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Cesar Chavez: An American Hero

Cesar Chavez film poster

“You Can’t Humiliate Someone Who Has Pride. You Can’t Oppress Someone Who’s Not Afraid Anymore.” – Cesar Chavez

Local Associations are going to the movies March 28th and taking friends. Lots of friends. Because they bought out the theater, and for a very good reason. We must pack the theaters and make this film a success.

The premier of the historic Cesar Chavez movie will hit theaters Friday, March 28. Educators are excited that this story is finally being told. Union activists are excited that this story is finally being told. Civil rights activists are excited that this story is finally being told. Faith communities and parent groups and Latino groups and immigrant groups and justice groups and any group of individuals who know about Cesar Chavez’s real story and want others to know about Cesar Chavez’s real story are excited.

I’ll admit, that I’m excited for the same reason all of the above are excited. For as long as I can remember, Cesar Chavez has been my inspiration. I don’t know many heroes who were so ambitious for their cause and so personally humble. I’m not sure people who are familiar with only the Cliff Notes of his life understand the profound goodness of this American hero.

Director Diego Luna’s Cesar Chavez dramatizes the pain, the hope, the sacrifice he and his family made. We see the individual heroism of a man, but we feel the collective miracle of the California grape boycott and the thousands who made it happen. Michael Peña brings to life Cesar’s quiet determination to confront injustice. You’ll recognize America Ferrera from TV’s Ugly Betty and Real Women Have Curves, but she is all grown up here and plays Helen, the wife and mother who stands by Cesar when she’s not sure even he really understands the dangers he faces. Rosario Dawson is transformed into the take-no-prisoners, Dolores Huerta. And nobody plays a bad guy like John Malkovich plays a bad guy. And by that I mean he plays the grape-grower as a flawed and arrogant human being, but not as a cardboard villain. You will understand the deep-rooted racism that drives him, but you will also see his confusion as the comfortable world he knows shifts with the Civil Rights tide of the 60s and begins making demands of him with which he must come to terms.


The Busine$$ of Voucher$ vs. Choices that Work For Kids

Years ago, I was talking with a lovely director of a lovely and elite private school about private school vouchers. She was touting what her school had to offer in terms of class sizes of 12, and science laboratories and technology rooms, and truly, it was lovely.

Actual Conversation 15 years ago:

She: Why would you be against allowing poor children the ability to receive a scholarship voucher to attend this lovely school? Don’t poor children deserve the same right as rich children to come to a school like this?

Me: So, I want to understand what you just said. Rich children have a right to come to your school?

She, confused: Excuse me?

Me: Rich children have a right to walk into your office, plunk down their money and demand to be enrolled in your school?

She: Well, of course, there’s a process. There’s an application. There’s a test. There’s a committee. Our standards are very high. It protects the students to make sure they’re a good fit for our program.

Me: So, they have a right to apply. They have a right to show they have high test scores. And they have a right to hope that the committee chooses them.

She: Well, it’s much more than just test scores. We know that even a bright child must have a committed, involved family if he’s going to succeed. Our families have to demonstrate they can provide the necessary home support for the student or we don’t even consider them.

Me: I hate to be thick about it, but I’m also thinking they have to demonstrate they can pay tuition of about $20,000.

She: Well, yes, and that’s where the vouchers would come in. With vouchers, we could reduce the tuition by the amount of the voucher or even use the voucher to subsidize a scholarship. It would give poor children the same rights as our other children!

So, fifteen years have gone by and vouchers are still one of the more shameful and shakiest pillars of school reform nincompoopery.

The privately-funded ultraconservative group ALEC wants to shortchange your children and dismantle public education by robbing them of badly needed funding and giving it to private schools. Its ultimate goal is to privatize public education, which its corporate donors see as a multi-billion dollar industry just ripe for the taking.



And the Grammy Goes to…

And the Award goes to….

It is always with a divided heart that I agree to serve on award panels. It dates back to my year as Utah Teacher of the Year.  It was so amazing to be recognized for the things you did for your students; things you loved doing; things that you weren’t even sure anyone knew about. It was such an honor for someone to nominate you and remind you that your work impacted the future of someone’s child and that that is an important thing.

But I also know that it was awkward to know that your colleagues, who were a team and close and friends and hardworking and every bit as deserving as you, were not going to be recognized. It felt wrong to single out one person when so many deserved recognition.

But I agreed to serve on the award’s committee for the first-ever Grammy Award for a Music Educator. And I imagine Kent Knappenberger  is going through what I went through when asked how it felt to win. He’s thinking, “Why me? What about my colleagues? I’m not worthy. This is so cool!”

It’s the ultimate multiple-choice answer: All of the above. And all at once. Kent teaches everything musical at Central School in rural Westfield, New York, population 4,896. Not exactly the Big Apple of New York City. But there’s nothing small about Kent Knappenberger’s ambitions. His music program brings big joy, big smiles, big differences in the lives of his boys and girls. He sings and strums and plucks and whistles and rings bells.


A Day of Action for Our Students

The December 9 Day of Action — a day when parents, students, educators and community leaders will hold events in more than 30 cities throughout the country to support public schools — got an early start in Austin, Texas, with a rally outside the state Capitol building.

More than 300 supporters gathered to hear speakers address the most pressing issues in Texas schools, including education equity and comprehensive immigration reform.

Check out the coverage of Univision Austin! (more…)