Am I just acting like a sad-sack Vikings fan by not yanking my kids out of Seattle Public Schools?

Am I just acting like a sad-sack Vikings fan by not yanking my kids out of Seattle Public Schools?

This isn’t easy to admit right now, so I’m just going to come out and say it:

I’m a Vikings fan.

It’s true.

I’ve loved the Vikings all my life. When I was in 8th grade, I wore a Cris Carter jersey to school every Monday and Thursday pretty much all year long. I would have worn it even more if I wasn’t so sure that the wrong people would notice and harass me for wearing the same shirt every day.

I found that purple No. 80 jersey in a box in my parents’ basement in Iowa when we visited after Christmas a few weeks back, and I brought it home to Seattle along with my “lucky” purple Vikings socks. I was wearing the full ensemble yesterday for the first time in almost 20 years as I watched the Vikes get blown out by the Eagles 38-7 in the NFC Championship Game.

It was a genuine heartbreaker.

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Guest Post: Five Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Guest Post: Five Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we celebrate the life of a Civil Rights hero who believed in ordinary people’s ability to do extraordinary things. It’s an important day to reflect on his legacy, but too often Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tokenized schools. When we fail to engage students in meaningful conversations about Dr. King’s legacy and the Civil Rights Movement, we fail to help students understand their own place in the ongoing struggle for racial justice.

Last week I gave a talk at Lakota Middle School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly, and I asked students to consider five lessons from Dr. King. I also asked students to share their own ideas about how to bring people together to fight for racial justice, both in the world and in their own middle school.

Here are the five lessons from Dr. King that I asked students to consider.

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The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

Welcome one and all to the first semi-annual, fully manual Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards. Thank you for being here, wherever that may be.

These awards were created by me as a way to recognize a handful of Washingtonians who deserve a few extra hand-claps for the way their work and their way of life contributed to positive change in 2017.

The judging process was stringent and unscientific. I created the categories to suit my fancies, and I’ve awarded fake awards to whatever number of people I please. By the end, I’ll have failed to mention just about everyone, so if you find you've been omitted, don’t despair. The pool of nominees was limited to people I know about and managed to think of while writing this, and as a periodic shut-in, that’s not as long a list of names as you might think. For instance, I only finally discovered a few months ago that Chance the Rapper is amazing, if that gives you some idea. So, if you or someone you know has been egregiously overlooked, please get in touch with me and I’m sure I’d be happy to make up some new awards in the near future.

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Seven decades of lip service is more than enough. When will Seattle Public Schools actually do something about closing racial opportunity gaps?

Have you read Neal Morton’s article in the Seattle Times about racial inequity in Seattle Public Schools? I’ve got plenty of thoughts, but honestly, the facts laid out in the article speak for themselves.

In fact, the headline alone speaks for itself:

Racial equity in Seattle schools has a long, frustrating history — and it’s getting worse

Just to drive the point home, here’s the sub-headline:

“For at least seven decades, Seattle Public Schools has pledged to eliminate the gaps in achievement between students of color and their white peers. But even as district leaders swear their latest efforts are more than just another round of rhetoric, the gaps continue to grow.”

Seven decades!

Think about that. This conversation about racial inequity in Seattle Public Schools is older than most current students' grandparents. There can’t possibly be anything new to add, anything worth saying that hasn't already been said and ignored.

It really gives a sense of how endlessly we are able to confuse well-intentioned spinning wheels for progress.

Seattle Public Schools have always produced wide opportunity gaps. This institutional racism continues to produce wide, unacceptable opportunity gaps. If that’s not a clear and accepted truth by now, then it might never be.

There is no time left to debate this truth. The gaps exist. We know that. Next.

We have long since moved past the time when simply acknowledging our inequity was enough, if such a time ever existed. Measuring the gaps, describing them as appalling, and continuing to go about your business as usual is not enough.

Words are not enough unless they are backed up by action. Believing the opportunity gaps are unacceptable is not enough until we stop accepting them.

Our thoughts about these gaps exist only in our own minds unless we are very conscious about living out our ideas. Your set of beliefs and values about what’s right and wrong are not enough unless they are given life by your actions.

To everyone working in our schools: if you’re not here to do something about these gaps — and if you're not prepared to be accountable for what you do and what you leave undone — then your time is past.

Seattle families have been banging their heads against the same wall for seventy years now. We’ve been perpetuating racism through our acceptance of an intolerable status quo for that entire time as well.

