“Standardized testing encourages rigid scripted teach-to-the-test curricula devoid of educational exploration. The human element that makes great teaching and engaged learning is ruthlessly crushed like so much scrap metal in a junkyard compactor. No student was ever motivated to become an eager life-long learner by taking a mind numbing battery of tests. Now they are even being inflicted on Kindergarten and Pre-K children. Have we lost our minds?”
Across the wide 24th Boulevard in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood you could hear the chants: “Let us teach…Let us teach…Let us teach!”
It was the frigid late afternoon of February 28 and the sounds were coming from the steps of Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy. Parents, teachers, students and community allies had gathered to support Saucedo’s boycott of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
Earlier that week Saucedo teachers, with the urging of school parents, had voted unanimously not to give the test. The endless procession of standardized tests that take up valuable instruction time had pushed the Saucedo school community past the limit of its patience. Teachers didn’t want to go to work and follow a regimen they knew was harmful to children. And parents didn’t want that either. A natural alliance came into being.
The late Maria Saucedo was a highly respected bi-lingual educator working in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood who was active in groups like Casa Atzlan and Mujeres Latinas. As an honors student at Northeastern Illinois University, she helped found the Chicano Student Union. She was killed in a fire in 1981.
The Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy community is carrying on her life’s work of social and education justice.
A talk given at the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago on February 23 2014. I was asked to talk about my involvement in the freedom movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Parts of this story have been told elsewhere. In addition, this is based on imperfect human memory. If you remember any of it differently, please comment.
It was the first week of April 1968. A native of Washington DC, I was living in nearby Silver Spring Maryland. I had a stack of leaflets to deliver to the Students for a Democratic Society (better known as SDS).
Dr. Martin Luther King was scheduled to lead a march to the White House in support of the Poor Peoples Campaign. The leaflets announced the march and I was thrilled. I had never marched with Dr. King before.
By 1968 King had moved in a radical direction. He envisioned a multiracial encampment of poor people in Washington to wipe out what he called the “triple interlocking evils of racism, exploitation, and militarism”. He spoke of an era of revolution that would change the whole structure of American life. He called it the Poor Peoples’ campaign.
I volunteered to help. My work was nothing glamorous, I would be moving supplies and food to the tent city King was planning. Read more
“If gold has been prized because it is the most inert element, changeless and incorruptible, water is prized for the opposite reason — its fluidity, mobility, changeability that make it a necessity and a metaphor for life itself. To value gold over water is to value economy over ecology, that which can be locked up over that which connects all things.” ― Rebecca Solnit
The nightmare always begins the same way. I am standing next to Colesville Road in Silver Spring, Maryland, near where Northwest Branch creek crosses this busy highway.
But instead of the old filtration station that once served the small dam a couple of hundred yards upstream, there is massive hi-rise development everywhere: uber-modern condos and swanky shops cover the ground where I once pried off samples of translucent mica from the soft sandstone above the creek bed.
In the nightmare, the stream valley, once crowded with ancient trees, has been denuded and the resulting silt has turned the once clear waters a sluggish brown. The boulders and small waterfalls downstream are still there, but bake in the sun instead of being protected by the cool shade of an Eastern forest.
When I to hike down the creekside trail, it never leads to the house I once called home. I become lost amidst unfamiliar boulders and side trails that lead nowhere. When I awake I am filled with a deep and terrible sadness. This is a recurring nightmare of mine. It comes upon me frequently.
During my teen years I explored that stream valley for miles in both directions, often hiking through the water in an old pair of tennis shoes. I came to know the sucker fish who swam in the shallows, the tadpoles of the vernal pools and the box turtles who would seek relief from the summer heat in the calm areas of small feeder streams.
Fallen logs across the creek provided easy bridges to the old suburb of Woodmoor, high on the other side of the valley, where the branch library kept me furnished with a steady supply of science and science fiction books.
In the winter, the half-frozen waterfalls became an ever-changing sculpture garden of icy surrealism.
Teddy Roosevelt visited Northwest Branch in 1904 and wrote to his son: ” … there is a beautiful gorge, deep and narrow, with great boulders and even cliffs. Excepting Great Falls, it is the most beautiful place around here.”
Rachel Carson’s former home where she wrote much of “Silent Spring” is near Northwest Branch, just upstream from the dam. The trail there is now called the Rachel Carson Greenway. Famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt photographed her near the creek for a 1962 Life Magazine article.
