The Hip Hop Voice

Hip Hop is OUR voice
OUR affirmation
Hip Hop is Us

The youth of the world
Often forgotten

Now you see us
Hear us
And feel us

You see our brilliance
We see it
We know it
We feel it

Where once there was doubt
There is now hope

Because we now LOVE ourselves
We LOVE our lives
We LOVE Hip Hop

And each other
We win


Our schools Are an Example of How America Eats Its Young

“Education sucks in this country! Both public and charter (and many private) schools aren’t doing nearly enough for our children. The most important measure of success according to these dysfunctional systems is success on a freaking standardized test in ELA and math.

What about science? What about civics? What about the arts? What about creativity, collaboration, and entrepreneurial skills? These latter skills are the ones needed to solve the world’s biggest problems like poverty, addiction, hate, and war.

Current education policy maintains the status quo from the perspective of power dynamics and myopic, linear thinking. The oppressive people in power will remain if we don’t radically transform the system today!

Parents, teachers, students, professors, and all who know better must come together and dismantle the current system as we know it, so that it can be rebuilt in an image that reflects the unlimited brilliance and potential of ALL children and their families.

We must design a system to meet and nourish the true brilliance of children, so that labels and programs like “special education,” as currently perceived and constructed go away forever.

We must design a system where all children become bi or trilingual (which is not hard to do by the way), and where children develop their holistic skills throughout K-12, while finding and following the path toward their passion and purpose.

“Gifted education,” like “special education,” will become obsolete because if nourished properly, we will finally manifest the genius of ALL children. We are misguided and suffering from a psychological and cognitive pathogen that will keep us stagnated and zombie-like if we don’t do something about this. Our kids and humankind are ready to take off!

Let’s come together and light the fuse!”

Diseased America

We are a diseased nation. I’m so sorry for the families and community that lost their children and loved ones today. I can’t even imagine the horror. This obviously hits home for me as a life-long educator with a son in high school. But this horrifying event should hit home for all of us. These are our children; All of our children; the children of America. And I can’t help but blame this country’s psyche for the massacres that continue to take place. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, South Carolina, Florida twice, Sandy Hook, and many others. The list seems endless. I prayed that after Sandy Hook, which involved the killing of five and six year olds, America would’ve stopped, paused, and mourned, collectively. But instead, it was business as usual. Capitalism, stops for no one. Nothing stops the gravy train of acquisition. We are a country that cares more about power and capital, than we do about people and children. As a result, people snap, and they kill everyone in their path. We try to isolate these individuals as the mentally ill, and dysfunctional, but I would argue that the soul of America is dead; Killed by the one tenth of one percent. They wanted power, and control, and capital, and they have done everything in their power to get it and keep it.

The only way to defeat the axis of evil that continues to economically, psychologically, and spiritually enslave us, is for the righteous to unite, organize, and take our country back. I’m calling on educators, doctors, sanitation workers, bus drivers, food and service workers and everyone in between. These evildoers keep us pacified with great entertainment, and arguing over issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and Social Darwinism. These power elite occupy our elected and corporate spaces, and control most of the industries of the world. While we consume their distractions they produce systems of oppression and spiritual bondage that polarize any action against them. It is time to get free and it is time for them to be eradicated.

As long as there is economic oppression, poverty, social Darwinism, xenophobia, and inhumane educational practices, there will be massacres. This is no longer a country of the people. This is the country of corporations, considered to be people as a result of a recent court ruling. These corporate “people” have also manipulated our government toward huge political wins like Citizens United, Stand Your Ground, the end of Glass- Steagall, the new market tax credit, and the upcoming Janus case. The more we let them privatize the world, the more psychotic breaks will occur and innocent people will be murdered. It’s time to unite, across “race,” gender, orientation, religion, and class, to defeat the one-tenth-of-one-percenters once and for all. It is time to return America back to its rightful owners — the people.


I’m incredibly excited about the Black Lives Matter in Schools week becoming a national phenomenon. A big shout out to my brother Jesse Hagopian and Seattle teachers for getting us started a few years back; and a huge shout out to Philadelphia teachers, parents, students and activists for keep the momentum going. 

We are now here, in multiple cities throughout the country, exhibiting bottom up consciousness, innovation, and love for the children we serve. It is unfortunate that up until this point neither the New York City Department of Education nor the US Department of Education have made any formal statement in support of Black Lives Matter in Schools week. Either they are unaware, or they don’t care. Whatever the reason, this is obviously unacceptable. 

How am I supposed to feel as a Black educator within a system that doesn’t seem to value my life except on their terms? How should my students feel? What about their parents? Does America value Black life? Do our schools? If we analyze the quantitative data that America LOVES so much, the answer is resoundingly NO!

Black educators are declining at alarmingly rapid rates all over the country. Black children as young as four years old are suspended at terrifying rates, and the so-called achievement gap persist. These numbers are not new, they are persistent throughout the history of schooling in America. Whether overt racism or covert hatred, the data shows that Black life is not valued in American society. 

So, this week is needed. It’s needed for our children, parents, allies, and collective consciousness. It amazes me how uncomfortable some white people are with the phrase Black Lives Matter. Just because I value my life and the life of my children, doesn’t mean I don’t value your life. We scream Black Lives Matter because if we study disproportionality throughout American society, Blacks (including Latinx) consistently suffer from negative outcomes, while whites experience “success” at a much higher rate. 

And no, it’s not because we are lazy or inferior as white supremacists will lead you to believe. It IS because we have been spiritually terrorized throughout our time in America. And despite this terrorism, look at all that Black people have accomplished in this country. Whites need not fear this. Life is abundant, and we all can live fulfilled. We just have to recalibrate our ideology and reorient our spirits toward a love for self and others as human beings. Placing one’s value simply on being white limits one’s greatness as a human being. 

But I digressed, during this amazing Black Lives Matter in Schools week, we have three demands for our so-called leaders in education
1. End Zero Tolerance Discipline Policies
2. Hire More Black Teachers
3. Teach a Culturally Relevant and Ethnically Comprehensive curriculum within our K-12 schools. 

Each day of the week has a specific thematic focus. 

Monday — Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement 
Tuesday — Diversity and Globalism 
Wednesday — Trans-Affirming, Queer Affirming, Collective Value
Thursday — Intergenerational, Black Families and Black Villages 
Friday — Black Women and Unapologetically Black. 

I hope you all join us in celebrating Black Lives in our Schools. Celebrating Black Lives ensures the celebration of all lives. When we love our Black children, we can better love ourselves and each other. Thank you! Please share and join the movement.

De regreso a la escuela 2017: Una carta abierta a padres afroamericanos y latinosEn las Escuelas Públicas

Translated by Esperanza Oppenheimer 

Edited by Evelyn Figueroa

Queridos Padres,

Espero que esta carta le encuentre a usted y a sus seres queridos en buena salud y buen humor. Me dirijo a usted como un hombre afroamericano en América, y educador de casi 20 años. Crecí clase media baja, a una madre soltera en la sección del Upper East Side de East Harlem en la Ciudad de Nueva York. He trabajado toda mi carrera con estudiantes afroamericanos y latinos en configuración de K-12 en todo el Bronx, Brooklyn y Manhattan en Nueva York. Tengo experiencia de trabajo en el distrito y las escuela autónoma, y he asistido a escuelas públicas a lo largo de toda mi vida.