It’s awfully hard to convince myself it's a good idea to wake up Tuesday morning and send my son, who is not white, back to Emerson Elementary, our long-neglected neighborhood school in the Seattle district. In what way have Seattle Public Schools earned my son’s presence? We know, based on 70 years of meaningful inaction, that they cannot promise to treat my son the same as they’ll treat the white kids. We know, based on 70 years of failure to change, that all of our current advocacy efforts will not work in time to make a difference for my son.

We know that talk is cheap and that timid, tepid plans are not going to lead us where we need to go. I’ll say it again: Believing the opportunity gaps in Seattle’s schools are unacceptable is not enough until we stop accepting them.

I’m determined to do more than talk, to do more than just complain about the status quo while supporting it with my actions and inactions.

So, how do we move beyond words and take action to truly disrupt a system that has been openly racist for 70 years?

For me, as a parent writing about inequity in Seattle schools while raising kids of color, at what point does that look like pulling my kids out of public school? At what point does it look like students and families boycotting an institution with a documented history of racism stretching as far back into the past as we can see? When do we stop voluntarily participating in this form of oppression?


James 2:14-17

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

On Whose Land Do You Stand? A Letter from Chief Seathl (Seattle) of the Suwamish Tribe to then-POTUS Franklin Pierce, 1854

My partner gave me this book, "Mother Earth Spirituality" by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, for Christmas this year. I've been devouring books along these lines for the better part of a year now. (I'd be happy to share a longer list of what I've read, enjoyed and learned from recently — leave a comment or send a message if you're interested or, even better, if you have a recommendation of your own).

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Four Things That Must Stay in 2017 and the Boss Behavior Required for 2018

Four Things That Must Stay in 2017 and the Boss Behavior Required for 2018

By Vesia Hawkins


As 2017’s time on this earth fades to black, 2018 is waiting to take its place in the sun. As I mined through the events of 2017 — from national disgraces to local blemishes, there are many themes at a macro level that I believe will forever be attached to the year 2017: sexual assault, overt racism, and youth suicides.

Many events grabbed my attention throughout the year, but the themes that bore down and pierced my core derive from behaviors that I’d like to leave in 2017. For instance, America’s fleeting appreciation of Black women, the stance against charter schools and the families who choose them by the “oldest and boldest” civil rights organization in America, and the complicity of those witnessing egregious acts without saying a word.


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Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

By the time we reached the first floor and the elevator doors slid open, I was pretty sure I was standing next to Bob Ferguson, Washington State's attorney general. So, I asked him.

"Excuse me," I said. "Are you Bob Ferguson?"

"Yes, I am," he said.

Okay. Mystery solved. I told him my name and shook his hand.

What now?

"Thanks for doing what you're doing," I said. "You've made me feel proud to live in Seattle."

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Guest Post: What message are we sending to black children when we tell them only integration will save them?

Guest Post: What message are we sending to black children when we tell them only integration will save them?

By Chris Stewart

A story ran last week from the Associated Press about segregation in charter schools, and, right on cue a lot of my reform-loving friends rushed to their keyboards to bang out rebuttals and register complaints.

While I think most of the article was a wandering fiat against data and common sense, there is one important takeaway to seize.

Please excuse me while I now turn my attention to black parents for a moment. Black folks, it’s time you had the talk with your children.

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Seattle's opportunity gaps are as wide as ever. What will we do now?

Seattle's opportunity gaps are as wide as ever. What will we do now?

So, I know I just spent yesterday writing about Seattle’s beauty, our state’s courageous progress, and activism as love... but now it’s back to reality.

The opportunity gaps in Seattle Public Schools are not closing. We’ve known about them for too long for this to be true. The leaders of our public school system have acknowledged these gaps for too long for the needle to be staying so firmly put.

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Reflecting on love of family and love for our city as an urban juror in Seattle

I was called for jury duty this week. Municipal Court of Seattle.

In fact, as I type this, I’m sitting on the 12th floor of the downtown courthouse building awaiting juroral deployment… as I have been doing continuously since 8:30 this morning. It’s been a boring day so far, but it’s nice to have been bored in a warm, beautiful room, if nothing else, watching the sun creep toward the horizon over the Sound. This is my view currently:



I’ve had plenty of time alone with my thoughts today, and I’ve reached a conclusion: in writing this blog, in focusing on the inequities in Seattle’s schools and communities, I tend to live in a fairly negative head-space when it comes to thinking about my home, about the city where I’m raising my family.