Although the stream quality has been adversely affected by storm water runoff from the crowded suburbs that surround it, it is afforded some protection by government agencies of Montgomery and Prince Georges County. The Neighbors of Northwest Branch leads nature walks there and monitors its condition carefully.
So why do I have recurring nightmares about Northwest Branch instead of recurring dreams of its beauty, a beauty that has largely survived since the end of the last Ice Age?
Why? Perhaps because Northwest Branch is a part of the Anacostia watershed.
It empties into the dangerously polluted Anacostia River which flows past Southeast DC, a largely African American working class community. A short distance away, across the bridges that span the river, are the EPA headquarters and the Congress that passed the Clean Water Act.
According to the National Resources Defense Council: “Toilets in the Capitol regularly flush directly into the Anacostia — our federal government needs to show leadership and contribute its fair share to cleaning up the District’s rivers.”
Apparently Congress really does give a shit about our rivers. That contrast alone is almost too much to bear, even as citizens groups and official agencies work to slowly repair the river.
But in the face of greed and misplaced priorities, official agencies and well intentioned citizens groups are an easily breached line of defense. Powerful financial interests do it all the time.
Despite its protected status, Northwest Branch remains vulnerable.
But perhaps these nightmares about a favorite creek also stem from other sources. Three women I’ve met are in a Michigan jail for non-violently protesting an Enbridge company pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands oil across the Midwest. Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest petro-products ever.
In 2010 leakage from an Enbridge pipeline caused the largest inland oil disaster in US history when it polluted Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
In both West Virginia and North Carolina energy companies recently leaked toxins into rivers with seeming impunity. In Northern Alberta where oil and gas development has ravaged the traditional lands of the Cree peoples, Melina Laboucan-Massimo said this:
“My community has dealt with three decades of massive oil and gas development. And this has been without the consent of the people or without the recognition of protection of the human rights which should be protected under section 35 of the Canadian constitution, which protects aboriginal and treaty rights.”
It is the reckless burning of coal, oil and gas that is accelerating climate change, drastically altering the hydrology of the entire biosphere.
Meanwhile, the snowpack of the High Sierras in California shrinks as climate change sweeps across the planet. What will become of those frigid fast flowing mountain streams whose waters I drank and whose rushing sounds lulled me to sleep as I camped near their banks.
And how many Californians depend upon that snow pack for their water supply?
The UN tells us that,” More than 2.7 billion people will face severe shortages of fresh water by 2025 if the world keeps consuming water at today’s rates…”
I can’t be the only person who is having nightmares about fresh water, the lifeblood for all terrestrial beings. My prehistoric Scottish ancestors once designated pools, springs and other water sources as sacred places of worship, as did peoples around the planet.
But as social critic Karl Marx wrote,”… all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
I believe in neither gods nor goddesses. But the next time I visit Northwest Branch, my own personal shrine to water, I will offer a silent prayer.
May we please make water sacred again?
A small waterfall along Northwest Branch
Cleaning Up the Anacostia River by the National Resources Defense Council
“The massive school closings that have been part of CPS’s broader strategy dating back to the 1990s have drastic consequences: they tear apart school communities, disrupt deep and strong relationships between students, parents, and teachers, and dismantle organizations which are often students’ only centers of stability and safety.”—The Black and White of Education in Chicago
Chicago’s historically working class West Side has never been an easy place. Because of its concentration of poverty, the struggle for survival has always been part of daily life. The West Side has also been a center of social activism: From the Haymarket martyrs, to the Jane Addams-led Hull House, to today’s anti-poverty activists of Action Now!
Despite growing gentrification on the traditionally segregated West Side, most of the area remains majority Black and Latino. In 2013 quality education became a battleground as the Chicago Board of Education closed 50 schools, most of them in Black and Latino neighborhoods.
Over the past 3 months I attended meetings on the West Side about what to do in the wake of the closings. These discussions quickly expanded into topics like charter school proliferation, testing abuse, gentrification, scripted curricula, the school to prison pipeline, and Common Core. Expert speakers presented solid data as a basis for future action.
Filed under: Discrimination, Race, Society & Economy, Unions
Sunday was a beautiful day to bike to Third Unitarian Church in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, cold, but blue skies above and snow all around. At the regular 10 am forum Suzanne McBride, editor and publisher of Austin Talks explained how she keeps her informative and insightful web-based news magazine going. She’s an old fashioned Chicago journalist in the best sense of the term,”Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”