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Oakland Unified School District bans lessons on MLK and Mumia: Demand they restore them! Protest May 28

May 28, 2014

Protest at the Oakland School Board meeting Wednesday, May 28, 5:30 p.m., in the Great Room at La Escuelita Education Center, 1050 Second Ave., a block up from Laney College, Oakland

by Craig Gordon and Jack Gerson

On April 14, a reporter for Fox News published a story trashing a unit of lesson plans by Oakland high school teacher Craig Gordon titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Martin Luther King’s Radical Vision.” That unit was part of the Urban Dreams curricula, a collection of creative and engaging lesson plans accessible through the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) website.

Martin Luther King Jr. constantly faced hostility from police, just as Mumia does today. Here, state troopers bar him from the Alabama Capitol on March 25, 1965. – Photo: AP

Martin Luther King Jr. constantly faced hostility from police, just as Mumia does today. Here, state troopers bar him from the Alabama Capitol on March 25, 1965. – Photo: AP

Teachers around the country had been using The Urban Dreams lessons for more than a decade. Yet hours after the Fox news story was released, OUSD administrators shut down the entire Urban Dreams website without even consulting with teachers and students.

What’s behind this? Well, maybe we should ask, who’s behind this? And that’s the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Is the name familiar? They framed Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Mumia, an award-winning journalist and critic of police abuse, was convicted of killing a Philadelphia cop in 1981 and sentenced to death in a biased and highly politicized trial. The FOP wants Mumia dead or in prison for the rest of his life.

They haven’t been able to kill him. But they’ve kept him locked up for 30 years and are determined to keep him there for the rest of his life. (For example, in 1994, an intense campaign by the FOP and its conservative allies prompted National Public Radio to cancel its broadcast of Mumia’s political commentaries and to virtually eliminate coverage of his case from then on.)

One of the lessons in Craig Gordon’s MLK unit asked students to consider whether there were parallels between Martin Luther King and Mumia Abu-Jamal – in particular, in the way the mass media hid – and continues to hide – MLK’s radical, anti-corporate, militant struggle and the way it hid – and continues to hide – who Mumia is, what he stands for, and why they refuse to cover his entire case, including how he was framed.

It’s easy to see why the FOP wants to bury the truth about Mumia. The same holds for Fox News. But why did the Oakland School District administration rush to do their bidding? Why has the Oakland School Board turned a deaf ear to demands from teachers and community to restore the Urban Dreams website – including Gordon’s unit on MLK and his lesson on King and Mumia?

Teachers around the country had been using The Urban Dreams lessons for more than a decade. Yet hours after the Fox news story was released, OUSD administrators shut down the entire Urban Dreams website without even consulting with teachers and students.

Troy Flint, the OUSD communications director, told Fox News that Gordon’s MLK unit “doesn’t speak to current instructional practice in the district.” He called the Urban Dreams website “defunct” – even though it was actively used by several teachers – which didn’t stop Flint and his bosses from shutting it down.

From his emergence as a leader, Martin Luther King Jr. defied authority – and was vilified and censored by the media, just as Mumia is. Here is MLK in a mug shot taken in 1956 when he was 27.

From his emergence as a leader, Martin Luther King Jr. defied authority – and was vilified and censored by the media, just as Mumia is. Here is MLK in a mug shot taken in 1956 when he was 27.

In fact, the Fraternal Order of Police, Fox News and OUSD administration have a common interest in trashing all that Mumia stands for, all that MLK stood for, and the connection between the two. Mumia stands for courage and integrity in speaking truth to power and in fighting that power.

MLK – the mass media’s efforts to portray him as an antiseptic Disney World figure notwithstanding – advocated and organized mass resistance and struggle, and in the years leading up to his death spoke repeatedly of the need to take on corporate power.

But the FOP, Fox News and the Oakland school bosses all oppose resistance, rebellion and struggle. They do not want young people to think for themselves. They are terrified of mass struggle.

What they have in common is that they demand obedience, insist on acquiescence, and come down like a ton of bricks on those who won’t shut up and obey. That could lead to questioning authority, which in turn can lead to struggling against inequity and injustice. Like MLK. Like Mumia. So they want to bury those lessons comparing MLK and Mumia.

