Sunday, January 30, 2011

February They Speak poetry slam

Calling all youth poets and those who listen:


Saturday February 12th @ 3pm (Presented by the Texas Youth Word Collective)

*2pm - Free writing workshop
*2:30-3pm Slam signup

ADMISSION: $5 cover, free for slam participants

PLACE: Ruta Maya World Headquarters,
3601 S. Congress, Austin , Texas 78704
CONTACTS: Dr. Sheila Siobhan (512) 422-6653, Co-Director
Ron Horne (512-632-5033, Co-Director


The first youth slam of the new year was led off by a 14 year old female participant who grabbed our attention with the honesty in her voice. She was followed by several evocative performances and calls to action. There was only one thing missing: YOU!!! You or a teen you know may be waiting for this moment to be heard and wow the world. Come enjoy an afternoon of stirring, thought-provoking poetry.

*This is one of only TWO more chances to qualify for the big Slam Off and
compete to win a spot on 2011 They Speak Youth Slam team for this summer's
nationals in San Francisco!!! (Note: All ages are welcome to participate in
the citywide slams. But only 13-19 year olds can qualify for nationals.)

Come be inspired and support the youth of Austin and Central Texas in our 9th
season. You'll see some of last year's phenomenal youth poets, as well as some
surprising, great new faces to rock your world.

We are conducting writing and performance workshops by none other than National
Poetry Slam Finalist, and two-time Austin Slam Champion, Christopher Michael as
well as other nationally renowned writers and performers here in the Austin

This project is funded in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts
Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts.

photo of Shay by editor during January's slam

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Great Day at Austin HS

Yesterday, Hart and I had a busy and inspiring school visit at Austin HS. Making our day very special was being accompanied by a film crew who had flown in from Japan and New York to work on a documentary film they are making about Hart. Many students stopped at the table, some coming back with friends, to check out the penny poll, the peace wheel of fortune, the fliers, books, new stenciled folders - and the film crew! The penny poll results showed students voting heavily for the environment over military spending. I had brought along one of the stencils, "Peace is Sustainable," ink and a brush so that students could print their own folders if they wished, since it takes just a few minutes and the ink dries fairly quickly. On the spot, we made art, not war!
Many thanks to Austin HS administrators, who welcomed us and gave permission for the film crew to join us on campus.

Monday, January 24, 2011

JROTC programs drain school district budgets

This analysis, by Rick Jahnkow, of the Project on Youth and Nonmilitary Opportunities is crucial information for every school board considering budget cuts, including Austin's. JROTC programs are poor substitutes for PE classes, not only because of the program content, but because JROTC programs COST MORE. As they deliberate how to cut costs, AISD should investigate the full expenses of JROTC and discuss cutting JROTC in favor of less expensive and more productive classes for high school students.

Jr. ROTC Contributes to the School Funding Crisis
by Rick Jahnkow

As sources of public money for public education shrink, K-12 school districts are being forced to consider budget cuts that will seriously affect classes and student services. In some places they are reducing or eliminating counselors, school nurses, teacher aides, librarians, and programs like art, music and athletics.

One program that is rarely subjected to cuts is the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), a military training/recruiting program that is currently offered in approximately 4,000 of the nation’s high schools. Even though this course is a non-academic elective that does not count toward meeting admission requirements at state colleges and universities – and schools are scrambling to provide electives that do help students meet those requirements – JROTC is usually given privileged treatment by school trustees who are politically intimidated by the pro-JROTC lobby and often deceived about the money that could be saved by cutting the program.

There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about the presence of a military-run program in public schools – for example, the propagandistic character of the curriculum, the questionable credentials of the instructors, and the fact that JROTC brings marksmanship training into most of the schools where it exists. Public debate over these concerns, however, has never led school trustees to remove a JROTC unit. In large part, this is because of the well-organized lobby that emerges from JROTC classes themselves. There is considerable politicking by instructors, and the military structure of the program allows them to easily mobilize cadets and their families.

This lobby, however, has sometimes failed to prevail when a school district with major financial problems looks closely at the cost of JROTC. They discover that, in comparison to alternative classes, JROTC is much more expensive to maintain than school administrators and trustees have been led to believe. The reason their initial assumptions are often wrong is that promoters of JROTC encourage the false belief that federal money will cover any extra costs. After approving the program, most school administrators never realize that the partial subsidy offered by the Pentagon (which comes from its recruiting budget, by the way) does not match the additional expenses generated by the high staffing requirements of the JROTC contract.

