Spring Cleaning & School Budgets: Can We Resist Blame and Take Action?

It’s spring term at Portland State University, and I’ve been feeling the itch to do some spring cleaning.  While I haven’t had the time to go through the dresser drawer full of children’s health records, photographs, and barrettes, I have done some spring cleaning of the way I think about my work.  And I’m finding ways to narrow focus in my goals when it comes to educating my students (and the public) about educational equity.  One of the top issues that I want to focus on in the upcoming months is having more discussions about and education on the state budget and school budgeting.  It’s not glamorous, but someone has to do it!

If you’re not up on the current conversations surrounding the cuts that have to be made to budgets in Oregon schools, catch up on your reading.  Here are a few recent articles that might be of interest:

Everyone is in an uproar about the cuts that will have to take place due to a significantly smaller than projected state budget.  Schools are being closed, teaching jobs are being cut, buildings remain unmaintained, and classrooms become more crowded with larger class sizes.  Some seek to blame teacher salaries and benefits (shouldn’t teachers be fairly compensated for the important work they do?), others point the finger at administration costs (check out the Open Books Project site to see that administration only accounts for 9% of the total school budget for Oregon), while still others say that schools have plenty of money but are merely spending it in the wrong places.

In the Tribune article titled “School Cuts Fuel UPSET Uprising,” Ben Cannon, Kitzhaber’s education advisor, is quoted as saying  “I found 400 emails into Kitzhaber related to wolves and cougars, and 12 related to education. I wish that was reversed.”  This is a call to action, people.  While teachers are driven to the edge of a strike and students take to the streets, where will you be?  These groups alone will not be loud enough and powerful enough without the rest of us joining in.

As I see it, it is our duty to fight for educational equity and fair and stable funding for ALL kids in Oregon.  Spring is here, and it’s time to clean house, to fight through the cobwebs and open the windows to let the fresh air in.  And what is the fresh air in this scenario?  Fresh air is tax reform for stable schol funding.  Fresh air is more community members coming together to speak out against more cuts to our schools.

Check back here in the next week for ideas about how to get more actively involved!

Fitting Activism into Your Daily Life: The Valentine’s Day Challenge (READ & COMMENT!)

This Valentine’s Day Challenge was inspired by 4 things:

  1. A discussion I had with a student after class reigniting my belief in the power of the individual to make positive changes for kids and schools
  2. The start of the Oregonian‘s new “Civic Engagement Page.”
  3. The Children Defense Fund’s 7 Actions for 7 Days project
  4. The State of Oregon’s upcoming birthday (on Valentine’s Day)

As Valentine’s Day nears with its over-the-top visual appeals, I often hear people grumbling that love isn’t something to celebrate only once a year but instead every day.  I think it’s that way with being active in the community, too.  It is not the grand gesture that is most important but the way we integrate this work into our daily living.

In this spirit, I declare that the best Valentine is one that we can give to the community to show that we have love, respect, and hope for kids and schools.  For the next 2 weeks, I warmly invite you to READ, SHARE, and COMMENT HERE on your experiences.  

I know that we are all busy people who often feel like there’s no way to make a difference — I hear that a lot from my students and friends.  For the next 14 days, though, there’s no excuse.  You will be presented with 14 easy ways to become more educated, engaged, and/or active. So let’s get started and SHARE THE LOVE!

Your first challenge?  Share your sources for education information.  If you want to have stimulating conversations and debates about education (or even just want to complain about standardized testing or graduation rates), you will need to surround yourself with informed conversationalists.  Share any or all of these sources as a starting point for getting your friends on board:


This is a great first challenge because you are guaranteed success.  By emailing, tweeting, or sharing this site and others through Facebook, you are spreading the word and starting more conversations.

So, in an attempt to engage you in conversation here (yes, I’m the eternal optimist), I pose the following questions and invite you to respond:

  1. What other online sites should we all be reading when it comes to education?  Where do you get your information?
  2. Have you completed challenge #1?  Who did you share your education resources with?  Why?

The Daily Work of Living the Dream: How to Lift Our Voices & Make Them Louder

On Friday, I attended a local elementary school’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., assembly with my two small children, mother, and husband, who was playing trumpet for the event.  The song “How I Love to Sing Your Name” has been running through my head ever since as I sift through the complex range of thoughts and emotions I have as I think about this Monday’s holiday, the ways we talk about and celebrate those who have worked for social justice, and how to do the daily work of living the dream.