Humildemente le escribo esta carta a usted como una llamada a la acción. Existe una crisis en la educación pública que refleja la crisis en nuestro país. 

Las acciones de los supremacistas blancos en Charlottesville, Virginia, no son exclusivos para protestar la retirada de una estatua de un líder confederado. El pensamiento que impulsa las acciones de estos racistas y fanáticos existe encubiertamente en todas nuestras escuelas públicas, como lo hace en toda la sociedad estadounidense.

Nuestras escuelas están financieramente hambrientas. Si eres un niño afroamericano o latino en este país, es más probable que usted asista a una escuela de “Título I”. Escuelas de Título I reciben fondos federales adicionales para compensar el impacto de la pobreza en las comunidades oprimidas. En la actualidad, Donald Trump y la Secretaria de Educación, Betsy Devos están buscando reducir los fondos federales por $9 billones, que devasta directamente los niños afroamericanos y latinos. A pesar del aumento de los fondos de Título I, las escuelas pobres han recibido desde 1965, las escuelas de distritos afluente con altos impuestos de propiedad son pueden gastar doublé la cantidad de dinero que estas escuelas recibiendo fondos federales adicional. Este es un ejemplo de cómo el racismo existe dentro de nuestra actual política educativa.

Mucho padres de este país han estado luchando contra esta opresión financiera. En 1993, los padres de Nueva York dirigidos por Robert Jackson, iniciaron una batalla legal de 13 años contra el estado de Nueva York. El juez dictaminó que el estado horrible del gasto educativo estaba impidiendo una “educación básica” y sólido para nuestros niños más vulnerables.. Los padres ganaron el pleito; a pesar de que, estamos a 11 años retirado de la decisión de la corte, la mayoría del dinero aún no se ha pagado a la mayoría de nuestros niños. Como resultado, nuestros niños abandonan la escuela, obtienen un rendimiento inferior y reciben suspensiones escolares a precios mucho más altos que los niños caucásicos y asiáticos. De esta manera, los gobiernos en todo el país siguen siendo cómplice de mantener la tubería de escuela a la prisión entre niños afroamericanos y latinos prosperando, mientras que las economía racial y brechas de oportunidad, siguen existiendo. 

Además, la historia y cultura de los afroamericanos y latinos están casi totalmente ausente de la política y currículum de la escuela pública. Como resultado, los niños de los Estados Unidos aprender casi nada acerca de las contribuciones del afroamericano y la cultura latina a la civilización. Este hecho contribuye a la incomprensión, la falta de respeto permanente y la xenofobia que existe hacia jóvenes afroamericanos y latinos. Mientras los niños de ascendencia europea siguen siendo reconocido y celebrado en nuestras escuelas públicas, la historia de afroamericanos y latinos sigue siendo inexistente. Si no se aplica secretamente al nivel de la escuela, los estudiantes no aprenden acerca de Kush, Timbuktú y Kemit, o las contribuciones modernas de autores latinos y afroamericanos, matemáticos y eruditos. Si los niños afroamericanos y latinos se enteran de sus contribuciones a la cuna de la civilización, uno sólo puede imaginar el crecimiento de su autoestima, confianza y contribución al progreso de la sociedad actual.

Hablando de estudiantes latinos específicamente, y particularmente los estudiantes aprendiendo el inglés, la nueva ley federal de cada estudiante logra (ESSA) exige el seguimiento de lo bien que estos estudiantes se desempeñan en los exámenes estandarizados. Por supuesto, es importante para los latinos aprender inglés. Sin embargo, las consecuencias de una política como esta implica la imposibilidad del uso de la lengua española entre los latinoamericanos; aunque también la supresión de otros aspectos de la cultura latina. La educación bilingüe y los programas de lenguaje dual han sufrido como resultado. Bajo la política de la educación contemporánea la vida latina no importa. La creencia de muchos formuladores de políticas y reformadores de la educación corporativa es uno de los de la supremacía ingles. Si estás en los Estados Unidos debe hablar “Americano (ingles)”. Lo que esto implica es la inferioridad de la cultura latina. En lugar de celebrar la diversidad de los ciudadanos latinos, los latinos son marginados y obligados a abandonar partes de su cultura. Esto crea conflictos duraderos y contribuye a las luchas sociales y políticas que vemos hoy. Los estudiantes latinos, particularmente los estudiantes aprendió ingles, sufren mucho en nuestro sistema escolar público.

Para salvar a nuestros niños, necesitamos un cambio de paradigma hacia un enfoque más holístico del sistema educativo. Educación holística incluye más de una sola escuela. Esto implica que la escuela esta trabajando como parte de una estructura basada en la comunidad que incorpora, cuidado de la salud, educación superior, empresas locales y una variedad de organizaciones comunitarias. Una educación holística alimenta toda la mente, el niño completo, toda la familia y toda la comunidad; mientras al mismo tiempo abraza la diversidad cultural dinámica de los Estados Unidos como un recurso inestimable.

Las familias afroamericanas y latinas deben exigir una educación integral para todos los niños, en todos los distritos escolares de los Estados Unidos.

Desde una perspectiva “académica”, de la política de la escuela pública dicta que si un niño es “experto” en una prueba del estado de inglés y matemáticas, ese niño es considerado de buen rendimiento académico. Muchos argumentarían que esto se basa en una visión limitada de la inteligencia. Durante décadas los investigadores han identificado las inteligencias múltiples como necesarias para un currículum integrador. La capacidad de construir y mantener relaciones saludables, la capacidad de auto-reflexionar, realizar musicalmente, conectar con la naturaleza, bailar y practicar deportes, representan todos los talentos que están mayormente ignorado en nuestro sistema escolar. ¿Por qué no estamos cultivando estos talentos en todas las escuelas? Me temo que la persistencia de pasar por alto las inteligencias múltiples en nuestros niños, van a privar a las generaciones del futuro de artistas como Celia Cruz, y Duke Ellington, emprendedores como Nasir Jones, y técnicos como Carlos Santillán.

Por otro lado, las escuelas privadas tienden a implementar un currículum amplio y profundo. Los niños en la escuela privada trabajan en proyectos auténticos, en las artes creativas, y participan en las metodologías del aprendizaje humanista como Paideia, Reggio Emilio y Maria Montessori. Mientras los niños en la escuela privada son alimentados a alcanzar su pleno potencial como líderes, los niños en la escuela pública son entrenados en pensamiento subordinar. Esta estructura de desigualdad mantiene la inmensa brecha económica y cultural que ha existido a lo largo de la historia de Estados Unidos.

Al continuar con la implementación de un currículum básico llamado “riguroso”, las escuelas públicas facilitan políticas racistas y comunican expectativas bajas para nuestros niños. En las escuelas públicas, nuestra meta es simplemente hacer que los estudiantes sean los mejores examinadores de inglés y matemáticas que puedan ser, no construir pensadores críticos creativos y solucionadores de problemas del mundo real. Las familias afroamericanos y latinas deben desconfiar del uso excesivo de palabras como la rendición de cuentas, y de los encargados de formular políticas que defienden las pruebas estandarizadas anuales en inglés y matemáticas. La mayoría de esos encargados de formular políticas mandan a sus hijos a esas escuelas privadas mencionadas anteriormente. Esto no es un accidente y no cambiará a menos que los padres de niños afroamericano y latinos se reúnan, se organicen, y denuncien el racismo manifiesto e implícito que afecta a los niños en nuestras escuela.

