Complicity with Colonizing Public Education

How can we construct liberatory, community based, internationally minded, indigenous-engaged, autonomous and sovereign centers of educational resurgence? What do we mean by education when what we want is a human process of cultivation rooted in wisdom, deep in knowledge, and engaged in the massive amounts of information available to teachers and learners today?

At Semillas, we call it a kalmekak. An indigenous Mexican root and path of education.

The LAUSD’s projected $700 million deficit is due to a failed educational agenda, largess at Beaudry and colossal failures that have cost millions and the irredeemable innocence of dozens of children. It is not due to charter school growth. Even the underdog newbie LAUSD Board member Ratliff is now an apologist for the bloated bureaucracy. If the Beaudry Building was “purchased and renovated by LAUSD in 2001 for $154 million” a decade ago, LAUSD can sell it now and off-set its deficit.

To be sure, a current appraisal of the Beaudry building would certainly value the real estate at at least ten times as much value as when it was purchased.

Our kids don’t need a skyscraper school district, they need art and culture and inquiry taught by human teachers of the community, by the community, for the community. Teachers who don’t molest them and administrators who don’t cover it up.

Yet, to radical (meaning return to the root, the truth, the earth) educators, there is more to the LAUSD crisis than pedophiles and panderers. Let’s agree that a regenerative educational design is what is needed.

It’s amusing how pedagogues in private, christian universities will preach from their safe pulpit about the racism of privatization in public education. Not so amusing, is the fact that the so-called anti-privatization bantering against charter schools ignores the fact that for indigenous peoples in many communities, there are no other options to build autonomous education which fosters culturally rooted, community-based learning rich in maternal language and ancestral knowledge than the charter school mechanism. Often, indigenous peoples are forced to reject the overtly biased premises and agendas of deculturalizing pedagogies – even if they purport to be critical pedagogies as these too may contradict the central priorities of indigenous resilience, survivance and sovereignty.

Schools like Hālau Kū Māna Native Hawaiian Charter School in Hawaii that NoelaniGoodyear-Ka‘ōpua helped build, and the Native American Community Academy which, “is the collaborative effort and the dream of many educators, parents, professionals and leaders throughout New Mexico,” in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are powerful examples of self-determination and cultural-intellectual sovereignty. If we cannot teach our children we exist, we cannot continue to exist as indigenous peoples. According to NACA‘s website, there are approximately 5,500 Native American students in the Albuquerque school system that currently serves a total of 80,000 students, adding that, “This population is steadily growing, mirroring nationwide estimates that 66% of all Native American families currently live in urban areas.”

Of course, even to critical educators, often the statistics of indigenous peoples seem tiny compared to the massive numbers of students that can be conjured up when education is analyzed in a non-cultural paradigm. It is often easier to claim to defend the best interests of half a million students in LAUSD, than it is to define who these students are, what languages they speak, what heritage they hold or what cultures have formed their characters. Likewise, it is irresponsible and even unethical for purported allies to lambast all autonomous schools as either racist, segregated or “privatizing” when there are important, albeit few, examples of a community-based liberatory practice of education among indigenous communities.

As written in this blog before, the experience, theories, practices and initiative Semillas engages in are collectively named Tlamachilisxochiponajle – flowering knowledge. Tlamachilisxochiponajle is an autonomous educational initiative aimed at radically regenerating education in self-determined communities of Indigenous Peoples through more learner-centred, linguistically aware pedagogy focusing upon education which advances: 1) maternal language, 2) autocthonous culture, 3) autonomous education and 4) universal access for indigenous children to national and international educational institutions. As an Indigenous community-based organization and as a traditional society of Aztec Dancers, Semillas has become an active advocate of the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The recent adoption of a resolution requiring students of LAUSD to take an ethnic studies course as a graduation requirement is yet another example of the corruption of civil rights era rhetoric for the expedient “advancement of colored people” for political gain. What was born of a multi-year gathering of educators towards the advancement of Chicana and Chicano Studies in the second largest school district in the country, was hijacked for the self-serving interest of an incumbent politician alienated from the voting and non-voting constituents he is supposed to serve.

No sooner had the ink on the newspapers dried announcing the community “victory” than the “Ethnic Studies Now” coalition’s Facebook page began inviting its members to a fundraiser sponsored by the coalition for LAUSD incumbent Boardmember Benett Kayser. The crass manipulation of the banner call for inclusion of the stories and struggles of people of color was again sold to the highest bidder as a cheap trick to gain black and brown votes.

