Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education

NAACP And GO Public Schools Imply That Oakland Students Are Not Civilized

Submitted by Mara Luz, Oakland educator

I was just checking my email and noticed an email from GO Public Schools and was shocked by what I saw – an endorsement of an NAACP letter that referred to students as lacking “civility.”

Check below for a transcript of the youth voices that GO Public Schools and the Oakland NAACP don't want you to hear.

Check below for a transcript of the youth voices that GO Public Schools and the Oakland NAACP don’t want you to hear.

The GO email, written by paid staff member Iman Gills Gordon, is centered on addressing the extreme controversy that’s rippled across OUSD and throughout the city of Oakland over the past 6 weeks around the attempt to privatize 5 schools.  (If you’re not up to speed on this, please read our articles on it here, here and here.)

The email attempts to delegitimize the critiques that students, parents and educators have put forward in opposition to the Superintendent’s plan when it states that, “the level of discourse is so negative that the NAACP made a formal response to the shocking personal attacks on our superintendent. That is unacceptable.”  Clearly GO Public Schools is simultaneously endorsing and amplifying the NAACP’s critique.  So what did they say?

Before we even go on to respond to the NAACP’s statement, take a look at it for yourself.  They state that,

Unfortunately, most of the students who spoke were quite disrespectful in addressing the OUSD Board Members as well as the Superintendent.  For example, one student addressed Superintendent Wilson as ‘Antwon.’ [SIC]

An excerpt from the NAACP's paternalistic email that GO Public Schools is promoting.

An excerpt from the NAACP’s paternalistic email that GO Public Schools is promoting.

Unfortunately, the speech and behavior at this meeting did not meet the standards for appropriate conduct and cannot be tolerated . . . We know that such behavior . .  is inconsistent with civility.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that the president of the Oakland NAACP, a lawyer at that, doesn’t know how to spell Antwan Wilson’s name correctly.  Rather, the main problem with this statement is that it states that the student speakers at the January 14th board meeting made statements that were “inconsistent with civility.”

What’s the opposite of civility?  Savagery.  Who uses this type of rhetoric?  People who adhere to a eurocentric and colonial perspective of what it means to be “civilized.”  Who in this case is guilty of such a racist and paternalistic view?  GO Public Schools and the Oakland chapter of the NAACP.

All this problematic paternalistic rhetoric begs the question: Why are these critical student voices so scary to the NAACP and GO?  Why do they refer to them as being “disrespectful” and lacking “civility,” without even providing reference to the arguments the young people were putting forward.

The students that GO and the NAACP are attacking are from various Oakland high schools, but predominantly from Fremont High.  The young people raise point after point critiquing the OUSD administrator’s policies regarding the Intensive Support School initiative.  Their critiques are aimed at privatization, the Superintendent not showing up to community engagement meetings, lack of community power and resources, the problems with Measure J and other topics. (See below for a rushed transcription of their comments and link to full video.)

When students make their voices heard in opposition to a school district administration that has earned itself the frustration, distrust, and anger of so many people throughout the city of Oakland, they should be applauded for being brave.  They should be honored for being analytical, critical thinkers.  Adults should study their rhetorical moves and attempt to to understand their analysis.

What GO Public Schools and the Oakland chapter of the NAACP do is the opposite; they disparage the students, write off their critiques as “disrespect,” and attempt to mobilize public opinion against the righteous and rebellious energy coming

A snippet from the GO Public Schools email where you can see their one-sided selection of quotations from the board meeting to back up their pro-neoliberal/privatization political agenda.

A snippet from the GO Public Schools email where you can see their one-sided selection of quotations from the board meeting to back up their pro-neoliberal/privatization political agenda.

from the grassroots of Oakland’s school communities.  Further, they censor and invisibilize youth voices by leaving them out of the various videos that they sample from the board meeting, conveniently leaving them in the relatively inaccessible vaults of OUSD’s website.

Unlike GO and the NAACP, we will not censor these youth voices by erasing them from your email accounts.  Instead of highlighting the vast minority of speakers who spoke in favor of the district’s ISS policies, we encourage you to see what the students said by watching the video of the school board meeting yourself.

And in case it’s helpful, we offer a very rough transcription of what the students said so that you can make an informed decision about who you trust when you get emails about Oakland schools in your inbox.  Please keep in mind that this was a rushed transcript, so there are definitely mistakes.  We offer it as a reference point to use along with the actual video of the board meeting.