Es hora de que los padres exijan más de maestros, directores, juntas escolares, funcionarios electos y políticos. Estamos en medio de una revolución educativa, y estoy llamando todas las familias afroamericanas y latinas a que participen.

Considere cómo el movimiento “opt-out” demandó el cambio como una sola voz al negarse a las pruebas estandarizadas estatales. Esto forzó un paro a ciertas políticas educativas en el Estado de Nueva York. Este movimiento organizado por los Aliados del Estado de Nueva York para la Educación Pública continúa impactando la política educativa en Nueva York y en todo el país.

También podemos aprender mucho de la gran obra que la Alliance for Quality Education(AQE), the Coalition for Education Justice(CEJ), y Journey for Justice (J4J) han hecho para las familias afroamericanas y latinas en particular. AQE, CEJ, y J4J lucha cada día contra la privatización de las escuelas públicas y el cierre de escuelas de su vecindario. Su lucha también incluye un empuje para un currículum que es culturalmente pertinente y una financiación equitativa para la educación. A causa de estos destacados de organizaciones populares, funcionarios electos son mucho más sensibles a las demandas de los padres y la comunidad. Pero necesitamos más voces en la lucha. ¿Qué podríamos lograr colectivamente si exigimos los recursos que alimentan las fortalezas y la diversidad de nuestros niños? ¿Qué pasaría si las autoridades escucharan los padres afroamericanos y latinos y los estudiantes diariamente, y si utilizamos nuestra influencia política para que retiren aquellos oficiales que nos ignoran?

Nuestros niños sufren diariamente porque sus voces, ideas y culturas son reprimidas. Hasta los niños que obtienen buenas calificaciones están graduándose de la escuela secundaria menos comprometidos que nunca. La política de educación pública, tanto directa como indirectamente, le enseña a nuestros niños que sus vidas importa sólo en cuanto ellos le pueden servir a las necesidades del sistema que los oprime. Hay muchos estudiantes que se gradúan de escuela secundaria y se niegan a asistir al colegio porque emocionalmente están debilitados. La escuela les ha dejado entumecido. Muchos que asisten a la universidad no han terminado porque no ven un mayor efecto en la educación superior. Debido a que los Estados Unidos continúa ignorando nuestras comunidades y familias de mayor necesidad, millones de niños nunca alcanzan el nivel básico, ni se acercan a alcanzar su pleno potencial.

Los padres afroamericanos y latinos deben también actuar sobre el injusto hecho de que las escuelas y los distritos que son celebrados por su labor con los niños afroamericano y latino, inviertan sustancialmente más recursos que el promedio del distrito escolar. Lamentablemente, la mayoría de los distritos de escuelas públicas afroamericanas y latinas, siguen estando hambrienta y recibiendo menos recursos. Eso cambiará tan pronto que todos nosotros nos unamos, exigimos fondos equitativos, resistimos a la privatización de nuestras escuelas, exigimos un currículum culturalmente relevante y construiremos un sistema de escuelas comunitarias holística.

Back to School 2017: An Open Letter to Black and Latino Public School Parents

Dear Parents,

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones in good health and good spirits. I write to you as a Black man in America, and educator of almost 20 years. I grew up lower middle class to a single mom in the upper east side/east Harlem section of New York City. I have worked my entire career with Black and Latino students in K-12 settings throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan in New York City. I have experience working in both district and charter schools, and I attended public schools throughout my entire life.

I humbly write this letter to you as a call to action. There is a crisis in public education that mirrors the crisis in our country. The actions of the white supremacists in Charlottesville Virginia, are not unique to protesting the removal of a confederate leader’s statue. The thinking that drives the actions of these racists and bigots exist covertly throughout our public schools – as it does throughout American society.

Our schools are financially starved. If you are a Black or Latino child in this country, you are more likely to attend a “Title I” school. Title I schools receive additional federal funding to offset the impact of poverty in downtrodden communities. At present, Donald Trump and Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos are looking to reduce federal funding by $9 billion, which directly devastates Black and Latino children. Despite the additional Title I funding poor schools have received since 1965, schools in wealthy districts with high property taxes are able to outspend Title I schools by roughly two to one. This is one example of how racism exists within our current education policy.

Because of this financial oppression, parents throughout the country have been fighting back. In 1993, New York parents led by Robert Jackson, began a 13-year legal battle against the state of New York. The judge ruled that the state’s awful education spending was preventing a “sound and basic education” for our most vulnerable children. The parents won the lawsuit! However, as we are 11 years removed from the court’s decision, the majority of the money has yet to be paid to our mostly Black and Latino children. As a result, our children continue to underperform, drop-out, and receive school suspensions at rates much higher than white and Asian children. In this way, governments throughout the country remain complicit in keeping the school to prison pipeline amongst Black and Latino children thriving, while the racial economic and opportunity gaps continue to persist.

Further, Black and Latino history and culture is almost completely absent from public school policy and curriculum. As a result, America’s children learn almost nothing about the contributions of Black and Latino culture to civilization. This fact contributes to the ongoing misunderstanding, disrespect, and xenophobia that exist toward Black and Latino youth. While children of European descent continue to be recognized and celebrated in our public schools, Black and Latino history remains nonexistent. Unless implemented secretly at the school level, students are not taught about Kush, Timbuktu and Kemit, or the modern contributions of Black and Latino authors, mathematicians, and scholars. If Black and Latino children learned of their contributions to the cradle of civilization, one could only imagine the growth in their self-esteem, self-confidence, and contribution to the advancement of present day society. 

Discussing Latino students specifically, and particularly English language learners, the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) calls for the tracking of how well English language learners perform on English standardized tests. Of course, it is important for Latinos to learn English. However, the unintended consequences of a policy like this involves the nonuse of the Spanish language among Latino Americans; while also suppressing other aspects of Latino culture. Bilingual education and dual language programs have suffered as a result. Under contemporary education policy, Latino lives don’t matter. The belief of many policymakers and corporate education reformers is one of English supremacy. If you are in America you should “speak American”. What’s implied here is the inferiority of Latino culture. Instead of celebrating the diversity of Latino citizens, Latinos are marginalized and forced to abandon parts of their culture. This creates enduring conflict and contributes to the social and political strife we see today. Latino students, particularly English language learners, suffer greatly in our public school system.

To save our children, we need a paradigm shift toward a more holistic education system. Holistic education includes more than just a single school. It involves the school working as part of a community based structure that incorporates, healthcare, higher education, local businesses, and a variety of community based organizations. A holistic education nurtures the whole mind, whole child, whole family, and whole community; while embracing America’s dynamic cultural diversity as an invaluable resource.

Black and Latino families must demand a holistic education for all children, in every school district in America.