How JROTC is a net drain on civilian school funds

Under the standard JROTC contract, the Department of Defense provides students with books, uniforms and special equipment such as pellet rifles. The school district must provide insurance, building facilities and maintenance, and must assume responsibility for paying instructors' salaries and all the normal employment taxes and benefits that cover regular teachers. JROTC instructors must be retired military officers approved by their military branches. They are not required to meet the same qualifications as other teachers.

The school district receives from the DoD only a partial contribution toward instructors’ salaries and nothing toward the substantial cost of employment taxes and benefits. The subsidy amount for each instructor is calculated based on the military pay and housing allowance the officer would receive on active duty, minus his or her military retirement pay. This difference is then cut in half and the result is the maximum amount the DoD will pay the school district.

The JROTC contract requires the hiring of a minimum of two retired officers (one a non-commissioned officer) for the first 150 students enrolled as cadets at a school. After 150, another instructor must be hired for each additional increment of 100 cadets (e.g., three instructors for 151-250).

It’s important to note that only one non-JROTC classroom teacher would normally be hired to teach 150+ students. Furthermore, JROTC cadets are generally allowed by schools to take the class in place of physical education, and a single PE teacher would normally support 250+ students. So if JROTC were eliminated in a school district, less than half as many teachers would need to be hired to replace them.

In other words, to have JROTC, a school district must more than double the staff normally required for the number of students involved. Because the federal subsidy amount will likely cover less than half the total salaries and none of the employment taxes or benefits for two (or more) JROTC instructors at each school, schools wind up using extra money from their budgets to, in effect, subsidize a high school military training/recruiting program for the Pentagon.

An example of a specific school district

When Air Force JROTC was introduced in 1995 at Vista High School in Vista, California, the projected net cost to the district for two JROTC instructors to teach 95 cadets was:

Salary, plus taxes and benefits $79,386
Federal subsidy -28,305
Net JROTC expense 51,081

In comparison, one PE teacher was allocated for an average of 250 students at Vista HS, therefore .38 of one PE teaching position would have been required for those 95 cadets. The total cost for that portion of a PE teaching position, including taxes and benefits, was $52,250 x .38 = $19,855.

The projected net loss to the Vista school district was:

Net JROTC expense $51,081
Net cost for .38 PE allocation -19,855
Net loss of funds 31,226

(Data source: Vista Unified School District, 1995)

If one assumes the same salary and benefits rates in a district with 13 JROTC schools (San Diego Unified, for example), the annual budget loss would have been $405,938 in 1995.

While it is certain that the numbers for salaries and benefits have increased since 1995, the basic formula for calculating the true cost of JROTC is the same today: determine the total net cost for all JROTC staff and subtract the total net cost for alternative teaching staff needed to support the number of students in JROTC. The difference will reveal how much additional money would be freed up for other uses if JROTC were cut from the district’s budget.

School trustees are often given budget summaries from district staff that include the net cost for JROTC, but without the critical comparison to the cost for substituting JROTC with classes like PE. This makes it difficult for them to make fully informed decisions about which programs to eliminate when they need to make budget cuts.

People who would like to draw a district’s attention to the true cost of the program should try to find out what JROTC budget figures have already been circulated, which may be available on a school district’s web site. If the information is not available, or if it is lacking a comparative analysis, school trustees can be asked to provide specific facts about the program’s cost. In the process, trustees may come to realize that their assumptions about JROTC’s economics were based on false or incomplete information. With a more accurate financial picture, they would be more likely to consider cutting JROTC as a potential way to resolve a budget crisis.

For a copy of this article in PDF format, go to the JROTC section of Project Yano. This article is from January-March 2011 Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft.

photo by editor

Removing barriers to more equality or more enlistment?

Excellent articles in the new issue of Draft Notices, a newsletter produced by the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) in San Diego, including this one by Jorge Mariscal about DADT and the DREAM Act:

Ambiguous Victories: Civil Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism
–by Jorge Mariscal

The widespread celebration around the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was certainly justified. The fundamental unfairness of a policy – at its core a free speech issue – that forced U.S. servicewomen and men to lie about an important part of their identity made DADT unsustainable. Generational change and common sense won repeal despite opposition from the most retrograde elements of the military hierarchy and their surrogates like John McCain.

