Friday, January 29, 2016

Career Fair at Reagan HS

Today, we participated for the third year in the annual Reagan HS career fair.  It's one of the only high schools that still does career fairs, and it's a good opportunity to meet other folks who are providing post-high school options to students.  We learned from an Americorps member who helps Reagan students with college prep that 15 Reagan students plan to graduate this spring with not only their HS diploma, but with an Associates Degree from ACC through the Early College program at Reagan.  That shows a lot of hard work.
Hart counting pennies from the Penny Poll jars after the career fair

We appreciated having the opportunity to talk with students, and the t-shirt challenge elicited some good comments from students and staff, too.  As always, the Penny Poll showed strong support for funding Education (31% of the penny votes) and Health Care (28%), and 21% for the Environment, 13% for the Military and 7% for Humanitarian Aid. When students see the tape unfold showing actual government spending priorities, we can see the surprise on their faces.  The tape shows 6% for Education.

Susana showing the graph of actual federal spending after student votes in Penny Poll

The down side of the day was seeing Army and Navy recruiters there who were asking students to fill out forms with their contact information.  I went over and showed them the written AISD policy prohibiting that, but the Navy recruiters continued to ask students to fill out the forms throughout the career fair, directly flouting AISD policy.  We are following up with AISD about this.

Our reflection poster received thoughtful responses, as always.  The question was:  Which Super-villain do you want to fight:  Sexism, Racism, Ecocide, Poverty or War -- and how?

  And one student said that she would fight against Trump, because he represented all the super-villains!  We don't promote candidates at our tables, but we appreciated that response!

Thanks, Reagan students, for visiting our table and sharing your thoughts with us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"The Four Freedoms"

As part of our t-shirt challenge, we ask students to name the 5 basic freedoms guaranteed in the US Constitution's First Amendment.  Today, thanks to the "Today in Peace History" message from Carl Bunin's Peace Buttons website, I was reminded of the "4 Freedoms" that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stressed on this date in 1941, which overlap with our Constitutional rights, but add more.  They seem particularly relevant now:

January 6, 1941
President Franklin D. Roosevelt,
in his 1941 State of the Union 
address,introduced the idea
of the "Four Freedoms":

freedom of speech and expression;

freedom of every person to 
worship God in her or his own way;

freedom from want; 

and freedom from fear.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

SOY tabling in big cat country

We were glad to visit LBJ HS today with our crew of 5, the t-shirt challenge, our materials and optimism for the new year.  As LBJ is home of the jaguars, we included a question about that noble animal in our challenge questions, and our reflection poster had to do with environmental effects of war.  One conclusion based on responses:  students could benefit from learning more about the environment altogether, especially now, when the effects of climate change are all around us.

As always, student priorities showed a strong interest in more funding for education -- and, if their voices were heard, it wouldn't be a problem to fund more classes in environmental science, for example.

Penny Poll results showed 42% of the vote for Education, 20.6% for Health care, 18.7% for the Environment, 12.7% for Humanitarian Aid and 6% for the Military.  Students expressed surprise and dismay when they saw the graph showing how the US federal budget is really allocated.

Thanks to the Jaguars for welcoming us today. (And be sure to read up about your mascot).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Austin Monitor piece about AISD recruiter restrictions is corrected

Better late than never:  The AISD Media Relations person contacted The Austin Monitor to correct his quote about the new AISD policy of restrictions to recruiter access on high school campuses.  Here is the edited piece that was originally published on November 2, 2015.