For one thing, that’s not a good way to live. It’s exhausting. Literally depressing, in fact.

But it’s also not an accurate reflection of how I really feel about Seattle. Sure, it’s dark, it’s damp, it’s segregated, and it’s got its share of issues. But it’s also a place of rich beauty, both in terms of the extravagant natural beauty that sandwiches the city and of the interpersonal beauty within it.

I find it’s easy to take for granted the ways that our city and our state — and us, its people — are kicking ass.

We’ve been on the front lines in recent years when it comes to putting our legislation where our “liberal” mouth is. Gay marriage, charter schools and cannabis are all legal, and we’ve taken nation-leading stances against discriminatory laws targeting immigrants and LGBTQ folks.

It’s extremely common now to find gender-neutral bathrooms in Seattle, and a huge number of businesses, restaurants and coffee shops proudly display a commitment to providing safe spaces. This, in contrast, was a sign I encountered in a bathroom last fall in in Miles City, Montana:

urinal chew spit.JPG


We’ve done all kinds of courageous, radical things lately. Water protectors in the South Sound last year shut down a train attempting to transport supplies to Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) work sites. We felt the ripples at the time in Standing Rock, and it was powerful.

Seattle divested its public funds from Wells Fargo as a matter of principle a few months back. We are at the vanguard of the movement for fair wages. Activists across the city successfully halted government plans to build a new youth jail. We even had a glimmering moment earlier this year when it looked like we might elect Nikkita Oliver as our next mayor.

And let's not forget there's a baseball team here, which is important for morale — even if, let’s be honest, it’s the Mariners. No offense.

It’s strange how easy it can be to overlook these sorts of things when so much else seems to be crumbling around us. Along these same lines, I spend a lot more time focused on the negatives at Emerson Elementary, the neighborhood public school where we send our oldest son, than I do on the positives.

Now, I’d argue that this is a rightful imbalance, and that I’m not denigrating (I hope) the school or community as much as I am advocating for more resources and attention at an institution that has been long overlooked. But it still means I regularly spend hours looking at a computer screen through the opposite of rose-colored glasses as I write about my son’s school, his district and our home.

It’s weird.

Emerson 2016.jpeg

Emerson is a beautiful place, too. My son walks every day into a cool old brick school building with a view of Lake Washington from the second-story library. The student body could hardly be more diverse, and we are lucky that the school is filled with similarly diverse, committed teachers and staff.

My son’s teacher is fantastic. She sees and values him as a whole person, and when she’s gone, he misses her. He’s learning, he’s comfortable, he’s happy and he’s safe. That’s most of what I could ever ask for out of a school right there. Well, no. But it’s most of what I currently ask for out of a public school, and that’s pretty good.

We’re getting close to that time of year when we start making resolutions, mapping out all the new ways we’re going to start living when the calendar flips. At the top of my list is to appreciate all of the good and beautiful things in my life, starting with the time and love I am so lucky to share with my kids and my partner, and with the beautiful home we share that helps make it possible. All things, it seems, stem from there. I hope, then, as I write and advocate and live through the coming year, to remember that the strength and will to fight against these systems and tools of oppression comes from a place of love.

I write so often about Emerson because I love my son. I write so often about Seattle because I love my family, and I love our city, and I know we can do and be even better.

I write about privilege because I love my life, and because the open doors and loving second chances I’ve been handed over and over should be for everyone.

I’m sure I’ll still spend next year shouting from the rooftops yet again, riled up about inequity and angry about systemic oppression and overt racism and latent bias and about the ways they infect our schools and our lives, and I’ll still be as committed as ever to holding us and our city to an unrelenting standard.

But I do it out of love.

So, that’s my resolution. I’ll keep breathing in the smog and the smoke and the greed and the politics and the racism and the classism and the division and the hate. I’ll breathe it in, filter it out, and exhale it back into the world as love, whatever form that takes.

Guest Post: It’s Non-Negotiable. We Have to Teach Social Justice in Our Schools.

By Zachary Wright

In a recent article, J. Martin Rochester, a professor of political science at the University of St. Louis-Missouri, raised concerns about teaching social justice in schools. Rochester’s problem with teaching social justice in schools is focused on two simultaneous axes. One, he thinks that social justice exists outside the jurisdiction of school curricula, and second that those who would teach social justice approach it only from a liberal perspective.

As an educator who includes social justice as a necessary part of my classroom practice, I think Rochester got some some things right but a lot of things wrong.


