From the new pamphlet Another Education is Happening, published by the Boggs Center and available from the Boggs Center Bookstore.
Education is in crisis everywhere. Cities and suburbs alike face dwindling support for schools, concern for safety and a growing feeling that our children are less prepared than ever to assume the responsibilities of adulthood.
For much of the past century the growing racial divisions between cities and suburbs masked the nation-wide crisis in education. Conventional wisdom said that suburban schools were doing fine; only urban schools, faced with ever increasing poverty, were in crisis.
Today it is clear that the schools system is not working well for anyone. After decades of telling ourselves that the purpose of education is to get a job, we are in an era when even the most highly educated people are unemployed. Moreover, striving for academic achievement in order to seek success elsewhere has accelerated the erosion of the community ties and bonds that give our lives texture and meaning.
This crisis is a rare opportunity for us to redefine the purpose of education. It is an opportunity to draw upon the best moments in our history to re-examine the belief that the purpose of education is simply to get a job and climb the economic ladder. It is an opportunity for students, teachers, parents and neighbors to discover together how we can create a thoughtful, socially responsible new generation of citizens through public education.
The Freedom Schools created in the South during the summer of 1964 provide an important insight into the kind of education we need today. It was obvious then that schools in the South had been structured to instill the inferiority and passivity of second-class citizenship in African American children. Freedom Schools countered that structure, intentionally creating programs where students and teachers together democratically decided what they needed to learn in order to improve the lives of their community.
As the Civil Rights struggle evolved over the next two decades, African Americans began to take control of governments in cities where they were increasingly the majority. Many of these struggles were aimed at taking power away from white school boards and replacing white superintendents and white teachers with people of African descent.
Yet even as those in control began to look more and more like the children they served, education continued to deteriorate. In the inner cities dropout rates skyrocketed. In the suburbs, teen suicides and drug abuse soared.
In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan came to national power promising to restore the American Dream of individual economic prosperity. For many European Americans that dream had been shaken by the gains of civil rights, black power and the movements they unleashed. Reagan also declared that our educational system made us “A Nation at Risk.” Thus he began the push toward national standards, punitive testing and the shifting of public education into private hands.
These efforts continued under Presidents Clinton and Bush, culminating in George W. Bush’s horrific No Child Left Behind (NCLB) . Many of us hoped that this punitive and diminished view of education would be reversed with the election of Barack Obama. Instead, we now find ourselves facing an even more draconian federal program called Race to the Top. This scheme pushes constant testing, pressuring children and schools to perform to narrow standards, closing those schools that fall behind. It is clearly the continuation of efforts to turn our children into obedient, unthinking consumers, rather than socially conscious, active citizens.
But ever since those days in Mississippi when the first Freedom Schools opened, some educators, teachers, community activists, parents and children have been developing democratic, grass roots, locally-driven efforts to educate our children while also reviving our communities. Resonating with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., people across the country have been creating forms of two-sided transformative education, engaging schoolchildren in activities that change both themselves and their communities. Sometimes these efforts happen within schools, sometimes in community-based organizations.
In the early 1990s in Detroit, we called upon the legacy of Freedom Schools to create Detroit Summer because we recognized that the crisis in our cities required new thinking and new forms of political organization. Detroit Summer engaged the energies and imaginations of young people to rebuild, redefine and respirit our city from the ground up, by planting community gardens, painting public murals, and rehabbing houses.
In the spring of 2010 Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb announced plans to shrink the city and to oversee the largest urban school closing in history. Many of the schools slated to close were among the most visionary and effective in the city. Over half had urban gardens, often central to the curriculum. Many housed community organizations, active parent groups and volunteers who enriched the learning experience and who supported the work of teachers and principals who understood that their buildings were often the primary community anchor.
In response to the Bing/Bobb schemes, Detroiters organized in rallies, protests, citizen campaigns and public meetings to prevent school closings and to begin a deeper conversation about the nature of education.
This pamphlet is a resource for thinking about and accepting the responsibility that we all have to redefine and re-imagine education.
Here are visionary voices of resistance, proposing new practical alternatives for education in the service of community and democracy.
We begin with the “Lifelong Search for Real Education “ by Julia Putnam who at 16 was Detroit Summer’s first volunteer. Next come the Michigan Citizen “Thinking for Ourselves “ columns on the current struggle by Oakland University Professor Shea Howell and “Living for Change” columns by Grace Lee Boggs, which include a summary of James Boggs “ The Next Development in Education.” Emma Fialka-Feldman then helps us understand the importance of inclusive education, and Invincible and Jenny Lee share their LAMP (Live Arts Media Project) experiences using Hip Hop to empower young people.
We conclude with an introduction to Place-based Education by Shari Saunders who teaches Educational Practices at the University of Michigan and an essay on why “Another Education is Necessary” by Bill Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and author of many books on education.
—Shea Howell and Grace Lee Boggs
June 15, 2010