Category Archives: Education – K12

HCDE Seeks Input on Superintendent Search

The Harris County Department of Education has launched a search for a new Superintendent and the Board of Trustees needs some community input. The survey is due by Monday, August 11, 2014, so get it done.

Also, if you’re interested in applying for the post, get it done. As Trustee Erica Lee stated, “We are seeking a diverse leader who is suited to meet the changing needs of students, educators and school districts in our community.”

HCDE Community Superintendent Survey
HCDE Superintendent Job Posting (Initial Application due September 8, 2014)
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Van de Putte Releases PreK-12 Plan

Senator Leticia Van de Putte, candidate for Texas Lt. Governor, released her PK-12 plan in San Antonio today.

As Lieutenant Governor, Leticia will:

  • Restore a strong start towards student success.
  • Maximize quality learning by reducing class sizes in Pre-K classrooms.
  • Invest in our students potential.
  • End the over-reliance on and punitive nature of standardized testing in Texas.
  • Expand student access to broadband and ensure quality blended learning.

Pretty standard stuff; however, these are issues long-ignored by the Republicans and Van de Putte’s opponent, Dan Patrick, is more interested in de-funding public schools.

What I found exciting about the plan was a commitment to increasing preparedness. As it stands, 1/3 of university students are enrolled in remedial courses and 1/2 of community college students are enrolled in remedial courses.

That said, I’m looking forward to Van de Putte’s higher education policy that hopefully addresses curtailing tuition increases by investing more in our colleges and universities, and college issues, such as state financial aid, college retention and graduation, intrusive college advising, etc. At least those are the kind of things in which this blogger is interested.

3rd Centavo: Acuña ~ Identity: Mexican or American First?

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

uglyWhat are you, a Mexican or an American? This was a question asked frequently when I was a growing – much more than it is today. This is perhaps because at that time we were clearly a minority and racism was more transparent and acceptable. It was a time when people believed that Jews killed Christ and Mexicans massacred Davey Crockett at the Alamo. The result was that this forced me to think in terms of “them and us.”

I was probably eight or so when my school mates first asked me and my cousin whether we would fight for Mexico or the United States. The question tore me up. I could not imagine shooting my father. The teachers did not help always referring to Mexico as a backward country.

A large map of North America donned the classroom wall. Canada, the U.S.’s friend, was on top, and Mexico was on the bottom. There were frequent jokes and put downs such as “If you don’t like it go back to Tijuana.”

The question of what are you first is not surprising, Americans are obsessed with policing loyalty. During the 1920s the American Firsters changed the pledge of allegiance from “I pledge allegiance to my flag” to “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America” – they wanted to make sure that someone was not pledging allegiance to some foreign flag.

Early visitors to the U.S. noted American racial xenophobia that forged a national inferiority complex. America through the eyes of European visitors such as Alexis de Tocqueville gives us a window into the past. While many admired the opportunities for land in the new nation, they also made biting observations about American attitudes. Nothing in the United States was authentic, for example, not even American English, which was a wannabe version of British English.

De Tocqueville noted the obsession of Americans for material objects: “…I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men’s hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property.”

Although it was a love-hate relationship, the standard for Americans was Europe. Europe had a history, the United States did not. Europe had traditions, the United States did not. An abundance of western land kept alive myths of opportunity for some, but for the African slave whose labor built not only the south but the nation the inequality was rationalized.

To justify inequality whites formed opinions on the moral and intellectual inferiority of their former slaves. When immigrants entered Pleasantville, equality was based not only on on the hue of their skin but on property that increasingly took the form of capital.

So naturally the Mexicans’ equality was measured by the hue of their skin and the amount of wealth they possessed. In order to justify the inequality of Mexicans they manufactured myths that the United States did not invade Mexico, but re-annexed it. Social and biological explanations were also manufactured such as the Mexican’s moral and intellectual inferiority.

White Americans of my generation questioned, why would anyone want to be anything but American? Everyone wanted to come to America didn’t they? They believed that the U.S. was different from other nation states. It did not make war – the U.S. was forced to defend democracy.

Even in the 1950s when I was in the army a dichotomy existed. Even though you wore an American uniform, you weren’t really an American. At the time, there were the spics (Mexicans and Puerto Ricans), the Italians, the Polacks, the Jews and the Negros in the army. The Americans were white.

