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Tag: #edjustice

Teaching in the time of #Ferguson

Edwin Mayorga
Swarthmore College

Protesters_with_signs_in_Ferguson.jpg via Wikipedia

The changing same

News from Ferguson began streaming in last night, and I found myself searching. Searching for answers, searching for justice. As an educator at a higher education institution, who is committed to ending racial, economic, and educational injustice, I found myself thinking about what I had been trying to do this semester, and what more I could do now.

The failure to indict Darren Wilson was sadly not surprising. Instead it is a changing same. It speaks to the way oppressions, and racism specifically, are sown into the fabric of our society. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore notes, “racism, specifically, is the sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death”[1]. What happened last night was a sanctioning of the legal system as a group differentiated death-dealing machine. What happened last night is injustice by design within the racial capitalist carceral state in which we live. Clearly the racial and economic conditions in Ferguson, nationally, and globally remain the grounds on which state violence takes place. As so many would remind us through tweets and memes a system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.

This is the “changing same” that we must recognize and continue to document and analyze if we are seeking to interrupt it, or downright abolish it.

Centering our humanity

There is more to dissect, analyze and teach about Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown and the numerous other Black people and people of Color who have died premature deaths at the hands of the state. I have been inspired by the various collections of resources that have been assembled through committed educators who have sought to support educators and parents in working through this tragedy (see resources below). These resources are admirable and extremely useful.

Still in my haste to analyze and respond to injustice and to get resources in the hands of my students and fellow educators, I have found that I lose sight of the broader challenge to humanity moments like these pose, and the shock and awe that consequently comes in tow. Last night was no different, I spent a lot of the evening just going through Twitter, reposting tweets that analyze the situation in #Ferguson or noted infomration about marches and demonstrations happening in Missouri and in other cities like nearby Philadelphia.

What was different about last night is that as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I was also receiving emails from students about a project they were supposed to submit last night. Some students were struggling with uploading documents, while others were asking for extensions because they had not taken into account how much work this was going to entail. And still others were struggling with what was happening in Ferguson and could not complete the work in time. Then in the morning I was going through the routine of helping my five year old get ready for school and I wondered if I should address what is happening with him now? And if not now, when?

My students and my son reminded me that we are all human, filled with complicated thoughts, and saturated with emotions. In scrambling to share information with my students I felt like I was neglecting the varied emotions that we were experiencing. I needed to give my students AND myself time and space to grieve over last night’s negation of human life and Black lives in particular. With that in mind I sent out an email to all of my students. I shared information from the night before and encouraged them to continue following social media to remain in the conversation loop. Most importantly, for me, I offered up my office as a space for students to convene if they needed to.

Not many students stopped by, but a few did, and several others thanked me via email for sharing information and making the office available. Swarthmore College was also organizing transportation to Philadelphia so that community members could participate in the marches if they sought to.

In speaking with those that came by there was a loss for words to describe what they were feeling. At the same time they had a deep desire to speak out against injustice, but were not sure where to speak.

In an email one student noted, “I really appreciate your dedication to us as students and as people…,

What happen last night was painful and enraging, but reaffirmed for me aspects of the ongoing work of educator-activist-scholars.

First, it affirmed for me that in looking to carve out spaces for teaching and talking about Ferguson, we must give ourselves opportunities to grieve (again). Engaging our grief, letting it circulate through us, is a part of moving forward.

Second, grieving is something not to be done alone. So often when we talk of social movements we lose the emotional and relational dimensions of the work. We certainly have shared material concerns, but the shared joys and pains of struggle are also part of what brings us, and keeps us, together. Spaces for grieving are also spaces for coming together and embracing one another. As I think about the marches that have taken place in the last 24 hours I see them as a reoccupation of space in order to come together. To grieve. To speak out.

After attending the march in Philadelphia last night, Joelle Bueno, a student in my Intro to Educational Studies course, noted in an email:

thank you so much for sharing about the protests in Philly. I really appreciate your dedication to us as students and as people, it really means a lot to me especially as a freshman.