Click here to watch the full video

Students begin commenting 32min in

Shauna/O High → was unaware of attempt to turn multiple schools into charter schools; I found it disrespectful that we were unaware of this plan; why not give us the money we need to make our schools better; i implore the school board to listen to the voices of angry parents and students like me.


Zoe/Oak Tech (35min) → OUSD supt. Wilson addressing the changes happening to the 5 schools has one key sentence: our proposal includes offers from charter schools; Or is the key word, it indicates that if we don’t stand up for our schools the district will rely on charter organizations . . . this could privatize our public schools; another series of fake plans to change our schools; the problems of overpacked classes . . . we need resources, dignity and respect . . . full and equal funding for all schools; establish magnet programs at each school;


Jessica/Fremont (36:45) → This whole transparency process is going very wrong and is so disrespectful; it’s wrong for someone who has not been for long to tell us the right education we can get; he’s telling us to open up our options to see how we can succeed; but switching up the staff will continue disrupting the system and waste a bunch of money; to bring in teachers who don’t understand our background is degrading; especially for you to speak about your passion for helping our schools, but not even show up to our meetings.  It’s clear that it’s not about the students but the money;


Edgar/Fremont (38:00) → Fremont is a great school with lots of diversity; we are not failing, we are constantly improving; a large percentage of people is started 9th grade with are now graduating; we need you all to get involved; how can you help us if you don’t understand our need?  we need more voice, better facilities and better resources


Senior @ Fremont (38:40) → honestly, i feel like the decisions made in this process should be left up to the schools; we’ve been left with scarce resources; how do you expect students to graduate without providing us with what we need; you guys are not scientists so don’t try to experiment with us, breaking us up into small schools; i’m not sure if you guys are businessmen or not, but this is not a business – this is education, we need it, it’s a necessity; another thing is, at this community engagement meetings, allow the people to speak, do not hold them back and what I have to say is that I’m tired of sitting around waiting for change to happen – just want to see it.  i don’t want no privatized education here, i want my children to come to these schools without having to compete with other students; we need all students to thrive and achieve.


Bianca – 9th @ Fremont (40:20) → even if you say there will be no charter, it’s still an open gate opportunity for whoever to grab these schools; it’s an open bid, even wal mart could bid for it if they wanted to; you’ve violating your own policy because the schools board didn’t even know what was going on when this started. Other than that, we don’t want to know the failures of our schools, or what’s wrong with us, we want to know what the support that we’re all receiving.  We’re desperately wanting to know.  We want to know the data of our success, not of our failures, we want to know our improvements; all schools were promised to get intensive support but I’m here to ask you – where is all the intensive support the schools promised?  yeah you guys have given us 6 months and expect us to have this impossible change; all we need is time and that’s what you’re not giving us; this takes time, it’s a process, it can’t be done overnight. And yet, if you guys really wanted us to trust you, then you mr. superintendent Wilson should actually come and participate in all these events.


Daisy @ Fremont (43:00) → not a failing school; if charters are off the table, then why are they still in the RFP process?  why is it taking so long for Measure J money to come to Fremont?  How can you expect us to improve if you’re constantly changing our schools – breaking us up, putting us back together, etc?  I do want you guys to help us, but the best way you can do this is to let the community make all the decisions; that’s only fair.


Rosa @ Fremont (45:00) → we’re not failing, you don’t even know us; I helped campaign for Measure J 2 years go; how are you going to say you’re going to delay the money more?  How do you expect us to raise those percentages if you’re not giving us those resources?  It was the community that raised that money – I knocked on those doors.  I’m a senior and i’m about to graduate, but what about the rest?  I want you Antwan to be part of our meeitngs; I’m tired of sitting here and not seeing change; I’m a student . . .


Angel @ Fremont (47:00) → you’re not pointing out our positives, us passing . . . it’s not being disrespectful; we’re standing up for what we want, standing up for our community.”

Federico @ Fremont (49:00) → just because you’re higher classes than us doesn’t mean that we don’t have rights . . .

Zap @ Tech (51:00) → what will all these outside groups gain from this?  you’re treating these schools like they’re businesses;


Nautica @ O High (51:50) → LCFF; Instead of charter schools, trust the process of engaging the community . . . we need to work together with the community and students to build up the schools with new strategies; these schools are not quick fixes and with our education in the balance, we need to take our time . . .


