Schoolkids can revive our dying cities

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, May 30-June 5, 2010

"Bobb's arrogance is exceeded only by his ignorance." That is how I described Governor Granholm's appointee as Detroit Public Schools Emergency Finance Manager in a recent column.

The same applies to former President George W. Bush, to current President Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and to supporters of NCLB and RTTP, the Bush/Obama topdown, punitive solutions to the schools crisis.

Sadly, none of these individuals in positions of power seems to know or care that since the urban rebellions began erupting in the1960s, thoughtful citizens have recognized that we cannot separate the schools crisis from the urban crisis. Until the imaginations and creative energies of our kids are engaged in rebuilding and respiriting our cities, the violence and drug use of young people will increase and our cities will keep dying.

This was the consensus of the distinguished educators who met at Stanford University from July 10-14, 1967 on the eve of the huge uprisings in Newark and Detroit.

Participants included superintendents of big city schools, deans and professors of education at prestigious universities, and African American public intellectuals Kenneth Clark, Preston Wilcox and Bayard Rustin. Conference participants are listed and their papers published in The Schoolhouse in the City, edited with an introduction by futurist Alvin Toffler, Praeger Publishers, 1968.

"The high dropout rate and city violence stem in large part from the inability of many students to see any connection between their studies and their lives," explained Harold Howe, former U.S. Commissioner of Education.

"If the schoolhouse is to produce to the maximum, it must also perform the less commonly-recognized but nonetheless vital function of leading the city toward a better and higher plane of living," said Harold Gores, president of the Ford Foundation-funded Educational Facilities Laboratories and past President of the Harvard Teachers Association. "By entering into partnership with community enterprises," Gores suggested, "schools can help to create neighborhoods."

By contrast, the educational policies of Bush, Duncan and Bobb ignore the role empowered young people can play in reviving our dying cities.

As I learned years ago from my own experience and from studying John Dewey (1859-1952), one of this country's best known and most representative philosophers, "Our present educational system, is highly specialized, one-sided and narrow. It is an education dominated almost entirely by the medieval conception of learning. It is something which appeals for the most part simply to the intellectual aspects of our natures, our desire to learn, to accumulate information, and to get control of the symbols of learning; not to our impulses and tendencies to make, to do, to create, to produce whether in the form of utility or of art. It also reflects the individualistic and materialistic values of the dominant class."

Because our schools neither utilize the everyday experiences of children or nurture their creative and productive impulses, kids turn to drugs, and murderous drug cartels mushroom world-wide from Latin America to Afghanistan to supply the insatiable U.S. market.

During Mississippi Freedom Summer SNCC activists created Freedom Schools because they recognized that public schools in the South were organized to encourage passivity and inferiority in young people.

After living in the Chicago ghetto in 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concluded that young people in our dying cities need direct action projects that transform their surroundings and themselves at the same time.

In the spirit of Mississippi Summer and MLK, we founded Detroit Summer in 1992 to involve young Detroiters in rebuilding, redefining and respiriting Detroit from the ground up.

Currently this is becoming the common sense response to the arrogant/ignorant schemes of Bing and Bobb to downsize Detroit by closing down neighborhood schools. ****

For the goals, convention, curriculum of Freedom Schools, see Lessons of Freedom Summer: Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Movements. 456 pp. Common Courage Press, 2008.

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