In fact, fostering student obedience is at the very core of the corporate assault on public education. School district administrators increasingly demand that students and teachers – especially those in so-called “failing” schools (overwhelmingly in low-income areas; disproportionately schools serving people of color) — focus on rote learning, test preparation for high stakes multiple choice tests.

The point is clear: There’s only one right answer and we don’t care how you come up with it. Just spit it out – “A, B, C or D.” “True or false.” That prepares students for obedience: “Yes, sir. No, sir.” It discourages concepts, creativity and curiosity.

The FOP, Fox News and the Oakland school bosses all oppose resistance, rebellion and struggle. They do not want young people to think for themselves. They are terrified of mass struggle.

Young people are naturally curious, but curiosity leads to questioning, which can lead to questioning the status quo, and that can lead to rebelliousness and struggle. That’s the last thing that the OUSD administration, the school board and their corporate masters want to encourage. That’s why OUSD spokesperson Flint can say that a unit on MLK “doesn’t speak to current instructional practice in the district.”

In fact, for well over a decade the OUSD administration and school board have faithfully executed the corporate agenda of high stakes testing, downsizing and privatizing: school closures, charter schools, outsourcing etc. In 2003, OUSD was put into receivership by the state of California, and the state turned its operation over to Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and their hired hands.

Libraries in nearly every middle school and in several high schools were closed. Librarians, clericals, custodians, food service workers, buildings and grounds workers and others were laid off in droves. Dozens of schools were closed, while many charter schools were opened.

Enrollment in public schools fell by more than 30 percent – from 54,000 in 2003 to 37,000 in 2010 (when the state takeover ended), while enrollment in charter schools quadrupled. Although the takeover ended, the same policies have remained in effect.

Support for Mumia Abu-Jamal is demonstrated in cities around the world. This March to Free Mumia was held Dec. 9, 2011, in London.

Support for Mumia Abu-Jamal is demonstrated in cities around the world. This March to Free Mumia was held Dec. 9, 2011, in London.

So today, OUSD has 40 charter schools, and 20 percent of students in the district attend charter schools – more than double the proportion of any other urban district in California. Proportionate to its size, OUSD spends double what the average California school district does on outsourcing to private contractors and has double the administrative overhead.

As Oakland continues to spend money on private consultants to produce “teacher-proof” lessons and testing, teacher-produced curricula – like the Urban Dreams material – is guilty until proven innocent (just like Mumia!). Teaching and learning is the last thing on the OUSD bosses’ minds.

Their priority is to open the schools to private profit and control while keeping up appearances. At the first peep of a right-wing attack, this liberal district made the same choice that it made 15 years ago, when our union, Oakland Education Association (OEA), led a teach-in on the death penalty and Mumia. When the police union and its supporters attacked it, the district condemned the teach-in and tried to ban it.

The district has begun to hear from teachers, OEA leaders and others. We are demanding that the entire Urban Dreams website, including the MLK unit and Mumia Abu Jamal materials, be reposted. We’ve been told that the administration is considering doing that after they’ve reviewed all of the content for “alignment” with Common Core standards, the new national regime in education.

But the MLK unit material isn’t the kind of evidence those behind “education reform” want students to consider, so we’ll have to fight for our students’ right to know, to think, to question and to fight to make the world a better place.

The district has begun to hear from teachers, OEA leaders and others. We are demanding that the entire Urban Dreams website, including the MLK unit and Mumia Abu Jamal materials, be reposted.

Please contact the OUSD school board to demand that they immediately restore the Urban Dreams website, all materials previously available to students and teachers. The email address is boe@ousd.k12.ca.us.

Craig Gordon is an Oakland public school teacher. Jack Gerson is a retired Oakland public school teacher; he can be reached at jackrgerson@gmail.com.

How you can help

Under pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Fox News, OUSD just shut down the entire Urban Dreams website including material on Mumia Abu-Jamal authored by Oakland teacher Craig Gordon. Mumia was framed by the Philadelphia police and falsely convicted of murdering a Philadelphia policeman in 1982, a murder he did not commit.

Urban Dreams was initially set up under a grant from the federal Department of Education in 1999-2004 and contains teacher-written material on a wide variety of issues. It is used extensively in California and beyond.

Fresh from defeating Obama’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department because he served for a period as Mumia’s attorney, the FOP is attacking a lesson that asks students to compare the censorship of Martin Luther King’s later, thoroughly radical positions with the censorship of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s prison writings.

