Education

A Victor’s Narrative

The narratives we are given about the state of civilization in the continent later baptized America is a narrative designed to obscure the truth of one side in favor of another. Our text books refer to it as the “New World” and to the first Western European arrivals as “settlers”. These terms elicit a certain imagery in our minds of virgin lands, unperturbed by man until the “Christians” came.

The superiority of European technology and culture was such – the story goes -, that the genocide, ethnic cleansing and erasure of indigenous culture, which followed was an inevitable consequence of contact. It follows an accepted line of Western thought, which states that the “victor” always writes history. But, the concept of victory, itself, is part of the things that separate these two sides of the world.

Few dare question the narrative. Indeed, most are not even aware it is a narrative at all. It is simply assumed to be a historical fact. Should it be challenged, many will instinctively come to its defense with vitriol and utter contempt for whoever has the gall to inject even the slightest doubt into the conqueror’s tales. They will point to the brilliant scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs, like genetic sequencing and the moon landing, as proof of their civilization’s clear primacy and advantages.

Defenders of the narrative will rally around these ahistorical claims, shrouded in racial supremacist thinking and take them as gospel. The cumulative effect of knowledge transfer over the course of millennia between multiple civilizations completely escapes them. And it is no wonder, since this too, is a feature of the narrative of so-called Western civilization.

The idea that “rational” thought and the fruits of the Enlightenment are part of an unbroken civilizational lineage, that stretches back to Ancient Greece is nothing more than part of an overarching theme of the birth of “Academia” emerging out of 19th century Germany, where the modern-day seminary-style university model was developed. Martin Bernal dispels this myth in his seminal, two-volume work, “Black Athena – The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Western Civilization”.

The Saviors

Another oft-repeated refrain are the radical improvements in life-expectancy and medical advancements brought forth by our White brethren. And indeed, Europeans’ life expectancy and general health did improve dramatically as a result. But, here’s the part that is ignored: It was Europe that was sick and dying, struck by the plague and chronically ill. It was their societies, which were failing and caught in a spiral of death and wars of attrition.

What they found on the other side of the Atlantic were thriving, healthy civilizations living in harmony with their environment. So healthy, that the diseases carried by the invading foreigners killed them by the millions because they had never been exposed to them. Just like the rats carrying the bubonic plague into Europe, European “settlers” brought sickness into the Amerindian societies.

NEW ORLEANS, LA – Dead man floating under I-10. New Orleans, La. Sept. 3, 2005 – PHOTO CREDIT: THOMAS DWORZAK—MAGNUM

Columbus and all who followed him also found copious amounts of food and agricultural technologies, that supported populations in the millions. Crops in varieties and numbers unheard of in their pastoral homelands. Vegetables, fruits and nuts in such abundance, the “Conquistadors” could barely believe their eyes.

When Hernán Cortez wrote about “El Nuevo Mundo” to his royal benefactors in Castile, he was literally describing a new world. A world that represented nothing less than a lifeline for a decaying world, rife with war, hunger and disease.

It is, perhaps, one of history’s greatest ironies, that Western Europeans would sail thousands of miles across the ocean with their horses, swords and guns under the banner of Christianity, purporting to bring salvation to a “savage” people.

Revisiting the accepted historical narrative, even superficially, reveals this to be a classic case of projection. The ones who needed saving were the Europeans themselves and it was the Native people of the American continent who saved them.

A Retelling in Time

Narratives are important. It is the stories that we tell ourselves, which determine the actions we ultimately take. As we stand on the threshold of an environmental catastrophe, we are beginning to understand that our actions are leading us down a dangerous road. It is in these moments, that we must re-examine our motives. We have to revisit the narrative and identify the points that are not congruent with our reality.

FILE PHOTO – A poster promoting the first Earth Day
in the United States, which took place in April, 1977

The climate disaster, which is presently unfolding on this planet is the consequence of the same unsustainable way of life that led to the near collapse of Western European civilization at the dawn of a renaissance underwritten by Native and indigenous people.

