Happy Birthday!: A Conversation About Education With César E. Chávez
Happy Birthday César Chávez! Often education “reformers” toss around civil rights as a justification for their “reforms.” See for example Reframing the Refrain: Choice as a Civil Rights Issue. If he were still alive today, how would César Chávez have weighed in on the school “reform” movement? I pose several questions about hot topics in education reform— then I have responded with well-known César Chávez quotes. In a few cases I have combined quotes and noted them as such.
Eli Broad, Michelle Rhee, etc.
Q: What do you think about Eli Broad’s “disruptive” and “unreseasonable” approach to education reform?
A: If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.
Charters and Vouchers
Q: How about charter and voucher approaches that help the few at the expense of the many?
A: We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.
Mexican American Studies
Q: What is your opinion on the banning of Mexican American studies in the state of Arizona?
A: Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.
High-Stakes Testing and Accountability
Q: Is education policy too focused on high-stakes testing and accountability?
A: The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people….Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity? (Combined)
Q: What do you think about the data that shows that our society continues to disproportionately send under-certified and unprepared teachers to teach Black and Latina/o students?
A: Years of misguided teaching have resulted in the destruction of the best in our society, in our cultures and in the environment.
Q: Do you support bilingual curriculum and ESL approaches in schools?
A: Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.
Common Core and Mandated Standards
Q: What is your opinion on standards and the Common Core?
A: Students must have initiative; they should not be mere imitators. They must learn to think and act for themselves – and be free.
Q: What do you think about diversity?
A: We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.
Q: What is your view on the school privatization movement?
A: Who gets the risks? The risks are given to the consumer, the unsuspecting consumer and the poor work force. And who gets the benefits? The benefits are only for the corporations, for the money makers.
Goal of Education
Q: Should we be focused on the economic benefits of our educational system?
A: The end of all education should surely be service to others.
Billionaires and Education “Reform” Movement
Q: Despite the money that billionaires are pumping into the “reform” movement, will public schools stay public?
A: We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure… There’s no turning back…We will win. We are winning because ours is a revolution of mind and heart… ¡Si se puede!… In the end we will overcome. (Combined)
Thank you for your wisdom César Chávez. We miss you. I am hopeful that our current Latino leaders (elected and non-elected) will more consistently espouse your wisdom in our nation’s education policy debates.
Concluding Personal Note
César’s fight for the rights of farm workers and social justice also has special importance relative to my family history. My Grandma Vasquez was a migrant farm worker. She was a Texan born in Bexar County and grew up near Luling. As a young woman, Maria Vasquez moved north to Michigan to work in the fields. My mother and her siblings would also often work in the fields during growing season. Years ago there was an AFL-CIO/UFW pamphlet featuring my grandfather holding a basket of cherries. I often wish I knew where that photo was. My mother and her brother were actually recruited to attend Michigan by a university representative sent specifically to recruit the children of migrant workers. Do the University of Michigan and higher education institutions more broadly have similar foresight and resource prioritization in 2014?
My best recollection is that I never learned about César Chávez during my K-12 education. What little I knew was the very limited information that I would glean from conversations in my family. I really met César Chávez in the history books of my classes at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. I was introduced to a civil rights leader and a national hero. I was not alive when the marches and boycotts that he led were in full swing. But the narratives I read in my dorm room, the Diag, the Michigan Union, took me to the central valley and beyond— he brought me to the Huelga. I am thankful, and I won’t forget where I come from.
p.s. See last year’s birthday post here: ¡Viva La Causa!: Happy Birthday César Chávez
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