Luis @ Castlemont (53:00) → what you’re doing to our schools is messed up; I was there at the KDOL forum and the Castlemont forum; I felt proud at that time . . . could we even trust you?  I feel betrayed by all of this . . . we all showed up here today because we care about our education; at Castlemont we haven’t had a steady principal for 3 years, but we don’t even know what to believe in our school anymore . . .

Ends at 57:31

7 comments on “NAACP And GO Public Schools Imply That Oakland Students Are Not Civilized

    February 10, 2015

    I am so glad that you wrote this. When I read Go’s email and the NAACP letter, I could not believe my eyes. I emailed Trish right away.

    I arrived at the board meeting on 1/14meeting at 5:30pm and I was surprised to see a few teachers there. So to read that “the room was filled with OEA teachers,” seemed an understatement. As usual, the sound system was horrible so I don’t recall the students referring to the superintendent by his first name. Nevertheless, I cheered on when the speakers called the district on their lack of transparency and top-bottom approach. As well as when the teachers from Freemont spoke. I don’t believe they were inappropriate in their remarks.

    I do recall a rather aggressive, African-American speaker from some organization speaking directly to the superintendent calling him a dictator. I don’t think she received much applause.

    I am vindicated to read this post and realize I was not the only one feeling that the NAACP letter was distorting events. I would even say that the letter was a “character assassination” of the OEA. I am just puzzled regarding the motives. Thank you.

    Ana/ Manzanita SEED Rep

  2. Mirella
    February 10, 2015

    I was invited to respond to this. I’m assuming that it is because he wanted a respectful dialog. Thanks for the invite. So let me say that I will take you up on the opportunity, but I hope that my support of Intensive Support of schools will not cause folks to call me a privatizer, dog, tool or any other insult. I won’t call folks who disagree with me names and I hope that folks who disagree with me can reciprocate.

    I wasn’t at the school board meeting on the 14th, but I was there on the 28th. I found the dialog and comments largely respectful and on point. In fact, some teachers made comments about the Call that complexified my understanding. I appreciate the teachers who shared their perspective, but I did hear a handful of folks speak who were both aggressive and disrespectful. One person yelled several things to the Superintendent and ended with “Get out of Oakland!” I have to say that that comment shook me to my core. Having immigrated to the US from Mexico, I am all too familiar with folks yelling the same thing to me and people that look like me because they don’t agree with our actions or perspective. Again, most folks were pretty respectful, but there were some heated moments and it made it scary to make comments outside of those being stated against the Call. I spoke in support of teacher raises, in support of intervention in schools with low achieving outcomes, and in support of folks really listening to each other. This was scary. I didn’t feel safe.

    Having said that, I appreciate Mara Luz’s perspective above and for raising the voices of students who spoke at the board meeting. I have been moved by the leadership of students at Fremont and see that their work is making a difference. I’m grateful to their work.

    However, my guess is that the Call is just the beginning. There are more changes to come. The Strategic Regional Analysis, SRA, will say a lot about the future of Oakland schools and the School Performance Framework will also come out soon.

    I believe the SRA to be a powerful tool, but only if folks can come together to the table. Things are no where near where they should be for the youth in Oakland. Do I know how to get there, no. But it’s not on me or one group to figure out. It’s on all of us.

    It seems to me that our community has become divided and entrenched. This is not healthy for moving forward. I don’t see enough listening going on for all sides of the argument and that is worrisome to me. We can only get through this as a community and I don’t really see that happening. So I’m open to hear all perspectives and hope that we can work in creative struggle…respectfully or course.

  3. Natalee Kehaulani
    February 11, 2015

    I, too, am so glad to read this article. I felt very confused about the GO Public Schools email I received — it was vague, and seeming to attempt to appeal to all sides while most strongly supporting the Superintendent. It most certainly felt disrespectful toward teachers and students. As a supporter of GO, I really felt torn and disappointed. I would love to see them print an addendum or retraction of some sort. Anything to show that they are aware of the history and implications of their painting a group of (primarily) students and parents of color as “uncivilized,” as well as the lack of support and trust expressed for Oakland teachers.

    I was a teacher in OUSD for nearly 10 years. I was a founding teacher at one of the New Small Autonomous Schools. I’ve seen the struggle for change, which understandably makes many uncomfortable. I’ve also seen what happens when the struggle for change comes from the top-down, rather than from within communities.

