Tag Archives: race and ethnicity

Will Forcing High School Kids to Make a Post-Graduation Plan Actually Help Them?

Mother Jones

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel got a lot of attention two weeks ago when he announced a new graduation requirement for high school seniors: They would have to have a plan. Starting with the class of 2020, Chicago Public School students will be required to show proof of their next step after graduation—such as a college acceptance letter or a job offer. It may seem like a good motivational tool, but in a city where access to resources depends on your neighborhood, and where budget cuts have strained existing programs, some observers consider the mayor’s proposal “deeply insulting.”

So says Stacy Davis Gates, the political and legislative director for the Chicago Teacher’s Union, who adds, “It spits in the face of everything we know about CPS right now.”

Emanuel announced the proposal (“Learn. Plan. Succeed: A Degree For Life”) in early April. Students will have to show a school counselor that they have a post-secondary plan. It needn’t be college or a job: A kid also can enlist in the military or find an apprenticeship or a “gap-year” program, among other options. There are exceptions for students facing special circumstances, including incarceration. Emanuel wants to “make 14th grade universal,” as he told CBS. Graduates of the school system, meanwhile, are automatically eligible to attend the City Colleges of Chicago.

The mayor first explored the idea in conversations with Arne Duncan, who served as Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, and who once ran the Chicago schools. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to greenlight “Learn. Plan. Succeed” at its next meeting.

On its face, the program reflects the goals of teachers and principals: to prepare kids for a bright future. Janice Jackson, the chief education officer for the Chicago schools, compares Emanuel’s proposal to others that faced opposition at first, such as mandatory ACT testing and the requirement that kids complete a program of community service in order to graduate.

According to internal reports from local high schools, about 60 percent of students already graduate with a plan. Emanuel is intent on ensuring that half of all public school students end up with a college or career credential (from internships, work experience, etc.) by 2019—up from around 40 percent today. Under his new proposal, the school district will spend $1 million to make sure each school has at least one counselor well trained in college advising. Additional specialists will be hired to work externally with colleges and employers, Jackson says.

Emanuel’s critics, however, doubt that $1 million is enough. They also express frustration that the city isn’t doing more to tackle systemic problems, including: slashed budgets, school closures, and overcrowded classrooms—city schools may even end classes three weeks early this year due to a lack of funding. The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined the dissenters this week, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times that “a majority of young black high school graduates are looking for work and can’t find it. The mayor’s plan does nothing to address this grim reality.”

The same morning Emanuel introduced “Learn. Plan. Succeed,” he also announced that the city may close multiple schools on the South Side and build one new high school there at a cost of $75 million. (A school district spokeswoman said on Thursday that no final decisions have been made.) Gates, the teachers’ union rep, claims this is in line with Emanuel’s “lead by press release” style: using a flashy proposal to steer the media away from the district’s persistent troubles.

According to research from the Urban League, more than half of Chicago public school students are in majority-black, majority-poor schools. The district has a 37 percent achievement gap in grade-level proficiency between its white and black students.

The district’s Janice Jackson says the funds generated for the new program should allow all schools to meet the new requirement by 2020. She acknowledges the resource disparities between richer and poorer schools, but “now that it’s a requirement, I think that that 40 percent of kids who don’t have a post-secondary plan will have one, and they’ll benefit as a result.”

Gates begs to differ. She says the counselor-to-student ratio varies widely across the city, and that 63 percent of high schools have counselors handling more kids than recommended. “As a district, we would fail miserably in meeting this harebrained idea,” she told me. “There are not enough resources to support something like this. Remember, getting a diploma is not a senior year activity. Getting a diploma and getting ‘college ready’ is something that starts in early childhood.”

Chicago’s budget woes largely come from the top. The district had to cut $46 million from its budget earlier this year, meaning less money for textbooks, afterschool programs, and field trips. Emanuel’s handling of the schools has been repeatedly criticized. Teachers called a 2012 strike to seek better benefits, proper job evaluations, and additional training. In 2013, the mayor decided to close 50 schools, mostly in black and Latino communities.

