Category: Media

Superintendent Gives Green Light for Social Justice Website for Teachers and Students

School District had removed “Urban Dreams” after complaints by Fox News and a police union

By Ashley Chambers

A website with lesson plans for teaching students about social justice issues was taken offline almost eight months ago for review by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), prompting complaints that the district was censoring student inquiry.

"I am dismayed to learn that the Oakland school board has dismantled a website of social justice lesson plans because the police objected to it," said author Alice Walker.

“I am dismayed to learn that the Oakland school board has dismantled a website of social justice lesson plans because the police objected to it,” said author Alice Walker.

Putting an end to the dispute, OUSD’s new Superintendent Antwan Wilson announced this week in a statement that the website will be posted again online.

“The Urban Dreams curricular materials provide students an opportunity to read texts that provoke debate,” said Supt. Wilson in the written statement.

The “Urban Dreams” website contains 27 federally funded teaching units designed by teachers to help students explore issues about history and social justice.

The site was shut down in April after a Fox News story alleged that one of the unions compared Mumia Abu-Jamal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., citing complaints from the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.

In reality, one lesson in a unit about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged students to study current issues of media censorship and distortion in the case of Abu-Jamal, a widely known journalist who is now serving life in prison for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

“Providing our students the opportunity to read complex text, to contemplate higher-order questions, and to engage in rigorous discussion and writing are all activities we value in the Oakland Unified School District,” Supt Wilson said. “It is for these reasons that I have asked our team to repost the Urban Dreams curriculum, making it available for instructional use in our classrooms.”

“The Urban Dreams website (should) be reinstated without deletions… to let academic freedom prevail," said actor Ed Asner.

“The Urban Dreams website (should) be reinstated without deletions… to let academic freedom prevail,” said actor Ed Asner.

Since the website was taken down, it has been under review by the district’s department of Leadership, Curriculum, & Instruction to assess if the material met state academic standards.

In an interview with the Post, OUSD Communications Director Troy Flint recently said a decision to repost the site could be made as soon as December.

The website is expected to be reposted by January with all the original material – including a page supporting the teaching of controversial issues and the best practices to engage students.

Teacher Craig Gordon, the author of unit that prompted the controversy, union that had drawn the said, “It’s very good for the materials to be there because…(they) provoke students to think with an open mind and discuss issues in a thoughtful way.

But Gordon still has concerns. “Why did this happen in the first place? He asked.

The debate over “Urban Dreams” has grown to the point that it has involved Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker and Emmy Award-winning actor Ed Asner, who both sent letters to the school district.

Asner wrote: “Urban Dreams website (should) be reinstated without deletions… to let academic freedom prevail.”

"The Urban Dreams curricular materials provide students an opportunity to read texts that provoke debate,” said Supt. Antwan Wilson.

“The Urban Dreams curricular materials provide students an opportunity to read texts that provoke debate,” said Supt. Antwan Wilson.

In her letter Walker wrote, “I am dismayed to learn that the Oakland school board has dismantled a website of social justice lesson plans because the police objected to it. The board has a duty to defend students’ right to learn against police interference.”

Walker herself was once embroiled in a national censorship battle when OUSD in 1984 banned “The Color Purple,” based on the book’s “sexual and social explicitness” and “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.”

After nine months, the book was approved by the Board of Education.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November, 20 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Seven Years After His Death, Chauncey Bailey’s Legacy Still Lives

 By Post Staff

Post Editor Chauncey Bailey was gunned down August 2, 2007 in downtown Oakland.

In the wake of the shooting, Hillary Clinton visited the Oakland Bay Area on Aug. 10, 2007, meeting with Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb to express her condolences for the death of Chauncey Bailey and to decry gun violence.

Chauncey Bailey

Chauncey Bailey

Bailey  had been investigating complaints of the allegations of police misconduct and corruption regarding stop and frisk actions and confiscating money, drugs, jewelry and weapons without arresting the youth, thereby leaving them to become targets of their disbelieving gang affiliates.

Those charged with killing Bailey have been imprisoned.  The Black Muslim Bakery, which was associated with the killers, was also frequented by Police officer Derwin Longmire, who also acknowledged befriending and mentoring bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV.

Strangely, Longmire was allowed to lead the investigation into Bailey’s death. Former Police Chief Howard Jordan vigorously defended Longmire’s involvement with Bey.

Jordan gave an interviewed in “60 Minutes” shortly after Bailey’s death,  whereJordan implied that police had learned of the bakery’s connection to Bailey’s shooting from Post Publisher Cobb.

After the interview aired, Cobb received threats, and Jordan apologized for what he had said.

A Chauncey Bailey memorial exhibit has been established at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 2, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Teachers Accuse School Officials of Censorship for Shutting Down Website

Craig Gordon

Craig Gordon

By Ashley Chambers

Teachers, community members and students are complaining that the Oakland Unified School District has violated academic freedom when it unilaterally, without any public discussion, shut down an “Urban Dreams” website, containing 27 units of federally funded curriculum developed by educators focusing on human rights issues.