    Mirella, above, notes that, “our community has become divided and entrenched.” While this is true, it is not a new becoming. There have been decades of mistrust and division, many attempted changes, for better or worse. This call for proposals is completely different, perhaps diametrically opposed, to the call set out by Dennis Chaconas in 2000. That effort called for community-based efforts to CREATE new schools, designed by the teachers, students, families, and organizations already vested in their neighborhoods. The current call invites any one of us, anyone at all — including charter management orgs — to essentially enter into a school and take it over. Over 15 years ago, the leaders of east coast small schools movements warned OUSD that is it impossible to make real change (the kind seen at small autonomous schools) from the top down. OUSD didn’t listen, and that resulted in the top-down destruction/creation of schools like the Fremont Federation / Fremont High.

    These students deserve to be heard AND listened to. They are the ones most impacted by the current and future state of OUSD, and frankly they just might know more that any of us what they need to be successful. I’m all for the Superintendent’s proposal to raise teacher salaries (although I’d increase his offer), and I’m all for paying a higher salary to teachers at struggling schools. There are parts of his plan that could really turn Oakland around, and I will support those pieces unfailingly. I will not, however, support organizations or individuals who ignore and disrespect the voices of the very students and teachers they proclaim to be working for.

    Thank you, Mara Luz, for speaking up on this.

    Natalee Kehaulani Bauer
    Doctoral Candidate
    UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education
    Founding Teacher, International Community School

    • Patricia Arabia
      February 13, 2015

      Beautiful summation — thank you for your articulate support. Patricia Arabia, Fremont High, Mandela Law and Public Service Academy

    • Catherine D. at Oakland High School
      February 25, 2015

      Natalee K: You are spot on with your comments! Thank you!

  4. Patricia Arabia
    February 13, 2015

    There is a false dichotomy being created, we (FHS and OUSD, separately and together) are a community of many races and cultural backgrounds united in ending the stranglehold of poverty and scapegoating in our community. We study and revere the intellectual leadership and courage of W.E.B. Dubois. We are a respectful community. Respect — of others, of self and of learning — is my entire classroom procedure/structure. It has been since I opened my doors to teach in 1999. We shall over come because as Mandela said, “love is the only way … education is the only weapon.”

  5. Chris Perrius
    March 11, 2015

    I’m sorry I haven’t responded to your comment sooner, it only just came to my attention. I work at GO Public Schools and we’re very concerned about your response and many others to the email that included a reference to the NAACP letter.

    Our intent was not at all to disrespect student voices and leadership. In our email and petition, we called for “respectful communication” as one of four priorities that we believed were needed in the district now. We believe the NAACP used the term “civility” only in its standard meaning of respect. We were responding to the hostile climate at school board meetings and other spaces where people are shouted down and don’t always feel safe to speak, as Mirella described above. We were trying to identify respect as a foundation for constructive dialogue about the issues, and we regret that it came off as disrespectful to some. We also realize we need to do more to lift up student voices. We worked with many high school students last year around Measure N and hope to work with more students on its implementation to ensure those resources provide the maximum benefit to students at Fremont and all OUSD high schools.

    How did we get here? In 2011-2, GO and many others advocated for the Quality School Development Policy that would create a process and provide resources for schools with consistently low student outcomes to make significant changes at the site, not just more centralized initiatives. Teams would propose designs to build on what is working at the school and elsewhere. This resulted in the Quality Schools Development Policy, and the ISS program is the implementation of that policy. We supported parents at Brookfield Elementary who overwhelmingly wanted to be on the ISS list last year because they were desperate for substantial change. And we support the vision of the ISS and a process for school site change that keeps all options on the table to be vetted by the school community.

    But we completely agree that the how of the policy is as important as the what. The parents we’ve worked with have been largely confused by and distrustful of the process. School communities need time and space to self-organize around their vision of change before a complex technical process gets launched, and the process needs to be more consistent and better resourced to build community relationships and trust along the way. We’ve held a critical friendship orientation toward the process since the start. Our first email and blog on this was about the need for deep community participation and more transparency:

    But we’ve heard the feedback that we need to lift up more voices in the implementation and we’ve redoubled our efforts to meet more community members and hear more input on the process. We’ve been closely working with parents at two ISS schools who both want the opportunity to redesign their schools and need more support. We’re also talking to many people who have done this before in Oakland to learn from their successes and failures. We’ll contact you offline to see if you would be interested in sharing your perspective as a founding small school teacher with parents in a school community. Thank you.

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This entry was posted on February 9, 2015 by in Uncategorized.
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