The army changed my worldview. I had some opportunities because my area scores were higher than others. But I was often asked how come I was a company clerk and then a supply sergeant. There weren’t too many of us in these positions. The army was the first place where I encountered a vicious form of racism. I remember that outside the base in Augsburg, Germany, the night clubs were segregated, and there were mini-race riots.

After my discharge I returned to school. I worked sixty hours a week and carried 18 units. Los Angeles State was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got my BA and then my MA in history there.

My first teaching job was at the West Coast Talmudical Seminary — taught grades K-12, I was its only goy teacher. Orthodox Jews at the time were shunned by the other Jewish sects.

In 1958 I began teaching at San Fernando Junior High. I was introduced by the principal as her “Mexican teacher.” At the time most of the Mexican American students were born in the USA yet they were referred to as Mexicans — the blacks as Negros and the whites as Americans. The contradiction was that they expected us to be grateful for being American.

Once the other teachers became comfortable with me, they began asking me questions like why a Mexican student got into a fight or why he didn’t do his homework? How the hell should I know? It was like me asking them why Charles Manson did what he did?

When a Mexican parent filed a rare complaint, the teachers in the smoking room asked me, “Are you a Mexican or a teacher first?” Frankly, at first I was taken aback. What was the contradiction? I was not as brazen as I later became and tried to reason with them. I was on probation and did not have tenure. The first time I applied for a teacher position with the LA City Schools I was rejected because, they said, I had gone to parochial schools.

Throughout my three years at the junior high school the question kept coming up, “Are you a Mexican or a teacher first?” It was not only me but also the lone Black teacher who everyone liked because he pandered to them. He advised me to play the game.

When I transferred to a high school things were different. I had tenure, and I had job offers from the private sector. About a year into the job, again in the smoking room, I was asked, “Are you a Mexican or a teacher first?” I responded that my birth certificate says “Mexican” so I guess I am a Mexican first. The question was also asked when I began my opposition to the Vietnam War and the invasion of Santo Domingo – Are you a Mexican or an American first?

I had entered the doctoral program in Latin American Studies at the University of Southern California and was studying about U.S.-Latin American relations. This led to my questioning, why would anyone want to be an American? When I traveled in Mexico and other countries I was ashamed of the “ugly Americans” who demanded service by waving dollars at the Volkswagen Service Manager.

To make a long story short, the question, “Are you a Mexican or an American or a teacher first? has today taken on a new meaning. I am a teacher and that means teaching all students. Being Mexican means advocating for the interests of Mexican, Latino and working class students.

Being a Mexican first makes me a member of an oppressed minority. In so many instances I have witnessed Albert Memmi’s prophesy in The Colonizer and the Colonized come true with the colonized becoming the colonizer. Being an American is nothing exceptional and should not negate other identities such as Mexican, Latino, African, Native American, Asian or human being. It should not delude us into believing that we equally benefit from our corporate state that has no nationality.

Meanwhile, it is somewhat pathetic that people still ask, am I your first love?

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

3rd Centavo: Acuña ~ Is a Free Higher Education a Right or Privilege?

by Rudy F. Acuña

Elites of whatever race, nationality or historical generation have opposed education as a right. During the 19th century New Mexican hacendados justified their opposition to public education on religious grounds because it threatened their hegemony. A popular saying was “educar un muchacho es perder un buen pastor.” Further New Mexican landowners opposed statehood because it meant paying taxes to educate the poor.

The belief that people have a right to a free education whether primary or higher education is threatening to people who fear equality. This is true whether in the United States or Mexico.

In today’s world education is necessary to break out of the minimum wage cycle. This affects minorities most because they are concentrated in the lower half of the economic ladder, and it is becoming the only way out.

However, this phenomena is no longer a minority thing; white workers are flocking to the minimum wage class in great numbers.

In the 1850s Abraham Lincoln was shocked by George Fitzhugh’s thesis in Sociology for the South (1854) and Cannibals All! (1857) that theorized that all labor including white should be slave labor. The notion scared the hell out of Lincoln and white workers. Today a comparison can be drawn between Fitzhugh’s thesis and the growth of the minimum wage as the norm.

Most Americans believe that society will correct itself. They still believe that a person earning a minimum wage is as free as the Koch Brothers or even people like me who have sinecures.