Our increasingly polluted rivers, oceans and air; the rampant deforestation and resource extraction; the unsustainable fossil fuel energy paradigm that is not only driving wars around the world, but is also causing our atmosphere to warm and threatens to extinguish life on earth as we know it. These are all manifestations of the same spirit that crossed the Atlantic 500 years ago as a self-destructive civilization survived its imminent demise by leaching off of societies working successfully to reach an equilibrium with nature.

A Call to Action

My documentary Ghost on the Water revisits the Colonial narrative in order to expose the lies we continue to tell ourselves about how we got here and where all this is leading us. If you feel this is a worthwhile endeavor, consider making a contribution so we can continue production:

Kickstarter Campaign

If you were dropped in the middle of Mexico City, Buenos Aires or Bogotá and tried to find a Latin American, you would never come across a single person who described themselves as such. No matter how deep into Rio’s favelas or the most recondite parts of the Nicaraguan jungle you looked, such a creature would be more elusive than the Loch Ness monster.

Although coined by the French during their Napoleonic bid for a world empire the term has seeped, naturally, into the lexicon of the current and far more powerful global hegemon, the United States of America. Its purpose then was much the same as it is now: to homogenize a plurality and subsume separate and distinct peoples under a singular socio-political paradigm, based on etymology. Never mind that millions of the region’s inhabitants – the original ones, in fact – spoke and speak their own native languages, which are completely unrelated to the romance varieties imported from Europe.

Latin Americans, Latinos and the more recently concocted Latinx are all things, that only exist here in the house McDonald’s built; an expedient way to identify television market share, with no real social value. Second and third generation immigrants might adopt the format in public. But, behind closed doors, at family reunions and when they go back to visit grandma in the old country, nobody claims to belong to a contrived pan-lat-am diaspora. They are loyal to their own vocabularies and songs, unique to the places they come from.

The American penchant for lumping people from different backgrounds and cultures together is not new, of course. Their infamously bad grasp of geography is often on display and hardly draws any shame. On the contrary, they seem to relish it; as if not knowing where Peru is on a map is a sort of humblebrag display of domination.

Just yesterday, none other than the éminence grise of American broadcast journalism, Tom Brokaw, revealed his own cultural chauvinism when he tried to backtrack from comments he had made about Hispanics on a TV show. The comment itself calling on “Hispanics” work harder on assimilation, while reeking of MAGA-esque intolerance, was not particularly noteworthy or unexpected. It was his clumsy Twitterpology (yes, I made it up), that perfectly encapsulates my argument.

Historians typically frame Simon Bolivar’s attempt to bring every nation of the Americas under one flag in a noble light. But, it was just another imperialist doing what imperialists do. I didn’t work then and no amount of Latin Grammy award shows will make it work now.

Emerge

eMerge Americas is a technological innovation conference that takes place in Miami, and bills itself as the “premiere technology event connecting Latin America, North America and Europe”, but should not be confused with the almost identically named political organization Emerge America, whose mission is to further the careers of Democratic women in government.

eMerge Americas was created by the Technology Foundation of the Americas, a non-profit organization founded by Manny Medina, whose company, Terremark, built the NAP facility in downtown Miami, one of the most important IXPs in the world. Medina sold Terremark in 2011 and became a full-time technology advocate, leading the conversation about transforming Miami into a global tech hub.

According to a 2014 piece from the Miami Herald, “The plan for eMerge Americas is that major information technology companies will showcase solutions in the areas of cloud computing, cyber security, big data, mobile applications, and social networking to leaders in the technology sector in the Americas.”

GENEVA, CH – JUNE 8: Sophia, Hanson Robotics Ltd. speaking at the AI for GOOD Global Summit, ITU, Geneva, Switzerland, 7 – 9 June, 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: ITU &copy ITU/R.Farrell

The first eMerge America conference in April of 2015 turned out to be a success. The five-thousand plus attendance surpassed the expectation of the organizers, despite this number being quite modest compared to any number of similar events in San Francisco every year, which can draw tens of thousands of people. Nevertheless, the focus of eMerge Americas to engage the Latin American tech sector is undoubtedly promising, and a natural fit for South Florida.

This year will be the third iteration of the burgeoning tech convention, and will feature some notable guests, like keynote speaker Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico and famous Twitter foil of current U.S. president, Donald Trump. Sophia, the AI robot created by Hanson Robotics, will also make an appearance.