Sheryl Bond, who works as a counselor at George Washington High School, says she supports the goals of the the new policy, but considering that counselors are already trying to help kids plan their futures, and since it’s easy enough to put a “plan” on paper, she’s skeptical whether the “plan” requirement will change anything. “Is this going to be a compliance issue,” she asks, “or are we going to make sure that kids have a real plan?”

Kristy Brooks, a Chicago elementary school counselor, also doesn’t see how giving kids another hoop to jump through will help. “The only thing standing in the way of our kids having a bright future is that nobody’s forcing them to have some sort of plan? I don’t think so,” Brooks says. “If a kid makes it far enough to graduate high school, they’re doing it for a reason.”

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Will Forcing High School Kids to Make a Post-Graduation Plan Actually Help Them?

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Jeff Chang’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We recently asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to suggest the books that bring them solace or understanding in this age of political rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here’s what the acclaimed hip-hop writer and cultural critic Jeff Chang brought to the table.

Latest book: We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation
Also known for: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
Recommended Reading: Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit’s essential collection of essays, written at the darkest moment of our despair amid the Iraq War, was republished last year when it seemed we needed it most—again. Solnit is our angel of hope, always pointing us through the haze of fear and confusion toward faith and trust in our own collective possibility. Every time I read her I’m reminded that “the unimaginable is ordinary.” Then there’s The Next American Revolution, by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige. Steve Bannon and the racist right hope to pull the nation into a final, inexorable “clash of the civilizations”—between white Christian Americans and the rest of the world. Working from within the ruins of Detroit, Boggs reframes revolution as not a bloody, destructive process but a set of soulful, creative acts that grow community and consciousness. Her vision of hope, freedom, and sustainability guides us now as we bring together justice movements and build the resistance.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Jeff Chang’s Resistance Reading

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

Mother Jones

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Jason Holley

One cold November day last year, Chris Turley, a 28-year-old member of the Osage Nation, set out from the tribe’s northeast Oklahoma reservation upon a quest. He had a wool hat pulled down over his crisply cut black hair and wore military fatigues, just as he had done when he served in Afghanistan as a Scout in the US Army. He carried a rucksack filled with MREs—Meals, Ready-to-Eat—and bottled water, a tent, and a sleeping bag. Tucked away was also an emergency medical kit.

Departing on foot, he headed north through the tall prairie grass. He went past scattering herds of cattle and grinding oil pumps. Thirty miles later, around midnight, he stopped near the Kansas border and made camp in the darkness. He slept in his tent, curled in the cold. In the abruptness of dawn he woke, poured water into a container with premade eggs and quickly ate, and then set out again. The rucksack weighed 80 pounds and his right leg especially burned. In Afghanistan, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade had shivved through his knee. (He received a Purple Heart and a Commendation with Valor, which said his “actions under intense enemy fire when wounded, and courage when facing the enemy in close proximity, not only eliminated and disrupted the enemy but saved the lives of his fellow Scouts.”) Doctors had predicted he’d never walk again without help, but after months of rehabilitation, he did.

Now he marched forward, day after day. He entered Kansas, passing through Greenwood County and Brown County—where members of the Kickapoo Tribe invited him to attend a round dance—and continued into Nebraska, until, after hiking for nearly three weeks, he hitched a ride to his final destination: the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. There, on the North Dakota plains, he joined forces with the Sioux who’d been protesting the proposed construction of an oil pipeline near the border of their reservation, fearing it would destroy their sacred burial sites and contaminate their water supply. “Anyone who knows me knows I am a warrior of this country, I love it with all my heart,” Turley wrote on his Facebook page. “I am also a Native of this country and I’m showing my support for Standing Rock.”

For Turley and many other Osage, the fight had a deep resonance, evoking memories of the tribe’s own struggle over oil and land rights during the early 20th century—a struggle that culminated in one of the most sinister crimes in American history. In 2012, when I first visited the Osage Nation Museum, its then-director, Kathryn Red Corn, told me about this mysterious and deadly plot. I was shocked that I had never learned about it in school or read about it in books, and over the next several years I began to try to uncover the depths of the wrongdoing.