Education has historically been the vehicle for social mobility. Because of this, white Americans after World War II saw education as a right, one of the limited ways out for the working class. Without an education they were condemned to being minimum wage workers.

Like Fitzhugh’s prophecy, the minimum wage worker has become the modern day wage slave. This status is no longer that of people of color. Even college graduates are today shackled by the minimum wage.

The apologists muddle the right to higher education with sayings such as “Education is a right but should be treated as a privilege” that puts the onus on the individual, and qualifies the right to mean that everyone should be able to have access to an education, but that access implies the duty of the student to better themselves. In other words, education is not an absolute right.

In our society the state controls education; it determines whether something is a right or a privilege. But who controls the state? The bottom-line is we are not all equal. We all have one vote, but the Supremes say the corporations are persons, and that it is unconstitutional to limit the amount they can donate to a political campaign because regulation infringes their free speech rights.

It is fallacious to think that I am as free as the Koch brothers who donate a $100 million to political campaigns. It is just as ridiculous to say that minimum wage workers have the same influence as the one top percent.

In the United States, all rights are derived from property. Rights imply a corresponding duty of the holder. In theory, the only limitation on the holder’s rights is the equal rights of others. According to the founding fathers, the ownership of property was the most important distinction between freedom and tyranny.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the founding. The notion of property has changed over the years, and today property is synonymous with capital. Even real property has become liquid and reduced to a commodity.

Thus education means the accumulation of capital, and emphasis is put on the rights of the holders, and not their duties. Regulations are efforts to regulate the abuse of the holders who look at regulation as suppression of their freedom rather than the enforcement of their duties. In their worldview capital has rights and the worker only has privileges that can only be exercised at the discretion of those with rights.

It becomes a worker’s duty to work and capital’s right to profit from his/her labor. In this brave new world it is becoming increasingly rare for the poor to own land. The only out is to move up through education.

Mexicans fought a bloody revolution that cost over a million lives for social rights. It was not fought for privileges; it was fought for access to land and liberty!

Rights are very dear, and as one  writer dramatically put it, “our rights come from our creator.” However, they are more fundamental, rights are based on being human. As such government does not have the power to violate a right. Neither does it not have the right to empower corporations to violate our rights.

The Mexican Constitution of 1917 is the first world constitution to set out social rights. The Russian Constitution of 1918 is based the Mexican Constitution. Article 3 guarantees a free, mandatory, and lay education. Today, Mexican students and social reformers are fighting to keep Mexican higher education free and to protect that right.

Yet the Mexican government is surreptitiously undermining the right to free higher education. The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) is at the crossroads of Mexico’s university system. It is a Taj Mahal with the state universities and satellites badly neglected. Given this reality it is natural that every Mexican student dreams of attending it.

If the Mexican government respected the constitution, it would build facilities to accommodate the over 250,000 graduating seniors who are turned away annually. Instead it invents fictions to reject them.

President Enrique Peña Nieto is violating the constitution in the name of reform – a word that the Mexican and American press are giving a bad name. Like the case of corrupt American congressmen, the Mexican president deals with bought legislators who want to protect the rights of the ruling elites. Consequently, as in the United States, Mexican education is becoming a privilege instead of a right.

Similarly access has been restricted in this country. Because corporate leaders do not want to pay for the costs of social production Public universities have stopped building to accommodate the growing student population. Universities operate more and more on student monies.

Rather than fight for the rights of students, American and Mexican bureaucrats use the excuse there is no room. They use gimmicks to limit access and allow runaway tuition and the privatization of higher education.

In 2008, according to the Pew Center, graduating students borrowed 50 percent more (in inflated-adjusted dollars) than those graduating in 1996. Their debt went from $17,075 in 1996 to $23,287 in 2008. Seventy-five percent of the respondents to a poll said college was just too expensive. Almost fifty percent could not afford to go to college.

In a “Time Marches On” fashion, forty years ago education was relatively free. High school students had options such as working at GM Van Nuys, Lockheed, or one of the many factories that serviced these plants. My engineering students in the 1980s worked for the computer industry, earning enough to support themselves and contribute to their families. The majority of these jobs have been outsourced.