The 2018 eMerge Americas conference will be held in Miami Beach’s revamped Convention Center on Monday, April 23 through Tuesday, April 24. For tickets and more information, visit the conference’s website.

Summer School

At first, it reminded me of a 6th period class on the last day before Spring Break. Most of the 300 seats were empty in the auditorium and the only students in the room had been brought by their parents or had come to see friends. Except, this was a rally for public education, which was taking place in the middle of the summer. Considering that, the seventy-five people, or so, that did show up was a positive turn out.

The production values were above average, with professionally designed and consistent “Women’s March” branding rolled out on T-shirts, hand-signs and video splash screens. The venue was properly set up for the lineup of speakers there to address the small, but spirited crowd about a cause, which had come into sharp relief over the past week. Florida House Bill (HB) 7069 was signed into law by governor Rick Scott a few days earlier and public school advocates across the state have been reeling since. The sweeping legislation gives for-profit, charter schools nearly half a billion dollars in state funding and access to public school facilities and infrastructure.

“Now, we’re in a situation; a state of affairs where we have legislators that are trying to systematically dismantle public education.”, said Karla Hernandez Mats, the first Hispanic President of United Teachers of Dade (UTD), an organization that traces its roots to the nation’s first statewide teachers’ strike in the history of the United States.

Elective History

Pat Tornillo was a Dade County public school Teacher when he ran and won the presidency of the Dade County Classroom Teachers Association (DCCTA) in 1963 on a platform of greater organizational militancy and the desegregation of teaching staff.

The Florida Education Association (FEA), the larger body to which the DCCTA and other educators’ associations yielded to, was originally limited to white teachers and administrators and even engaged in direct actions to sabotage the efforts of African-American teachers who sought equal pay and other benefits. Tornillo upended the status quo, playing a vital role in the dissolution of these legacy, racist policies as well as the establishment of collective bargaining rights for educators through the adoption of a more union-like approach to their dealings with the state.

MIAMI, FL – JULY 22: Audience members look on during the March For Education at the Chapman Center in Miami Dade Community College on July 22, 2017 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles.com ©2017 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

By the time the strike broke out in 1968, Tornillo’s star was steadily rising. The work stoppage lasted anywhere from a week to three months and would yield little in the way of practical gains for the teachers, but the strike split and weakened the FEA, which opened the door for Tornillo to merge his DCCTA – the largest teachers’ union in the state – with FEA rival American Federation of Teachers affiliate in Dade to form the United Teachers of Dade. This forced the FEA into a state-wide merger with AFT by 1974. The new teachers’ federation would be called FEA-United and Pat Tornillo would control the organization for almost a quarter of a century until his spectacular fall from grace.

In 2003, the FBI raided UTD’s headquarters in Miami after being tipped off about Tornillo’s embezzlement of union dues. The scandal rocked the entire state and the financial burden brought on by the ordeal nearly bankrupted the organization. Tornillo, who died in 2007, was convicted and sentenced to twenty-seven months in prison for stealing millions out of UTD’s coffers. The FBI, however, may still be watching – In my attempt to connect to a weak Wi-Fi signal at the rally’s venue, a network named “FBI surveillance van #1” appeared on my mobile device, but mysteriously disappeared before I could take a screenshot.

Preaching to the Choir

Resigned to the fact that I won’t have access to my Twitter feed, I turn back towards the stage of the Chapman Center at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus. It is brightly decorated with a couple of blue roll-up banners, indoor plants and a futuristic-looking plexiglas podium from where Aida Reyes, the Women’s March Miami representative and emcee, keeps the introductions going.

A few spots after Hernandez-Mats was local radio personality, Fernand Amandi, whose program, “The Fernand Amandi Show” on 610 WIOD was recently pulled by the station citing budgetary considerations. Many believe it was his anti-Trump rhetoric, however, which caused his show to be axed. “We need to make their lives a living hell. You need to call them. You need to show up at their offices. You need to show up at their town hall meetings. When they do their public hearings, you need to bring your friends and family and make them realize that if they don’t respond to the people’s interest, we will vote them out.”, Amandi told the largely anti-Trump audience.