From an “academic” perspective, public school policy dictates that if a child is “proficient” on an English and math state test, that child is considered in good academic standing. Many would argue that this is based on a limited view of intelligence. Researchers for decades have identified multiple intelligences as necessary for a holistic curriculum. The ability to build and sustain healthy relationships, the ability to self-reflect, perform musically, engage with nature, dance and play sports, all represent talents that are mostly ignored in our school system. Why aren’t we nurturing these talents in all schools? I fear that continuing to overlook the multiple intelligences in our children, will deprive generations to come of artists like Celia Cruz, and Duke Ellington, entrepreneurs like Nasir Jones, and technicians like Carlos Santillan.

Private schools, on the other hand, tend to implement a vast and deep curriculum. Private school children work on authentic projects, in the creative arts, and engage in humanistic learning methodologies like Paideia, Reggio Emilio and Maria Montessori. While private school children are nurtured to reach their full potential as leaders, public school children are trained in subordinate thinking. This structure of inequality maintains the vast economic and cultural divide that has existed throughout America history.

By continuing to implement a basic, so-called “rigorous” curriculum, public schools facilitate racist policies and communicate low expectations for our children. In public schools, our goal is simply to make Black and Latino students the best English and math test-takers they can be; not to build creative critical thinkers and real-world problem solvers. Black and Latino families should be wary of the overuse of words like accountability, and of policymakers that advocate only annual standardized testing in English and math. Most of these policymakers send their children to the private schools described above. This is not an accident, and this will not change unless Black and Latino parents come together, organize, speak up, and speak out against both the overt and implicit racism that plagues the children in our schools.

It is time for us to demand more from teachers, principals, school boards, elected officials and policymakers. We are in the middle of an education revolution, and I am calling for ALL Black and Latino families to be involved.

Consider how the opt-out movement demanded change as one voice by refusing state standardized tests. This forced a stoppage to certain education policies in New York State. This movement, organized by the New York State Allies for Public Education, continues to impact education policy in New York State and across the country.

We can also learn a lot from the great work that the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Coalition for Education Justice (CEJ), and Journey for Justice (J4J) have done for Black and Latino families in particular. AQE, CEJ, and J4J fight everyday against the privatization of public schools and the closing of neighborhood schools. Their fight also includes a push for culturally relevant curriculum and equitable education funding. Because of these outstanding grassroots organizations, elected officials are much more responsive to parent and community demands. But we need more voices in the fight. What might we collectively accomplish if we demanded the resources that nurture the strengths and diversity of our children? What if policymakers heard from Black and Latino parents and students daily, and we used our political leverage to have those that ignore us removed from office?

Our children are suffering daily as their voices, ideas, and cultures are suppressed. Even the children that get good grades are graduating high school less engaged than ever. Public education policy, both directly and indirectly teach Black and Latino children that their lives only matter insofar as they can serve the needs of the system that oppresses them. There are many Black and Latino students who graduate high school and refuse to attend college because they are emotionally debilitated. School has made them numb. Many who attend college do not finish because they do not see a bigger purpose in higher education. Because America continues to neglect our highest need communities and families, millions of kids never reach basic proficiency, nor do they get close to reaching their full potential.

Black and Latino parents must also act upon the unjust fact that the schools and districts that are celebrated for their work with Black and Latino children, invest substantially more resources than the average school district. Unfortunately, most Black and Latino public school districts continue to be starved and underserved. That will change as soon as WE ALL come together, demand equitable funding, resist the privatization of our schools, demand a culturally relevant curriculum, and build a holistic community based school system.

For more information and to get involved, go to:

Thank Jay-Z

I apologize for taking so long to write this. Doctoral studies have been kicking my butt. I’m also still a husband, father, and principal of a school, so things can get busy for me. Anyway, it’s taken me a little bit to absorb Jay Z’s new album 4:44. I’m actually still absorbing it, but I think I have enough in me to begin writing.

At first listen the sound through me for a loop. It was different and unusual. It didn’t have that boom bap. You know, that head nod bounce that serves as the root of Hip Hop sound – especially for those of us in our 40’s. So, I put the album down for a few days and continued with my studies. I often do this with books and articles as well. When the content is too complex or obscure, put it down, let the brain adapt, and come back to it later. The brain and the heart often needs time to adjust.

On second listen, I started at the song Marcy Me, followed by Legacy, then scrolled up and listened to Smile. As I listen to Smile for the second time, I sent the following text to my two best friends: “Listening to this Jay album again, incredible!”

Jay’s response to Beyonce’s Lemonade and his profuse apology to her stole the headlines when the album first dropped. I also read in passing everything from the album was “wack,” to the album is anti-semetic, to “this is an album for black men.” As you can probably tell by the range of topics, this album has depth. I love depth, because depth leads to conversation. If I were to make a list of what humanity needs at present, more than ever, depth and conversation would definitely occupy my list.

This album represents an evolved Jay Z; representative of evolved Hip Hop. He doesn’t just apologize to Beyonce, he shares his deepest fears of what life without her and his children would be like. He also apologizes to black women in general for past transgressions, verbalizing what black men have struggled to articulate for quite some time:

I apologize for all the stillborns, because I wasn’t present, your body couldn’t accept it. I apologize to all the women who I toyed with your emotions because I was emotionless.

Throughout the album, Jay models what he raps about on the intro track, Kill Jay Z. Though hardened by an absent father, he now has a daughter so he has to be “softer.” As a married man, I would argue that being married requires this mollifying as well. The Black men we were raised to be, often within dysfunctional families and society, is not who we need continue to be in order to thrive through adulthood.

Jay pours his soul into this album. The soul of a husband, father, son, flawed human being and Black man in America. Hip Hop needed this, the black community needed this, America needed this. Check out this powerful ancestral connection Jay makes on Smile:

Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian
Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian
Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate
Society shame and the pain was too much to take
Cried tears of joy when you fell in love
Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her
I just wanna see you smile through all the hate
Marie Antoinette, baby, let ’em eat cake

How many of us live a lie? How many medicate to survive? Don’t lose site of the stigma that Hip Hop has acquired over the years: homophobic, misogynistic, materialistic, gangster. Jay is evolving the culture into a psychological, intellectual, and literary space. It has always been there, but now hopefully the masses will begin to recognize. Like life, Hip Hop cannot be boxed in. It is brilliant and beyond. Jay exemplifies that.

As usual, Jay Z is super lyrical. Check the lyrical gymnastics on Marcy Me:

Gave birth to my verbal imagination
Assume a virtue if you have not
Or better yet here’s a verse from Hamlet
“Lord we know who we are, yet we know not what we may be”
So maybe I’m the one or maybe I’m crazy

In five bars, Jay encourages us to live by virtue, quotes Shakespeare, and shares the inner conflict of self-esteem and psychosis. This is black magic and black brilliance at its finest. I’m emphasizing black because of the stigma and the ridicule, and how we’re reminded annually that there’s an alleged achievement gap in schools between white and black. Yet Jay-Z is a high school dropout, and one of the most brilliant artist and businessmen of our time. This is why I profess the need for an education revolution. What if our schools nurtured the innate brilliance of all children, instead of trying to anesthetize them into cogs for capitalism.

