Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

December 31, 2013

Yes Magazine:10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come

Beyond the headlines of conflict and catastrophe, this year’s top stories offered us some powerful proof that the world can still change—for the better.

There was something almost apocalyptic about 2013. Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, the strongest storm ever recorded on land. It killed more than 6,000 people and affected millions. But it was just one of the 39 weather-related disasters costing $1 billion or more in 2013.

 

In Australia, record high temperatures forced mapmakers to create a new color on the weather map. Massive wildfires swept through California, historic flooding took out bridges and roadways in Colorado, and tornadoes swept through the Midwest, destroying towns like Moore, Okla. Millions of people are on the move, seeking to escape the effects of climate-related disasters.

 

CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million for the first time this year, and yet governments have done little to curb emissions. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars—much of it from secret sources—flow to climate-denier think tanks and advocacy groups.

 

Pop culture often explores a change before politicians do, and 2013 saw a rash of post-apocalyptic movies—from World War Z to Oblivion—and zombie apocalypse role-playing games.

 

Much happened that was hopeful this year—a new pope focused on inequality, successful minimum wage campaigns spread across the country, and the number of states allowing gay marriage doubled.

 

But responses to the threat of the climate crisis lead off this year’s top stories as we look at seeds sown this year that could make 2014 transformational.

 

1. We saw surprising new leadership on the climate issue

 

In northeast Nebraska, Native Americans and local ranchers formed a new alliance to resist the Keystone XL pipeline. Seven thousand activists gathered in Pittsburgh to press for action on a wide range of environmental justice issues. Students across North America persuaded nine colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of climate activists walked out of the COP19 climate talks in Poland to hold their own climate talks.

 

The governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia have committed to taking action on the climate crisis. But Congress remains deadlocked and in denial, and climate scientists—when they let down their careful professional demeanor—express astonishment that world governments have failed to act on what is fast becoming a global emergency.

 

A new potential ally is coming from an unexpected source. Some investors are beginning to worry that fossil fuel companies may not be a good bet. Investors worry about a “carbon bubble.”

 

The reserves of oil, gas, and coal counted as assets by the big energy corporations would be enormously destructive to life on Earth if they were allowed to burn. Many believe that new regulation or pricing will keep a large portion of those reserves safely in the ground.

 

If that happens, the companies’ reserves, and thus their stock, may be worth far less than believed. Savvy investors are placing their bets elsewhere: Warren Buffett, for example, is investing $1 billion in wind energy, which, along with solar energy, is looking better all the time.

 

2. Native peoples took the lead in the fossil fuel fight

 

In response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on Native lands, Idle No More blossomed across Canada this year. First Nations people held flash mob round dances, blockaded roads, and appealed to government at all levels to protect land and water.

 

And it’s not just Canada. In Washington state, the Lummi Tribe is among those resisting massive new coal transport infrastructure, which would make exported coal cheap to burn in Asia.

 

In Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe is teaming up with local ranchers to resist construction of the Keystone tar sands pipeline. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the Andes, Malaysia, the Niger Delta, and elsewhere are also at the front lines of resistance to yet more dangerous fossil fuel extraction. Many are turning to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and the new Rights of Nature movement for support.

 

Indigenous peoples developed ways of life that could sustain human life and the natural environment over thousands of years. The rest of the world is starting to recognize the critical importance of these perspectives, and there is growing willingness to listen to the perspectives of indigenous peoples.

 

3. The middle and lower classes fought for economic justice

 

Income inequality is reaching levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. People stuck in long-term unemployment are running out of options, and those who do find work often can’t cover basic living expenses. The issue is now getting attention from mainstream media, becoming one of the defining issues of our time, as President Obama said.

 

Now a movement is building to create a new economy that can work for all. Voters this year passed minimum wage laws in SeaTac, Wash., ($15 an hour) and the state of New Jersey. An overwhelming majority favors raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Domestic workers won the right to a minimum wage after years of organizing.

 

The message was also clear in the election of Bill de Blasio, a founder of the Working Families Party, as mayor of New York City. Inequality is a top plank of his platform and his public record. At the national level, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s defense of the rights of student borrowers and her proposal to strengthen Social Security (instead of weaken it, as leaders in both party are discussing) is winning widespread support. There is even talk of drafting Warren to run for president.

 

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4. A new economy is in the making

 

At the grassroots, National People’s Action and the New Economy Institute are leading new conversations about what it takes to build an economy that works for all and can function in harmony with the environment. Thousands of people are taking part.

 

And a growing cooperatives movement is linking up with unions and social movements. Some are working with large “anchor” institutions, like hospitals and universities, that can provide a steady market for their products and services. Credit unions, too, are proving their value as they keep lending to local businesses and homeowners as Wall Street-owned banks pulled back.