I share this not to pat myself on the back, but to highlight the impact of centering people in the higher education classroom. When we show our students that they matter to us, and that the injustices happening in the world must matter to all of us, we are having an impact. Centering people in the classroom is also an ongoing process rather than a reaction. The infrastructure for a people-centered classroom begins in the planning of the curriculum and is as every bit as essential as is the content we teach (I will discuss this point further in my next post).

The ideas I am sharing here are modest suggestions, but I think they should remind educators  that teaching in the time of Ferguson requires us to teach with our humanity at the center. In carving out spaces to come together we can begin to see each other, and we can begin to connect ourselves to stories of human struggle that are often, intentionally, blurred from sight.

In coming together we can find hope in each other, and can begin to take further action.

Resources (more resources to follow)* 

Desmond-Harris, J. (2014, September 2). Do’s and Don’ts for Teaching About Ferguson. Retrieved November 26, 2014

Ferguson Syllabus from Sociologists for Social Justice

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

Otherwise, Ferguson by Ashon Crawley.

Teaching and Learning in a Ferguson World (Paul Tritter, BTU Director of Professional Learning)

Teaching Ferguson Resources

Twitter #FergusonSyllabus

Teaching about Ferguson from the Zinn Education Project from Teaching for Change

*Thanks to the various folks who have been putting these resources together since August, and specific thanks to Dr. Lee Smithey (@peacesociology) and the New York Collective of Radical Educators (@nycore3000) for sharing many of these resources.  

1. Gilmore, R. W. (2007). Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

We are the ones we have been waiting for: Validus Preparatory Class of 2014 Commencement Address

I was honored to be invited to be the speaker at Validus Preparatory Academy’s 2014 Commencement.

When I got the invite in May I asked if I could visit Validus in order to craft my speech and they immediately welcomed me into their community.

I learned so much from these young scholar-activists on my visit. I can’t thank them enough.

Commencement was a beautiful evening that only affirmed the ideas I humbly braided with the spirits of Maya Angelou, Jean Anyon, June Jordan, and my recently deceased father, Luis Mayorga.


Validus Prep Graduation

Good evening Validus family/familia

Thank you Principal Ocampo, Validus faculty, Validus students, and specifically the Class of 2014



A’ight class of 2014, this is a talk with you, rather than me talking at you.

I’m sure there are some of you out there that are like, “yo, now my family can get off my back!”

And I bet there are parents out there, that be like, “ahh, my work is done here. my kids all grown and they can do their thing….phew….”

Sorry folks the work kinda keeps going, so don’t just start kickin’ back…well maybe a little.

We are talking about going to college, or going to work, or not quite yet knowing where you are going, and a lot of folks who ain’t leaving home yet…

A show of hands, how many of you are feeling excited about today and what the future holds?

How about those of you who are happy but perhaps a little nervous about the future?

How many of you are ridiculously nervous, and just want to crawl in to you bed and say,“that’s a wrap?”

But quiet all that noise for a minute, and take in the moment…

Taking in the moment means letting the moment teach you something…

And as you are taking in this moment let me make a few fleeting comments…

Some of you may remember what I say tonight, but what I want you to remember most are the feelings of excitement, uncertainty and opportunity that are circulating through your bodies, your spirits, your hearts tonight.

So take in the moment…

Wait, who? Me?

I was really humbled to have been given the opportunity to speak tonight, but my first question was “wait, what? who, me?”

I figured, well they couldn’t get one of the Obamas or Sonia Sotomayor, or Kevin Hart, so of course I was clearly next in line.

My next questions were, what is a Validus? And what makes up a member of the Validus community?

Being the educator-scholar-activist that I am, my first thought was well I gotta do some research, so I asked if I could come visit, and the senior committee and Jamie Munkatchy were gracious enough to have me over, take me around, speak with students, take in some acting from Ms. Foster’s class, participate in chow circle and have some ridiculously good grilled cheese sandwiches.

As I was standing in the chow circle, listening to all of you, I came to understand why a person like me, a child of working class immigrants, a spouse, a parent, an educator, a scholar and a person committed to contributing to a more just world, would be invited to speak with you.