Protest at the Oakland School Board meeting: Demand reversal of the censorship and reposting of all of Urban Dreams, including Mumia, on Wednesday, May 28, 5:30 p.m., in the Great Room at La Escuelita Education Center, 1050 Second Ave., a block up Second Avenue from Laney College, Oakland. Please attend this important protest!

Protest by email: OUSD is censoring and attacking the academic freedom of students in the Oakland schools and of teachers. This shameful action must be reversed immediately!

Email your protest to

National educators challenge police group and Fox News’ strong-arm tactics against Oakland School District, urge Board of Education to reopen website

by Dr. Mark Taylor and Professor Johanna Fernandez, Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ)

Princeton and New York City – The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), allied with reactionary Fox News reporting, has attacked an Oakland Unified School District website curriculum, “Urban Dreams,” denouncing it for comparing the censorship of Martin Luther King’s more radical writings to the censorship of writings today by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Just hours after an April 10 Fox News national story about the curriculum, the “Urban Dreams” site was closed.

In Philadelphia, counter demonstrations are held occasionally.

In Philadelphia, counter demonstrations are held occasionally.

The curriculum unit, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” developed by Oakland teacher Craig Gordon, is a valuable resource for students, illuminating on King, Abu-Jamal and many other social issues.

Abu-Jamal, who was framed by Philadelphia police and convicted through prosecutorial misconduct for the 1981 shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner, always maintained his innocence.

Fox’s national story highlighted the rage of Maureen Faulkner, widow of the police officer whom Abu-Jamal is said to have killed. She is quoted as declaring the curriculum an “absolute disgrace.” EMAJ Coordinator Mark Taylor noted, “Beyond airing Maureen Faulkner’s grief and her denunciations, the Fox story made not one cogent argument against the curriculum.”

The FOP, in an earlier diatribe against the OUSD, announced through its “Political Coordinator” Richard Costello that the curriculum was “psychological child abuse.”

FOP strong-arm tactics also were wielded against President Obama’s choice of Debo Adegbile as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Adegbile was subject to FOP harangue simply for maintaining Abu-Jamal’s right to representation and vilified as defender of a “cop-killer.”

EMAJ Coordinator Dr. Johanna Fernandez (Baruch College, CUNY) emphasized, “We strongly denounce and deplore these strong-arm police tactics abetted by Fox. They are a violation of academic freedom.”

EMAJ calls for Urban Dreams to be reopened immediately and has posted a longer open letter to all OUSD board members and sent it to them, detailing EMAJ’s position on the OUSD case. The letter also documents the proven falsehoods about Abu-Jamal, which are frequently circulated by the FOP and its political allies.

Open letter from EMAJ to the Oakland Unified School District

To Oakland School Board President David Kakishiba, Acting Superintendent Gary D. Yee, incoming Superintendent Antwan Wilson and the Board of Education

With this letter we register our protest of the decision by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to shut down its Urban Dreams curriculum web site. The decision has every appearance of being a capitulation to elements of a police pressure group, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), whose strong-arm tactics of intimidation were recently projected at the OUSD through reactionary pundits on Fox News. Even though OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint enumerates several reasons for taking down the website, he also admits that the national Fox story is what precipitated its closing.

Closing the curriculum website denies faculty and student access to invaluable curriculum resources by Oakland teachers with social justice themes. In particular, this innovative Urban Dreams curriculum focused on media and educators’ censorship, asking students to consider parallels between the censoring of radical political speeches and writings of the post-1967 Martin Luther King and the censoring of today’s revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Closing the curriculum website denies faculty and student access to invaluable curriculum resources by Oakland teachers with social justice themes.

