Seeking Justice on the Final Day of Free Minds, Free People



This is not how we thought it would end. A beautiful, inspiring, movement-building gathering has been rocked by last night’s news of the “not guilty” verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Many FMFP-ers joined with local efforts an emergency rally that was held last night in front of Chicago’s City Hall demanding justice.

As we close the 2013 Free Minds, Free People today with assemblies, considering next steps on a variety of educational and racial justice issues, people are organizing. What are our next steps given this travesty of justice? How do we turn our rage at the devaluing of black and brown lives into action?

There will be a rally today at noon at Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington). Many FMFP attendees will be going there after today’s activities are finished. A town hall for youth will take place at 3 PM at Young Chicago Authors (1180 N. Milwaukee).



Taking the Organized Resistance to TFA National at FMFP


Once again one of Sunday’s assemblies at this week’s Free Minds, Free People conference is making national headlines. Educational activists, scholars, and community members are excited that the critical discussion around Teach for America’s controversial model are moving from local pockets to a national forum. Check out the buzz in today’s Washington Post and Education Week. Additionally, James Cersonsky, in his article this week in The American Prospect (aptly titled, “Teach for America’s Civil War”) writes:

“Twenty-four years running, the rap on Teach for America (TFA) is a sampled, re-sampled, burned-out record: The organization’s five-week training program is too short to prepare its recruits to teach, especially in chronically under-served urban and rural districts; corps members only have to commit to teach for two years, which destabilizes schools, undermines the teaching profession, and undercuts teachers unions; and TFA, with the help of its 501(c)4 spin-off, Leadership for Educational Equity, is a leading force in the movement to close “failing” schools, expand charter schools, and tie teachers’ job security to their students’ standardized test scores. Critics burn TFA in internet-effigy across the universe of teacher listservs and labor-friendly blogs. Last July, it earned Onion fame: an op-ed entitled “My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids,” followed by a student’s take, “Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?”

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Despite the endless outcry, no one has ever staged a coordinated, national effort to overhaul, or put the brakes on, TFA—let alone anyone from within the TFA rank-and-file. On July 14, in a summit at the annual Free Minds/Free People education conference in Chicago, a group of alumni and corps members will be the first to do so.

The summit, billed as “Organizing Resistance Against Teach for America and its Role in Privatization,” is being organized by a committee of scholars, parents, activists, and current corps members. Its mission is to challenge the organization’s centrality in the corporate-backed, market-driven, testing-oriented movement in urban education.”

Click here to read more from Cersonsky’s article.

Fight the (Corporate) Power

By Ashley Sanders, Move to Amend

the people fight back group photo

Move to Amend is a national grassroots coalition that is working to dismantle the corporate takeover of our government, our lives and everything in between. We recognize that corporations do not merely exercise power in our society, but actually rule over us, making decisions that we should be making in order to make a buck off our misery. There is nowhere where this is more true than in our education system, where corporations are using everything they’ve got (and they’ve got a lot) to privatize, close or colonize our schools.

At Move to Amend, we’re fighting to take away one pillar of corporate power by passing an amendment to the Constitution that abolishes the idea that corporations have the same rights as you and me and stops the glut of corporate money in elections. But our real goal is much bigger. We want to talk about what it looks like to grow a movement that works across race, class, gender and issues to ask the question: what will we replace this corporate system with? What does a right to education look like, and how do we make it happen together?

We know that law creates power and influences culture. We know that education is our best shot at getting the real story of people’s struggles for power. And we also know that corporations are trying their damnedest to cover up that history and subordinate education to the almighty dollar.

That’s why we’re excited to come to Free Minds Free People to tell a hidden history of law, power and democracy and talk with others about how to build movements that create justice, in education and in all our fights. Check out our workshop, The People Fight Back: Resisting Corporate Rule and Creating Real Democracy Friday!

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Teaching Palestine: More Relevant than Ever

By Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools

The extraordinary events unfolding in Egypt are shaking the Middle East—and the world. As we watch, hoping that the strength of the Egyptian people will move their country toward liberation, we can’t forget how deeply interwoven the struggles in the Middle East are, or how central Palestine is to a democratic resolution for everyone in the region. And yet, these are subjects that are almost always ignored in schools, even by progressive teachers.