 

And a new DIY sharing economy is taking off, as people do peer-to-peer car-sharing, fundraising, and skill-sharing, and bring open-source technology to new levels.

 

5. U.S. military strikes didn’t happen

 

The big news of the year may be the two wars the United States refused to instigate.

 

The United States did continue its drone strikes, and the civilian casualties are causing an international uproar, with some calling for an outright ban on drones. And military spending continues to devastate the country’s budget. (The United States spent more on the military in 2013 than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.) Few dared to call for the same fiscal discipline from the military and its many contractors as they expect from schools and services for the poor.

 

On the other hand, the United States stepped back from the brink of military strikes against Syria and Iran—a step in the right direction.

 

6. Pope Francis called for care and justice for the poor …

 

…and for an end to the idolatry of money and consumerism. He also criticized “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

 

In his “Evangelii Gaudium” he says: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

 

This call is provoking outrage from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News commentators, but elsewhere, it’s leading to a new questioning of the moral foundation for a system that concentrates wealth and power while causing widespread poverty.

 

7. Gays and lesbians got some respect

 

On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Today, married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits once reserved for straight couples. The year saw a doubling of the number of states allowing gay marriages, and a third of all Americans now live in such states.

 

Support for gay marriage has flipped from a slight majority opposing it to a majority now supporting the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. As a wider range of gender identities has become acceptable, men and women, gay and straight, are freer to shed gender stereotypes without fear of bullying and humiliation.

 

8. There were new openings for a third party

 

Just 26 percent of Americans believe the Democratic and Republican parties are doing “an adequate job,” according to an October Gallup poll; 60 percent say a third party is needed. Eighty-five percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Even cockroaches (along with zombies, hemorrhoids, and Wall Street) have a higher approval rating according to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling.

 

But it’s not the Tea Party that Americans are looking to as the alternative. Support for the Tea Party has fallen: In an October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 21 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the party.

 

New space has opened for independent political work. The Working Family Party (see #3 above) is an especially interesting model.

 

9. Alternatives to Obamacare are in the works

 

Democratic leadership believed that the big profits the Affordable Care Act guaranteed to private insurance companies would make the act popular with conservatives.

 

But the resulting system, with all its complications and expenses—and requirements—is frustrating millions. There are features that benefit ordinary people, but it compares poorly to the simpler and more cost-effective systems that exists in most of the developed world. Canadian-style single-payer health care, for example, had the support of a majority of Americans. Some jurisdictions are still looking for alternatives. Cooperative health insurance is available in some states and others are working to establish statewide single-payer healthcare.

 

10. An education uprising began

 

The momentum behind the education reform agendas of Presidents Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) is stalling. The combination of austerity budgets, an ethic of blame directed at teachers, high-stakes testing, and private charter schools has stressed teachers and students—but it has not resulted in improved performance.

 

Peaceful Uprising photo by David Newkirk
Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical Is the New Normal

 

Seattle’s Garfield High School teachers, students, and parents launched an open rebellion last spring, joining a handful of others in refusing to administer required standardized tests. The movement is spreading around the country, with more rebellions expected in the spring of 2014 (stay tuned for an in-depth report in the Spring issue of YES!)

 

We live in interesting times, indeed. The growing climate emergency could eclipse all the other issues, and the sooner we get on it, the more we can use the transition for innovations that have other positive spin-offs.

 

There’s not a moment to lose.

May 23, 2012

Teaching Untold Stories During Asian Pacific Heritage Month

Filed under: Multiculturalism,People's History — millerlf @ 1:23 pm
Posted: 05/23/2012 Huffington Post
Moe Yonamine