Rochester’s first insinuation is that schools ought to focus on the traditional curricula of reading, writing, mathematics, sciences, etc. Schools ought not to, in Rochester’s words, “aspire to be churches or social work agencies.”

What this overlooks, however, is that education has always been political. When a nation has within its DNA laws regulating who can learn, with whom one can learn, and where one can learn, then the idea that a school ought not engage in the political realm reeks of forced naïveté.

As long as our school systems are funded within halls of state legislatures that maintain 21st-century houses of education for zip codes of wealth, and crumbling school houses for zip codes of poverty, then it is disingenuous at best to assert that schools exists outside the realm of political discourse.

Sacred Stone Community School in Cannonball, ND, November 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

Sacred Stone Community School in Cannonball, ND, November 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

Furthermore, schools have always been community centers akin to congregations. Schools are where communities come together to vote, engage in town halls and hear from their elected representatives. They are the places where evening athletic leagues flourish, where families gather for tax filing support and where communities gather to enjoy the arts.

To assert that schools should exist solely as collections of classrooms is to not only deny the reality of schools across the country, but also to waste the potential of using these community centers to promote social justice as defined by that particular school community.


Rochester paints with an absurdly large brush when he argues that, “Educators for social justice are disingenuous in posing as facilitators of student-centered learning when as teachers they have largely foreclosed the discussion or at least steered it toward a preferred outcome.”

To label all educators as disingenuous is lazy and calls into doubt one’s arguments as purely didactical, more concerned with an agenda than honesty. However, if we assume the best, and discuss the argument underlying the insult, there may be some merit.

It is true that our job as educators is to educate, not indoctrinate. It is our job to help students develop the critical skills to be able to think for themselves, not simply to regurgitate the values forced onto them by a chosen curricula. This truth, however, does not call for the elimination of the social justice curriculum, but rather its expansion.

In my classroom, I choose to teach Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” I teach it as a means for building critical reading skills that allow students to identify an author’s central point, analyze the methodology of that argument and to critique the merit of that argument. According to Rochester, since Alexander’s work is decidedly left of center, it has no place in my classroom. What Rochester does not know, however, is that to supplement Alexander’s work, I purposefully choose secondary source materials that run counter to Alexander’s narrative. I ask students to not only analyze the merits of Alexander’s arguments, but their shortcomings as well. In fact, after reading Rochester’s article, I will take his suggestion of including Heather McDonald’s “The War on Cops.”

More and more, our political reality resembles the kindergarten sandbox wherein we yell over each other rather than engage with each other. The point is that we should not shut down the conversation simply because we think the other side’s view might be expressed. That’s not how we get a conversation on social justice to flourish.


Lastly, Rochester argues that social justice curricula imply a stagnant set of value systems. He argues that social justice itself is open to interpretation, for exactly what is justice? Fair enough.

But while we may disagree on what justice is, we can likely agree on what justice is not. It is not justice when schools in affluent zip codes have laptops for all students, while those in zip codes of poverty cannot provide every student a book. It is not justice when, according to the Brookings Institute, suspension rates for Black students was 17.8 percent while those for Whites was 4.4 percent.

We will disagree on causes and remedies. We should. That discourse, as Rochester himself argues, is precisely how we can arrive at best solutions. What we cannot do is bury our heads in the sand and abstain from engaging in these discussion for fear of offending one another. And, most importantly, we cannot block our students from having these conversations in school, not when we must soon look to them to solve the ills of their predecessors.

You can't fix what isn't broken

Pamela J. Oakes wrote a piece for the Seattle Medium last month about how our system of public schooling in the U.S. was never meant to fully and equitably teach all children.

steve biko.jpg

"For over 200 years since it was instituted, the core essence of the American education system has remained the same," Oakes wrote. "in nearly every other profession, the standard for excellence is innovation, creativity, cutting edge, outside the box type of thinking.  Why then are we content to allow education to exist as it always has?"

I have no idea! It boggles my mind. Where is the urgency? Where is the willingness to try new things?

"Is it any wonder," Oakes asked, "that we get the results we do?"


"Whether the issue is Charter Schools, Common Core, Free College, Home Schooling, Blended Learning, Digital Learning, etc., why are we so quick to take sides and demonize and politicize every new educational thought that comes along?"

I'm not sure, but it usually ties back to fear and/or latent racism. And deep personal investment in the system.

"Isn’t 200 years reason enough to make a change?"