King’s radical politics were evident in his last years of his growing collaboration with Black Power leaders, his leading of study sessions with SCLC leadership on socialism, his support of the movement against the Vietnam War and his challenge to U.S. militarism, declaring at Riverside Church that the U.S., “my own country,” was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

Abu-Jamal’s radical politics are expressed today in six books and hundreds of essays in audio and print formats. He produced them over 32 years of imprisonment, 29 of these on death row. He has continuously maintained his innocence against a 1982 death sentence (now, life without parole) for the 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia policeman, Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal has become a skilled and inspiring analyst of a broad array of social justice themes: mass incarceration, police violence, economic exploitation, U.S. imperialism, the death penalty and systemic racism – also gender and sexual injustice. These essays have found their way into venues as diverse as National Public Radio, Yale Law Review, Street News for the homeless, Forbes Magazine and a host of others.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, shown in a 2013 photo, a college educated professional journalist, has continued to write news and commentary throughout his 30 years of imprisonment – an excellent role model for the disciplined scholarship expected of students.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, shown in a 2013 photo, a college educated professional journalist, has continued to write news and commentary throughout his 30 years of imprisonment – an excellent role model for the disciplined scholarship expected of students.

OUSD teacher Craig Gordon, in a lively and well-crafted educational course design, offered an impressive curriculum encouraging students to compare censorship of King’s and Abu-Jamal’s radical writings. His teaching unit, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” deftly exposes how King’s ideas have been whitewashed and distorted and Abu-Jamal’s subjected to ideological distortion.

Gordon creatively led students to consider questions like the following: Why is this radical King absent from our education and media? How does his censorship compare with the silencing of other radical voices today, like that of Abu-Jamal? This is an invaluable pedagogy.

Predictably, Gordon and the OUSD came under pressure from both the FOP and Fox News.

First came a March 24 article, posted at the website of the Education Action Group Foundation (EAG) entitled, “Police Union Leader: Teachers Who Present a Cop-Killer as Hero are Committing ‘Psychological Child Abuse’.” The EAG is a reactionary educators group that is virulently anti-union, an ideologically right-wing educational arm of the Republican “Tea Party” movement.

The essay’s referenced “police union leader” was Philadelphia FOP Grand Lodge “Political Coordinator” Richard Costello, blustering – against all the evidence and in full ideological tantrum – that the OUSD, along with our organization, Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ), was “committing psychological child abuse.”

Then, appearing on April 10, a Fox News essay took the FOP-Fox News attack to the national level. This essay was entitled “Lesson Has School Kids Comparing Martin Luther King to Cop-Killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Fox here used a tactic refined over the years by the FOP, namely, show-casing the grief of Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the police officer whom Abu-Jamal is said to have killed.

She is quoted as declaring that the OUSD curriculum was an “absolute disgrace.” The Fox story adds, without quoting Faulkner, that the OUSD curriculum is “akin to teaching students violence.” The FOP and allied Fox News pundits’ strategy is to replace well-made arguments with a simple emotional appeal to this grieving widow’s declaration of outrage.

There is more operative here than personal grief. The story also shows the FOP and Fox News claiming alliance with Maureen Faulkner in their political hostility to academic freedom. The story holds that any mention of radical or militant people or their ideas should be purged from public schools “using our tax dollars.” The very day this national story broke – in fact, just hours later – the OUSD took down the Urban Dreams site.

We urge the OUSD to reopen the Urban Dreams website. It would find ready use again, as it had before. It would also be a continuing testimony to the courage and excellence of education emanating from Oakland teachers.

We want the OUSD to know just how far the FOP will go in exploiting news outlets for their vendetta against Abu-Jamal.

Consider the FOP’s role in the recent congressional debates about President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Department of Justice (DOJ). Adegbile had played a minor role as part of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF), when the LDF won a ruling that declared Abu-Jamal’s death sentence to be unconstitutional.

In a letter to President Obama and through their political and press allies, the FOP presented a distinguished and successful civil rights attorney, Adegbile, as undeserving of a post in the DOJ because he defended a “cop-killer.” This was a direct attack on LDF’s right to defend Abu-Jamal, whose claims of racial bias at his original trial were seen by a federal district court judge in 2001 as so strong that he “certified” Abu-Jamal’s racial bias claim as “appealable.”

By vilifying Adegbile for his connections to the LDF defense of Abu-Jamal, the FOP was attacking LDF’s right to represent a defendant with strong appealable claims.

Note, however, that neither the FOP nor its Fox News allies raised objections when present Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts went through his confirmation hearings, even though Roberts provided pro bono legal defense to John Ferguson, regarded often as Florida’s worst murderer. Ferguson had tricked his way into a woman’s home, shot eight people, then also, according to national news stories, “while under indictment for those crimes, shot two teenagers on their way to church.”