This album is the perfect storm of literary form, vulnerability, and social consciousness in the context of American capitalism. Jay wants us to build wealth, and a legacy, by any means necessary. Yes, he still makes reference to crack cocaine, and lavish lifestyles, but on this album, flossing is not the main course; it is a side dish used as a jumping off point to deeper content: his mother, his wife, his daughter, the black community, himself, and the quest toward self and collective actualization.

Through Jay-Z’s truth, we see an exhibit of the infinite power of catharsis. This is the beauty of art and why we love artists. They model what we all need to strive for. Love of self, conveyer of truth, strength in vulnerability, expression and creativity. I highly recommend the album. And I highly recommend you listen very carefully.

The Need for Child Centered Education Policy


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the second reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) signed into law as part of president Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty in 1965. In this paper, we explore the provisions of ESSA through the lens of Deborah Stone’s policy framework and explore the impact of federal involvement in public education. Despite federal involvement in education policy, student achievement has remained flat across subgroups. Because of proximity, a singular focus on accountability, and a narrow view of education quality, the federal government continues to fail to address the nuanced needs of all children in our public schools. Throughout the paper we also explore problems, solutions and goals, and make recommendations as we explore the gap that exist between the ESSA policy intentions, and the current implementation.

Problem Definition


The reauthorization of ESEA serves as a symbol that the federal government takes equity seriously and will continue to support our highest need schools. However, accountability, which is a pillar of the new policy also serves as a symbol in the current public education climate. Accountability in public education denotes the need to be tough on lazy teachers and their unions, top down management structures, annual testing, and standardization. This point of view has become the new common sense in public education. Accountability also implies that teachers lack efficacy and have low expectations for students, which are research based pillars to student achievement.

ESSA Goals

The goal of ESSA, is to put systems in place that ensure every student succeeds in school. ESSA is attempting to do this by holding states accountable for state report cards and state plans, providing more flexibility and control over education policy at the state level, assessment flexibility, guidance around test refusals, offering an innovative assessment pilot to select states, mandating indicators of school quality and student success, maintaining a focus on English language learners and low performing schools, and continuing with Title I, Title II, and Title IV provisions (Arogon, Griffith, Wixom, Woods & Workman, 2016).

The problem with ESSA is it pursues the goal of student success by continuing the annual testing framework and its demand for “high” standards. First, the annual testing framework has been in place since NCLB, and not only has achievement remained flat since 2001, but achievement gaps remain between the rich and the poor, and the white and minority. There is no empirical research base to shows that annual testing improves student success. Second, although high standards are important, the idea that all students develop “proficiency” at the same rate is misguided. Children are different and ESSA does not provide enough flexibility to schools and districts to meet the unique needs of their communities. The ESSA policy continues to ignore the nuance of community culture, diverse student needs, socioeconomic variables related to poverty, and other tacit community factors.

Finally, at present standardized tests have a particular design that favors students who are strong in linguistic intelligence and verbal reasoning, which reside in the neocortex and analytical center of the brain. This design is biased against students strong in the limbic system of the brain, and interact with the world more aesthetically and holistically (Goleman 1996).

Problem Measurement

With regard to efficiency, analyzing the cost related to annual high stakes testing and the remaining achievement, we must conclude that annual testing has been inefficient in practice. At present, our annual testing program in New York State, consists of at least 9 hours of testing in grades 3-8, and there is clear evidence to show that the majority of students are not succeeding especially in low income communities.


From a welfare perspective, the welfare of individuals most impacted by ESSA: teachers, principals, parents, superintendents, school boards, and students, has been greatly overlooked as local stakeholders have been largely marginalized throughout the creation of the ESSA policy. As a result, there are teacher shortages throughout the country, large numbers of students report being disengaged at school, and parents across the country are refusing annual state testing in droves.

ESSA requires state accountability plans to include the following five indicators: proficiency on assessments, growth in proficiency in grades below high school or another academic indicator, high school graduation rates, progress of English Learners’s toward proficiency, and a fifth “other” indicator that looks at school quality (Arogon, Griffith, Wixom, Woods & Workman, 2016). Four out of five ESSA indicators focus on academic performance, with the one “other” indicator possibly interpretable as a well-being indicator.

Under ESSA, government is seeking to, as Stone (2012) explains, “provide for human wants” with its Title I, Title II, and Title IV programs (p. 86). However, because of the lack of care regarding the challenges of implementation, the resistance from stakeholders, particularly in New York State remains strong. In New York State, roughly 225,000 parents refused to allow their child to take the state test after the law was signed into place. Many parents will continue to resist annual testing because of concerns for the welfare of their children; especially children with special needs, English learners, children of color, and economically disadvantaged children; all groups who historically do poorly on standardized tests.

As poverty and demographics are more of a predictor of student achievement than the behaviors of schools and teachers, by testing students from certain backgrounds annually, one can argue that ESSA inflicts “persistent denigration” on children who were born into poverty, which as Stone (2012) explains, leads economically disadvantaged students to continuously doubt their “self-worth, believe negative stereotypes about themselves, devalue their own cultures and lower their aspirations” (p. 111-112).

These harms not only impact students, but the profession overall. A 2015 NPR article written by Eric Westervelt explains that there are alarming drops in teacher enrollment programs in big states like “California, New York, Texas, and North Carolina” (p. 2). Bill McDiarmid, the dean of the University of North Carolina School of Education identifies a growing sense that K-12 teachers simply have less control over their professional lives in a bitter, politicized environment. The article goes onto say:

The list of potential headaches for new teachers is long, starting with the ongoing, ideological fisticuffs over the Common Core State Standards, high-stakes testing and efforts to link test results to teacher evaluations. Throw in the erosion of tenure protections and a variety of recession-induced budget cuts, and you’ve got the makings of a crisis (pg. 2).


Which facts inform the ESSA law? Former secretary of education Arne Duncan, who is a proponent of annual testing and “high standards,” was a major actor in the process. Secretary Duncan also believes that rewards for those who comply with the law, and punishment for those that do not (carrots and sticks), is essential to student success. Despite research to the contrary, ESSA continues the accountability narrative with few adjustments. Consider the contrast of self-determination theory (SDT), discussed by Daniel Pink (2011):

Over the last thirty years, through their scholarship and mentorship, Deci and Ryan have established a network of several dozen SDT scholars conducting research in the United States, Canada, Israel, and Singapore and throughout Western Europe. These scientists have explored self-determination and intrinsic motivation in laboratory experiments and field studies that encompass just about every realm – business, education, medicine, sports, exercise, personal productivity, environmentalism, relationships, and physical and mental health.

They have produced hundreds of research papers, most of which point to the same conclusion. Human beings have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another (p. 128)

The SDT research indicates that our education policy should influence autonomy and collaboration as opposed to standardization and competition.

The facts driving the ESSA policy as was the case with NCLB, and ESEA, were the facts of special interests, and corporate actors, and not the facts of teachers, who were ostracized during federal policy negotiations.

Policy Solution

A whole mind, whole child, whole community mindset and approach to learning and child development would begin to address the welfare and diverse needs of children and local public education stakeholders.