Turley told me that when he was young he had heard about the killings from elder members of the tribe. “Every Osage knows about the murders,” he said. He learned that the Osage once laid claim to much of the Midwest (Thomas Jefferson described them as a “great nation”), but like so many American Indians, they were gradually forced off their ancestral lands. They were driven into Kansas in 1825 and were relocated during the 1870s to the reservation in northeast Oklahoma. By then, their population had dwindled to a few thousand because of massacres and disease and starvation. Although the new reservation was bigger than the state of Delaware, the land was rocky and presumed worthless.

Several years later, an Osage Indian pointed out to a white trader a rainbow sheen on the surface of a creek. It was oil. The reservation, it turned out, was sitting above some of the largest deposits of petroleum then known in America, and to extract that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In 1906, the tribe granted each of its 2,000 or so registered members a headright, essentially a share in the mineral trust. In 1923 alone, the tribe collected what would today amount to more than $400 million—the New York Times deemed them the wealthiest people per capita in the world. Belying long-standing stereotypes, they lived in mansions and had white servants and rode in chauffeured cars. “Lo and behold!” exclaimed the Outlook, a New York City magazine. “The Indian, instead of starving to death…enjoys a steady income that turns bankers green with envy.”

Then, one by one, the Osage with headrights began to be murdered off. During what became known as the Osage Reign of Terror, there were poisonings, shootings, and even a bombing. Several of those who tried to catch the killers were themselves killed, including one attorney who was thrown from a speeding train. As the death toll reached more than two dozen, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation—later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation—took up the case. It became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations. But for two years, the bureau bungled the case, failing to make any arrests.

Fearing a scandal, the bureau’s new director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to an old frontier lawman named Tom White, who assembled a team of undercover operatives, including an American Indian agent. In 1926, they captured one of the criminal masterminds—a prominent white settler who had orchestrated an intricate plot to steal the Osage’s headrights and fortune. But, as I discovered from my research, the extent of the killings was far greater than the bureau ever exposed, and there were scores, perhaps hundreds, of murders that went unsolved. The perpetrators absconded with much of the Osage’s fortune, which was further diminished by the Great Depression and the depletion of oil reserves.

Turley thought about the Osage murders during the demonstrations at Standing Rock. The Sioux weren’t looking to make money; they were just trying to protect the environment. And yet the struggles came down to the same fundamental issue: the right of American Indians to control their lands and resources. Which is why the Standing Rock demonstrations seemed to galvanize so many nations of American Indians, each with its own bloodstained history, its own saga of incursions upon its sovereignty. Native Americans made pilgrimages to Standing Rock from across the country—from the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California and the Blackfeet Nation in Montana to the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska and the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. Jim Gray, a former Osage chief, wrote on Facebook, “The principle of any tribe’s sovereign right to protect what’s important to them is why hundreds of tribes have sent food, supplies and money to their aid.”

Turley helped provide security for the protesters—or “water protectors”—including by guarding convoys headed off the reservation to resupply them. “It was kind of like a covert op,” he said. When the word came down, on December 4, that the Department of the Army had refused to allow the oil company to build the pipeline, “we all sang and danced,” Turley recalled.

Yet President Donald Trump—who until recently had an investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline—reversed the decision upon taking office. The Sioux are contesting Trump’s action in court, but their legal options are quickly dwindling, and it may become harder for demonstrators to gather in the future: A state legislator introduced a bill making it legal for a person to “unintentionally” run over protesters.

Many American Indian leaders fear that the pipeline is only the beginning of the Trump administration’s attempt to erode tribal sovereignty. Reuters reported that some of the president’s advisers even hope to “privatize” American Indian reservations, fulfilling the old dream of white settlers to open these lands to unfettered development.

Jim Gray says the Trump administration will confront an American Indian movement galvanized and united by Standing Rock. “In the old days, our people didn’t have much of a voice,” he told a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last fall. “Now we do…The world is watching.” As for Chris Turley, he’s back at his home in Osage territory. But if summoned by the leaders of any tribe in need, he says he’s prepared to pack up his rucksack: “I can walk across America.”

