Education

The Lessons of Freedom Summer

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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.

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Theresa Tran

Youth, Diversity and Ethnic Studies
Excerpt from an Interview with Theresa Tran

Theresa Q. Tran is a youth program specialist at the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. She received her M.A. in Social Work at the University of Michigan where she studied community organizing with youth and families. Tran also serves on the board of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote—Michigan, working to increase civic engagement of APIAs.

Youth are much smarter than adults tend to give them credit for, which is ironic since we were all youth once and know what being marginalized feels like. Youth know right away when something is unfair—they recognize it immediately but don’t always know what to do when they witness this unfairness. Or else, they’ve been socialized by adults to be complicit with the way things are.

At the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion's Youth Program in Detroit, our issues change each year with each new group of youth that join our program. One of our program principles is that youth should organize on the issues that they’re passionate about; that they are directly affected by.  In our program, our youth decide on the issues they want to focus on as they are living those experiences. Last year, the group focused on disability justice, structural racism, strengthening alliance with LGBT communities, and immigration. This year’s group is focusing on Islamaphobia, educational justice, sexual assault against teen girls, and organizing youth to be better connected across the city.

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Privatizing Public Education: The Neoliberal Model

"Most of No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) elements for reorganizing education in the U.S. are straight out of the World Bank draft report..."

 


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed with bipartisan support during the Bush presidency and despite many attempts to repeal it, it’s still the law of the land. Its rhetorical promise, like the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program, is that the federal government will hold public schools accountable for their failure to educate poor and working class Hispanic and African American students.But the purported aim of increasing educational opportunity masks the real intent of these so-called education reformers to create a privatized system of public education that has a narrow, vocational curriculum enforced through standardized tests.

 

The “reform” rhetoric is enormously seductive to parents and low-income communities whose children attend poorly funded, poorly functioning schools. In predominantly Hispanic and African American neighborhoods, schools are often incapable of providing children with more than the rudiments of literacy because they cannot afford to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of teachers. Schools that serve large concentrations of recent immigrants are usually so underfunded and overwhelmed by the number of students that they are compelled to use bathrooms and closets as classrooms.

Education “reforms” like NCLB and Race to the Top, however, presume that if children do not succeed at school, the responsibility rests solely with the school. Such an approach destroys the structure and organization of a publicly-funded and presumably publicly-controlled system of education begun more than a century ago. In fact, NCLB closely resembles the blueprint developed in ultra right-wing think tanks for replacing locally controlled, state-funded school systems with a collection of privatized services governed by the market. What NCLB chiefly adds to the original “free market” framework is standardized curricula and testing and the Christian Right’s “faith-based” interventions.

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Communications Rights, Creativity and Social Justice

The networked political and financial power of citizens on the Internet played no small part in President Barack Obama’s election, so it is not surprising that his administration has targeted more than $8 billion of the national recovery stimulus for broadband deployment in rural and urban areas on the short end of the “digital divide.” However, much of that money may not reach underserved African-American and Latino neighborhoods, because the cable and telecommunications giants that control up to 90 percent of the broadband lines will get the biggest hand outs. While the Media Democracy Coalition, made up of media activist and consumer groups, is organizing in Washington to ensure that the infrastructure is provided where it’s needed most, a growing number of groups are working at the grassroots to ensure full communications rights, seeing them as an integral part of a twenty-first century vision of community development.

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Our Educational Apartheid

 

Many Americans who live far from our major cities and have no firsthand knowledge of urban public schools harbor a vague notion that racial isolation—a matter of grave national significance some 35 years ago—no longer exists in any serious form. The unhappy truth, however, is that schools that were already deeply segregated 30 years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools that had been integrated (either voluntarily or by the force of law) have since been rapidly resegregating. You only need look at public school enrollment figures in most major cities. For example in the academic year beginning 2002, segregation rates of black or Hispanic students ranged from 75 percent in New York city to a more typical 84 percent in Los Angeles to a nearly total segregation rate of 94 percent in Washington D.C.

 

Stark as they are, even these statistics cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, 90 to 95 percent of students are black or Hispanic. For the year 2003, only 3.5 percent of the more than 4,000 students at John F. Kennedy High School were white; at Harry S. Truman High School, only two percent of the 2,700 students were white; and at Adlai Stevenson High School, a mere eight-tenths of one percent of 3,400 students were white.

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