Whole mind pedagogy, ensures a curriculum that incorporates both the neocortex and limbic system. It focuses on both analytical skills and the skills of synthesis, creativity, and collaboration. How stakeholders feel about their work matters. Therefore, whole child pedagogy includes the social, emotional, and cognitive design of curriculum and learning experiences. This includes the multiple intelligences, cultural competency, leadership, and mentoring among many other components. Finally, a whole community mindset involves the implementation of a child development and ecological approach to learning. All of a community’s resources, including schools and healthcare, work cohesively as part of a learning organism to meet the needs of children and families.

ESSA’s approach is mostly academic; and in a very narrow way. In A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, sociologist Daniel Pink (2006) explains:

The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people – Artist, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys (p. 22)

To create a whole new mind, ESSA requires a whole new approach.

Design Analysis

Policy and Goals

The gap between the policy ideal and the reality of achieving policy goals, is caused by a focus on accountability systems and academic achievement as more important than whole child development and the teaching and learning process overall. ESSA focuses more on programs than people, thus, leaving our differently abled children behind.


Incentives are built throughout the ESSA policy. Regarding test participation, the federal government identifies four actions that could be taken if schools do not reach the 95% test participation rate. Those options include assign a lower summative rating to the school, assign the lowest performance level on the state accountability system’s academic achievement indicator, identify the school for targeted support and intervention, implement another equally rigorous state-determined action described in the state plan that will result in a similar outcome for the school and will lead to improvements in the participation rate (Arogon, Griffith, Wixom, Woods & Workman, 2016). This “carrot and stick” approach goes against the research related to SDT and the fact that teacher expectation, ability, and efficacy impacts student achievement more than anything else.

Additional carrots and sticks exist within the Title IV – 21st century schools section of the policy. Arogon, Griffith, Wixom, Woods & Workman, (2016) explains that part of Title IV is the “student support and academic enrichment grant program (SSAEG)” (p. 23). These programs are funded directly to school districts and include three subsections:

1. Well Rounded educational opportunities
2. Safe and healthy students
3. Effective use of technology

SSAEG is a type of block grant that provides districts with a lot of flexibility on how to spend the federal dollars. This block grant should be expanded to give LEA’s the funding and focus to support their diverse curricula and instructional approaches to high standards. Incentivize diversity of high standards as part of a whole mind approach, and incentivize collaboration at the local level so stakeholders can learn from each other.


The rules are very clear with regard to the ESSA policy. States are allowed to create their own standards, but must have “challenging” standards in place. States must also administer tests annually in grades 3-8. If schools and districts have less than 95% participation on the state test, some form of intervention or sanction must be implemented. Certain states can apply to be a member of an assessment innovation pilot to implement assessments more aligned to 21st century learning competencies, and states must have specific plans for English language learners and struggling schools. Stones (2012) explains the concept of rules:

Rules include and exclude, unite and divide. They include and exclude by defining different treatment or permissible activity for different people. They unite and divide by placing people in different categories; those treated favorably by a rule have a common interest in preserving it, while those treated unfavorably share an interest in changing it (p. 293)

The innovative assessment pilot should be expanded from seven states to all fifty states to meet the unique needs of LEAs. Instead of implementing carrot and sticks incentives, let’s take a look at how SDT works in public education. Finally, we should discontinue the inefficient practice of annual testing. Mullen & Tienken (2016) explain how standardized test can be predicted based on socio economic status:

Results from previous studies (Maylone, 2002; Tienken, Tramaglini, & Lynch, 2013; Turnamian & Tienken, 2013) demonstrated that it is possible to accurately predict the percentage of students who will score proficient or above on state standardized tests in language arts and mathematics at the district level by using community and family-level demographic variables found in the U.S. census data. If the percentages of students who score proficient or above on high stakes tests can be predicted statistically using only community and family-level demographic variables, then how appropriate are those results for making significant decisions about student achievement, educator effectiveness, or the overall quality of public schooling (p. 158).

Based on classic and current research, because of proximity, federal accountability does not improve student learning.


Although it is important for rules to be precise for the sake of clarity and compliance, as Stone (2012) mentions, “precision has its disadvantages” (p. 294). Annual testing, 95% participation rates, and four out of five academic indicators of school quality are precise rules. Precise rules are insensitive to individual and contextual differences, and are not tailored to individual circumstances (Stone, 2012).

We are an incredibly diverse democracy, and our diversity requires vagueness of rules so that every voice and every community is valued. From our country’s inception, we have been categorized and classified based on race, gender, class, citizenship, age, ethnicity, and orientation among other things. These classifications have separated all and oppressed many. ESSA with its continued funding of Title I, accounts for some of the historical marginalization involved, the parent resistance, and state test data indicate that our rules should be a bit more tailored to the needs of each community.

Stone (2012) states, “precise rules stifle creative responses to new situations” (p. 295). As America is becoming more diverse in a variety of ways, vague rules are required for districts to be agile in meeting the challenging needs present.

Causal Theories


Stone (2012) explains, “the failings of precision are the virtues of vagueness” (p. 295). Vague rules allow sensitivity to differences in a rapid ethnically, politically, and technologically changing environment. Our English Learners represent rich and diverse cultures. Our special needs students cover a wide spectrum just in the categories of learning and emotionally disabled. All blacks, whites, and other “races” are not the same, and while some economically disadvantaged groups do well on annual testing, the majority do not.
Stone (2012) goes onto say:

Vagueness can boost a rule’s effectiveness by allowing individuals with knowledge of particular facts and local conditions to decide on the means for achieving general goals. This is one argument for allocating federal money to states in the form of block grants rather than dictating exactly how a state should spend their public education money (p. 295).

ESSA provides block grants in certain areas but not in others. It is essential to remember that local stakeholders have the tacit knowledge of their districts to adjust and adapt accordingly in the most efficient manner; which runs contrary to the federal government creating policy that impacts states, districts, and even schools.

The needs of public schools are inherently multifaceted as we deal with the diversity of students, families, and their needs. Stone (2012) reminds us that “social systems necessary to solve modern problems are inherently complex” (p. 215). A whole mind, whole child, whole community approach to teaching and learning considers these complexities while preserving the child at the center of the equilibrium.

Maslow’s Theory

When considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and human development, Maslow advances a theory that humans have five developmental needs that should be met in sequential order. These needs are: physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, the need for self-esteem, and the need for self-actualization (Stone 2012). The language of these needs is noticeably absent from the ESSA policy, although one might argue that Title I funding and flexibility helps to provide for the safety (security), and thus welfare of certain populations.

That said, the foundational component of Maslow’s hierarchy, physiological needs, are met mostly outside of school; which is where the impact of poverty on learning comes into play. Poverty has been known to be the number 1 indicator of student performance on standardized tests. Lacour and Tissington (2011) explain:

A study conducted by Sum and Fogg (1991) found that poor students are ranked in the 19th percentile on assessments while students from a mid-upper income family ranked in the 66th percentile on assessments. In data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) measuring kindergarten student achievement on the ECLS reading achievement assessment, low income students scored at about the 30th percentile, middle-income students scored at about the 45th percentile, and upper income students scored at about the 70th percentile (Rowan et al., 2004) (pg. 522).

ESSA does not include in its policy, provisions that encourage collaborations between school and healthcare or other community based organizations to offset the impact of poverty more holistically. Collaboration, an important skill of a healthy democracy is absent from the ESSA policy.