Yes! And yet.. apparently it isn't. We're strangely quick to defend a system that has always, by design, tended to work against us.

"I certainly don’t have all the answers, but when faced with two options of 1) replacing an outdated system or 2) putting band-aids on a bad system – shouldn’t the answer be obvious?"

Yes, it should be! Most days I can find no other logical conclusion than to think we might need to blow this whole thing up and start from scratch, with an open mind and a clean slate, if we ever want it to be what we need. But why isn't it more obvious to more people? At least as a possibility?

How white families in Seattle unwittingly contribute to segregation and educational inequity by moving to live near 'good' schools

pure seattle space needle.jpg

I had coffee at a favorite spot in south Seattle this morning. As I was getting ready to leave, I overheard the barista talking to a couple customers. He was describing the commute from his north-end-suburb home to work in the south end every day, as well as the differences between the two communities.

I was trying not to pay much attention until the conversation abruptly turned to education — and not just to education, but to the ways schools are assessed and how that data is packaged up for the public. He said part of the reason he and his wife had chosen their north-end neighborhood was because of the strong school ratings they had found online. All three involved in the conversation (each a white man, for what it's worth) agreed that it was very common for folks to not even consider a home in a neighborhood with “bad” schools.

Moves like he had made with his family and a refusal to even consider homes near “bad” schools lead sneakily, the barista said, to segregation. He said that by choosing what they chose, he and his wife were unwittingly going against everything they stood for. In other words, despite their best intentions, their decisions actively contribute to systems of segregation and discriminatory opportunities on a daily basis. They are unintentionally perpetuating the ongoing patterns of racial and educational inequity in the Seattle area, despite considering themselves to hold values that say they would fight against these injustices.

I about wanted to jump out of my seat and let out a joyful bellow. Something appropriately old-timey like, “Comrades! Welcome!”

Instead, because my coffee and waffle were sitting particularly uneasily in my stomach, I barely reacted and instead slowly, carefully walked out to my car and carefully drove a couple miles south to the relative comfort of my own home and bathroom. But I did feel raucously joyful for a moment, even if no one could tell by looking at me.

See, I’ve been having less-concise, less-useful versions of the conversation for a long time now. I’ve been trying to write about this very thing on this very blog for 23 consecutive months, in fact. If you present as white in Seattle, or anywhere else in America, unless you are taking great care and extreme measures to ensure the contrary, you are contributing in every meaningful way to the systems that oppress and divide us up. No matter what you do for a living or where you volunteer or what you believe, it’s not enough. As long as all of your capital is still feeding the system, the system will happily leave you to think about it what you like.

My secretly raucous joy came from being reminded that more and more of the people around and among us are figuring this out independently. We are waking up to the fact that our everyday lives as they are currently constructed are contributing to systems that run contrary to everything we thought we valued.

The problem is that waking up is just the beginning. It’s at that point that we are faced with trying to figure out what to do about this strange new reality. If this guy working at the coffee shop moves from up north with his presumably white family to buy a home in the south end, who will they displace? Will they then be contributing to a gentrification process that is already well underway down south?  On the other hand, if they stay up north, will they be continuing to perpetuate segregated, inequitable schools through their inactivity?

I don’t know. But wow, am I glad to know people are talking about it and reflecting on their role in all this. Tides are shifting.

Do you sense the momentum? Do you feel the growing discontent? Are you among the ever-larger contingent that knows it won’t find contentment on the beaten path?

You’re not alone. Change is there for the taking, but only if we make it happen. It starts with taking an honest look at the ramifications of our everyday life, and then making different decisions and living differently one day at a time.

Seattle's school bus drivers are going on strike!

Seattle's school bus drivers are going on strike!

The school bus drivers in Seattle are going on strike!

Seattle Public Schools released this message today:

Tues., Nov. 28, 2017 Update: The First Student bus drivers have stated they are going on a one-day strike, effective Wed., Nov. 29.
This means there will be no yellow school bus service on Wed., Nov. 29. Families will need to make other transportation arrangements to get their child to and from school.
We anticipate the First Student bus service will resume Thurs., Nov. 30.
We recognize the inconvenience this will have on Seattle families and have gathered answers to questions families may have.
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Passive progressivism in Seattle needs to become progressive activism

pure seattle space needle.jpg

I’ve started using the term “passive progressivism” to describe the political climate in Seattle, and I’m finding it fits all too well. I didn’t make it up, but I’m not sure where I first heard it either. Maybe Stephan Blanford coined the phrase?

