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.

Micro Review: The Socialist Sunday School (Kenneth Teitelbaum and William J. Reese) The History of Education Quarterly

Micro-Review:  American Socialist Pedagogy and Experimentation in the Progressive Era:  The Socialist Sunday School, by Kenneth Teitelbaum and William J. Reese.  History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 429-454.

This was another piece identified in the HEQ 50-Year Retrospective.  This piece jumped out at me, not because of any familiarity I had with the authors, but with the specific subject matter it dealt with—Socialism in American Schools.  In this case, this sweeping overview of a segment of the socialist movement in the United States (and the U.K.) outlines the foundation of and development of curriculum, as well as the impact of these relatively informal, small, niche institutions had on the culture of the United States in the opening decades of the 20th Century.

I suspect that there exists a much longer, more detailed book by Mr. Teitelbaum and Reese on this topic, but this essay provided an excellent taste.  This is much closer to the sort of history I envision myself writing, but with a stronger reliance on individual teacher data—a diary, or set of letters relating to the actual conditions “on the ground” so to speak at school.  But the way this essay foregrounds individual texts like excerpts from the Socialist Sunday School Songbook, against broader demographic data—numbers of schools, student enrollment figures, and the economic and government structures underlying the foundation of these schools is very much in line with the type of writing I’d like to do for my dissertation.

Ultimately, Teitelbaum and Reese are able to make a much broader claim about the influence of Socialist Sunday Schools by locating them in the broader cultural milieu of the time—figures like the progressive public intellectual and educationalist John Dewey, as well as Eden and Cedar Paul, who are new figures to me, but who seem to have been doing their part to agitate for communist education in the English-speaking world of the inter-war period.  Reese and Teitelbaum’s most powerfully resonant claim in the present day is that socialist education in the United States in the first half of the 20th century were something of a “counter-hegemony” in a “war of position,” as described by the Italian anarchist thinker, Antonio Gramasci in his Prison Notebooks.

休校対応中の学校を対象に Google for Education 遠隔学習支援プログラムを実施

In her 2009 book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Kline described the propensity for capitalism to make use of the power vaccuums created by large-scale disasters to open new markets, coopt commons, and consolidate its hold existing markets.  The case of the closure of New Orleans public schools and the transformation of schools in that community to Charter Schools operating as private-public “partnerships” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is one outstanding example of the phenomenon she describes, “disaster capitalism,”  as it has applied to the educational sector of the economy.  And now, with the spread of COVID-19, Google seems to be acting quickly to promote its suite of apps for education with a “training program” specifically aimed at the school closure in Japan.

I had previously signed up for and partially completed one of the training courses Google offers on how to make use of its applications in educational contexts.  But it is a program that doesn’t really seem to work at the individual teacher level (at least in the Japanese public school context, where teachers can be transferred on a whim).  Use of these Google Apps in Japanese schools seems to require a school-wide or system-wide adoption for them to work.  Google is fighting against the dominance of companies like Microsoft and even Japanese hardware makers like Toshiba.  But they pounced on the recent school closure, offering lap-top PCs for rent, and a program apparently tailored to the current period of school closures.

Ideally, I suppose, an enterprising school principal or school board official would see this as an opportunity to increase the productivity of an otherwise student-less teacher/worker population, in limbo unti the start of the next school year in April.  They would sign their teachers up, or otherwise induce them to sign up, perhaps dangling promises of work-from-home, or more likely further rationalizing and increasing control over said telework.  This in turn, would give Google a leg up in marketing their various applications and subscription services (cloud computing, webmail, etc.) to schools and school systems across Japan.

Corona Virus School Closure Update: Teacher Leave Days

There was another letter in my letterbox at school this morning from the Superintendent of Hiroshima Schools regarding leave for teachers this month during the school closures.

I haven’t included the document itself here, but in summary, special leave is available for three general cases.

First, if the teacher themself falls ill due to Corona virus, or experiences symptoms that may be related to Corona virus infection, like running a fever, they are excused from work.  As usual this is all pending proof in the form of a doctor’s note.

Second, if a teacher’s family member becomes sick, that teacher may be excused to care for the sick relative, and out of precaution that they might already be infected given their close proximity to said family member.

Third, if, due to the school closures, young children who are at home require extra care, a teacher maybe excused for 5 to 10 days.  Unfortunately, this does not cover the entire duration of the school closures.  So, I guess the idea is that teachers with young children are simply expected to use their normal annual leave days in addition to these specially allotted Corona days to cover.  Why teachers haven’t been given more time off during this period is an open question.  We may very well get another backdated letter after a teacher gets sick…  The cover-your-ass mentality alone is enough to make me want stay at home for the duration.

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.

Corona Virus /Japan School Closure Documents

Just wanted to share a few documents as souvenirs of my last few days as a teacher in Hiroshima Prefectural public high school.  These may be of interest to anyone who is interested in the recent unilateral school closings instituted by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe last Thursday evening, and effective tomorrow (March 2, through the end of this month).

These closings, which were initiated at the highest level of Japanese national government came as a surprise to everyone, both Japanese and non-Japanese.  But as an American expat, the breadth and scope of such a policy being instituted from the top-down was and is unimaginable in an American context.