There has never been a more important time to teach about Palestine. It is impossible to understand events in the Middle East, including Egypt, without understanding the history and current reality in Palestine. And there are so many connections to be made by social justice educators between Palestine and issues in the United States: the concept of Manifest Destiny in US history and the Promise Land in Israeli history; the security wall at the US/Mexico border and the wall snaking through the West Bank (built by the same company); the criminalization and incarceration of youth in both situations; the environmental impact of colonialism; the role of hip hop as resistance among youth, to name only a few.

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If you have thought about including Palestine in your curriculum, if this is a new but challenging idea, or if you are an old hand at this but looking to push your work even further—please check out the Teach Palestine workshop Saturday at Free Minds, Free People. You will leave with more understanding, resources, curriculum, and confidence!

Generation after generation, Palestinians are still holding the keys to their original homes to return to their land in Palestine. This return is not simply a right bestowed upon Palestinians by the international community. Far more than this, return for Palestinians is an inherent part of their identity, freedom and dignity. Each year, the laws and unwritten policies of the Israeli occupation make return more difficult for the many Palestinians living beyond its borders. The United States turns a blind eye to the growing number of its own citizens, Palestinian and otherwise, who have been denied entry to Palestine. Denying Palestinians and others access to the land of historic Palestine highlights the incredible fear doctrine that has been constructed within Israeli society; Israeli leaders fully understand that recognizing this right of return means the beginning of the end of the settler-colonial state.

During these 65 years of occupation, we have witnessed the return of many refugees—with the support of the international community—to their homes in Bosnia, East Timor, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, the Palestinian refugee population is ever increasing within the camps of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and in the diaspora. Palestinians in the camps spend their entire lives as refugees, often only minutes away from their original villages and homes, with walls and checkpoints forever partitioning them from the reality of return.

Now, with the current escalation of violence in the region, Palestinian refugees in Syria have become refugees once more. Absent a homeland to which they can return, the issues of landlessness, violence and militarized borders have become more pressing than ever. Women and children are among the tens of thousands of refugees who now live in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The vulnerability of these communities is escalating.

The Arab uprisings that began in 2011 have changed the political landscape of the Middle East and opened the door for many new possibilities. Shedding the fear of decades-long repression, the people have united to challenge and overthrow the dictatorial regimes of the Arab world. Soon after the end of Mubarak’ rule in Egypt and Ben Ali’s rule in Tunisia, in a moment inspired by the uprisings of their Arab neighbors, the image of return for Palestinians transformed into an imminent possibility. In May 2011, thousands of Palestinian refugees and others marched to the borders of Palestine from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Some Palestinians were able to cross the border and visit their family’s homes for the first time in their lives, risking everything along the way. This action gave Palestinians a glimpse of freedom, as well as a more complete picture of the obstacles that obstruct the path to their homeland. Their march homeward symbolized a people suspended somewhere between time and space, living on the margins of society and within the borders of their dreams. Their march home lifted the spirits of many around the world, especially Palestinians, for it was one of the first moments since 1948 when return became a reality; it became a palpable movement rather than an abstract notion.

On the other hand, the Arab movements and the Palestinian march of return in 2011 have created much cause for concern within Israel. The repressive Arab regimes were longstanding allies of Israel, allies that did not challenge its brutal and discriminatory actions and policies towards Palestinians. As these regimes fell, Israel began to fortify and deepen its borders with Egypt, Jordan and Syria, creating more distance between itself and the region. With the movements in the Arab world still in formation, the future of the Middle East looks uncertain and unstable. Moving forward to tangible change is a process that will take years. However, return for Palestinians is among the changes that will have to take place to ensure freedom for all the people of the region.

The role of western powers, particularly the United States and the state of Israel, will also have to be confronted and redefined if any progress is to be made. The minority of the world cannot go on living at the expense of the majority. Security and superiority cannot supersede justice and dignity. Despite Israel’s best efforts at dividing and fragmenting the Palestinian population, for 65 years the Palestinian people have maintained their struggle for return to their original homes and villages.

The question of Palestine is the key to change in the Middle East and the right of return is the simple answer to this question. Until return is realized, liberation for the land and its people can never be achieved.

Palestine street art

Revving up for the Resist TFA assembly


One of our planned assemblies is gaining particular force on the national education scene. The blog, Reconsidering TFA, recently plugged the event. Additionally, this post popped up on Orchestrated Pulse detailing why more and more people, on college campuses and the community, are becoming critical of the TFA model, including a link to the open letter by Minneapolis educators to the University of Minnesota opposing the proposed partnership between TFA and Uof MN.