That day, and seeing you all here tonight, I realized that my role is to be that of a mirror onto Validus and I am honored to serve in that role.

The World

We live in an often cynical, oppressive and scary world…

Severe economic crises,
on going wars,
disturbing conditions for the undocumented,
climate change,
stop and frisk,
what happened to Travyon Martin…

Adults, the world we have set up our youth to inherit is troubled and uncertain, there are many challenges that we are leaving for them to meet.

Don’t get me wrong, we are still here, and we must continue to hold ourselves accountable to the state of the world, but as an educator, I passionately believe that these young people before us, you all, are the leaders, the visionaries, the people that we must hand the reigns over to, as we work alongside you.

In these challenging times, the purposes and approaches to education remain a constant question, a place of constant contention; it’s become a battleground.

What should schools be doing in order to support youth as you make your way in these challenging times?

In education we talk a lot about accountability, testing, achievement, about being college and career ready, but I wonder if that is enough, for these challenging and uncertain times?

Four year high school graduation rates in New York City are just above 61% this year which is an improvement, but it also means there are 39% of students still working hard to complete high schools or being pushed out for a whole host of individual and social reasons.

And of the 61% who do graduate there are questions about the learning conditions youth have experienced and the kinds of opportunities that have been afforded to you.

So I ask again, is it enough for these challenging and uncertain times?

Have we done right by you all?

On the whole, my answer is NO. I don’t think we have done enough.

All too often schools have been places where injustice continues to happen. These injustices are the reason that I get up everyday and work with others in demanding and envisioning a more just school system, a more just world for all of us.

We all should demand more, but often times in the work that I do I’m asked well if not this, what else? What else is possible? This is an important question, but I believe that scattered out in the world are the alternatives.  We should all be envisioning alternatives, or what my teacher, the late Dr. Jean Anyon, described as radical possibilities, in school, in society, in life.

After having the chance to speak with some of you during my visit to Validus it was clear that a number of you are feeling some of the uncertainty and the challenges that await you, and I am sure many of your loved ones are also feeling that.

Many of you are very aware of the injustices that exist both in school and in the world.

But I want to suggest to you that while things are never perfect, the ideas, stories, and world views, you all shared with me during my visit showed me that the Validus community is a living, breathing example of an alternative, a radical, possibility.

It was clear to me that you have all developed strengths that will not only help you succeed in the various paths you will take as you navigate these uncertain times, but that you all are already having a positive impact on the direction of the larger world.

As your mirror, I want to highlight three of these characteristics that most impressed me, and have made having the opportunity to speak with all of you such a joy.

First, critical adaptability

Many of you mentioned that Validus was not like any other school you had been to. You mentioned that it was not structured, or strict like your old schools. Some of you mentioned how much of a challenge that was for you when you first arrived here.

What I want to suggest to you is that your Validus education did not lack structure so much as it was a different kind of structure.

A democratic kind of structure.

Democratic life is noisy/messy, it’s not easy, but it is an opportunity for you to make decisions, to take chances, to grow with support from your teachers, your crews, your classmates and your families.

Growing up in a mostly Latino, Asian, immigrant and working class community in Southern California, I excelled at the game of traditional school, I could do just enough to get that A, and score well on a test, but when I got to college, I hit a major wall. I was out there on my own, forced to think and write for myself, to speak for myself, to defend myself, I stru-u-ggled. I couldn’t adapt quickly enough to a changing environment.

Conversely, I listen to you all, and I am just blown away by your capacity to adapt while staying true to your goals and your worldviews. I saw it in your art, in the way you speak about your experiences, in your relationships with one another.

Things are going to be hard, but you have the capacity to adapt and change, to not only survive the various obstacles you will face in life, but to transform situations so that you and others can thrive.

The second characteristic is openness to new ideas and new experiences

This goes hand in hand with adaptability, you all got out there going on trips, service-learning work, you got out there, you engaged the world

And your were also open to presenting your work in portfolio presentations, working in crews, writing plays, acting, conducting science investigations.

