Thursday, May 11, 2017

Twice In One Week: An Educational Barrier of the Past and Present

Twice in one week! I listened to two related stories of triumph; I wish, however, that this familiar narrative would die. I have studied the past, been admonished by my parents at the dinner table as a youth, and frustrated by the not uncommon accounts of students and colleagues how high school counselors continue to steer away Mexican-origin youth from college-prep courses.

At a May 3rd Future Leaders of America forum at Cesar Chavez Elementary, students of the Oxnard Union High School District delivered data and testimonies on the achievement gap in their respective campuses in comparison to schools in Ventura County’s more affluent communities.

Actually, A-G admission requirements for the California State University and University of California framed the discussion. A FLA study indicates while Hispanics made up 75% of the students in the OUHSD in 2014, only 22% of graduating seniors from this demographic completed coursework to attend a CSU or UC.

In addition to the factors of family income and race that defines the character of college admissions, the discretion of one high school counselor in particular echoed the racist expectations of 20th century educators who assumed that parents and students of Mexican-origin did not value education.

To combat this persistent lie, each FLA presenter, some 15 talented high school students in all, declared, “We value education.” One in particular shared the story how he made repeated pleas to his counselor to be enrolled in honors courses only to be told that not a single section had room for him. Determined to prepare himself for college, he approached the teachers of such classes to ask if open seats existed. All replied yes.

The counselor, however, did not budge. Even more resolute, though, this student made an appointment with the campus principal to meet with him and his parents. Only then was he allowed to take the courses he wanted. As a result of his brio, he will graduate this year #1 in his class and attend the University of California at Berkeley in the fall.

“Halleluiah!” I said to myself as I held back from standing up in the audience to shout, “That counselor must be fired!”

Afterward, OUHSD Superintendent Dr. Penelope DeLeon provided another silver lining. She announced the district’s increase in Advance Placement course enrollments by 1,069 college bound students. To replace unsatisfactory grades, students will also have the opportunity to retake A-G classes in the summer. Added to this, the district will cover the registration cost of all its students to take the college PSAT and SAT.

Two days later, I participated in the presidential investiture ceremony of my new boss, Dr. Erika D. Beck, at CSU Channel Islands. After the congratulatory speeches of colleagues, friends, and family, Dr. Beck professed the power of a higher education to transform lives. To prove this, she exampled the story of Judge Michele M. Castillo, appointed to the Ventura County Superior Court in 2016.

Among several challenges in her family while growing up, Judge Castillo’s father battled alcoholism. To shield herself from the discord in a household that accompanies addiction, the isolation of study was Michele’s refuge and going away to a university her escape plan. Similar to the experience of the FLA student, however, her Buena High School counselor discouraged her, too, from an AP load of classes. For the young Michele, this counselor created a schedule in home economics. No college needed for her.

Despite this lack of encouragement, she enrolled in the classes she demanded and was accepted by UCLA, UC Davis, USC, and Stanford. She became a Bruin, graduated, and went on to earn a law degree from Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego. After a 13 year tenure as a public defender, Judge Castillo now serves as a role model of the possible in her community while ensuring equal justice for all.

Although stories of the FLA student and Judge Castillo are of perseverance, they highlight an exceptionalism. But how many persons—particularly of Mexican origin and others from the historically underserved—have not enjoyed the improved life chances that comes with a higher education due to the low expectations of educators? Too many. Educational data tells us this.

So what’s the answer? Increased state funding for K-14 public schools, the CSU, and UC so an army of culturally competent and sensitive counselors can encourage all students to pursue a higher education, especially for those who embrace this dream.

As President Beck referenced a 2015 Public Policy Institute of California study, this is an imperative as the state’s economy will face a shortfall of 1.1 million employees with baccalaureate degrees by 2030. This is while nearly 55% of students in the state’s educational pipeline consist of Hispanic youth. As a federally recognized Hispanic Serving Institution, over fifty percent of CSU Channel Islands’ student body alone consist of people, largely, of Mexican origin.