In the 1950s, workers were oblivious to deindustrialization and the assault on trade unions. They rationalized that they were different than blacks and Latinos who were at the time denied access to industrial jobs and public colleges. By the 1980s the children of white workers could not find union jobs and were relegated to minimum wage labor. Today our children are forced to live with us; when they can work it is a minimum wage job –it is becoming the standard for all workers.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

Recap: Pre-K, Anchor Babies, and Polls

wendyletiselfTuesday was a significant day for Democrats. First, State Senator Wendy Davis continued her onslaught against Greg Abbott’s plan to test toddlers. Abbott’s mouthpiece then complained that Davis wants to invest more in education, while defending Abbot’s plan which provides pre-K to a few chosen kids, and not all Texas kids.

Of course, there’s that matter of Greg Abbott being consulted on education matters by a white nationalist. Why Abbott hasn’t distanced himself from Charles Murray says a lot more about him than his pre-k plan.

Tuesday evening provided the opportunity to call-out candidate for Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, who basically stated that he wants “anchor babies” to be born here, but not be citizens. And he stated this in the context of abortion, as if the mother who is crossing the border is even thinking of birthing and health care options that Patrick wouldn’t want available to her in the first place. And Patrick certainly doesn’t want to educate them or provide them with access to a college education because he’s saving the “last seat” for whomever he chooses, apparently.

At least that’s what I got out of it.

Mayor Julian Castro did more than just hold his own, defending the Texas DREAM Act (in-state tuition rates for undocumented students brought here as children and graduated from Texas schools). From the right-wing commentary on Twitter that I could stomach, it seems their main whine was that Castro came across as arrogant, so, it seems they would prefer a Mexican American kid who comes hat-in-hand to ask permission to speak? At least that’s how those comments came across.

The outcomes, ultimately, were a debate that has been avoided in Washington DC, where it should be occurring; some face-time for an up and coming Democrat; a free 1-hour ad for Dan Patrick that mostly confused his supporters (he was against anchor babies before he was for them); and an opposition video chock full of statements like, “I’m not tough” and Patrick’s favorite descriptor, “anchor babies,” for Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, Leticia Van de Putte. (Texpate has more.)

So, while the Democratic base got some continued energy from the webcast, it did also get dealt some reality with the latest Public Policy Polling results. Davis and Van de Putte and the Democrats have a lot of work to do statewide, but they knew that already. This past weekend, the Davis campaign hit over 55,000 doors statewide and continues a multi-faceted calling campaign to prospective voters. The campaigns a quite active at different fronts, and that’s a good thing. The uphill battle is not necessarily that Republicans outnumber Democrats, it’s that people don’t vote because they’ve become indifferent. And these prospective voters will not appear on a polling call list either. No doubt an uptick in energy is needed to excite voters, and that is achieved with a message that matches up to the voters that Democrats need showing up in November. I see it coming together.

 

 

 

 

 

Victory of Sorts on MAS

My initial reaction.

My initial reaction.

Well, the tweets and the chisme will tell you that the State Board of Education voted to add courses in Mexican American and other U.S. ethnic group studies by a score of 11 to 3. Sounds pretty huge, right?

I started watching the debate this afternoon and found out there had been a change to the proposal and much was being said about that dreaded term of which I am not a fan, “local control.” After a little and not so contentious debate, it passed easily, but I couldn’t help but ask:  What just passed? Bottom line:  It’s a step, but far from what is needed, which is full inclusion in the overall curriculum.

Nonetheless, a big DC tip of the Sombrero to the #LibrotraficanteNation, el Librotraficante Tony Diaz, and the entire crew for doing all of the leg work. It’s not easy to convince such a contentious board to move forward on something like Mexican American studies, and the work and hours they put in is to be respected and commended.

Although NBC had some of the story, The Trib had a better description of the events.

Instead of making Mexican-American studies an official high school course, the Texas State Board of Education has settled on a tentative compromise that would allow school districts to decide whether to offer the course.

“It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping, with a stand-alone course for Mexican-American studies,” member Marisa Perez, a San Antonio Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

In an 11-3 vote, board members added the class — along with African-American studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies — to the list of instructional materials that publishers will develop for Texas social studies standards in the 2016-17 school year. That means schools will have a list of state-approved textbooks and other resources to choose from if they opt to give the class.

