The May 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Oakland Tenants Face Eviction

UC Attacks the Berkeley Freebox

Berkeley Freebox Poetry Contest

Reform Profit-Making Nursing Homes

A Berkeley Fair for Street Youth

Ultimate Gift of a Homeless Veteran

Tax Cuts for Rich Harm U.S.

Many Children Left Behind

S.F. Bayview: History Lesson in Urban Removal

Let Their Chains Fall Off

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Poets and Poetry

May Poetry of the Streets


April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005




Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

No Child Ahead

Poem by the second grade students in
Poet-Teacher Margot Pepper's class

We're tangled in a month of state testing
like insects trapped in the president's spider web.
As we take it, we feel like bad people,
like birds without wings nor bones,
like snails without shells
whose hearts have been stepped on.
But then we tell ourselves,
Our preparation in 2nd grade is excellent;
besides, we're stupendous poets,
and, as Cesar Chavez says,
iSi se puede!
Yes, we can!
But then we look around
and see a classmate on the verge of drowning
in a sea of tears
and we can't throw him a life vest.
iNo se puede!
No we can't!
Like a month of dark, interminable rain,
The test is long and boring;
We're not learning a thing.
It's not fair that kids in private schools
don't have these exams
as though they were princes
and we, the indigenous.
But then we remember
that Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
also suffered upon seeing their people mistreated,
separated from the rest in unequal schools and
that Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz was tormented
when she wasn't allowed to go to college.
And we remember that because of their struggles
our lives are better today.
Well, we too can fight to improve the lives of others
beginning with
this little poem.

So Many Children Left Behind

by Margot Pepper, Poet/Second-Grade Teacher

The poem, "No Child Ahead," took most of the day for my second-grade immersion students to write. The previous week, while they took one of the two tests required to meet the criteria for President Bush's No Child Left Behind, I asked those finished with different sections to jot down their feelings.

These ideas shaped our poem. A child would propose a line, a phrase. We'd try it out. My job, as a professional poet, was to prompt them to come up with similes and synonyms at opportune poetic moments, to eliminate cliches and help them find appropriate transitions here, or search for a simile there. I wrote the individual names of children next to their contribution, so that adults would not deny them their talent. All but two of my students contributed something to the poem.

During this time, six students were coming in and out of the room, making up the part of the State test that they had missed. At our site, we were fortunate enough to have a highly skilled teacher's aid who could administer the make-ups. Were it not for this fact, I would have had to test the children myself, while the others were engaged in five hours of instruction-less work, and this poem would never have been written.

At lunchtime, I overheard an African-American teacher's aide commenting to some concerned staff that she had missed the essay section of a test she was having to retake this afternoon. Cassandra was worried that she would be fired after ten years of service, if she didn't pass the test. She had recently landed a second job at Federal Express just in case. Those having the worst time with the test, Cassandra noted, were her Latina colleagues because of their acquisition of English as a second language.

The essay part of the test is, of course, in Standard English, an arbitrary set of symbols set by the governing class in the United States, rather than any of the other equally valid dialects and languages which make up significant portions of its population. Consequently, many teacher's aids of color are leaving the profession, either voluntarily or involuntarily, because of this test.

The test Cassandra is now required to take is part of President George Bush's No Child Left Behind mandate. The tests my students take is part of the same package. They are required to take the test in Standard English, though half of them have yet to transition from Spanish to a second language.

The appropriation by the United States of nearly half of Mexico's territory in 1848 created the first Mexican-Americans. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American war and sealed the new borders. While the treaty guaranteed Mexican citizens in the arrogated territory all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens and included Spanish as an "official language," the majority of them suffered an almost immediate infringement of civil and economic rights resulting in loss of property, political isolation, cultural alienation and finally, indiscriminate deportation in the 1930s.

Today, tests like those mandated by No Child Left Behind further deny my Spanish-speaking students their right to take the test in Spanish. Those who do poorly will be barred from a college education and the ability to lift themselves out of an impoverished lower class. Further, my African-American students are denied the right to take the test in their own Ebonics dialect.

