks I have a meeting scheduled with Dr. Beadie to discuss next steps for me as I gear up to move to Seattle and get started with this. So, with these big changes as the backdrop, I’ve been anxious to get started reading and thinking more specifically about the kinds of research I’ll be able to do at UW as well as the kinds of questions I’ll be best supported in asking with my research by Dr. Beadie and Dr. Williamson-Lott.

In my digging around for papers that would give me a clearer picture of what Dr. Beadie’s research is about, I came across this one, now more than 20 years old, in the History of Education Quarterly Archives. Dr. Beadie was the Editor of that journal as recently as last year, I believe, and she still plays an active role in the History of Education Society, a group which I should very likely be joining in the not too distant future. This article was identified in a retrospective of HEQ pieces voted most representative of the periodical over the 50 years from 1960 to 2010. It’s a piece that seems to link Dr. Beadie’s research track along the line of private schools and academies in North America from the 18th century into the 19th century, with her main current area of research of educational markets and the emergence of educational systems in States. The piece focuses on the State of New York. And it is an institutional history, that is the research is focused on the governance of and demographic impact of the New York Board of Regents, establishment of a system of secondary examinations in the late 1860s. These Board of Regents Exams comprise the United States’ oldest regime of standardized testing. But at the heart of the significance of this new educational technology, the State-wide standardized test, Beadie argues, is a credential marketplace, which replaced, the student marketplace that colleges in North American had relied on to that pointi.

The significance of the creation of this new kind of market is in the analysis and conclusions it allows historians to make about the scarcity of education during this time period and the impact of that scarcity both locally and across jurisdictions in a region. So, not only are local politicians and education administrators suddenly on the hook for greater access to these credentials, but individuals could essentially trade on them for access to college education. What remains unclear from Beadie’s analysis is a clarification of the reason for or in Beadie’s words, “chronology” of the initial implementation of the Board of Regents’ policies. Beadie shows that the new exams came in the wake of a long decrease in public school enrollment. And interestingly, demographic analysis of New York high school graduates of the late 19th century, women were the greatest beneficiaries of this new credential system. But I have a hard time imagining that achieving a greater level of gender parity of students qualified for college was what the New York Board of Regents had in mind when they implemented this policy to begin with.

So, to connect this back to my initial concerns about finding a suitable home for the research I want to do as a grad student, I am impressed by the logical moves that institutional histories like these are able to make from demographic data, but I hope that my research will be able to bring a more human face to findings like these. Actually, on that note, I want to re-read another article from the HEQ that Beadie wrote I believe with Kim Tolley, another past HEQ editor, I believe, that dealt with some letters from a New York teacher who traveled to North Carolina to become a school teacher during the late 19th century. This may be a better fit in terms of the type of history I want to be writing. It’s very important to me to center teachers as powerful decision makers in communities, especially when they are acting in solidarity with their communities towards social justice aims. But, of course, this teacher agency only comes into play against the backdrop of the larger social-political and economic universe of schooling. I guess, sometimes its even at odds with the direction these larger forces are pushing. In the case of this Board of Regents creation of a new market, a set of policies, which is dubious, at best, given the rampant standardized testing of the present day, actually seems to have worked in favor of the masses of New Yorkers, and women in particular, at least in the short-term.

iNote: I’m curious, how did student markets function prior to the invention of such credential markets. Were they more like labor markets? I can see how, on its face, the credential is different from the student, but the credential cannot really be separated from the student. It has no exchange value, so to speak. It’s only value appears to be vis-a-vis the individual student who obtains it. So, this is a point of further study for me.

Analysis: Tracking the NEA’s and AFT’s $43 Million in Donations to PACs, Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits — and the State Engagement Fund? (The 74)

The 74 Million is an independent news blog dedicated to the 74 million primary and secondary students in the United States.  A lot of their coverage tends to be skewed towards rhetoric around “school choice,” and so I’m a little bit skeptical.  But there also seems to be a strong racial justice core to their reporting.  The most interesting and useful coverage I’ve seen have been Union Reports like this one, which shed light on the connections between teachers unions (NEA, AFT) and shady groups like Democratic Super- PACs and the so-called “State Engagement Fund” described below.

I guess, what is so disappointing about characterizations of America’s largest Teachers Unions in purely vehicles for cashflow (not that this isn’t an accurate portrayal, because I think it is) but it ignores the humanity of the teachers these organizations purport to represent.  I don’t think the problem is with unions as such, but certainly the way the AFT and NEA seem to be operating at the highest levels is gross and tends to feed into the stories we have been told for generations about unions’ corruption, mob connections, racism, sexism and so on.  Do teachers need to remake their unions and union culture before they can remake their schools, communities and society?

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive. The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are known as labor unions, advocates for teachers and public school employees, and political powerhouses. But they also are grantmaking institutions. During the 2018-19 school year, the two national teachers unions directly donated $43.1 million […]

Source: Analysis: Tracking the NEA’s and AFT’s $43 Million in Donations to PACs, Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits — and the State Engagement Fund?