My friend and fellow Bobcat Joe Cardenas passed this statement along from HOPE:

Texas HOPE (Hispanics Organized for Political Education) welcomes the opportunity to implement a greater understanding and exposure of the contributions made by Mexican Americans in the establishment and development of Texas through the fostering of Mexican American Studies in public schools throughout the state. Texas HOPE and its sister organizations have long called for the inclusion of the role of Mexican Americans in the History of Texas so that a comprehensive and accurate accounting of the impact of the Mexican American community may be better appreciated by all Texans especially the millions of students throughout the classrooms of the state. Organizations such as MALDEF, the Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Org. of Texas, Texas LULAC, and Texas HOPE have actively advocated in the past before the SBOE and its committees as well as the Senate and House Education committees for a more “truthful” History of Texas in the state’s adoption process of textbooks and development of curriculum. These organizations have been successful in their advocacy leading to the inclusion in Texas’ Social Studies books of Dr. Hector P. Garcia, the Green Flag Republic, Jose, Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, and the Battle of Medina, as well as preserving the inclusion of Cesar Chavez and Dr. King.

However, Texas HOPE will not minimize the contributions of Mexican Americans, Tejanos/as, or other Latin Americans by relegating the teaching of those contributions to an optional elective course that the state may or may not develop and/or school districts may or may not adopt. Texas HOPE and its members will continue to advocate for the comprehensive inclusion of the contributions of Mexican Americans throughout the core curriculum that all Texas public school children must take! In light of the tremendous contributions made by Mexican Americans to all facets of Texas culture, cuisine, music, vocabulary, laws, and art, and given that Hispanics today make-up 38% of the population of the state and that 52% of all students in public education are Hispanics, it is increasingly vital and necessary that the state of Texas recognize the full implementation of the Mexican American experience into the lore of the state for all Texans to learn and appreciate so that the future of Texas and her children may be rooted in the truth and the knowledge that Texas is truly exceptional.

Texas HOPE clearly understands that the task before the State, TEA, SBEC, the SBOE, the school districts, and the Mexican American community is that of developing curriculum standards that reflect the inclusion of these contributions in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) across the curriculum taught today in public schools. However, in order for that to begin to happen, all parties must agree that a changing paradigm in developing curriculum is necessary in order to have these contributions infused into the whole curriculum. It is disingenuous for any party to feign sincere progress in this regard without actively seeking the necessary inclusion of Mexican American experts in this process. It has been the habit of the State and its institutions to develop bills, standards, policies, and statutes without the input of Mexican American stake-holders.

Texas HOPE welcomes a sincere discourse that will move the contributions of Mexican Americans beyond an optional elective course to one that is inclusive of these contributions across the curriculum in consultation with Mexican American experts and stake-holders who will be decision-makers in the process rather than by-standers. The probability of Texas’ 1,028 school districts opting to provide Mexican American Studies as an elective is low; especially when one takes into account that approximately 800 of these school districts are rural school districts who neither have the funds nor the capacity to develop or implement the course; the issue is further compounded by the fact that 64% of all teachers in Texas are non-minority and not likely able to effectively teach such a course. We as stake-holders will also be taking a risk if students don’t sign-up for the course or if only Hispanics are attracted to the course. The danger is that the State will say that there was no interest or that it is the only place in which to teach Mexican American contributions. Clearly, the Latino organizations of Texas view education as the centerpiece of their agendas because the future of Texas and of our community is increasingly in the hands of those persons who have walked the halls of Texas public education classrooms.

 

Note to SBOE Member: You Sound Ignorant

So, there is an article in the Chron (behind paywall) about the upcoming vote on Mexican American Studies at the Texas State Board of Education. It’s no secret that, although there is one Republican who supports the measure, the entire opposition is made up of Republicans. I’m hoping a few more can be convinced to support the measure, but these folks seem to be against it.

Some, like the head of the board, attempt to explain it away.

“I think it is up to the local school districts whether or not to offer a Mexican-American studies course,” board chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands

Some attempt to play “divide and conquer”:

“I’m Irish,” says board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. “So I’d like to propose an amendment to create an Irish-American Studies class.”

Then, others are downright ignorant and just plain racist, if that was her intent. I hope it wasn’t.

“We’re citizens of the United States, not citizens of Mexico.” Patricia Hardy R-Weatherford.

Let me explain to Ms. Hardy:  Mexican Americans ARE Americans!!! The social, political, and cultural history of Mexican Americans and their impact on Texas is often left out of textbooks and the classrooms for various reason. What kind of an ignorant comment is that?