When I was a teacher I taught in one neighborhood where there were kids that had never left their borough, or hesitated to try new things,

But here there is openness to new experiences, and new people. Some of you spoke about doing activities where you found yourself being the only person of Color, or being the only person from working class families, but you didn’t shut down because of the situation. You seemed to push yourself, to get out there and try. Maybe that wasn’t you at the very beginning like Cierra mentioned to me when I came to visit, but over time your capacities to participate, to challenge and be challenged, to be comfortable in your own skin but willing to be out of your comfort zone, this is a distinguishing characteristic.

I often say that activist work, scholarly work, community work, requires both a thick skin but an open hand and an open heart. Taking criticism and failing are parts of life that are not easy to deal with, but being open allows you to wade thru, take risks, and find ways to again exercise your individual and collective creativity, to use these struggles as opportunities to grow, and to excel.

Third, having a commitment to community, family, and the balanced life

The day I came to Validus began in a peculiar way for me, as I got off the D and was walking toward Crotona park I got the notification that poet Maya Angelou had passed away, Maya Angelou was a teacher to the world, so the world seemed a little bit emptier for me.

But I go back to my chow circle experience, here I am standing with folks that don’t have to accept me, don’t have to be open to me being in this space and yet I was welcomed, people extended their hands to me.

My heart was full…

It reminded me of one of Maya Angelou’s many quotes where she notes: “the love of the family, the love of one person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society.”

The chow circle, the efforts each of you as individuals and as groups of people have demonstrated to me the healing power of community, of family, of familia.

But community is also not only about healing, it’s about about taking action, about exercising our voice, demanding equity, imagining another world.

Again I saw this through your art, and your service in the Bronx and beyond. I also saw it in the ways people spoke to one another, and spoke about your crews and Validus.

I don’t want to idealize Validus, but I believe that the messiness and difficulty of democratic life, is a path to freedom for all of us. Democratic life demands of us in a way that is very different from the highly individualized aspects of our society. We can individually aspire and create, but we must also be mindful of those around us, and be mindful of the way society has influenced our lives. As your classmate Paul reminded me during my visit “a man cannot make a Forrest,” and as such we must look to one another for support, purpose and inspiration.

In my research I looked up the word Validus (I had forgotten to ask while I was visiting) and I found that it means strong, mighty, powerful.

By engaging in the community, building it, critiquing it you are speaking back to injustice and you are living out the spirit of democracy and community.

Working in community makes the individual and the community stronger, mightier, and ever more powerful.

This is the radical possibility in action.  You are the radical possibility. By carrying with you an understanding of community you are carrying with you that radical possibility…

This is truly a beautiful thing.

Moreover, democratic life teaches us to also find balance in our lives. Find balance between your academics, your families, your friends, and your community work. Finding balance will help you not only have an impact on society but also help you experience the joy of being with others of contributing to making the world a more joyous place.


We are the ones we are waiting for

Finally, in becoming collectively more powerful, remember that there is no need to wait for others to take on injustice.

My message is simple:

In a world that is filled with complexity, injustice and uncertainty, the solutions to these problems are in us and in our collective work. In other words, there is no need to wait because as poet June Jordan reminds us, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” (June Jordan Poem below)

To end, I wanted to ask you to stand if you can and get close, like a chow circle, look at one another, and let say this together.

We are strong, we are mighty, and we are powerful, 

We are community,

we are beautiful imperfection, 

we cherish ourselves,

we cherish each other, 

We are the ones we have been waiting for


Now go forth Class of 2014,

Cherish the beautiful struggle together

Today and always in love, peace, and justice




Poem for South African Women
June Jordan

Commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who,  August 9, 1956, presented themselves in bodily protest against the “dompass” in the capital of apartheid. Presented at The United Nations, August 9, 1978

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire
And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for

Hot off the press! Suzuki & Mayorga “Scholar-Activism: A Twice Told Tale”

Hot off the press! Thanks to Daiyu Suzuki for inviting me to participate in this meditation on educator-scholar-activism in the midst of doctoral studies, and inheriting traditions of scholar-activism from our teachers. #MaxineGreene #JeanAnyon #MichelleFine

Please note, the first citation in my section is mistyped. Stuart Hall wrote about “societies structured in dominance”

Suzuki, D., & Mayorga, E. (2014). Scholar-Activism: A Twice Told Tale. Multicultural Perspectives, 16(1), 16–20.