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Do you know any critical Teach For America (TFA) alumni and students, teachers, and community members impacted by TFA? Let them know about this important gathering in Chicago next week.

The assembly, “Organizing Resistance to to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization,” will take place on Sunday July 14th from 9:30am-12:15pm on the final day of the Free Minds, Free People conference.

FMFP Program Cover Final

Growing a Movement

By Linda Stout, Director of Spirit in Action

I grew up poor in a farmworker family in rural North Carolina, going to a school where I was told by my fourth grade teacher that children like me could not go to college. This was in response to me telling her that I wanted to be a math teacher. I believed her and lost interest in school and walked around with shame about “who I was.”

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But, by high school I decided not to believe the messages I was given every day and decided to make good enough grades to go to college. I graduated at the top of my class. I earned a full scholarship to college, but when the cost of student housing went up by $500 in my second year, my family could not come up with the money and I had to drop out.

Instead, I became an organizer for poor people and went on to work as a national organizer. During that time, I learned the value of messaging and getting our voices heard among the broader community in order to change minds and policies.

Because of that work, I began to build national networks, the first one, Progressive Communicators Network — a group of grassroots communications and media folks, and several years later a network called Education Circle of Change. My organization, Spirit in Action’s mission is to support groups as they build movements for change. Networks among groups focused on particular issues have been one of the most successful ways to do that. We work together to become more than the sum of our parts.

Since building the Education Circle of Change network, we have seen many other education networks grow and build an effective grassroots base. So in the coming year we are focusing on a more specific strategy – one that’s critical to create a successful movement that can win on education issues. Our work is now focusing on effective communications.

A majority of people in our country do not understand or know about the problems we are facing in public education today. As a result, we are seeing more policies that keep our schools from offering equitable education, aren’t offering teachers the resources and salaries they deserve, and aren’t providing an exciting learning environment for our children. We have to shift the public dialogue on public education.

Where do we begin such a large task? We start with you, the people who know this issue the best. This summer, Spirit in Action will be conducting a national listening project: using video to interview organizers, parents, students, and teachers on what you think we should be doing about the education crisis and what you want other people to know.

Equipped with your voices and concerns we will then link education organizers with expert communicators to develop messages, build on effective messages that are already been developed, and work with groups to develop their own communications plan.

Our idea is that once these messages are developed, we will work with groups throughout the country for up to three years to provide them with training, tools, and support to message to their own constituency and beyond.

We will also create a final video from these interviews that all the groups can use to organize with, reaching their constituency and beyond. While each group will create a unique messaging and communications plan, we will be working to incorporate consistent messages that all groups can use that will be echoed around the country.

We do not know what that message is. We are not the education experts. You are. Therefore we will be at Free Minds, Free People to interview numerous, diverse people both formally and informally to get your thoughts and ideas. We look forward to meeting you next week!




Get Collaborative with the Lesson Planning Lounge


Do you have some ideas for next year’s curricula that you’d like to talk out with other like-minded educators? Are you looking for a space to explore the lesson planning process with an experienced educator-mentor?

Grab your notebook and your planner! The Lesson Planning Lounge is a drop-in space for educators to talk about and develop curricula for the classroom or for a community-based setting. These sessions take place at the same time as the workshops on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Each lounge is facilitated by two educator-mentors and each has a different theme—integrating Latin@ and African American cultures into curriculum, social justice and social studies, social justice in the elementary grades, and developing teaching tools in the community. The educator-mentors have different areas of expertise including spoken word, LGBT issues, organizing in the classroom, the prison industrial complex and more.  So bring your unvarnished ideas and half-finished curriculum materials to the Lesson Planning Lounge. Click here to learn more.

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Growing Fairness in Chicago!

By Teachers Unite

Teachers Unite can’t wait for Free Minds, Free People! For the past several months, a group of our members here in NYC has been meeting and planning Growing Fairness, a documentary film, workshop series, and online toolkit resource for school communities to use as they begin the project of implementing transformative justice in schools. The doc tells a story about school climate, alternatives to punitive discipline and their real impact on young people and school communities in New York and Oakland. Growing Fairness is for educators and community members looking to interrupt the criminalization of young people in public schools and change their school climates for the better.