The first thing I did today was to download the “How I Love to Sing Your Name” song and put it on repeat.  Secondly, I pulled out one of the most beautiful books out there on MLK for young kids: Martin’s Big Words.  I read the book to my 2-year-old daughter, and she nodded seriously as I read each page.  And then she stood up on the wooden stepping stool we have in the kitchen and proceded to sing along: “Oh, Martin Luther King…”

But…as beautiful and important as these moments were, they are not the bulk of the work that needs to be done.

Just read the recent report titled 2011 Oregon Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity, and you’ll see that we still have far to go in terms of equity in our community. To get a summary of some of the missed opportunities for more equitable laws in Oregon to support communities of color, see the recent Oregonian article.  You can also read the comments from more vocal readers and get a glimpse into the tension that some feel surrounding the issue of equity.  I groaned to myself reading comments about how no group should expect “handouts” and how the system is actually equal for those who work hard enough.  This is a popular narrative…and it is a loud one these days.

Just look at the book published by the White House purporting to detail the actions of national heroes.  Browsing through the most recent edition of Rethinking Schools, there was a review of Barack Obama’s recent children’s book titled Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.  While the book does bring in a diversity of national “heroes,” it minimizes their roles as social activists and instead highlights the easier ideas of love and harmony.  And while love and harmony are beautiful things, it is the often contentious actions that many of these people (Helen Keller, Sitting Bull, etc.) took and the struggle that produced social change.  This narrative, too, that we should talk about history in a much diluted manner and that the most famous social activists in our country’s history were merely encouraging hugging and holding hands as ways to change the systemic violence and racism against so many in our communities, is deeply problematic.

What am I trying to say here?  That we need to educate ourselves and our families/friends.  That we need to make our voices stronger and louder.  That we need to live the dream each day, rather than just today.

This leads me to commend the work of Kate McPherson and so many others at Roosevelt who have worked on the Freedom Riders project.  I’ve just started working with Kate as a partner in both of my Capstone courses and have been impressed with her level of commitment.  Please read the recent article on Roosevelt and their Freedom Riders project, which gives voices to people in our community who have worked and are working against injustice.  Here is the Freedom Rider’s website.  Get involved in some of the support organizations contributing to this work and to showcasing the voices of those working for social change by clicking here.

Living the dream each day is about being humble, being self-aware, being open, and being flexible.  It’s also about being bold and sometimes putting ourselves in situations where we don’t have the answers.  Just like we cannot possibly teach about cultural competency in a single 4-credit class or about our history’s rich culture in a single Black History month, we cannot contribute to positive changes in our community on one holiday.  We must live cultural competency, Black history, educational equity, and social justice every day in both small and big ways.

Easier said than done, of course.  But it can be done.  And it must be done.  Dr. King would probably have a lot to say about the fact that students in our city are educated in unequal settings and with unequal resources.  We should have a lot to say about this, too!   For an easy starting point, thinking about checking out Stand for Children, Chalkboard Project, and Hands on Portland.  And join in on the conversation.

What daily ways do you live the dream?  What are little and big actions people can take to get more involved?  I’d love to hear from you!  Let’s brainstorm ways to make our voices louder, to educate more people (ourselves included), and to make change happen.


How to Fit Education Activism into Your Daily Life

One of the things that I want to focus on in 2012 is small but significant ways to fit activism into my own life.  This thinking about my own activism has also inspired reflection on how to help others fit action into daily life as well.  Here are some steps for getting started:

  • Provide Feedback:  For example, read Oregon’s draft of the NCLB waiver application and provide feedback that will help in revisions before submission.
  • Volunteer as Part of a Large Group:  This year, nine Oregon universities are coming together to work on the MLK holiday at Roosevelt High School in a day of service.  You can register here.
  • Volunteer Individually:  Think about making volunteer work a weekly affair.  Check out Hands on Portland’s project calendar for ideas about how to get started.
  • Join an Organization: Look into Stand for Children or the Chalkboard Project’s Citizen Corps. Being part of an organization like these allows you to be active within an organized system of people that is already in place.
  • Keep Informed and Keep Talking:  I will be posting this week’s “Tiny Reading Collection” on Thursday.  Keep reading and talking with your friends and family members.  For those of you who have subscribed to this blog (and who may be concerned about getting emails with each enthusiastic post), do note that you can shift your subscription settings and receive just one summary email a week with blog postings from PDXEAN!