Advocacy groups called the repeal of DADT a “civil rights” victory and the corporate media trumpeted it as one of several end-of-year victories for the Democrats. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell called the lame duck session the “most productive Congress since Lyndon Johnson, maybe since the New Deal.”

One of the pieces of legislation that did not make it through this “productive Congress” was the DREAM Act, a bill that has languished in the Senate for almost a decade. Like DADT, the basic appeal of DREAM is difficult to resist: hard-working, undocumented youth brought to the United States as children deserve a pathway to legalization. The vast majority of DREAM-eligible youth have no direct experience of their family’s country of origin and many of them are high achievers with college and even graduate school degrees.

The subtext to DREAM is far less sentimental. As some Latino activists have pointed out, DREAM legislation from its earliest incarnation was the handiwork of the Department of Defense. The Pentagon understands that a large pool of eligible young people, many of them bilingual and well educated, would be a potential bonanza for recruiters. Given that the vast majority of undocumented working-class youth find it difficult to complete even two years of college, this particular path to legalization will lead them necessarily into an eight-year military enlistment contract in exchange for permanent legal residency.

What the movements to pass the DREAM Act and repeal DADT have in common is an uncanny admixture – the goal of regularizing the status of two admirable and aggrieved communities and their direct connection to the machinery of U.S. militarism. At a time when the United States is engaged in a number of hot wars and an unknown number of covert operations, this connection should concern everyone who otherwise supported the passage of DREAM and DADT.

Few of us would deny gay and lesbian people or qualified undocumented youth their right to serve in the military if they choose to do so. But what was difficult to watch was the parade of queer servicemen and women making the media rounds and describing the U.S. military as the “greatest organization in the world.” Even more disturbing were public protests and hunger strikes in which undocumented youth held “Let us serve” signs and proclaimed their eagerness to enlist and a willingness “to die for my country.”

The point is not to criticize immigrant youth who, desperate for legalized status, perceive military service as a way out of a life of constant fear of deportation. The real question is whether or not any of these young people understand the uses to which politicians have put the U.S. military over the last 60 years.

If, in fact, the activism around DREAM and DADT are civil rights movements, it seems clear that civil rights in 2010 is remarkably like civil rights circa 1940 when excluded groups, eager to win a modicum of inclusion, remained silent about the most destructive aspects of liberal capitalism. Were he to reappear today, Dr. King would be hard-pressed to recognize his own values in this contemporary civil rights agenda.

What is missing above all is King’s critique of U.S. militarism, his insistence that bloated Pentagon budgets make the social safety net impossible to sustain, and his stunning proclamation that his country was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. All of these assertions are as true today as they were in 1967.

As we celebrate the repeal of DADT, let’s be realistic. Military culture will continue to be homophobic, sometimes violently so (the astonishingly high percentage of women in the military who report sexual harassment is a related facet of this culture). As we advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that will include legalization for deserving young people, let’s be pleased that hundreds of DREAM youth may attend college – but lament the fact that thousands will be tracked into the armed forces.

Our gay, lesbian, and immigrant sisters and brothers are faced with a dilemma. Will their communities support a spirited debate about the advisability (morality) of military service in this most recent chapter of U.S. imperial adventurism? DREAM and DADT activists (and President Obama himself) would do well to revisit Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now” text, especially the part where he warns: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

DADT had to be repealed; DREAM students deserve a path to legal status. But given its on-going imperial role, is the U.S. military a legitimate means for achieving the goals of civil rights at home and human rights abroad?

This article is from the January-March 2011 Draft Notices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MLK Day March and Celebration

I took the photos above during yesterday's MLK Day March and Community Celebration, beginning near the MLK statue at UT, crossing the newly named JJ Seabrook bridge over I-35 at MLK, and winding up at Huston-Tillotson University. Americorps members with Communities in Schools (CIS) brought paper signs and markers for kids to make their own signs.
Our CodePink group marched, as we have for 4 annual MLK Days, with the "War is Not the Answer" banner. Peace signs were everywhere this year!