And to David Bradley:  Really? Well, If there is a group of activists knocking on your door with a viable and sincere request for Irish American Studies, let them in. Otherwise, your little game is a tad immature.

And Ms. Cargill and the rest:  What are you afraid of?

I’ll let my friend, HISD Board President Juliet Stipeche explain it:

“We want to have a culturally and historically relevant high school course that aligns to the TEKS,” she says, referring to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, curriculum standards that the state creates for various classes. “We want the course to be well developed and well defined. If we don’t develop the TEKS, it can get lost in the shuffle.”

Some say we are wasting our breath because the Republicans are hell-bent on being anti-Latino, no matter what the issue may be. That may be so. But if they think that voting down the measure will end the conversation, they are wrong.

It is much simpler to vote to support Mexican American Studies and move forward. Moving backwards certainly shouldn’t be an option. It wasn’t an option for Texas’ heroes that are in our textbooks, and moving backwards was not an option for Mexican Americans who fought to move forward despite the opposition and the odds.

 

Houston ISD Backs Mexican American Studies

Kudos to HISD Board President Juliet Stipeche for calling on the board to consider a resolution favoring Mexican American Studies be added to curriculum offerings–an issue to be voted on by the Texas State Board of Education on April 9. As reported by Ericka Mellon:

The 9-0 vote followed some debate over whether the district would appear to be favoring one culture over another.

HISD board president Juliet Stipeche, who brought the resolution to the board for consideration, asked her colleagues whether they could name five Mexican-American leaders in history.

“It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we don’t know,” she said.

As I’ve mentioned previously:

The Texas State Board of Education is set to vote in early April on including Mexican American Studies in the state curriculum. Unfortunately, those who are iffy or possibly against the proposal are all Republicans and at least three more are needed to pass the proposal. Let’s give them a call and ask them to support Mexican American Studies at their next meeting on April 9.

At least one Republican on the SBOE, however, appears to support the idea. Vice chairman Thomas Ratliff told The Texas Tribune in February: “Some of [the board members] are trying to say that they don’t want to start creating a whole bunch of other studies for every other ethnic group. I don’t understand that concern because there aren’t any other ethnic groups that make up a significant portion of the state’s population like the Hispanics do.”

Houston: Call Donna Bahorich at 832.303.9091
Woodlands: Call Barbara Cargill at 512.463.9007
San Antonio: Call Ken Mercer at 512.463.9007
Ft. Worth: Call Patricia Hardy at 817.598.2968
Dallas: Call Geraldine Miller at 972.419.4000 or qtince@aol.com
Waco: Call Sue Melton-Melone at 254.749.0415 or smelton51@gmail.com
Amarillo: Call Marty Rowley at 806.373.6278 or  martyforeducation@gmail.com

General e-mails in support of the proposal may also be sent to:  sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us

Pinche Ronald Reagan and Other Reactions to Cesar Chavez

Thanks to the good folks at AARP-Texas, I had the opportunity to enjoy an advanced screening of Cesar Chavez, the biopic about the late Labor and Civil Rights organizer and leader.

Given the various stories about Chavez, I didn’t know what to expect from Director Diego Luna and his crew. What I got was a fast-paced journey through the beginnings of Chavez’s organizing of farmworkers in the California fields, including coalition building with Filipino farmworkers, the founding of the United Farm Workers,  and on through the five-year boycott of grape growing companies. The film portrays Chavez, as he was, rather than as some superhero–always humble, always working, and always risking, yet flawed like anyone else.

Michael Peña gives a strong performance as the title character, as does America Ferrera as Chavez’s wife, Helen. While Chavez is portrayed as the leader, it is Helen, among others, who are portrayed as the foundation on which Chavez stood up against the growers. Overall, it was a good ensemble, with good performances by John Malkovich, Jacob Vargas, Yancey Arias, and, of course, Rosario Dawson. Much credit should go to Luna for some good attempts at recreating important aspects of the movement.

What was not recreated was actual film of Ronald Reagan, governor of California at the time, doing his part to break the strike through a public relations campaign which included calling the strikers “immoral” and eating grapes while being filmed by news outlets. I still don’t understand that 80s “Decade of the Hispanic” bull that was promoted by the Reaganites. The devil is always the devil.

As much as the film is about Chavez, some strong political statements are made about those in charge at the time who would want to destroy the farmworker movement. Also given his due on the positive side is Bobby Kennedy.