The closest American analog I can think of would be the closures that have taken place in certain States or local jurisdictions after natural disasters– Hurricane Katrina, for instance, in Louisiana, or perhaps Sandy in the Northeastern U.S.  But, to my knowledge, if there were blanket school closures in these instances, they were initiated at the State level, if not the local (e.g. city or county level).  It begs the question: does the executive branch of the U.S. government have the power to close schools across the United States?  This is a question that I won’t be able to answer here definitively.  Somehow I doubt it.  My instinct, given the contentiousness of “states rights” along educational lines, is that even if a U.S. President tried to make a move like Mr. Abe’s last week, that it would meet resistance if not outright defiance from some jurisdictions on ideological if not practical grounds.

One of the most glaring problems that these school closures have left is the problem of what working parents are supposed to do with their elementary-school-aged children, who are suddenly at home for the next month.  Will they get parental leave of some kind?  Will the state intervene again to provide care or those students who may need it?

The documents I have linked to this post provide a bit of a backdrop against which we can pose these bigger labor questions, and evaluate this specific school-closure policy in the face of an admittedly dangerous disease.  They could also serve as a useful body of evidence in a critique of authoritarian, centralized, top-down, bureaucratic education systems, which are kind of “a thing” here in Asia.

A brief outline of each document follows.

1) 保険だより  Dated 2/2/20 This is the periodic (monthly? twice-monthly?) newsletter of the school nurse’s office.  Last week, when this was released the school was getting over a bout of the flu.  Several students in each class had been absent.  And so this helpful brief outlines proper “manners” for dealing with cold and flu symptoms.  It recommends gargling as well as frequent hand-washing, and wearing masks.  These are all common sense habits, really.  But they are being more frequently referenced in public these days, like on the train, I’ve noticed.

2) Special Events 教育長より Dated Reiwa 2/ 2/ 27  This message from the Superintendent of Hiroshima Schools advises caution in the carrying out of large events in the prefecture– meant to include in particular things like graduation ceremonies.  March 1st is the date for the majority of graduation ceremonies around Japan.  This doc is similar to the School Nurse’s newsletter in content, but it has the force of a policy memo.

It recommends limiting the face-to-face interactions of participants, making preventative measures like alcohol disinfectant spray available, and limiting the number of participants to those directly participating in events.

*It was the evening of 2/27 that Mr. Abe made his announcement of the school closures.

3) 臨時休校について (連絡)Memo Regarding the Temporary Closure of Schools

This doc came down the pike in the middle of the day last Friday 2/28 along with the letter (Document 4) to be sent home with students.  In gives the dates 3/3 to 3/19 of the initial closure.  Closure is the wrong word though– teachers are still expected to be at work.  There will be no club or sports meetings.  Students are to check the school homepage twice daily for any updates, but emails will also be sent through the emergency email system.

4)  Dated 2/28  This is the offcial letter from the Superintendant of Hiroshima Prefectural Schools outlining in broad strokes the information provided in greater detail by our individual school in number 3.  It’s labeled 通知– “Notice” interestingly– not 連絡, “communication” or “memorandum,” which I take to mean that it is merely an official communication of the Prime Minister’s announcement of the previous evening.  The details are left to the individual school to work out within the framework set out by those actors higher up the bureaucratic chain– in this case stretching all the way up to the top!

So, that wraps up this batch of documents.  It hope it was at least a little enlightening.

All schools in Japan told to close until April over virus outbreak | The Japan Times

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprise school-closure request came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 virus patients surged, exceeding 200 across Japan as of Thursday

Source: All schools in Japan told to close until April over virus outbreak | The Japan Times

From Teaching Tolerance:  Who Decides What’s “Civil”?

This is a fantastic short article geared towards teachers.  It’s also a great reminder of what a wonderful resource the website, Teaching Tolerance is.

In the piece, we are reminded of the intersecting meanings of being “civil,” meanings that may have to do with a mutual respect, but also may be couched in colonialist stories about “savages.”  So, in just one word, students and teachers alike might find a radical connection between Black History in the 20th century– the so-called “Civil Rights Movement”– and the anti-colonialist struggles of indigenous people in the Americas.  Brilliant!

I am reminded again of Wayne Ross’s  conceptualization of K-12 social studies curriculum in terms of a focus on “dangerous citizenship.”  My hunch is that this configuration of citizenship education has applications even more broadly across curriculums.  What I am trying to get at, I think, is the necessity of historicisation of curriculum, or the necessity of teachers’ bringing a historical awareness to their lessons– whatever they are teaching.  It’s a historicity that need not be confined to social studies, but one which includes things like etymologies (in the literal, linguistic sense of the histories of the meanings of words) as well as the historiographies of curriculum– the changing ways in which teachers and students have thought about their lessons over time.  Such a historicisation is the big first step in bringing the focus of public education back to the progressive as well as more radical social reconstructivist aims that have guided it since the beginning.

When acts of protest are met with calls for civility, it’s a good idea to give students some historical context about the concept.

Source: Tolerance.org Who Decides What’s “Civil”?

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