The FOP, again using the same Maureen Faulkner who denounced the OUSD curriculum, also often circulates proven falsehoods. One of the FOP’s most widely disseminated stories is that during his 1982 trial, Abu-Jamal “smiled” at Maureen Faulkner when her husband’s bloody shirt was held up for display as evidence in court.

Investigative reporter Dave Lindorff long ago had confirmed from trial transcripts that this event never happened. Abu-Jamal was not even in the courtroom that day (Lindorff, “Killing Time,” pages 319-20, 356 note 16). The FOP and political allies continue circulating the story as if was true.

The story was used yet again in the recent confirmation debates about the Adegbile appointment. As Lindorff wrote recently, “[Republican] Sen. Pat Toomey … made full use of the false story in a speech on the Senate floor condemning Obama’s nominee Debo Adegbile … even embellishing on it by saying Abu-Jamal had “smirked” at Faulkner, when her original newspaper account had her saying he had ‘smiled.’”

It is important – especially for educators in these times – to stand strong against such crass acts of misrepresentation and vilification. Nearly anyone remotely associated with Abu-Jamal – whether the OUSD, its teacher Craig Gordon, renowned national educators or Nobel Prize winners – can be targeted.

The FOP even maintains a list of those who have spoken out for Abu-Jamal. They are on a “black list” – some feel it a kind of “hit list” – on an FOP page at its website. It is a display worthy only of the ugly McCarthyite legacies of this country. In fact, it may be worse, because it is maintained by a group charged by the state with the use of violent force.

We cannot back down in the face of this intimidation. We urge the OUSD to reopen the Urban Dreams website. It would find ready use again, as it had before. It would also be a continuing testimony to the courage and excellence of education emanating from Oakland teachers.

Looking forward to the Urban Dreams site reopening, we are

Sincerely,

Mark Lewis Taylor and Johanna Fernandez, EMAJ coordinators

Dr. Mark Taylor, mark.taylor@ptsem.edu, who teaches at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Religion and Society, and Professor Johanna Fernandez, johanna.fernandez@baruch.cuny.edu, who teaches in the Department of History and Black and Latino/a Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York are coordinators for Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ), http://www.emajonline.com, which has been educating and organizing for Abu-Jamal and social justice for 20 years.

Martin Luther King III says Mumia Abu-Jamal and the MOVE 9 are unjustly incarcerated

Martin Luther King III speaks about his father.

Martin Luther King III speaks about his father.

Excerpt from speech by Martin Luther King III delivered Jan. 21, 2008

My father’s words that “Freedom only comes through persistent agitation, through persistent rising up” were true in 1982 when Mumia Abu Jamal was unjustly convicted for the death of a Philadelphia policeman because he dared to use national airwaves to agitate for the rights of MOVE and for racial and economic justice. They are true today as we continue to fight for his freedom. …

We live in a society shrouded in hypocrisy, a nation that expects its children to abhor violence but takes every opportunity to promote the “might is right” philosophy. … While we promote the notion throughout the world that America’s system of justice is colorblind, we live with the reality that racism is inherent in every single facet of our criminal justice system …

From the aerial bombing of MOVE to the unjust incarceration of MOVE members, Mumia Abu-Jamal and countless others; to the unjustified and unpunished killings and beatings of people of color; to the “blue mentality” pervading police forces across the country that rewards brutal behavior; to the increasing incidents of police abuse and harassment of even white Americans, we understand the need to continue and remain steadfast in our struggle for freedom.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s journey began in Montgomery with civil rights and ended in Memphis with human rights. SCLC’s current support of human rights around the world is consistent with our support of the rights of MOVE.

 

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4 thoughts on “Oakland Unified School District bans lessons on MLK and Mumia: Demand they restore them! Protest May 28

  1. Michelle Munyer

    Malcolm X said, “History is not hatred.” As adults, educators and mentors, it is our responsibility to encourage the youth to think critically about the world. In order for them to have a future, to lead in that future, to protect and teach the youth of the future, they have to be able to examine the impact of the institutions our society has in place. They have a right to know all of the histories of this country. They have a right to decide for themselves how our world will be shaped by them. Taking away this very critical lesson plan is not only anti-academic, it is anti-american.

    Reply
  2. Stephanie

    Hi, your first picture is not of London. That is not the uniform of police in London. Please correct?

    Reply

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