The film also lightly covers a topic some use to darken the legacy of Cesar Chavez–his feelings toward undocumented labor. Low-wage immigrant workers who weren’t demanding worker rights back then were easy to exploit and industries of today have learned much from farmers and growers of that time. Chavez was fighting to protect all workers at the time, which made him an easy target in the right-wing “divide and conquer” strategy.

 

Unfortunately, the film said little about the fact that these movements still continue today. While  some actual Chavez footage at the end of the film is utilized in which he speaks to the plight of the poor, a strong message could have been delivered that these struggles still continue in the form of health care reform, minimum wage increases, college for everyone, etc. We are left to figure it out on our own, or, perhaps that was the intent.

Then again, I’m not Diego Luna working on deadlines and a time frame in which to make a biography as sincere as possible. There will be criticism from activists who were there or folks wanting more, but the bottom line, there is only so much one can put into a movie before it loses an audience. The actual story is saved for textbooks and biographies. Otherwise, I truly enjoyed the film.

Chavez also serves as a reminder that this stuff isn’t being taught to our K-12 kids here in Texas, along with other aspects of Mexican American Studies.

The Texas State Board of Education is set to vote in early April on including Mexican American Studies in the state curriculum. Unfortunately, those who are iffy or possibly against the proposal are all Republicans and at least three more are needed to pass the proposal. Let’s give them a call and ask them to support Mexican American Studies at their next meeting on April 9.

At least one Republican on the SBOE, however, appears to support the idea. Vice chairman Thomas Ratliff told The Texas Tribune in February: “Some of [the board members] are trying to say that they don’t want to start creating a whole bunch of other studies for every other ethnic group. I don’t understand that concern because there aren’t any other ethnic groups that make up a significant portion of the state’s population like the Hispanics do.”

Houston: Call Donna Bahorich at 832.303.9091
Woodlands: Call Barbara Cargill at 512.463.9007
San Antonio: Call Ken Mercer at 512.463.9007
Ft. Worth: Call Patricia Hardy at 817.598.2968
Dallas: Call Geraldine Miller at 972.419.4000 or qtince@aol.com
Waco: Call Sue Melton-Melone at 254.749.0415 or smelton51@gmail.com
Amarillo: Call Marty Rowley at 806.373.6278 or  martyforeducation@gmail.com

General e-mails in support of the proposal may also be sent to:  sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us

 

 

 

Mayor Parker Announces FAFSA Day

Let me tell you, growing up poor yet with the knowledge that college was not an option but a necessity, was a challenge. Not because the schoolwork would be hard, but because all of the applications would certainly want to make one give up–especially the financial aid apps. Here in Houston, Mayor Annise Parker announced a bit of a solution for kids who need extra help with all of those forms.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker invites Houston area parents and students to participate in “Houston FAFSA Day” events scheduled for February 20, 2014, with additional workshops to continue through March.  The citywide events are designed to assist students and parents with the completion of applications for federal and state college financial assistance.  Hosted by five area school districts and numerous community organizations, the sessions will focus on the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Texas Application for Student Financial Aid (TASFA).

Research shows that students who complete government financial aid applications are more likely to pursue college studies.  While Houston ranks as the fourth largest city in the country, its student financial aid application completion rate is very low.

“The City of Houston is proud to join community partners in this effort to help students obtain the financial assistance they need to go to college,” said Mayor Parker.  “Our goal is simple—to increase the financial aid application completion rate so that our students gain access to and complete college.  A college education is essential for our students as members of Houston’s future workforce.”

“Houston FAFSA Day” sponsors include Alief ISD, Galveston ISD, Houston ISD, Spring ISD and Spring Branch ISD.  Community partners include the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives, Center for Houston’s Future, Chinese Community Center, College Community Career, Houston A+ Challenge, Memorial Assistance Ministries, Project GRAD and United Way of Greater Houston.

The “Houston FAFSA Day” websiteoffers helpful tips and resources for students and parents as well as opportunities for prospective community partners and volunteers.  While “Houston FAFSA Day” will take place on February 20, additional financial aid application workshops are scheduled.  A complete list of event dates and sites can be accessed on the website.

For information about the Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives, a division of the Department of Neighborhoods, visit www.houstontx.gov/education.

www.HoustonFAFSAday.org

Thanks to Mayor Annise Parker and all of those partnering with her to get this done.