?By Greg Smith

Michigan Citizen, July 3-9, 2011

 Greg Smith teaches in the Graduate School of Education at Lewis & Clark College.  The following ix from his review of TNAR in the current issue of

Rethinking Schools

        “For two decades, Boggs has been …inviting young people in Detroit to participate in restoration of the city’s social and natural environments… 

Youth work in urban gardens, paint public murals, help organize arts and health festivals, and learn building skills as they rehab deteriorating or abandoned houses.  Detroit Summer organizers facilitate workshops and intergenerational conversations aimed at deepening participants’ understanding of what rebuilding Detroit will entail and the meaning of their activities for the broader society.

           “ Drawing on this experience, Boggs asserts that education provides one of the most important vehicles for shaping the new world she believes we must build.  Her vision of teaching and learning has little to do with what most children encounter in contemporary schools.  She calls for a paradigm shift away from global competition, privatization, and the standardized testing associated with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top,,,,

             “Boggs’ educational proposals are informed by Dewey’s call for a diminished boundary between classrooms and communities; Gandhi’s recognition that human maturation requires the development of heart, hand, and head; and Freire’s belief that all people have the capacity to become social actors capable of creating more humane and equitable social relations….  Schools she uses to illustrate what she has in mind give young people the opportunity to rehabilitate degraded riparian habitats, restore historic buildings, or use digital media to share their findings about pressing social issues….

           “Imagine what might happen if young people were treated as full-fledged citizens able to make genuine contributions to the welfare of those around them.  For one, children and youth might come to see themselves as people who are valued, competent, and responsible rather than superfluous.  Imagine, too, what our communities could become if the energy and intelligence of the young were directed to the challenges now facing humanity.

             “Since the 1990s, Detroit Summer has sparked a variety of community-based projects that have drawn the attention of writers such as Rebecca Solnit (2007), and filmmakers from the United States and England.  The 2010 U.S. Social Forum chose to meet in Detroit in part because of the way activists there are demonstrating that it is truly possible, to borrow the old Wobbly refrain, “to build the new society within the shell of the old.”  Community gardens have become widespread as residents have turned abandoned lots into sources of food and pride.  Small locally owned businesses are providing livelihoods in communities abandoned by corporate America.  People are coming together to write and make art, exploring their creative potential and enacting what it means to be human.  Groups have formed to address issues like homelessness, health care, and education, drawing on their own intelligence and energy rather than the state and federal agencies that have become increasingly unable or unwilling to respond to the complex, interconnected problems facing urban populations.

            “ None of this means that Detroit is an easy place to live or that the new world Boggs envisions has arrived.  As she describes it, the city is a work in progress, but it is work that serves as a source of inspiration for others experiencing the consequences of a neoliberal global economy in which things and profits have become significantly more important than people. …

            “Will her vision of locally based activism be enough to create the “great turning” she calls for?  Probably not. …  But without work in our homes, neighborhoods, and cities, the deep shift in our relationships with one another and the planet is unlikely to happen.  If humanity is to make the transition to a world where the needs of all people are met while preserving natural systems, change must become part of our blood and bones.  This will only happen when we are participants in this process.  Boggs calls for all of us to contribute whatever we can to the transformation of our understanding and our institutions to bring our species to the next level of evolution.   She believes it is possible if we put our shoulders to the wheel, in the same way she has for nearly a century.”