Movement Educators Nurture 21st Century Citizens

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Feb.28-Mar. 6, 2010

All across the United States there are teachers resisting the totalitarianism of test-driven schooling by educating children in ways that nurture the power within them to create the world anew.

I discovered this ongoing pro-democracy movement recently when, together with members of the Boggs Educational Network, I participated in the February 12-14 North Dakota Study Group (NDSG) Retreat at the University of St. Mary on the Lake in Mundelein IL, not far from Chicago.

First convened in 1972 by Vito Perrone, then Dean of the University of North Dakota Center for Teaching and Learning, the NDSG has been meeting for the last nearly forty years to share educational practices that are democratic, multicultural, participatory, and community-based.

It takes courage to carry on these practices in a period when Bush's NCLB and Obama/Arne Duncan's "Race to the Top" have reduced education to a cognitive horse race, schools to prison pipelines, and most teachers to test-takers and wardens.

Among NDSG's active members are well-known educators like Deborah Meier and Bill Ayers. Bill is the only one I knew before the weekend.

A 4-minute film of this year's gathering can be viewed on the Boggs Channel You tube.

At the Retreat Greg Smith gave me a copy of his important new book Place and Community-based Education in Schools (Routledge 2010) written with David Sobel. It explains why and how teachers are engaging children and parents in rebuilding redefining and respiriting our local economies, communities and cities from the ground up.

Instead of focusing mainly on individual success, which prepares young people to move up and out of their communities, place-based education uses local knowledge, phenomena, and experience to connect children and youth to their communities and regions.

For example, Randall Perry, business teacher and basketball coach at Howard High school in Miner County, South Dakota, was concerned that there were so few local businesses. So he engaged his students in a cash flow research of 1000 registered voters which discovered that many Howard residents were buying their needs at larger out-of-town stores. When this information was made public, local sales and sales taxes increased and helped revive the local economy. Building on the project's success, Perry and his students organized community visioning meetings, which attracted about 150 community residents. Out of their deliberations came a task force committed to developing strategies for high quality local jobs, housing, education.

At the Greater Egleston Community High School in Boston, Science teacher Elaine Senechal felt her students would be more engaged if she linked their education to community concerns. So she contacted Alternatives for Community and the Environment (ACE), a local non-profit investigating soaring asthma rates in Roxbury. Together they created a project which engaged students in counting the number of Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) buses that passed the front door of the school. When they discovered that the air was being polluted by idling buses and that a statute forbids more than five minute bus idling at one stop, the students and ACE organized rallies to enforce the statute and continued cooperating with ACE on local environmental justice issues.

At the Al Kennedy Alternative school in Portland, teachers involved their students in working with the University of Oregon School of Architecture to develop a prototype housing kit for low income housing incorporating solar panels, a rainwater catchment system and composting toilets. Students are also growing vegetables for the community in a large greenhouse and outside garden.

Educators like these are priceless because at this very special time on the clock of the universe they are going beyond protest. Instead of expecting or demanding solutions from dysfunctional governments addicted to war, mountaintop mining, incarceration and other punitive measures, they are engaging our children and young people day-in-and-day-out in {r}evolutionary activities that transform themselves and our institutions.

This "direct action" education, MLK said shortly before his assassination, is what young people" in our dying cities" need.

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