Public School

MIAMI, FL – JULY 22: Karla Mats, President of United Teachers of Dade, addresses audience at the Chapman Center in Miami Dade Community College for the March For Education on July 22, 2017 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles.com ©2017 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Joe Gebara, former President of Florida PTA/PTSA, echoed these same ideas of civic awareness in his speech, even cueing the audience to shout “and vote!” after specific trigger words. Nonetheless, both of them made it abundantly clear that they are not against private schools as such. Only their funding at the expense of public schools. The clarification seemed unnecessary, but maybe they had been looking for a Wi-Fi connection, too, and decided to err on the side of caution.

Social Studies

Kay Reed, from Women’s March Broward, talked about the importance of public schools for parents of disabled children, who, she said, “pay about ten to sixty thousand dollars more to raise and take care of our child” and that public schools are often the “only venue for disabled children to find a quality education.” Necessary things like speech therapy or behavioral therapy would be all but impossible for most families to afford if these were not provided by the public education system.

Jennifer Solomon, followed up with the more controversial issues surrounding gender and identity. As the South Miami Chapter President of PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, she spoke about the challenge of raising her own “gender non-conforming” son; a term she defined as the “opposite of a tomboy”. Mrs. Solomon called for the introduction of staff protocols at the elementary school level for the protection of children who display fluid gender roles. “This is new for elementary school.”, she said, “We can’t expect our teachers to know this. This is something that we need to get into the schools so they can identify what they can do to make the children safe”.

Several other guest speakers broached matters of social justice, including a few students, notable among whom was a young man named Connor Cunningham. He shared his inspiring story of overcoming a diagnosis of autism at an early age and using public school system resources – and the social interactions he found there – to fight through his challenges. Today, he is the Co-Founder of the Stand in my Shoes movement, which promotes tolerance and awareness of neurodiversity in children.

Homeroom Politics

Many of the guest speakers at the March for Public Education here in Miami have ties to the various labor unions that represent the educators and education professionals that work in our public schools. Organizations like UTD, the National Educators Association (NEA), Education Support Professionals (ESP) and others naturally see themselves as the most threatened by the election of Donald Trump.

But as laudable as we find the struggle for social justice and as much as we need advocacy for those can’t fend for themselves, school children should never be used to advance an agenda. As the Tornillo case shows, entrenched bureaucracies can become blind to the original purpose of the institutions they serve and in an effort to remain in power, will undermine the very principles they pretend to uphold.

“Fair and fully-funded public education for all children is a moral imperative we should all stand up for”, said Rudy Diaz, 2017 Miami Dade Teacher of the Year, in the event’s closing remarks. You will not find many people on either side of the aisle that will disagree with that statement. Most would also agree that the public education system is in crisis and anyone who witnessed the apathetic turn out for yesterday’s nationwide March for Public Education events – a dozen planned across the country – including the two thirds empty auditorium in Miami, it’s clear that it goes deeper than a few earmarked dollars.

The School Bell Curve

Change is inevitable. In the 21st century, it is also furiously fast. The rate of automation, the advancement in robotics, big data and the IoT are on the verge of transforming every facet of life on earth.

Public School

MIAMI, FL – JULY 22: Connor Cunningham, speaker for the Stand in my Shoes movement, talks about his battle to overcome an autism diagnosis at the Chapman Center in Miami Dade Community College for the March For Education on July 22, 2017 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles.com ©2017 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Jeremy Rifkin, in his seminal work “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” predicts a very near future where work, as we know it, will be obsolete. Economists, as we speak, are baffled by the unpredictability of markets that no longer follow once proven patterns. Proponents of a universal basic income are convinced that it is the only way to stem the coming lag between production and supply, as technologies like 3-D printing quickly evolve and manual labor is relegated to a past chapter in human history. If so, what does education mean in a society where people no longer need to work to live?

We are undergoing deep changes in society brought on by exponential advancement in technology and the public school system will have to adapt like the rest of us. It is, itself, the product of the Industrial revolution, another massive social shift. But that shift occurred over decades, whereas ours can be counted almost by the hour.

Our educators have to see beyond the obvious and look past petty politics. They must develop a vision for the future and for that, they need to see the forces that are leading us there.

Simply stated: If you want to keep teaching, you need to keep learning.

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