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Less than three weeks after two Athens, Georgia, high school English teachers appeared with formerly “undocumented” students at the Association of Teacher Educators conference in Atlanta, Georgia, a protest for “education equality” was held in Athens on the campus of the University of Georgia, one of five top state schools that restrict their access in order to save space for legal residents and returning soldiers. No surprise, one of these teachers was quoted in the lengthy follow-up article on March 9 titled, “Undocumented students face hurdles to higher ed.”
I attended the conference to hear Bill Ayers, and saw that these educators had much in common: they saw their roles primarily as advocates, not educators. ATE, however, claims to be “devoted solely to the improvement of teacher education” and to represent over 650 colleges and universities, 500 major school systems, and the majority of state departments of education.
The advocacy includes that on behalf of illegal alien students, at the expense of other students. The panel, “Immigration and Education: Critical Issues, Critical Times,” featured JoBeth Allen, who runs a “Freedom University” for students prohibited from attending the University of Georgia, and Azadeh Shahshahani, president of the Lawyers Guild and director for “immigrant rights” at the ACLU Foundation of Georgia.
Also on the ATE panel were two English teachers from the two public high schools in Athens: Matthew Hicks of Cedar Shoals High School and Ian Altman of Clarke Central High School.
Both teachers described to other teachers and education professors how they have turned their classrooms—during and after class periods—into advocacy labs for illegal alien students. In her introductory remarks, Allen noted that the two “award-winning” teachers make “human rights” part of the curriculum. That includes taking students to rallies for “undocumented immigrants,” helping students prepare speeches for the annual Athens Human Rights Festival, and publishing a newsletter. Teachers bring students to hearings on immigration bills. Altman talked about his plans to fly to Tucson with students for a “Greenfest” for “Dreamers” and bragged about a student who gave a “brilliant speech” at a press conference on immigration and now has a full scholarship to Syracuse University.
Such speech-writing forms much of the assignments in these two teachers’ classes. Altman described how he begins the semester by telling students that he could “teach the standards” or teach them what is “valuable.” (Skirting “standards” was an objective at the ATE conference.) “I can teach standards,” he said, echoing ATE keynote speaker Bill Ayers, “but I might as well work in a factory.” In his estimation, what is valuable is raising awareness of the plight of undocumented students and helping them attain legal status. Altman uses William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the Declaration of Independence, and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” speeches to teach students “how a democratic society can function.” Similarly, Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible teaches “empathy.” In other words, these literary works are twisted into arguments against immigration laws.
Altman used postmodern literary theory to justify his activism: immigration has to do with human lives and lives are “inscribed in language.” For him, the personal and professional coincide: “To be their teacher means to be their political advocate.”
What about the student who is an American citizen and who disagrees with Altman’s position?
Altman puts the student on the spot and demands that he look at his undocumented classmate. Even though his readings and assignments focus on “undocumented immigrants,” Altman claimed that the dissenting student is not pressured to change his politics. However, “he has to understand human tragedy in our political system.”
Altman and Hicks use their classrooms after school hours for such advocacy as well. Altman raises money for college applications, edits letters for college admissions, writes letters of recommendation, and offers a “safe place” for undocumented students. “We become advocates, confidantes, and confessors,” he stated, as he laid out the standard leftist line about how those who advocate for strong immigration laws are really classicist, and racist against Latinos.
Both Altman and Hicks presented themselves as modern day freedom fighters. For them, being advocates for “undocumented” students is a high, noble cause. Indeed, it was quite disturbing to watch the two teachers with their former students next to them talk about emotionally charged after-hours sessions. Said Hicks, “You need to be brave enough and strong enough,” yet “able to cry with them.”
Once he has helped them find the college that welcomes undocumented students, Hicks helps them write application essays. But he also incorporates college application essays into his classroom activities, encouraging students to write about their “challenges.” Admissions panels, looking for “diversity” increasingly give greater weight to such essays, as legal challenges to other preferential criteria like the automatic addition of points to test scores for those of certain races are made.
The two girls had given their stories, in the typical 18-year-old patois, repeating the trauma of what it was like to learn that they were “undocumented,” while they “felt American,” and how “it sucks how teachers can’t help students unless you tell them you are undocumented.”
Of course, there was no discussion of the law or acknowledgement of parental responsibility, or of the possibility of getting state-supported college educations in the nations of their birth. These were teenagers, and admittedly good students. They are the type advocates of the DREAM Act like to show off. They gave their testimonies about being brought over by “coyotes” from Mexico, tearfully leaving behind grandparents. They do the same when they testify at the state Capitol, hoping to tug at the heartstrings of legislators, but not needing to for the businessmen who seek to profit from cheap labor, and university administrators who seek the federal aid dollars that follow students. D.A. King, president of the Dustin Inman Society, a pro-enforcement immigration watchdog group, is used to seeing busloads with young people coming to the state capitol in Georgia to chant “we will not comply” with immigration laws.
Teachers like Altman and Hicks have been trained by education professors like the ones at Georgia State University who held a Teach-In last year on lobbying against immigration laws (my testimony here). Their preferred “undocumented” students earn high grades, at least partly because of their extra help.
What about the student who, quite logically, doesn’t see Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech as a statement on behalf of illegal aliens, and furthermore does not want do writing assignments that include protest speeches, or emotionally charged college admissions essays? Well, he’s out of luck, and furthermore has little recourse through an appeal to his teacher. Matt Hicks admitted that helping “undocumented” students is “what I do with all my spare time.”
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