Regardless, it encapsulates our city’s split personality all too perfectly. In Seattle, we’re liberal. We’re progressive. There’s no question about that.

"We love our Muslim neighbors,” our yard signs say, but we don’t actually know them. Honestly, in most places, those neighbors don't even exist. They've just been invented by the signposts standing proudly in yard after yard after yard occupied by white folks in our mostly segregated city.

It means that, as a whole, as a city, we’re progressive when it’s comfortable. We’re politically bold when it’s convenient to be so. We’re part of the resistance when we’re not feeling threatened.

It plays out vividly in the education sector, where an unwillingness to question the teachers unions (because unions and workers’ rights are liberal lynchpins, and we’re unquestioningly liberal, damn it!) has led to odd power dynamics. The teachers unions are extremely invested in the status quo. The students, meanwhile, are not nearly as well-represented. The unions do their work well, and it leads to adult-friendly systems that lack urgency when it comes to fixing inequity.

Seattle is one of the whitest major cities in America, and King County is the whitest of our country's 20 largest counties. Our passive-progressivism plays out as a case study in privilege, illustrating how well-meaning liberal parents often actively support our racist systems.

Seattle’s schools are working for the white students, for the most part. As a result, the problems of inequity that plague our education system is invisible to the mostly wealthy, mostly white voting bloc that makes and influences the city’s decisions. The city’s decisions, then, are focused not on advancement toward genuine equity, but on stable, cozy passive-progressivism, which acknowledges racial discrimination as it arises but does not urgently work to address it. It’s a philosophy that allows us to carry on guilt-free without ever working like our hair’s on fire to close our gaps and our systems of oppression.

It’s also a philosophy I’ve shamefully used many times in my personal life. It’s easy to hide in the gray space between acknowledging problems and actually making things change. I’ve been known to live there from time to time.

It’s easy to be quiet when we see things we know are wrong. It’s hard to stand up and face the consequence of intervening, instead letting the consequences fall to those being wronged.

It’s just as easy to take it slow and make non-boat-rocking tweaks to a system that needs to be upended. It’s hard to do the work of disrupting a monolith’s momentum.

And that’s important, because that’s what it takes. Work. Action. Disruption. Discomfort. It’s not enough to just reject racism in principle. Awareness isn’t enough. “Wokeness” isn’t enough. And if all the white families on Seattle’s north end are applauding your proposed changes, guess what — it’s probably not enough to truly change anything.

It’s not enough to simply know about the opportunity gaps in our schools and the implicit biases our teachers carry into the classroom. It’s not enough to be aware of the systems that perpetuate these gaps if we aren’t actively working to dismantle them, at least within our own walls.

Passive progress isn’t real progress, it’s just forward momentum. If we want to shape the kind of equitable future we’re imagining, we need Seattle to be defined by its progressive activism. And that means we — you and me and the people around us — need to be active in our progressivism.

Of course, progressive activism is no picnic. Things get really uncomfortable. It means we have to do different things than we’re used to doing, say different things to people. It’ll cause rifts in friendships and workplaces and most definitely in families.

It’s hard.

It’s hard realizing that we have to do this ourselves. But we do.

If we don’t do it, we’re just passive progressives. Our kids, our families, our teachers — everyone in this city deserves better than that.

Let's take a deep breath, relax and play some turkey bingo together


I spent an hour and a half at Emerson Elementary today with my son for his school’s annual Turkey Bingo Night. It might have a more official name than that, but that’s how we know it.

They’ve held a similar event at Emerson every year for the past several, and honestly, it was really nice to be there today. We got together as a bunch of families in the cafeteria, ate some pizza with the teachers, watched our kids run around, and then played turkey bingo.

The bingo winners, which probably included every family by the end, got a big frozen turkey and a grocery bag full of traditional Thanksgiving fixings courtesy of a sponsor or two.

So, at the end of the night we walked home carrying a big frozen turkey.

Like I said, it was a nice night — and a much-needed reminder for me that everything doesn’t have to be so serious and heavy all the time.

You may have noticed that I took a brief impromptu hiatus from writing and updating the blog to begin this month, and I appreciate having the space to recharge. I’m sure so many of you were waiting with bated breath for my next literary atom bomb, and I’m sorry to have left you lacking. Feel free to exhale.