Friday, January 14, 2011

SOY table at Crockett HS

Had a really good visit at Crockett HS today during the two lunches. Students liked the new stenciled folders and a number of them contributed responses to the "What does peace mean to you?" poster at our table. Our display (needs to be updated with our new name and phone number) is still on a table near the entrance to the school library next to the military pamphlets, as shown above, so I restocked it. Thanks to the school librarians for keeping the display visible.

Several students said that recruiters are at the school "a lot," so they were glad to see our alternative materials and a "peace table."

Nice student art -- maybe influenced by Georgia O'Keeffe.

Thanks to students and staff for a warm welcome!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Book review: "Saurcana, Terror from the Sea"

One of my favorite publications is Rethinking Schools, an excellent quarterly magazine written largely by and for educators. I read it cover to cover. In the current issue, I am pleased to have a book review published.

The review came about in this way: Summer before last, I attended the national conference in Chicago organized by the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (nnomy). There, I met many dedicated people who are working in highschools to teach peace and justice and truth-in-recruitment. Among the attendees was Robert Hager, a disability rights attorney from Houston who was doing outreach in the schools with other Houston educators. I learned that he also had directed an alternative "Adventure Playground" program in the 1970s and that he'd written a novel for middleschoolers based on that experience and in response to US "Wars on Terror." I was glad to meet a fellow Texan, and also was curious about his book, so he sent me one.

I read Saurcana, Terror from the Sea during a Greyhound bus ride (great venue for reading, in my experience), and was very taken with the novel. So, I asked the author if I could write a review and submit it to one of my favorite mags. He graciously agreed. The author and the editors of Rethinking Schools were all wonderful to work with, and I am glad to have had the opportunity.

The story is interesting on several levels -- it's simple while intricate, gentle while suspenseful, imaginative and real. The action takes place along a shore -- a significant setting, since, where land and water meet, there is found the richest mix of life. Yet, in the story, as in the real world, border lands become places where barriers of various kinds are often erected. Weapons are poised. Enemies are created. The protagonist in the story, a youngster on the verge of adulthood, asks why.

Check out the review AND, even if you aren't a teacher, if you have a tween in your household, order up a book and leave it lying around. I bet it gets read!

Above: Cover art by Bill Hughes

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What Would YOU Do With $1 Trillion?

This just in from the good folks at the National Priorities Project -- . Check out the "What Would You Do With $1 Trillion" video contest entries linked here from students across the country ...

The American Friends Service Committee and National Priorities Project are preparing to announce the six lucky winners of If I Had a Trillion Dollars (IHTD), a national video contest which asks young people to convey how they would spend the more than $1 trillion dollars spent on the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After receiving 48 compelling video submissions from passionate young men and women across the country, AFSC and NPP will be announcing first, second and third place prizes in both the middle/high school and the college level categories on January 17, 2011, the celebrated birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All videos can be viewed on the IHTD YouTube channel:

The two national organizations launched this collaboration with the goal of engaging young people in conversation about military spending and our nation's federal budget priorities. First prize is a trip to Washington, D.C. and a video screening for members of Congress and the Obama Administration, to coincide with the release of the President's 2012 budget.

A panel of esteemed artists/scholars, Haydn Reiss, Andrea Assaf, Diana Coryat and Vijay Prashad, will judge the submissions and decide the winners.

Nathara Bailey, at Amherst Regional High School (MA) reflected that she "had never worked with federal figures and the only thing [she] knew about the budget was from [her] own school and seeing [programs] being cut." While she had an idea of how much money the wars have cost, working with the exact figures "created a whole other level or layer to [her] understanding of how much money was being spent." Bailey focused on education because "everything starts there...there are a lot of things missing in [the] education system due to the budget and that's really unfortunate because that's where we are supposed to start being people."

Cara Cheng, at Lick-Wilmerding High School (CA) wrote, "Instead of using $1 trillion to harm, we have multiple alternatives to use the money to benefit the world. I participated in this contest to help our community and our world."

Aiden Tharp, at the University of Chicago (IL) offered, "The number one change I would like to see in my community is better and broader funding of social service programs, whether housing, food, income, children and family services or education. Just one example of where we need help is with homeless youth in Chicago. On any given night there are approximately 9.000 homeless youth looking for shelter but only 306 beds available."

To view and comment on the videos, visit For more on the contest, visit

For more on AFSC's work for peace and justice, visit, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. To find out more about the federal budget and spending, visit