Martin Luther King Jr.´s Poor People's Campaign

Martin Luther King Jr.´s Poor People’s Campaign

The site was removed by the school district on April 10, only hours after a Fox News reporter contacted the district and Urban Dreams teacher Craig Gordon. The reporter alleged Gordon’s curriculum unit compared Martin Luther King Jr. to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a renowned radio commentator who is serving life in prison for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

The Fox News report, which was published on April 14, interviewed the police officer’s widow, angry at the supposed comparison between Dr. King and Abu-Jamal.

Quoted in the story, Troy Flint, the school district’s director of public relations, said, “To avoid any confusion in the future, we will conduct an inventory of the numerous websites created to support learning district-wide to ensure they conform with our present academic philosophy and do not inadvertently misrepresent Oakland schools.”

However, Urban Dreams’ supporters, including members of the teachers’ union the Oakland Education Association, feel the district caved in when contacted by Fox, which is well known for inaccurate reporting.

The facts disapprove the allegations, they say.

Developed with the help of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University led by Dr. Clayborne Carson, the curriculum unit seeks to expose high school juniors to “a range of King’s ideas almost completely unknown to most of the public.” Gordon designed the unit to guide students to look at how King’s ideas and legacy are portrayed and censored by the mass media and cultural institutions.

The unit highlights King’s views such as his opposition to the War in Vietnam and U.S. involvement in wars around the world, and his support of racial and class solidarity.

After looking at King’s legacy, the lesson plan has one lesson that encourages students to apply what they have learned to a current issue, how the facts and debate over the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has been constricted by media.

MLK leads march against War in Vietnam, Chicago, 1967.

MLK leads march against War in Vietnam, Chicago, 1967.

“King’s ideas become a very potent tool for helping students understand the fundamental basis of equality in society, and not just the most superficial understanding of what racism is. King’s critique of society was that we have profound economic inequality,” said Gordon, who taught history and media in OUSD for 24 years.

“It’s very powerful for students to have access to these ideas and to see them as legitimate. It legitimizes a radical vision of the world,” he continued.

Urban Dreams was funded by a grant from the Department of Education from 1999-2004 and includes 18 lessons in English Language Arts and 9 lessons in History, all which cover socially relevant issues.

According to Troy Flint, the decision to take the website down stemmed from OUSD staff’s lack of knowledge about the content of the site.

“We didn’t and still don’t have comprehensive knowledge of all the websites that are out there representing OUSD, or connected to OUSD. That’s an area that we need to upgrade,” Flint said in an interview with The Post.

“We have to make these decisions beyond individual opinions and look at it through the lens of what’s necessary through a systemic perspective. Too often in this district, we don’t operate as an organization with protocols, systems and procedures that are applied universally,” he said.

According to Flint, the staff in the district’s Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction Department is currently reviewing the content before making a recommendation on whether to restore it as is or modify the site, although there is no timeline on when that recommendation will be made.

Gordon and supporters of Urban Dreams are calling for the site to be reposted immediately or at least by the beginning of the school year.

“I don’t trust the district to act in good faith on this,” Gordon said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 20, 2104 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

cThere should be a full reposting of the entire curriculum including a statement explaining the importance of teaching historical issues, he said. “I want to see a more specific commitment [from the district].”

Post Photographer Laura Wong Presents at “A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America”

By Post Staff

Post photographer Laura Ming Wong spoke and showed slides of of her photography at a workshop last Saturday presented by the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) in San Francisco, in support of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’ photo/video exhibition’s “A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America.”

Laura Wong

Laura Wong

Wong, a documentary, portrait, and wedding photographer, specializes in people and location photography. Her subjects range from women in fighting sports, to the Bay Area’s activist and protest culture, to the people she meets while traveling in Cuba and other locations far from her home in Oakland.

Her work appears in a number of Bay Area news publications and magazines, including the Post newspapers. Recently she contributed images to an art exhibition about subverting stereotypes against Asian Americans and a documentary in production about an aging yet active community of punk rock musicians.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s project will collect thousands of photographs about Asian Pacific American daily life taken on May 10 and produce an exhibit at http://apa.si.edu by May 26.

Over 50 professional photojournalists, documentary film/video makers, and artists are participating in the project along with thousands of photo enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds.

The workshop was held on Saturday, April 5 at the CHSA Learning Center, 965 Clay St. in San Francisco.

Besides Laura Wong, photographers Leon Sun, and Leland Wong presented slides of their documentary photography and discussed how they approach their work.

A second workshop was held on Saturday, April 12 at the same location. This workshop featured photographers Lenore Chinn, Bob Hsiang, and James Sobredo.

Moderator of both workshops was Eddie Wong, guest curator for the “A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America” online photo/video exhibition.

The public is invited to learn about documentary photography and join the national and international effort to reflect upon Asian Pacific American life. For more information about the project, visit http://SmithsonianAPA.org/life2014.pdf.

To view Laura Wong’s photos, go to http://lauramwong.com/

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 15, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)