Monday, November 2, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

AISD tightens military access to students

Military recruiters seeking to sign up future servicemen and -women will have less access to Austin Independent School District students than they did one year ago. On Monday, board members unanimously adopted new language in the district’s visitors policy that clarifies exactly where military recruiters can and cannot go.
In accordance with federal laws, schools are required to disclose student names, addresses and telephone numbers to military recruiters on request. However, middle and high school students or parents can stipulate that personal information remain undisclosed unless parents provide written consent. State and federal laws also allow military recruiters the same access to high school students as other organizations promoting jobs or career possibilities. So often, military recruiters will stand alongside other organizations at job fairs.
However, AISD media relations coordinator Jacob Barrett told the Austin Monitor that there have been situations in which military recruiters have acted more like baseball or football scouts rather than staying behind the familiar cafeteria table handing out brochures.
“There have been a few cases in past years of recruiters showing up at extracurricular activities when students wished to not be approached,” Barrett said. “But those were isolated incidents that were addressed and corrected.”
Nevertheless, Barrett said the district wanted to ensure that AISD had a policy in place to protect students to the highest degree. The new policy now states that military recruiters cannot attend school-sponsored events without a principal’s authorization, are not allowed to meet off-campus with students under 18 without parental consent submitted to a campus administrator, cannot directly ask students for contact information and cannot ask students for contact information as a stipulation for awards or gifts. Principals are allowed to deny campus access to military recruiters if any policies are violated.
In addition, the board approved stronger guidelines for students who take the military’s admissions and placement test. Previously, all students who took the test had their scores sent to military recruiters. Now, students can choose whether to make their scores available.
The changes sat well with several members of Sustainable Options for Youth, who spoke during Monday’s public comment portion of the meeting. Sustainable Options for Youth is a nonprofit organization that tables at AISD school events to promote nonmilitary options for students after high school.
Susan Van Haitsma, a member of the organization, praised trustees’ new additions to the previous 2006 policy.
“In the years since then, we have become aware of several loopholes that have allowed recruiters to contact students even if their parents or guardians have requested otherwise,” she said. “Even more seriously, we learned that over a four-year period, three military recruiters in Austin were charged in sexual assault cases with area high school students.”
Van Haitsma said that Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago school districts have policies similar to AISD’s new one.
Barrett said the district is not aware of any AISD students who were sexually assaulted by military recruiters.
Update: Though he was not aware of it when this article was first published, Barrett clarified to the Austin Monitor that Sustainable Options for Youth provided information to the AISD Board of Trustees about sexual assault cases involving AISD students in 2014 which led to the policy change. Both of those assault cases were also covered in the Austin American-Statesman at the time.
District 3 Trustee Ann Teich thanked the speakers for their passion for limiting the reach of military recruiters within AISD schools.
Instructional Training Exercises at RTC Great Lakes” by U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres. (RELEASED) – [1] from [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
- See more at:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Talking Human Rights at Lanier HS

Nice!  a book tree in the library

We had a great visit to Lanier HS yesterday.  Since Human Rights Day is coming up this week, we added a poster question about that to our t-shirt challenge, asking students which of the articles of the Declaration of Human Rights were most important to them.  We had copies of the 30 points of the Declaration, and it was good to see students looking them over.

We also added a question about Vikings --  and glaciers.  Not many students knew the part of the world that Vikings came from!  And we think more earth science would be a good idea, too.

We appreciated the serious and sincere responses students had to the various questions, especially their thoughts and ideas regarding human rights.

Penny Poll results: 35% of the penny vote for Education, 22% for Health Care, 21% for the Environment, 12% for the Military and 10% for Humanitarian Aid

Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Open Letter from four former drone operators

An important story:  four former US airmen who were drone operators speak out about the ways that drone killings fuel terrorism:

"Cowardly Murder": Ex-drone operators speak out about their jobs

November 19, 2015

Washington (AFP) - America's use of drones to kill suspected jihadists around the world is driving hatred toward the United States and causing further radicalization, four former airmen have said.

"We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like (the Islamic State group), while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool," the men wrote.In an open letter to President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and CIA Director John Brennan, the four former drone operators said they were involved in the killing of innocent civilians, and had gone on to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world," they added.
The four are Brandon Bryant, Cian Westmoreland, Stephen Lewis and Michael Haas. Westmoreland was a transmissions expert and the other three controlled powerful sensors on Predator drones.
According to The Guardian, which published interviews with the men on Thursday, the four had 20 years drone operating experience between them.
They told the newspaper that drone operators quickly grow numb to their work and sometimes killed people even if they were unsure whether they were hostile or not.
In one case, Bryant said his drone team killed five tribal men and a camel traveling from Pakistan to Afghanistan, even though they weren't certain who they were or what they were doing.
"We waited for those men to settle down in their beds and then we killed them in their sleep," Bryant told the newspaper. "That was cowardly murder."
When he left the service, Bryant was given an envelope containing a report card with the number of killings he'd been involved in -- that number was 1,626.
Since taking office in 2009, Obama has vastly expanded the drone program, authorizing many more strikes than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
Several countries across the Middle East and Central Asia have seen deadly drone strikes.
According to whistleblower papers published by The Intercept website last month, the Obama administration has underrepresented the true number of civilians killed in drone strikes.
In classified slides, the US military describes fatalities from targeted strikes as "enemy killed in action," even if their identity is unknown or they were not the intended targets, according to The Intercept.
In one five month period, nearly 90 percent of those killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets, The Intercept said.
"We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country's leaders lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program," the men said in the letter.
"We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home."