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Join Teachers Unite, the Chicago Teachers Union, and Chicago-based youth and parent organizations Blocks Together, COFI/POWER PAC, and VOYCE for a Sneak Peak Screening of Growing Fairness and a conversation about how communities fight to change school culture and end the school-to-prison pipeline. Friday, July 12th at the Instituto del Progreso Latino, 2520 S. Western Avenue, 7:30 to 9 pm. There will be shuttle buses from Uplift School. We look forward to seeing you!


63 Boycott Remembered

By ’63 Boycott, a documentary by Kartemquin Films

In 1963, over 200,000 students boycotted Chicago Public Schools and the segregationist policies of putting Willis Wagons, or aluminum mobile units, on overcrowded school lots in black neighborhoods. On our quest to find those who participated and include their stories in our documentary (over 40 people have been identified in our photos on the website), we found these newspaper articles from the day that show which schools were emptiest and why a few parents decided to participate.

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Rosie Simpson, one of the parent organizers of the boycott, and Ralph Davis, a high school student participant interviewed in our Sneak Peek, will speak alongside Timuel Black and Fannie Rushing about the 63 Boycott and lessons for organizing today at the opening ceremony of the Free Minds, Free People conference on Thursday July 11th. We will also screen a never-before-seen ten minute trailer of the documentary that incorporates recent interviews with the historical footage of 1963.

Commentary on Urban Education

By Free Minds Free People

Check out this recent commentary by Keith Catone from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform on urban education which includes summaries of on-the-ground work in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, and Tuscon. Keith is also a member of the planning committee for next week’s Free Minds Free People conference.


Rethinking Teacher Education

By Barbara Madeloni

“We need our schools of education to ask pre-service teachers to wrestle with identity and race, to explore the historical/cultural contexts of school, and to frame teaching as the political work that it is. After all, teaching always asks us to imagine the kind of society we want to live in.” This quote from an article in the summer issue of Rethinking Schools captures the struggle underway in teacher education. Will it be a site for unmasking oppression, for radical imagination and education as liberation? Or will it become a place for rote technical training and corporate compliance? Read the article here and join us at our assembly Saturday: Social Justice Teacher Education to Resist Neoliberalism.

End of the School Year Reflections…

By Michelle Gunderson

Today is the last day of school at Nettelhorst Elementary, a neighborhood school in Chicago. And as I say goodbye to my students and start packing up my room I’m aware of what I am NOT packing up. There are no test prep materials, worksheets, or textbooks going into any of my packing crates. How is this possible in a world gone mad with over-testing and the nationalized curriculum that is the Common Core?

The faculty at my elementary school has formed strong relationships based on social justice unionism. We use the structures put in place by our union to negotiate curriculum guidelines, workplace issues, and the fair and just treatment of children and adults. In the recent union election our school voted 100 percent for the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE). As a faculty we’ve formed cohesion based on a shared concept of social justice, and this is a trend I would like to see move into more schools around our country.

In an age where business interests seem to have more and more control over the classroom, educators find themselves with few allies and politically isolated. The movement from business unionism to social justice unionism is a reaction to these outside forces. Teachers are collectively organizing to fight for the rights of their students as well as workplace justice for educators and by extension other workers. In order to do this, groups of teachers are working to transform their unions.

The movement towards social justice unionism is of utmost importance to educators who are no longer willing to have corporate education reform and the privatization of education occur before their very eyes while their unions stand by, or even worse, participate in these reforms. Teachers see the co-opting of terms such as “achievement gap” and “accountability” being used to justify harsh and devastating measures taken against schools, communities, teachers, and children. The movement towards social justice unionism is timely and growing. It is the hope of many teachers, through the structure and power of their unions, to regain power and to once again be invited to the table in forming education policies that affect their lives and the learning of their students

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The assembly at Free Minds, Free People entitled “Igniting, Supporting, and Sustaining Social Justice Unionism” brings union activists together in order to share common understandings about social justice. We will find a space to share our stories and concerns as well as building a network of support that empowers. We invite you to help build this movement.