In the big picture, this isn’t about me, but at the same time, writing this blog can be intensely personal — and pretty emotional, if I let it be. Sometimes it gets to be a choice, for me at least,  between taking the time I need and unplugging every now and then, or cutting the cord altogether and unplugging from this work for good.

So, I appreciate reminders like this that I can exhale, too, and take it easy every now and then. That Emerson is a school with a good heart, even though I forget to mention that sometimes when I rant on and on about its challenges and the systems that keep it stuck. That there’s a lot to be thankful for even as there’s a lot that needs to change.

What a world.

Why do Seattle Public Schools feel the need to keep secrets from parents at Emerson Elementary?

Why are there so many mysteries at my son’s elementary school?

He goes to Emerson Elementary, a school in Seattle’s south end with a well-documented track record of systemic neglect. The past year has been particularly marked by a lack of meaningful communication with parents. We’ve seen little transparency and even less accountability from the district, even in the face of events that demand our attention.

Around this time last year, Emerson’s principal at the time, Dr. Andrea Drake, was put on leave of absence by the district. We as parents were never given an adequate explanation as to why. In fact, we were never even given an inadequate explanation.

Two weeks later, Drake was reinstated — still with no explanation, except to inform us that the interim principal would kept on for the remainder of the year as well. The district did hold a community meeting to discuss the concerns of the Emerson community, but it was all lip service and no meaningful action.

In the end, we still never learned why our elementary school’s principal had been put on leave in the first place, let alone why exactly the district decided it was okay for her to come back. Let alone why they thought Drake needed a second principal in the building for the rest of the school year.

Drake left Emerson as soon as the school year ended to take another position with SPS, and I allowed myself to hope that maybe these shadows and odd secrets would follow her into the night.

Instead, on Oct. 18, 2017, Seattle Public Schools sent this ultra-vague email to Emerson parents:


Dear Emerson families: 
You may have seen news coverage or heard from your student about news media being present at Emerson yesterday. Emerson staff make every effort to ensure our students are safe and minimize any disruptions that interfere with the learning environment. 
Last spring, the district became aware of and began an investigation into some alleged testing irregularities. The district also contacted the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to report these irregularities. The results of the district's investigation generated interest by local news media yesterday.   
The families that were affected by the situation were informed directly. If your family was not contacted by the district over the summer about this situation, your student’s test scores were not affected.  
At this time, the district remains focused on supporting our Emerson students and families and providing a safe, welcoming learning experience.  
Office of Public Affairs


For starters… what!? This email is so full of wisps of information, and yet so bereft of substance.

Once again, we as Emerson parents are being informed of a troubling situation at our school and are given no meaningful information. And in this case, the email was quite clearly sent only because a few media folks had shown up at the school — it was sent because suddenly a red flag had been raised, and we might have accidentally found out about this testing scandal ourselves. Otherwise, I can’t help but wonder when or if the district would ever have told us about this.

Just as problematic is the ludicrous idea that this situation only affects certain students at the school. This is my son's school. This impacts all of us. But the district is leaving it up to us, yet again, to dig up the truth and bring it to light ourselves. It's disappointing, but not particularly surprising given the district’s pattern of minimal communication with Emerson parents around significant issues. (Speaking of which, would this ever happen in whiter, richer north Seattle? I don't think so. Not this way.)

So, because we all deserve to know what’s happening inside the walls of our children’s schools, here’s what seems to have gone on this time.

Dustin Cross is a special education teacher at Emerson, and last spring he cheated on behalf of his students on their SBAC standardized tests.

From the Investigative Report into submitted by Jason Dahlberg, HR Investigator for SPS:


“It was found that Cross violated testing protocols by assisting students, and directing other staff to provide assistance, which provided advantage to some students over others.
It was found that Cross changed a student's answer on the SBAC test. [An instructional assistant] witnessed Cross change a student’s answer on the SBAC by using the computer mouse, and she had no reason to fabricate her account of the incident and was found credible. Although Cross denied changing the answer, this conduct was similar to additional findings of Cross assisting students on the SBAC test.
It was found that Cross directed [an instructional assistant] to ‘grammar check’ and ‘spell check’ students on the SBAC, which is not allowed. It was also found that Cross assisted a student when he told the student, "What does this sign ( division sign) tell you to do?" Ibrahim stated he was so uncomfortable by Cross' conduct that he immediately reported the conduct to testing coordinator Chung. The HR Investigator found Ibrahim to be credible.
It was found that Cross allowed students to use manipulatives, specifically fraction tiles, during the test and manipulatives are not allowed to be used during the test. Cross claimed that testing coordinator Chung provided him fraction tiles for use during the test, so he assumed that their use during the test was ok. However, Chung denied this, and stated she gave Cross fraction tiles for the use in his classroom and not for use during the SBAC. Chung had no reason to fabricate this account. The HR Investigator found Chung to be credible.
It was found that Cross gave direction to IAs, via a list, regarding how to assist students on the SBAC test and much of the assistance and accomondatinos (sic) he listed are not allowed for the test. Cross admitted to giving this list to IAs and stated that he used the student's IEP's to direct the IAs about what assistance and accommodations to give.”