Whole Child reform includes 21st century skills, local decision making and an ecological approach. This is the approach that I argue will lead to success for all students. Research advocating for a more holistic approach to education reform and accountability is growing considerably. A true holistic approach includes not only systems thinking but ecological thinking, as an ecological mindset requires schools and teachers within communities to learn and improve together. Further, a holistic approach encompasses an infrastructure of community as a learning organism. A Whole Child approach also ensures that the social, emotional and cognitive components of a child’s development are fundamental to all schooling and lifelong learning.

Singapore’s education system over the past decade evolutionarily encouraged the integration of a traditionally valued, content, disciplinary focus, and new literacies of self-regulated learning, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity (Chua, Hung, Jamaludin & Toh, 2014). Whole Child learning is directly aligned to 21st century learning, and should be treated as essential for a healthy and thriving democracy.

As Slade and Griffith (2013) illustrate, Whole Child learning, at its core, “views the purpose of schooling as developing future citizens and providing the basis for each child to fulfill their potential” (p.21).

Explaining the ecological approach, Griffith and Slade anchor their theory in the welfare of actors by referencing Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The Whole Child perspective is inclusive of the health and well-being of a child and operates with Maslow’s theory interwoven throughout school and community practices. This approach includes mental health, physical health, proper diet and hygiene, and high academic expectations. Without all of Maslow’s identified needs being met, students will stagnate on the path toward self-actualization.
Often misunderstand; opponents of the Whole Child model not only label such a model dismissively as focusing only on “non-cognitive” or “soft skills,” but as a model also absent of data and accountability. On the contrary, incorporating health and wellness into data tracking and school accountability systems will provide educators, policymakers, and the public with a refined understanding of how to achieve learning and academic outcomes (Ahmed, Hurley & Murray, 2015). Learning is impacted by health and wellness, including trauma and emotional stability. A child that suffers or has suffered from adverse childhood experiences, psychic harm, or is emotionally disconnected from the curriculum, will not learn to their full potential and will not self-actualize.

Further, concerning accountability, Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) has created a Whole Child accountability system, after an extensive community input and data collection process (Ahmed, Hurley & Murray, 2015). The district measures student progress in alignment with whether students are healthy, safe, engaged, challenged, and supported.

Ahmed, Hurley & Murray (2015) explain:

TPS reports publicly on the benchmarks, promoting trust, transparency, and accountability to the community. TPS engaged in a comprehensive gap analysis of all related policies, processes, and programs to identify action steps. As a result, TPS has increased graduation rates by approximately 20% in 4 years, over 90% of students participate in the PSAT and SAT testing, and an increased number of TPS students receive scholarships to community and four year institutions (p.799)

A key word above is “challenged.” We can cognitively challenge students while also meeting their holistic needs. This is a “yes, and” not an “either, or” approach. Our school system must be redesigned around both quantitative and qualitative measures to promote the welfare and success of all students.

Executive Summary

Based on the research, all training, retaining, and professional development programs in public education must focus on whole child reform for all stakeholders. The federal government should provide equitable funding to LEAs and LEAs must be given the liberty to design curriculum, assessments, and learning experiences to meet the needs of their students. Funding can be allocated in the form of block grants to incentivize collaboration at the district level, to facilitate the process of superintendents including principals, teachers, and parents working together to create policy. Finally, to ensure the social, emotional, and cognitive development of essential learning skills for a healthy democracy, the arts, sports, culturally relevant content and pedagogy, and portfolio based assessments must be incorporated in a well-rounded curriculum.

Again, these decisions are made at the local level with guidance and funding from states and federal constituencies as needed. If annual testing is to continue, it should be designed by teachers, begin in grade four, and be no longer that 4 hours per year (2 ELA, 2 Math). Ideally, I would propose grade span testing that occurs only in 4th and 7th grade, and invest the remaining money into professional development and whole child reform.


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The True Truth

Who is the keeper of the true truth? I do not know the answer to this question, but I can begin to ponder a response based on my experiences. As an educator at the school level for over 17 years, I often think about this question as concerns to the needs of my students. Although there is some debate as to what those needs actually are. In my opinion, the true truth depends on context, and context involves both a macro and micro perspective.

I began my career as a math teacher at a south Bronx elementary school in one of the poorest zip codes in the country. The school housed 1500 students, 95% were designated to receive free or reduced lunch, and many students were recent immigrants from south America and Africa. There were a few metrics we used to measure our success as a school. Among these metrics included state standardized test scores, attendance, and disciplinary referrals. School leadership was unstable as I had 4 different principals within a five-year period. Because the test scores were consistently low, a few years after I moved on to become a high school dean of students, the school was closed down and reopened in a restructured capacity. Eight years after the restructuring test scores remain below average. This school was evaluated from a macro perspective while the micro needs continued to be ignored.

As a kid growing up, I was fortunate to be raised primarily in an economically middle class community. I say fortunate because up until the age of seven I lived in the housing projects and remember distinctly some of the maladaptive behaviors that occurred among both my peers and the adults in the community. I was also very cognizant of how some of my friends in the 6th grade, from the projects, but more importantly, without proper parental supervision, engaged in drug use and drug dealing, and had sex at ages much younger than I could ever understand. I was incredibly lucky to have an amazing mother and two loving older sisters that gave me love, stability, confidence, and education. I am also aware of the state law that allowed my mother to live in a middle-class community below market value, and pay rent based on how much money she earned. A macro policy gave my mother the opportunity to live in a safe, upwardly mobile community, while my micro needs were met at home.

Because of the home I grew up in, learning in school was never a challenge for me. I did not experience many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as studies now show impact brain development and health outcomes. Unlike many other kids, including those from my first school, my development was in alignment with Maslow’s hierarchy of need and Glasser’s theory of psychological development. I had food, clothing, shelter, a loving home, and a diverse community of values and social resources. I got the chance to engage in formal, non formal, and informal learning through structured and unstructured play, organized and street sports, visual arts, and music. All of these experiences helped me to develop my skills of citizenship, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, and the character education that Michael Fullan highlights in The New Meaning of Educational Change.
I even had voice and choice in my upper middle class school district, taking an animation class and developing my creativity and entrepreneurial skills as Yong Zhoa discusses in World Class Learners.

It was later in life as a professional educator and now as an aspiring academic, that I learned of the theories of self-determination (Deci and Ryan), Multiple Intelligences (Howard Gardner), Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman), self-actualization (Daniel Bloom), Critical Race Theory (Hany Lopez), and many others. All continue to inform my practice and beliefs regarding the purpose of education, and the definition of the true truth.

Before proceeding, I have to mention my role as a father of three and my “training” as a guidance counselor. My children have probably informed my understanding of the world more than anything else. First, they are all different and have different desires and needs. Second, they are not like me. Whereas I expected my son to be born athletic and aggressive, like dad, his taste more align to the art and creativity world.

My guidance training allowed me to study psychological theories that introduced me to Glasser and Freud among others, and have provided an understanding of how internal colonialism, bias, habitus, and excessive trauma impact our individual and collective lives. The true truth in American education must train teachers in these areas, to leverage the brilliant diversity of our children.