Can't Be Neutral: Resisting Neoliberalism in Teacher Education

By Barbara Madeloni

The standardization and corporatization that we are fighting in K-12 education is now reaching into teacher education through the edTPA. Julie Gorlewski from SUNY New Paltz outlines some of the problems with the edTPA in this post, “What is edTPA and why do critics dislike it?” on Diane Ravitch’s blog. Besides inviting Pearson into teacher education to reap plentiful profits, edTPA reduces teaching and learning to a number and marginalizes the relationships from which social justice education grows. Check out the post and comments. Look for the summer issue of Rethinking Schools, with three essays on edTPA, and be sure to join our assembly at FMFP on Saturday July 13th!

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Black Students Make Up 75% of Youth School-Based Arrests in the Chicago Public Schools

Click image for entire infographic

Click image for entire infographic

By Mariame Kaba

Last week, Project NIA ( released a new report titled “Policing Chicago Public Schools 2: School-Based Arrests 2011 and 2012.” The report relies on data from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to show the types of offenses and the demographics (gender and race) of the youth arrested on CPS properties in calendar years 2011 & 2012.  The report builds upon the 2010 data that we presented in January 2012.

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CPD reports its data by police district rather than by individual school so this year we also worked with students from Loyola University to create an interactive application that allows individuals to search for crime and arrest data by school for the 2011-2012 school year too.

The key data points in the report are that:

1.       Overall youth school-based arrests have been decreasing. In 2010, over 5,500 arrests of young people under 18 years old took place on CPS properties. In 2011, the number of youth school-based arrests (18 & under) was 4,959 and in 2012, it was 4,287.

2.       Black youth are still disproportionately targeted by these arrests. While they represent about 42% of CPS students, black youth accounted for 75.5% percent of school-based arrests in 2012.  This mirrors the general trend of disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile legal system.

3.       In 2012, young men were more likely to be arrested on CPS properties than were their female counterparts [68% vs. 32%].

4.       Most youth school-based arrests are for misdemeanor offenses (84%) as opposed to felonies (16%).

5.       In 2012, 86% of youth school-based arrests happened in school buildings while 14% took place on school grounds.

6.       In 2012, the top three aggregate[1] numbers of youth school-based arrests were in the 8th, 5th, and 4th police districts.  Together these three districts accounted for 30% of total youth school-based arrests on CPS properties.

This report was produced and written by Mariame Kaba and Eva Nagao. To access the full report, interactive application, infographics and raw data, visit the Policing Chicago Public Schools 2 site here. Continue the discussion at our workshop, The ABCs of the PIC: Teaching About Prisons, at the upcoming Free Minds Free People conference in Chicago.

From Philly to Chicago: Youth Lead the Fight Against School Closures

By Hiram Rivera
Philadelphia Student Union


“No if’s…No but’s…we don’t want no budget cuts,” was the chant as over 3000 students rallied in front of the Philadelphia School District building after having walked out of 27 schools in the city on May 17th. Those students, upset at the proposed “Doomsday” cuts proposed by the Superintendent, marched down Broad St. effectively shutting it down and rallying at City Hall. The message was clear that the students wouldn’t just sit by as their schools are stripped of everything except teachers and police officers.


As many of us already know, this is not an issue unique to Philadelphia. The under-resourcing of public, the attacks on teachers, and mass school closings are happening all over the country. For that reason, I, along with one of my youth leaders from the Philadelphia Student Union traveled to Chicago to join them in their fight to stop the single most school closures in American history. Because as PSU member, Sharron Snyder put it in her message to the hundreds rallying in Daley Plaza…”Philadelphia has your back!” We spent four days in the streets of Southside Chicago as part of the three day marches with the folks of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, we met with leaders from Blocks Together and the Chicago Teacher’s Union, we were there with the activists as they staged a sit in at City Hall.

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In the end, Philadelphia has voted to close 24 schools. In Chicago, 50. These closures, like some many in all our urban and rural districts, will have devastating affects on the tens of thousands of students, disproportionately Black, disproportionately poor. But the fight is not over. As we’ve seen in the streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, DC, etc. The fight is not over. The movement to save public education is one that will take all of us coming together, fighting across state, class, and racial lines against a government backed by wealthy philanthropists and misguided priorities focused on jailing and sending our youth to war, as opposed to educating them. In July, PSU will be traveling back to Chicago with more of our students from Philadelphia to join the Free Minds Free People Conference. There we’ll be presenting and building relationships with folks from all over. The time is now to take our fight to the next level. As Sharron has said to me during our travel across the country in the spirit of solidarity…”We will win. We have to win.”