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

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Don Lemon Rips Into Jeffrey Lord for Describing Trump as "MLK of Health Care"

Mother Jones

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CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord drew instant outrage on Thursday after he described President Donald Trump as the “Martin Luther King of health care,” while supporting Trump’s reported plan to cut subsidies to the poor in order to force Democrats into negotiating on a health care bill. According to Lord, the two were comparable because they were willing to put “people in the street in harm’s way” to pass legislation.

By evening, the conservative pundit was still defending the outrageous remarks. During a segment with Don Lemon, Lord repeatedly refused to apologize and dismissed Lemon’s claim that the comparison was insulting. Lord even attempted to tell an anecdote about his father losing employment after defending a black waitress, before Lemon swiftly cut him off.

“Don’t take me to some before-the-war crap,” Lemon said. “I want to hear what you’re saying to the coworkers you work with now, Jeffrey. Answer the question now.”

“I want to hear now to the coworkers, to the people of color you work with on this network every single day, who were offended by your remarks.”

Lord responded by claiming, “We don’t judge people by color in this country.”

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Don Lemon Rips Into Jeffrey Lord for Describing Trump as "MLK of Health Care"

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This Epic PBS Documentary Shows How Creepily Little Has Changed Since World War I

Mother Jones

I was never that much of a history buff, so it’s pretty rare for me to sit down and watch a documentary about a war that ended before my mom was born. But I’m rethinking my slacker ways after watching The Great War, a captivating new series premiering April 10 on PBS’ American Experience.

The history of this nation’s involvement in World War I is as fascinating as it is unsettling. The Great War also was our global coming of age, the beginning of America’s transformation into a nation deeply engaged in world affairs and conflicts. Perhaps what struck me most about the three-part, six-hour series was the familiarity of so many of its themes—a sense of déjà vu that left me feeling like even those of us who know our history are doomed to repeat it.

Here are 10 big takeaways from the series to accompany this exclusive clip (above) about the wartime crackdown on dissent.

1. America was as polarized a century ago as it is today. In 1917, the country was split over race relations, voting rights, domestic politics, our place in the world, and whether we should be fighting foreign wars at all.

2. The “great” war was so not great. Like all big conflicts, World War I had its inspiring tales of duty, bravery, and heroism, but the primary narrative was one of staggering deprivation and devastation. By the time America came in, some 15 million soldiers and civilians were already dead. (The 1918 flu pandemic, made worse by the war, would kill millions more.) Beyond the bullets and shells, the Germans introduced frightening new weapons including mustard gas, which was soon adopted by the Allies. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, US soldiers fighting the Germans lost an average of 550 men per day for 47 straight days. Three times that many were wounded. “It was, and remains,” notes one commentator, “the bloodiest battle America has ever been involved in.” But the longest conflict we’ve ever been involved in is still happening—over in Afghanistan.

“First to Fight” US Marines in 1918 U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Publicity Bureau

3. Immigrants were scapegoated. Sound familiar? With Americans being shipped overseas to backstop French and British forces against the Kaiser’s army, German Americans became the bad guys at home. They were forced to register with the federal government. German language and songs were banned from schools. There were stein-smashing events, and citizens were encouraged to report those they suspected of disloyalty. Anyone deemed pro-German might be beaten, tarred and feathered, hauled to an internment camp, or even lynched. Now we have anti-Muslim travel orders, rising hate crimes, and an anti-immigrant president who supports the notion of a Muslim registry—during the campaign, a Trump surrogate cited internment camps as a precedent. This is a slippery slope, people.

4. You were either with us or against us. Remember how the politicians who refused to fall in line with George W. Bush’s post-9/11 crackdown on civil liberties (and his move to invade Iraq) were attacked for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Rewind to 1917: At first reluctant to enter the war, President Woodrow Wilson went all in, brooking no dissent from the public. Conformity was enforced by means of federally funded propaganda, as well as vigilante groups that, with the blessing of the Department of Justice, conducted “slacker raids.” Police, too, conducted mass roundups, locking up draft evaders, conscientious objectors, and war critics such as socialist leader Eugene Debs. Hutterite religious objectors were tortured (some to death) at Leavenworth military prison.