America’s diversity, and globalization provides an opportunity to create dynamic communities and learning spaces the world has never seen. However, our ugly history of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and segregation, have kept us from being open to learning from and with those who are different from us. As opposed to viewing these diverse experiences as enriching, we have often seen them as a roadblock and threat. This threat is not just based on race or gender or class, but a threat of divergent ideas.

This ideology is exacerbated by a school system built on a survival of the fittest mindset and the principles of ranking and sorting children based solely on their linguistic and logical intelligence. The true truth for me must involve nurturing the holistic learning experiences of children and communities.

Some would argue that western culture is dominated by the neocortex part of the brain, while we continue to neglect the limbic system. As a result, many kids and communities suffer. The limbic system, encompasses an emotional “language” that is universal. Everyone smiles, cries, and laughs. Everyone interacts and explores. We all, regardless of culture, try to understand the world around us whatever the context. This has been reaffirmed for me not just through research, but by observing my own and other very young children. From the infant stage, without being told or formally trained, children navigate aesthetically as natural scientists, artists, and explorers. Therefore, if we aligned education and learning to the natural behaviors of children, we will develop communities of well-being and actualization, which in my opinion, is the true truth we should be living for.

The keeper of the true truth is the community; both the individuals within it and the community collectively. The concept of community as learning organism, championed by Margaret Wheatly among others, is one that makes sense to me; as does the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child.” Market theory does not work in this context because market theory is driven by social Darwinism and rugged individualism, which cannot work without equality. Because of colonialism and institutional discrimination, we do not currently have social and economic equality. Further, working toward the gluttonous accumulation of inanimate objects like capital, and control over individuals and their posterity is inhumane, which is why society continues to reject it as is evidenced by our economic inequality, poverty, and the rise of the populist movement.

The keeper of the true truth for me encompasses all things, which is why community change must involve all people, and our pedagogy, as Paulo Freire believed, must begin with the needs of the people. Maslow’s theory of well-being, along with Bloom’s theory of actualization, tied to Sternberg’s theory of creativity, and Deci and Ryan’s theory of self-determination and efficacy, create habits of mind and behaviors that lead to a world of fulfilment for all.

The controversies in education are not controversies at all. They are two sides of the same coin; and all need to be implemented depending on the context. For example, high-stakes standardized testing does not need to occur every year, but there is a time and place for it. Traditional disciplines must coincide with 21st century skills as one is the continuation or evolution of the other. Education controversies are also necessary as they represent both sides of a conversation that needs to be explored for us all to create a new reality. These topics represent pathways to innovation; and human history suggest, that innovation is innately human.

Devos’ Tenure Must be Trauma Informed

Devos’ Tenure Must be Trauma Informed
Jamaal A. Bowman

The confirmation of Betsy Devos is primed to ignite an old and tired education paradigm: school choice is the answer to all of our public educational problems. Choice, in a democracy, is good at any level. We should all have the freedom to choose how we go about living our lives; unless of course that choice negatively impacts other people. Choice in the context of public education means defunding and demoralizing neighborhood public schools, while reinvesting public school money into school vouchers and charter schools, with limited regulations and oversight. The charter school lobby loves this because they are able to invest private money into schools, while receiving public funds as part of substantial profits within their financial portfolios. This money-laundering scheme has been well documented, as well as its positive impact on little beyond test scores.

But this article is not about the charter lobby or Betsy Devos’ abysmal reform record. Today I am writing about the number one killer of children in the U.S. today – psychological trauma. Psychological trauma is often a silent and slow killer. Its impact grows inside the mind and body while destroying children of every race, creed, and class across the country. We are accustomed to responding when impacted by physical trauma as it is easier to identify and remedy. But psychological trauma, caused by toxic stress, often goes undetected and unnoticed – until students enter a school building.

As an educator of almost two decades in historically disenfranchised communities, I can speak first hand of the traumatic experiences my students continuously face. One former student’s brother was stabbed to death trying to break up a fight. Another cluster of students began self-mutilating to cope with their anxiety and depression. I have had students run away from home, attempt suicide, and be placed in foster care because of abuse or neglect. These are not exceptions; this is the norm in historically disenfranchised communities throughout the country. This, is what public school teachers have to deal with every day.

Poor, Latino, and Black students continue to be overwhelmed by psychological trauma and neglected in our country at disproportionate rates. It is a disgrace that neither during the recent presidential campaign, nor during the Devos hearing, did the impact of trauma on learning (and long term health outcomes for that matter), become a topic of conversation. Why is this the case? Because educators and parents have been excluded from our political discourse, while profiteers have conspired to take over the political arena. America continues to be more concerned with building an economy by training human capital, than nurturing human beings toward a healthy democracy. Profit over people is the mantra. America continues to eat its young.

On almost every negative measure related to education and health outcomes, Black, Latino, and poor people are excessively represented. From Preschool expulsions and K-12 suspensions, to grade level proficiency and college graduation rates, to incarceration and addiction, the effects of trauma are ever-present and continue to baffle our elected officials and financiers. Luckily for our children, parents, educators, students, and researchers remain crystal clear on exactly what needs to be done.

Brain development begins at conception, and rapidly develops between birth and age three. Therefore, early childhood programs that provide childcare and parenting supports are essential for the long-term health and development of our children. Parents need help with creating nurturing environments for their children while also receiving opportunities to continue their education and improve employability. Instead of investing in annual standardized testing that illustrates what we already know, we must invest in early childhood programs to give our neediest children and families the start and support they need. This approach, if done well, will dramatically decrease the trauma experienced in high need communities and will improve long term health and education outcomes. Though I appreciate local and national universal Pre-K program initiatives, it serves as an expensive false solution for most children. Trauma is a daily, moment to moment occurrence when it is chronic, so if the proper supports are not in place beginning at conception, students will enter Pre-K cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physiologically delayed. Pre-K is way too late!!!

A child born to parents with limited formal education, will hear thirty million fewer words than a child born to parents with extensive formal education. Quite often in homes with limited formal education, the words heard carry negative connotations. This reality impacts the emotional and behavioral disposition of a child. In addition to this language deficiency, if the toxic stress, poor diet, and psycho-social elements of poverty are ubiquitous, the child’s executive functions become compromised. Some studies show that poor children literally have smaller brains . This neurological under-development, continues across the life span for students affected by chronic psychological trauma.

My message to Betsy Devos is simply: Engage all of the American people in discussions based on their reality. Listen carefully. Consult with researchers and practitioners who work with children daily. Continue to do your own homework and learn as much as you can about K-16 education. If you do this, the proper path will become abundantly clear. Invest heavily in early childhood education. Remember that for many children, Pre-K is far too late. Ensure our teachers are trained in trauma informed pedagogy and cultural competency, and receive ongoing training in exemplary instructional practices. Implement a child centered, project based 21st century learning curriculum, while working collaboratively with teachers, parents, students, and community members to provide the resources and autonomy necessary to meet each community’s unique needs. Build our education system from the ground up. Incentivize collaboration among stakeholders and create community based learning ecosystems throughout the country.

The vision is clear and the time is now. Our children are waiting on us.

This Saturday, 2/11, a Public Schools March organized by , will send a message loud and clear to the new secretary of education Betsy Devos: public schools are here to stay and we are ready to educate the whole child. You can go to the website to sign up for the march!