The underlying fear to advance a resolution which directly addresses the need for Chicana and Chicano Studies in all public schools was evident by its omission in the classic bait and switch administrators have played with “ethnic studies” for decades.

Why else would a full focus on calling for the implementation of Xicana/o Studies be avoided over forty years after the writing of the historic Plan de Santa Barbara? 

The Arizona judge that upheld the ban against ethnic studies there noted: “This single-minded focus on terminating the [Mexican American studies or MAS] program, along with Arizona Attorney General Horne’s decision not to issue findings against other ethnic studies programs, is at least suggestive of discriminatory intent,”. In order to take down MAS, the state then had to target all other courses. The opposite is true here as well, in order to circumvent the virulent anti-Mexican sentiment pervasive throughout LAUSD and to promote a semblance of Xicana/o Studies in LAUSD, the effort was masked with an “ethnic studies” front. The test will be how the rhetoric of oppositional politics privately feigned by the campaign organizers will be found to uphold “the teaching of legitimate and objective ethnic studies courses.”

The broader community call for a new, more visionary “plan de Los Angeles” has been supported by Semillas for the last few years as a part of the growing movement to defend Chicana and Chicano Studies as a reaction to the draconian anti-Mexican laws in Arizona.

Granted, people like Kayser are probably not as stupid or racist (lost maybe, described by some as the runt of the litter in his family) as Horne who has stated that public education should, “not be held captive to radical, political elements and that students treat each other as individuals — not on the basis of the race they were born into.”

So exactly when will the LAUSD Board affirm that the ethnic studies courses will teach: “not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.” as called for by ethnic studies coalition members and Kayser party-builders?

“Brainwashed”? Did LAUSD just accept that it “brainwashed” students for decades?

Is that what the six LAUSD Board members voted yes to?

More importantly when and how will the Ethnic Studies resolution be funded?

The victory, if there is one, should include at least start up funding for the resolution which can conservatively be estimated at $50,000 to $500,000 per high school. Oddly, the ethnic studies coalition did not call to raise funds for Ethnic Studies resolution implementation – just to pay for Kayser’s campaign. But then, LAUSD is in a perennial deficit.

Surviving the deficit is entirely possible for LAUSD, but as the bureaucrats like to tell us, they have to make hard decisions – like selling Beaudry, decentralizing administration and turning over control of the education of our communities’ children back to the community. It is interesting that neither El Rancho Unified School District’s (ERUSD) board of education nor LAUSD’s Board have actually funded the resolution promoting ethnic studies.  For its part, ERUSD  has a deficit of $5,000,000 projected to grow to $9,000,000 over three years and is currently in a type of financial receivership under the Los Angeles County Office of Education. So for all the publicity and banter – there is no true ethical commitment to either of these resolutions without the financial commitment of resources. This means that all the hype is made for Hollywood, but our children need REALITY.

An Anahuacalmecac alumni recently sought my help with a paper on Chicano “identity” for an introductory course in Chicana and Chicano Studies at a local public university. The course did not exist when I was an undergraduate, and exists now as a part of a department students of my generation organized to establish. The prompt challenges the student to explain the relevance of the Chicano “identity”. The paradigm of “identity” however, is thus set to individualize, personalize and de-politicize the struggle of the Chicano People. It is as a nation – an indigenous people – that Chicanos and Chicanas gain standing in questions of international law, not as individual citizens of an ethnic minority of the United States. The minority mentality of the ethnic studies paradigm is more than a convenient dialogue starter for teacher pedagogues at a union happy hour, it is in fact a counter-productive acquiescence to complicity with the deculturalization of our children in public schools continuing the legacy of boarding schools among indigenous peoples and a denigration of the consciousness and practice of sovereignty among indigenous Mexicans. Ethnic studies amalgamates, obfuscates and melts the distinction of indigenous peoples and our relations to land, culture, language and colonization. Certainly teachers can be trained to engage youth in their own decolonization – but who and how will the teachers become decolonized?


We remain open to critical dialogue on deculturalization in public schools and the work towards decolonization.

A note to our supporters:

On behalf of our amazing students, passionate teachers, committed Council of Trustees, dedicated leadership and myself, I thank all of our supporters throughout cyberworld on ThinkMexican and elsewhere. Please like us on our Facebook page as well to stay informed and go to to download important updates on our struggle and even to make a donation if possible. Overcoming a recession is not easy for any community-based nonprofit, but with your support our children’s educational future remains bright!

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