Paper Cranes to Fort Sill – In Solidarity with Detained Asylum Seekers

Dream Action Oklahoma (affiliated with United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigration youth-led network) is organizing a coalition of groups in Oklahoma for a large peaceful protest at Fort Sill on Saturday, July 20, 2019. This past March, Tsuru for Solidarity, a direct action, nonviolent project of allied organizations within the Japanese American community, gathered in Crystal City, Oklahoma in collaboration with pilgrims from allied national organizations and networks. Crystal City, a former WWII internment camp in Texas, housed over 2,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. The gathering was to protest conditions at the nearby South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. 30,000 tsuru(origami cranes) were strung on the fences surrounding the detention center to demonstrate solidarity with those detained, including unaccompanied children separated from their families. Last month, the Dept. of Health and Human Services announced that up to 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children would be transferred from Texas to Fort Sill, Oklahoma—another former WWII internment camp that held 700 persons of Japanese ancestry, including 90 Buddhist priests. Tsuru for Solidarity has been invited to participate and a Buddhist memorial service will be part of the day’s events. Fort Sill, a military site, is a historic concentration camp that was used to imprison indigenous people forcibly removed from their lands. It is a place where native children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in re-education schools. It is a site where over 700 American men from the Japanese American community, including 90 Buddhist monks, were imprisoned during WWII.  Concentration camps are used to indefinitely detain minority groups in violation of human and civil rights and without due process. Fort Sill is being prepared to once again become a concentration camp. Concentration camps are now being used across the U.S. on a scale not seen since the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans. It’s time for us to reclaim our moral center and our human commitment to one another. We are interconnected. What happens to one of us affects all of us. Speak out, show up, and get involved. Please join us in this movement.

Source: Paper Cranes to Fort Sill – In Solidarity with Detained Asylum Seekers

Tsuru For Solidarity June 2020 Direct Action in Washington DC

Tsuru for Solidarity is a non-violent, direct action project of Japanese American WWII camp survivors, descendants, and allies fighting to end detention sites and support front-line immigrant and refugee communities that are experiencing injustice and oppression.

Source: Tsuru For Solidarity June 2020 Announcement – Tsuru for Solidarity

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Revolutions

There was a fantastic review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ouvre in the summer edition of Dissent by Sarah Jones.  This was by no means the first time the author’s name has come up for me.  She has been in the background of my political consciousness for some time, peeking out most recently with this piece and and the interview of Kim Stanley Robinson that was on the antifada earlier this year.

So, I was excited to dig into a copy of The Dispossessed, Le Guin’s 1974 SciFi classic last weekend after wrapping up the sometimes sentimental collection of short stories by Toshio Mori in Yokohama, California.  It is always reassuring to me to be reminded that brilliant artists such as Le Guin have always been wrestling with ideas like the abolition of state-violence, sexual liberation, and radical forms of education and government.  I expect to continue being inspired by what has started off as a genre-defying bit of genre-fiction.

Le Guin’s work is distinctive not only because it is imaginative, or because it is political, but because she thought so deeply about the work of building a future worth living.

Source: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Revolutions by Sarah Jones in Dissent (Summer 2019)

Preserving a More Honest History from Teaching Tolerance.org

Here’s another great, practical piece from Teaching Tolerance, which I was just reminded is affiliated with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The big thing that caught my attention and got me excited about this is the suggestion at the end that teachers should consider making their own classrooms historic sites:

Making Your Classroom the Historic Site

Funding, geography or lack of institutional support may prevent educators from taking students to an exemplary historic site—but you can still bring the best practices of historic sites into your classroom.

I think the author here was attempting to include teachers for whom field trips may not be an option, but actually, why shouldn’t ALL teachers make their classrooms historic sites?  It is an invitation to students to think critically about the institution they attend, the curriculum they study, the habits and routines they engage in.  This is actually a great way for teachers to think about their classrooms too– by deconstructing the phenomenon of the “field trip” altogether and engaging students historical minds daily in this fashion.

Source: Preserving a More Honest History

Exiting the Vampire Castle by Mark Fisher

We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication.

Source: Exiting the Vampire Castle

I kept hearing again and again about this 2013 essay on some of the socialist podcasts I subscribe to– The Majority Report family of podcasts, but also Chapo Trap House, and Best of the Left too.  The Antifada podcast has aparently created a vampire-centric spin-off inspired, in part, by this article as well.  I’m glad I finally got a chance to read it.  Though I am unfamiliar with the particular comedian and the imbroglio that was the impetus for the article, it certainly seems to ring true.  The final caution about how social media ought to be used for revolutionary aims is particularly clarifying.  And Mark Fisher’s call to resist the erasure of class in whatever form that erasure may take is essential.

八月六日 And America’s Cult of (Military) Superiority

August 6— It’s an overcast and windy morning. There was an occasional drizzle on my way into work.  The school and the city just observed the anniversary of the first nuclear carpet bombing.  74 years ago today this city was reduced to smoldering, irradiated rubble in carpet-bombing targeting civilians, designed to strike terror and hopelessness into the hearts of the Japanese population and win the Pacific War ahead of a Russian invasion of the Japanese mainland.  It was a unique bombing only in terms of the type of weapon used.  Otherwise, it is I think fair to say that bombings like these continue into the present day, initiated by the American Executive, left unchecked by the Congress and largely ignored by the American populace.  These bombings still target civilians and kill tens of thousands of innocent people every year in places like Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.  End the American Capitalist Death Cult!

Portrait of Sadako Sasaki - a young girl who became the symbol of the innocent lives lost in the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and to the brutalities of World War II.  Artwork by Joëlle Jones.

Portrait of Sadako Sasaki – a young girl who became the symbol of the innocent lives lost in the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and to the brutalities of World War II. Artwork by Joëlle Jones. From Red Flag Magazine: https://redflag.org/magazine/issue-6/wish-upon-a-crane/

 

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This piece I found on consortiumnews.com was written in June by William J. Astore. It’s a great summary of America’s obsession with “air supremacy.”  Astore calls the American Military Industrial Complex a “cult,” as do the authors of the “Eyes Left” podcast, which I highly recommend.

 

https://consortiumnews.com/2019/06/10/the-american-cult-of-bombing/