What does it mean for individuals to intentionally see themselves as scholar-activists? Moreover, what does navigating a scholar-activist life mean for scholars in the early phases of their academic careers? As emerging scholar-activists the authors of this article are continuing to grapple with these questions, and in this article they present their distinct but overlapping stories of working through and overcoming the false separation of scholarship and activism. By sharing their stories the authors want to both provide readers an opportunity to find resonance in their experiences, and present some points to consider as we all define and live scholar-activism. Scholar-activism is historically situated with sights on the future. The authors have chosen to join the struggle of their predecessors in their scholar-activist work, exploring new possibilities sparked by the confluence of different generations.

A limited number of eprints available at:



Making room for classrooms?: Land grabs and the destruction of school communities

The three sites are truly special opportunities as they present sizable developments within submarkets having limited available land for any substantial development, and are located within neighborhoods exhibiting exceptionally strong residential market fundamentals. They are among the few chances remaining to build large projects in their respective neighborhoods. – RFEI created by CBRE for the NYC Educational Construction Fund

‘As NYCHA announces plans around selling off of pieces of land to condo developers this week, and libraries have begun to sell off their land footprint in order to remain open, the frenzy over real estate has all too quietly continued within the New York City public education system.

In February of this year the Westside Rag broke the story about New York City proposing to demolish three schools and offer the land and air rights to real east developers. These proposed plans have led to east and westside turf wars between real estate developers and local school communities that hardly anyone is talking about.

PS 191 (W. 61st St) and PS 199 (W. 71st St.) on the Upper West Side and CO-OP Tech (CTE) (E. 96th St) on the Upper East Side/East Harlem (depending on who you are talking to) are the targeted schools. In exchange for rights to develop on each school’s footprint and providing city funded support, developers would be required to integrate the schools into the bottom floors of the new condo high rises.

I began following this story in February but little was being said after that initial volley in educational news streams. I was recently re-engaged in the issue when a former teacher education students of mine who is now a teacher at PS 191 asked me to sign a petition in support of saving her school.

This story begins with parents from the schools discovering a glossy 82 page “request for expression of interest” (RFEI) that was prepared by CBRE on behalf of the NYC Education Construction Fund, offering these three sites as some of the last ‘sizable’ pieces land left for speculation in these regions of Manhattan.

The Executive Summary says it best:

On behalf of the New York City Educational Construction Fund (“ECF”), CBRE is pleased to offer for your consideration three prime development sites, two of which are located on the Upper West Side, and one on the Upper East Side. The three sites are truly special opportunities as they present sizable developments within submarkets having limited available land for any substantial development, and are located within neighborhoods exhibiting exceptionally strong residential market fundamentals. They are among the few chances remaining to build large projects in their respective neighborhoods. Prospective respondents are invited to bid on one, two, or all three sites. Prospective respondents should be aware that the number of sites transacted will be largely determined by the quality of the bids and the decision of the ECF.

“On the surface the proposal is being depicted as something wonderful to embrace,” said Madeline Bender, mother of a PS 191 pre-K student and the incoming PTA president, “but there does not seem like there is anything [about this] that is conducive to learning.” In speaking with Ms. Bender and Stacie Lorraine, a teacher at PS 191 one of the co-leaders of the MMS/PS 191 redevelopment committee, there has been no meaningful engagement of the various school communities being affected by this proposal, the plans for providing a temporary educational space for the displaced students has been poorly communicated and potentially inadequate for the students, and undermines the tremendous progress the school has made in recent years.

In this blog posts that follow I want to document what’s been happening (starting with PS 191) in order to encourage others to, first, stand with these school communities and, second, to suggest how this struggle is yet another lesson on the ideas and practices of free-market driven, colorblind, education policy that dominates our time.

For now I want to direct your attention to No Demolition Website, the petition, and today’s march and rally.

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