Please join us in celebrating the release of the new issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment: Educating for Equity, another 80 page special issue packed with over 30 articles and interviews from across the United States and Mexico.
For over a decade I’ve been teaching my six-, seven-, and eight-year-old students to strike against me in the classroom. I drew the inspiration from “the Yummy Pizza company” labor unit1 and my own experience as a teacher and writer. Instead of producing pizzas, students at “Pepper Ink.” produce laminated bookmarks of the best poem they’ve written in a year-long study of the genre. This year, however, the experience took a different turn when one of our potential Pepper Ink. workers was forcibly removed from the school.
Students begin the year in my second grade two-way Spanish immersion class by comparing indigenous and first world points of view on the conquest of the Americas, go on to study Africa, women, and finally civil rights and labor heroes. They engage in internet and library research for their own books, questioning contradicting sources, and examining information critically. They sit in heterogeneous cooperative groups in which they rotate the job of teacher, who is to assist anyone needing help, if the group cannot. They can also file complaints in a box about one another’s abuse of power, including mine. From this process, my students develop a healthy sense of justice and participatory-style democracy. Students often refer to the Doug Minkler poster on our wall, which includes the slogan, “All of Us or None.”
With its streets full of the smells of savory Caribbean and Latin cuisine, its sounds of many languages, and its population of Haitian, Mayan, and Latino peoples, one might mentally place the town of Immokalee in any number of locations, but probably not Florida. English is seldom heard here and Americans rarely seen in this town, which serves as a bedroom community for tens of thousands of migrant workers.
Likewise, the organizing strategies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—the local farm workers’ association—have more in common with the grassroots struggles in Latin America than in the United States. In fact, the Coalition was founded 11 years ago by participants and allies of the campesino movements in Haiti and Chiapas, and the survivors of dictatorships in Guatemala.
As a former history teacher and current organizer in San Francisco, my primary interest in the orginial Freedom School Curriculum is twofold:1 It demonstrates that if society is to be improved, curriculum and pedagogy must be based on the asking of questions, not the answering of them. Secondly, it proves that history is fundamental to understanding the mechanisms of repression today and to the process of empowering students to be active agents of change.
I have taken the explicit goals of the Freedom School’s Citizenship Curriculum2—asking questions to improve society and using history to understand the mechanisms of repression and liberation—as models for my own thinking about education reform today. In placing Freedom Schools within the context of the history of alternative education reform3 to promote more proactive thinking about school reform today, I have come to the following conclusions:
1. Teachers must be a part of the community in which they teach.
2. School reform must be part of a social reform movement.
3. The school community must be clear about the goals of education and must explicitly articulate and defend them at every opportunity.
As a law student years ago, I learned the elementary principle every law school teaches: Without context, the law is only words on paper. History gives law meaning; to follow the letter of the law without honoring its spirit is to lose the flower of justice in the weeds of formalism. It’s a fundamental lesson that appeared lost in the recent United States Supreme Court decision striking down voluntary integration plans in the Seattle and Louisville public schools. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the Court’s decision, took pains to justify his conclusion that the school districts’ plans were unconstitutional by quoting from legal briefs filed in another watershed case about integration: Brown v. Board of Education.
By invoking the memory of Brown, Roberts tried to equate efforts to eradicate legalized segregation with present-day attempts to create racially diverse schools. Because Seattle and Louisville used race as a factor to desegregate their schools, their integration plans, reasoned Roberts, were no different than past efforts that exploited race to separate and exclude. “The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” he wrote. Plain and simple.
For more than a decade, Urban Habitat has used community-based education in the service of justice for communities of color and low-income residents of the San Francisco Bay area. Since its founding in 1989, a central element of Urban Habitat’s mission has been creating an understanding of the regional forces that determine disinvestment in infrastructure, education, transportation, housing, employment and healthcare access. More recently we have moved into new territory, investigating educational methods that can empower and educate impacted communities to push traditional models of development toward more equitable outcomes.
In San Leandro, as part of a larger effort called the Great Communities Collaborative, Urban Habitat has been partnering with Congregations Organizing for Renewal (COR) to provide training and access to resources related to public policy, urban planning, transportation, and housing finance. This work is aimed at educating neighborhood residents on the benefits of building affordable housing as part of the new wave of transit-oriented development.
Ten years after the death of Paolo Freire on May 2, 1997, his influence still imbues the practice of popular education. His groundbreaking work in teaching literacy continues to have an enormous impact across the world, spreading outward from his birthplace in Brazil. It’s fitting then, that the largest convening of popular education practice in the United States took place this summer at the U.S.