To meet the state’s demand for a highly skilled workforce, the people of California must force elected state and federal representatives such as President Donald Trump; Governor Jerry Brown; Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris; House of Representative members Julia Brownley and Salud Carbajal; and state senators Hannah Beth Jackson and Henry Stern; and assemblymembers Jacqui Irwin and Monique Limon; and others to fully fund public education beyond the levels of the Great Recession of 2007.

For this to happen, call them (and other elected officials) to make this demand. Their contact information can be found at


Friday, April 21, 2017

Talking Points to Veterans on Writing

Below are talking points I delivered to military veterans of California State University Channel Islands.

Follow directions.

Read, read, and read more. Non-fiction and fiction, short stories, op-eds, magazines (The New Yorker is a must). Charles Dickens, Harper Lee, Edgar Allen Poe (gloomy stories), Gloria Anzaldua, Rodolfo Anaya, George Orwell, Mary Twain, Willa Cather, Richard Wright.
As you read:
• Study how stories are constructed from start to finish. How do paragraphs vary? How are punctuation marks used and manipulated, especially the comma.

• Read books on writing. E.B. White's _Elements of Style_ is a good start. I loved Stephen King’s book on writing titled, _On Writing_. _The Dead Zone_ was also one of the first books I read cover to cover and scared me through the whole process.

• Increase your vocabulary and notice how ideas are conveyed, and even toyed with, by words.

•To start your writing bullet points are fine. Each bullet point can be a page or paragraph of your main idea (thesis, argument). As you move forward, tease out your ideas and then eliminate the bullets.

Writing is hard. Take if from people like Franz Kafka and Emily Dickinson who described it as painful (at least Kafka did) and wrote for themselves and not others. Kafka almost destroyed all his writings at one point. And Dickinson stashed away many of hers, only to be discovered recently--I read this in The New Yorker a few months back. I love her poem _Because I Could Not Stop for Death_. This is a reflection of my saturnine side, hence Poe.

Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes. But at the same time be careful in what you want to communicate by way the written word. Don’t be afraid of what others might think. The hell with those who will be offended, even your friends. So write boldly, honestly, and clearly. Be vulnerable. This is what makes writing interesting.

For term papers, write drafts (more than 2-3, at least).

The outline. When do you create one? Before? As you go? Both?

Follow carefully the directions of professor’s as stated in their instruction sheets. Most spend a chingo of time creating them. It is wonder how many students ignore my instructions and as a result fall short of assignment expectations.
Furthermore, as you move forward in the development of your finished paper,:
*meet the minimum pages of writing. Keep in mind that a minimum page of required writing could and most likely will translate into, at best, a minimum passing score.

*State clearly your thesis/main Idea/theoretical framework/argument of your project. This may/will change as you develop your paper.
*One way to achieve immortality is to leave a body of writing. You never know where it may end up.

Proof read your writing, especially if you’re are a lousy keyboarder as I am. For a good example of this, see above.

In conclusion, avoid starting your writing with hackneyed phrases, especially in regards to the weather.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

No Puente Program in VC: What's Up With That?

Since returning to Ventura County in 2001, I continue to be baffled why the Ventura County Community College District fails (as well as area high school distritcts) to have a Puente Program. It has proven to significantly enhance the transfer of students to four year colleges and university. Cypress College (where I previously worked for 9 years) fought for it when I was there--thanks to the intrepid leadership of Dr. Enriqueta Ramos and MEChA. Today, Cypress College's Puente Program is strong and continues to have outstanding rates of transfer, especially when compared to the overall dismal rate of transfer in the California Community College system.

Even Puente alumni in VC don't champion this cause. What's up with that?


Monday, January 2, 2017

Trucha (Look Out): You’re Being Watched—Too!

According to Turning Point USA, I am one of two hundred professors, “who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Consequently, by way of its dubious Professor Watchlist, TPUSA contends that its purpose is to inform alumni, parents, and students of, “specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

But TPUSA’s insidious real aim is to intimidate and single out educators to complement President-elect Donald Trump’s rising number of like registries for their faith, in the case of Muslims, journalists, and employees within the State Department and Department of Energy who advocate, respectively, for the rights of women and the LGBT community as well as the health of our planet.