“They’re Latinos … I think they’re some kind of farm workers.” “No, they’re Asians with name tags.” And then a student in a quiet voice walked by me slowly and muttered, “I think something really bad is happening to them.” 2012-05-23-Photo1_JapaneseInternmentPhoto.jpg Japanese Peruvians en route to U.S. Internment Camps. April 2, 1942. U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo. National Archive. My students at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon — one of the state’s most racially diverse schools — studied each black and white photo posted around the room, inspecting the background and the facial expressions — confused, anxious, frustrated. They began a journey to uncover the hidden story of the Japanese Latin American removal, internment, and deportation during World War II. Most U.S. history textbooks now acknowledge that beginning in 1942, the U.S. government rounded up more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent — even those who were U.S. citizens — and sent them to internment camps. What the textbooks fail to include is that the United States encouraged that Latin American governments do the same thing, and turn over their own internees to U.S. authorities — and that these internees went on to become refugees with no country to call home. Even before Pearl Harbor, in October 1941, the U.S. government initiated plans to construct an internment camp near the Panama Canal Zone for Japanese Latin Americans. The United States targeted people it deemed security threats and pressured Latin American governments to round them up and turn them over. Beginning in 1942, 13 Latin American governments arrested more than 2,300 people of Japanese descent in their countries — largely from Peru — including teachers, farmers, barbers, and businessmen. The U.S. government transported these individuals from Panama to internment camps in the United States, confiscating passports and visas. Most remained in the camps until the end of the war, when the government deemed them “illegal aliens.” Meanwhile, the Peruvian government refused to readmit any of its citizens of Japanese origin, thus hundreds were deported to Japan. 2012-05-23-Photo2_Art_Shibayama.jpg Art Shibayama holds a portrait of his family who was interned by the U.S Government. (c) Tyler Sipe, PRI’s The World Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a good opportunity for teachers — and all the rest of us — to explore important untold stories like this one. I learned this history by coincidence 14 years ago. I was on a bus from Portland to Tule Lake, California, site of one of the largest Japanese American incarceration camps. My former middle school teacher, who had first taught me the history of Japanese American internment, had asked me to join her on this pilgrimage, which included hundreds of survivors. “I am from Japan,” the elder sitting next to me said in Japanese. “But I am originally from Peru.” An elder sitting in front of us turned around and said in English, “He looks very familiar.” As I translated their conversation, it came out that they were both young boys interned at Tule Lake. “I know him!” said the Japanese American elder. “He was my friend!” Grabbing the Peruvian man’s hand and shaking it firmly, he explained that they played baseball together often but that one day his friend disappeared. His friend spoke Spanish, so he could never ask him what he was doing in the camp. The Peruvian Japanese elder’s face beamed with joy as the two continued to shake hands, not letting go. “I am so glad you are safe,” he said. As I absorbed this moment between the two long-ago friends, I was struck with joy and at the same time, anger. How could this be that through all of my education there was never even a mention of this? I remembered elderly people I knew and loved in my home island of Okinawa. These elders were Okinawan by ethnicity but spoke Spanish. I remember that some of them told about their childhood days in Peru. Could they too have survived such a past? From subsequent research, I discovered that large numbers of Okinawans migrated to South America beginning in the late 1800s as the once-sovereign Ryukyu island chain was brought under Japanese control. By World War II, the majority of immigrants to Peru were Okinawan. There was also a large group in Brazil. As a result, many families in Okinawa today have relatives from South America including my own, but stories of their migration and their lives thereafter remain largely untold. My own questions turned into my inquiry as a history teacher. How can I teach my students to imagine the experiences of people from another time and make connections to today? Back in the classroom, as part of our study of the internment of Japanese during World War II, I showed the class a map of the detention centers and incarceration camps. Immediately, students saw Portland on the map and a hush spread through the room. I walked over to one of the photos posted on the wall and said, “This is the Expo Center.” Shouts of disbelief rang through the room. The Expo Center is in North Portland near our own high school, now used for large community events and cultural festivals. I explained that many people from Portland were affected and the Expo Center was a detention center used to round up Japanese American families from our own area. I developed a role play — included at the Zinn Education Project website — to spark the students’ curiosity. The students’ job was to represent characters with different perspectives and to present to the Commission on whether or not Japanese Latin Americans should receive redress for their forced removal, internment, and deportation. In each class, students passionately debated, staying in character. The student judges delivered various decisions but all concluded that this history must be taught. In one class, Nikki said, “How are we supposed to make sure that this doesn’t happen again if we don’t talk about it?” She went on: “If we don’t teach the kids, they’re not going to learn from all of the mistakes that have been done … just like with the Native Americans here and the Aboriginal people in Australia.” Joseph, who played a member of the Congressional Judiciary Committee, approached me after class: “It was so hard to have to make the decision … This is really people’s lives. You can’t make it all better by any of this. It’s not enough.” How then do we “undo” injustice? I believe it is through empowering young people to imagine a different world. In my classroom, students filled the room with interruptions and passion to call out the injustice they see and to say how this connects to their own lives. What’s more, they stood up for how it should be, how such acts of racism, hatred, and violence should never occur. Steve stated it best, writing, “We can’t afford not to learn this history and histories like this. It has everything to do with us because injustice is all around us — whether it’s racism or war…. The only thing that separates doing the right thing and the wrong thing is learning from the past.” During this commemorative month to raise awareness of Asian/Pacific Island peoples, I draw hope from my students who are leading the way to unlearn the past and imagine a more just world for all people.

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