This is a huge disservice to the community of students and families accessing public education services in Seattle Public Schools. Emerson, in fact, has a special ed program with a reputation that has recently attracted families from other schools. It’s not doing anyone (except maybe Mr. Cross) any favors to pretend these students are faring better than they really are.

Standardized tests, for all their faults, are an essential tool for equity -- and for identifying inequity. They imperfect, but they give us insight into our opportunity gaps that we couldn’t find otherwise.

If educators get the wrong messages from their school leaders or their districts, however, things get skewed. Whether Cross failed to see the tests for what they are and didn’t think his impropriety mattered, or he saw the consequences of falling short as too punitive to face, he personally altered his students’ outcomes.

Then the district found out about it and didn’t tell us. Just like they did when the old principal was suspended last year. Just like they did with… what? What else haven’t they told us?

In case you missed it, I had an op-ed published in the Seattle Times, and the comments illustrate well our city's education issues

I am humbled to share that the Seattle Times published an op-ed that I wrote recently. I'm happy to report it's been quite well-received by people who already know and like me.

A week later, the digital version has more than 150 comments, and I appreciate all the discourse and discussion it has spurred. However, I'm disappointed (but not surprised) to read the number of comments (including from teachers!) blaming parents and families.

We claim to believe that public education is the great equalizer, but that idea rings very hollow when we start down this line of thinking. Essentially, that would be admitting that only the kids lucky enough to have a stable, loving home life with plenty of food and resources are expected to succeed. Others might make it, but it's up to them, as kids, to overcome their own hurdles -- to overcome whatever difficulty they happened to be born into. So, if a kid doesn't arrive at school in pristine learning condition, we just throw our hands up? If we try intervention after intervention, as someone described in one comment, we eventually just give up?

When is it up to the adults to meet the students where they're at as opposed to the other way around? This is the kind of adult-centered thinking about our schools that leaves our kids so high and dry.

Implicit in these comments is that we're talking about kids of color when describing the lower-income kids with the crazier home lives. You know, the home lives that can't possibly be overcome by the poor adult teachers even though they were hired to do exactly the job of teaching all the kids in the class -- not just the ones they find easy to teach. So, if many of these commenters are telling us that families of color are more chaotic than the typical white family, I would ask why they believe that to be true. Is it inherently true that white parents are more stable and loving and involved in their kids' education? Are those just virtues that tend to accompany whiteness? Easy answer: No! That's super racist.

Could you consider with me, on the other hand, that racial inequity in Seattle (and the rest of the country) is a function of a society and a government that has given different opportunities to different groups of people for hundreds of years? We know it's not driven by DNA. The gaps in all sectors must have originated someplace. But you want to blame individual parents?

I would have liked to find more collaboration in these comments in pursuit of solutions. Instead, I've largely read resignation, denial, blame, and plenty of criticism of my word choices. I'm not a teacher. I've never been a principal or a superintendent, and frankly, I don't want to be. I spent four years working in a high school in Oregon with a huge opportunity gap, though, and I've got kids in Seattle. I've volunteered repeatedly in my son's classrooms (although not yet this year) and in others throughout the city, and unlike many of the sector's most vocal critics I've visited just about every charter school in the Puget Sound. But like I said, I'm not the person the School Board should hire to chart our new course. I'm just someone who knows there are deep inequities at play in our schools. Should we wait to call out problems until we have all the answers? 

I think we can do better. If we're so good, as some have pointed out, at educating white kids in Seattle, why rest on that laurel? This shows us a glimpse of our potential, but also the depth of our racism and, sadly, our apathy. The depth of our willingness to live in denial for the sake of our own comfort. Why celebrate that without demanding that the right to a high-quality education be extended to all kids?

Let me know what you think.


Halvorson Seattle Times Op-Ed