The creation of lists that target intellectuals and educators echoes loudly in history. One reverberation is described by historian Karl Dietrich Bracher in his classic work The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism (1970). Another is in the movie the Killing Fields (1984) based on New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg’s coverage of Cambodia’s civil war of the 1970s.

In the former, Hitler—who was no socialist but used the label to attract the left behind working-class of Germany—and his Nazis killed targeted professors, intellectuals, and bureaucrats that he believed threatened his regime. For the latter, a scene demonstrates how Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge tricked imprisoned teachers and other professionals into identifying themselves only to be executed by suffocation.

Lesson: thinkers threaten totalitarian rulers. So members of the intelligentsia must be branded and dealt with accordingly.

Charlie Kirk, the 25 year old Founder and Executive Director of TPUSA, culled my name for identification from a Campus Reform post written by Anthony Gockowski who utilized a cooked version of my extra-credit assignment of the spring 2016 semester for a US History survey course. Gockowski also misrepresented its guidelines.

The exercise—one of several such opportunities I offer to promote civic engagement, critical thinking, and effective writing—encouraged students to contact their assembly and senate representatives in the California legislature to express how tuition of the California State University affected them and their families.

From this experience, I envisioned first-generation college students learning to format a business letter, discover (if they did not already know) who their elected representatives in the legislature were, and understand how to petition their government for a redress of grievances, if they had any.

Contrary to Campus Reform’s mendacious blog post, my instructions did not mandate the content of student letters. As context, however, I did provide essays I wrote on the subject that argued for a fully subsidized system of public higher education.

But in the Age of Trump and his gaslighting propaganda (i.e., a program of deception and deceit) and that of his surrogates, what does truth and accuracy have to do with anything?

Despite the disingenuous spotlight of TPUSA and Campus Reform, I again offered the business letter to elected official exercise as an extra-credit option this past fall semester. Like in previous semesters, the letters articulated the economic and psychological stress that high tuition cost of the CSU places on them and their family. To stay in enrolled in college, students work longer hours, incur unforgiveable debt in the tens of thousands of dollars, and their parents and grandparents burn through college funds, often in the first year, to provide their children with a higher education that my generation enjoyed at a fraction of the cost.

And this is just for one person in a family who dares to pursue a university degree.

As a graduate of the CSU in the 1980s, I cannot imagine starting my career or continuing onto graduate school as a twenty-something year old $20,000, $30,000 or more in student loan debt. With this in mind, I wonder how many willing and able young people have decided to forego a college education altogether as a result.

But that is the goal of right-wing groups such as TPSU, Campus Reform, and their millionaire benefactors that include people and groups of the likes of investor and Donald Trump supporter Foster Freiss, in the case of TPSU, and Leadership Institute founder and also Trump supporter Morton C. Blackwell.

Like the idea of universal health care, this gaggle of Ayn Rand objectivist adherents wish to promote a market economy where oligarchs further enrich themselves in a fully privatized system of education off the backs of working-class students and parents saddled with intergenerational debt.

An educated citizenry that speaks to power, is civically engaged, and draws lessons from the past would expose the fictions that define the reality of such right-wing groups. In fact, in the late 1960s it was their demigod Ronald Reagan who proposed higher tuition costs and education budget cuts as California governor to stem student activism.

Moreover, such political conservatives dread the historical reference of a public higher education in California once being virtually free prior to the 1980s.

So what’s the solution? Like the sponsors of TPUSA and LI, people of financial means that believe that an affordable public higher education is vital to the production of an engaged and informed citizenry need to develop, fund, and support the work of the counterparts of Kirk and Gockowski. Otherwise, publicly funded systems of education, health, and retirement will be completely abolished. Gross profit margins will then be the sole priority of private sector run social services over the needs of people.

Meanwhile, I will continue my letter writing extra-credit assignment as well have my US History students study primary documents from the following list that consist: James Madison’s Federalist #10, Henry David Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Andrew Carnegie’s essay on Wealth, Emma Goldman and John Most’s Anarchy Defended by Anarchists, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, and the Black Panther Party’s 10-Point Platform and Program.

Such informed dissent of the past is our only hope for a more just future.

Amigos805 LatinoLA History News Network RawStory