New York City Preparedness Parade (May 1916) Library of Congress

5. Laws were passed to justify repression. With today’s Republican lawmakers proposing harsh penalties for peaceful protest activities such as blocking traffic, it’s instructive to recall the Espionage and Sedition acts that Congress passed in 1917 and 1918 at the urging of President Wilson. (One of the film’s featured historians, Michael Kazin, calls Wilson “both the great Democrat and one of the most oppressive figures in American history.”) Used to prosecute more than 2,000 Americans, “these two acts really become tools to shut up people who refuse to be quiet about their opposition to the war, especially left-wing organizations—socialists, the IWW International Workers of the World,” historian Jennifer Keene explains. Simply griping to a colleague about food rationing might get a man locked up. “For every prosecution,” adds historian Christopher Capozzola, “there may be tens, hundreds, thousands of ‘friendly’ visits by government agents warning someone not to say what they said or write what they wrote.”

6. World War I spawned a huge propaganda machine. Wilson enlisted marketing guru George Creel to sell the war and made him the head of a new federal Committee on Public Information. Creel was masterful in controlling the narrative of the conflict at home and spreading the view that if you weren’t actively down with the war effort, then you were disloyal. Years later, the administration of George H.W. Bush relied on PR firms to gin up public support for Operation Desert Storm. You might recall the fabricated story of Iraqi troops ripping babies from their incubators at a Kuwait hospital and leaving them to die—brought to you by a Kuwaiti government front group that hired companies such as Hill & Knowlton to make its case for America to go after Saddam.

A 1917 propaganda poster James Montgomery Flagg/Library of Congress

7. America betrayed her black soldiers. The documentary, whose commentators include several black historians, does a fabulous job of showing how the war was transformative for African American soldiers. Handed over to fight hellish trench battles under French command, they were treated, if not as equals, then at least as worthy comrades by their white French counterparts. The returning veterans were no longer content to accept the racist status quo in America; hundreds were lynched for resisting white supremacy. The “red summer” of 1919 was “a wave of racial violence unparalleled in United States history,” notes historian Chad Williams. “It was a horrific statement about how the aspirations of African Americans were going to be met with violent resistance from white people.” Thousands of blacks wrote to the White House begging for help, but they were given the cold shoulder. President Wilson, at once a global visionary and a small-minded bigot, refused to acknowledge the slaughter, and America remained as violently racist as it ever was. But the new perspective and sense of entitlement among black veterans planted seeds for a civil rights movement yet to come. America, of course, is still pretty darn racist.

The Harlem Hellfighters land in New York City. National Archives

8. The war was a turning point for women’s voting rights. The suffragists of the time, led by Alice Paul, were deft at turning Wilson’s war rhetoric against him: Even as young Americans died to “make the world safe for democracy,” they said, Wilson was stifling democracy at home. Anti-government protests had all but evaporated once America declared war, but Paul and others continued their daily vigil outside the White House gates. Even after Wilson had the women locked up, they continued to make him look bad by launching a hunger strike. Wilson eventually capitulated. Congress approved the 19th Amendment in 1919—the states ratified it in 1920. (Now it’s people of color who are stuck fighting—yet again—to protect their voting rights.)

9. Petty bipartisan squabbling ruined everything. After the immense effort of negotiating the terms of peace in Europe and selling the treaty to the American public, the president let his petty rivalry with Republican Henry Cabot Lodge doom the treaty’s ratification by the Senate. What if Wilson had let the pact proceed with Lodge’s inconsequential amendments attached? Or what if he’d brought the Republican leader along with him to Paris when he negotiated the treaty? What if America had ratified the treaty and stayed intimately involved in the postwar order? “Just what if?” asks historian Margaret MacMillan. Her implication is clear: World War II might never have happened.

A women’s peace parade in 1914, before America joined the war Library of Congress

10. Hillary Clinton actually would have been our second female president. Shortly after Congress nixed Wilson’s hard-fought treaty, the president suffered a massive stroke. His inner circle covered up the severity of his condition for a year and a half, while first lady Edith Wilson essentially served as a covert chief executive: “A handful of people in the White House,” says Wilson biographer A. Scott Berg, “engaged in the greatest conspiracy in American history.” Yet.

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This Epic PBS Documentary Shows How Creepily Little Has Changed Since World War I

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