LIVING FOR CHANGE
Beyond Pipelines-To-Prison Schools
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Mar. 14, 2009
Since the urban rebellions of the late 1960s, I have been urging a paradigm shift to more participatory, more democratic forms of education, leaving behind our factory-model public schools, which were structured 100 years ago to prepare young people to become cogs in a once-thriving but now dying economic system.
Because we have not made this shift over the last 40 years, our schools have become pipelines to prison for inner city youth. Our prison population today is not only a huge drain on resources but a national and international scandal. The United States, although only 5% of the world’s total population, is now home to 25% of the world’s prisoners, 2.3 million people, most of whom are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.
Fortunately, a few teachers, relating to real youngsters in real classrooms, have begun creating new more humanizing ways of learning and teaching.
Recently I was introduced to some of these teachers through two articles in the 800-page Handbook of Social Justice in Education (Routledge 2008):
“The Social Justice Education Project, a Critically Compassionate Intellectualism for Chicana/o Students” by Julio Cammorata and Augustine F. Romero; and
“The 5Es of Emancipatory Pedagogy: The Rehumanizing Approach to Teaching and Learning with Inner City Youth” by Lawrence Tan,
Cammorata and Romero recommend that authority in the classroom be shared between teachers and students. This, they say, can be achieved by:
- starting with the questions that students bring with them instead of what is in the textbook;
- compassion for the students’ personal problems;
- viewing the purpose of education as preparing the students for leadership in their communities. This requires both student practice in grappling with real community problems and multiple communication skills in writing, speaking, computers, filming, which teachers have been trained to teach.
On the surface these may appear to be relatively simple steps but they involve a profound transformation in the self-concepts of teachers and students and in their ongoing relationships.
Lawrence Tan makes similar recommendations in his “5 Es of Emancipatory Pedagogy.”
- Engage: Building Trust, Respect and Buy-in with Students, Teachers and Communities;
- Educate: Develop Academic and Critical Competencies;
- Experience: From Exposure to Lived Experience;
- Empowerment of Self: Knowing that there is Hope;
- Enact: what are you going to do about it?
I find it significant that these educators are of Asian and Latino descent and are creating these new ways of teaching and learning in California classrooms where the majority of public school students are also from Asian and Latino backgrounds. By contrast, school superintendents are often African Americans who have succeeded in today’s hierarchical school system. As a result, many of them are locked in the concept of “Quality Education” or “equity,” meaning equal access to the existing system.
This disconnect has created tensions because the educational concerns of Latino-American and Asian American students, parents and teachers are more likely to come out of current conditions in their communities. Also coming fresh to the struggle, they are more open to the transformative learning ideas of educators like Paolo Freire who not only wrote the Pedagogy of the Oppressed but was an active member of the Brazilian Workers Party.
On March 12, as I was reflecting on these articles, I caught the PBS Newshour segment on education which featured Arne Duncan, Obama’s choice for Secretary of Education, walking through school halls accompanied by fawning African American principals and stooping to talk with African American second-graders. His arrogance and condescension provided me with an unforgettable image of why our schools have become pipelines-to-prison and why it is so urgent that we begin practicing the more democratic student-teacher relationships recommended by educators like Cammorata, Romero and Tan.