I showed Cassandra the poem my students had written, translating it as I went. Both she and another co-worker were astounded that such young children had such advanced thinking. Cassandra was particularly moved. "I didn't know anyone else felt like I did," she said.

Back in class, the students struggled for an ending for the poem. Then she walked in, with the name, Cassandra, no less. I explained the story to the children. "You've given me hope now, and I just wanted to thank you," Cassandra said. "Now I have strength to take this test this afternoon. I'll be thinking of your poem."

"Si se puede!" the children all chanted spontaneously. And with that, they finished the last two lines of our poem.

Poetry by Second-Grade Students in Oakland

by Claire Haug, second grade

There's an old cat walking through the streets.
It's raining.
He has no home.
His friends are no longer alive and
No one loves him.
The world will never be perfect.
He has no food.
There are bad dogs in many houses.
No one wants to take him into a warm home
Where he can eat and rest in peace,
Without the dogs.
He's as miserable as a bird in a cage.
More than anything,
He wants love;
Only love,
But his country is at war.
Why do they exist?

by Delphina Wedell, second grade

Why did Blacks have to be slaves?
And if President Arbusto (Bush) was a slave?
Why do the elderly have to sleep in the rain,
As cold as butterflies whose wings
are covered with snow?
Why do we have to take tests that make me feel
Like I'm drowning in the sea?
Why do people smoke, crazy?
Why does President Arbusto read upside down?
Why didn't they let women go to the university
Instead of making them feel crazy, like squished
Why is money all that some adults want?

Answer for Pablo Neruda
by Raquel Jasmin Maldonado, second grade

Pablo Neruda asks
Who wakes the sun when he sleeps on his
embracing bed?
I say the moon does,
before going under so that we can't see her.
In turn, the sun wakes the rooster
And the rooster wakes us each morning
When the little birds sing.

by Yaretd Hernandez, second grade

On Shattuck Street in Berkeley
There's a man living in the street with his son,
Without food,
Without enchiladas or fruit
Without water or anything
With which to cover themselves.
What do they do when it rains?
Do they disappear like butterflies on rainy days?
Or do they get wet like newspapers discarded by
the gutter?
And what of the elderly who have no home?

by Rudy Brandt, second grade

At this moment,
There's a family standing on the corner outside
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream in San Francisco,
Under a roof in the rain.
They've been there a long time.
To them time is like a plate of unappetizing food.
The parents wait tired and sad.
Their two children
Wait, confused.
They don't know what they are waiting for.
Maybe for a wish.
The boy of this family would like to drink the
water that is falling.
He's living without new shoes,
Without books, without an umbrella.
His sister would like friends and a teacher.
She's living without a house,
Without electricity,
Without a room.
Her father dreams of a new jacket,
shirt and pants for a better life.
He's living without a sofa,
Without chairs, without a kitchen.
His wife dreams of pillows and that her children
will have more money when they grow up.
She's living without fresh water,
Without a watch,
Without pretty things like crystals,
Without her ancestors.
Is it too much to ask?
Why not give them these things?

Why Is Everything Poor?
by Emily Maciel, second grade

Why don't we care for the poor who have no
suitable clothes?
Why don't we have the sun at night?
Why do we have old and poor things around,
like the broken, unpainted walls of my
grandmother's house in Mexico?
Why are there bad people like our president?
Why is there deceit?
Why aren't there lakes in deserts?
Why are there bad decisions?
Why aren't people as good as God?
Why were the indigenous made slaves?
Why do we have to take President Arbusto's
horrible exams and he doesn't?
Is it colonialism?

Why Do They Give Us Exams
by Felipe Leon, second grade

What should be done is to give the (state) exam to President Arbusto (Bush), who's making us take it. I think he wouldn't know the answers; only his writers would. Maybe if the country saw that not even the president knew the answers, the exam would be cancelled. Then children could stop suffering and I wouldn't have to feel bad anymore. Only how will we know if Mr. Arbusto isn't going to cheat? We could send a letter to Mr. Arbusto telling him to come take a test here in our school and not to bring his writers. I don't think he would be honest about it, because he's lied to us before about the war. That's what my friends in my class say.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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