"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Monday, March 19, 2007

13th Annual Multicultural Education Conference at Sac State

On Saturday, I went up to Sac State to present at their annual Multi cultural conference. Sonia Nieto was the keynote speaker -- I missed her talk but arrived in time to attend Duane Campbell's . Duane did a clever thing by starting with a video of Irish immigration in the 1840s to point out that immigration is nothing new to this country, nor are the reasons (eg famine, political oppression) new. He sequed from Irish immigration to talking about how the Latino immigration issue will increasingly be in the news in the coming months

-- hence the need for teachers to teach about Cesar Chavez on March 31,session on teaching Cesar Chavez and the UFW movement.

and then proceeded to give a good grounding in how to teach about it and provided teaching resources (eg one of the issues of the Rethinking Schools magazine.

During the second session, I gave my spiel on how the 1964 Mississippi Freedom School Curriculum was an important topic for those interested in critical pedagogy since it is a study of how theory and practice interact. Only five people showed up for the session, three of them involved in Waldorf schools and focusing on arts education -- which is highly relevant to any curriculum that wants to encourage students to be agents of social change. As Myles Horton argues, movements escalate by their nature and one has to be creative and flexible to respond to those moments when it is time to escalate.

The third session, I watched a video made by Francisco Reveles of CSUS. He does a lot of anti-gang work. . His video was very good at getting students to begin to understand how to focus on getting beyond "survival to success." This is one piece of the puzzle we need to get into place (along with working for systemic change).

I felt good to be among a lot of teacher credential students (the majority of those who were attending the conference) who were interested in being political with their teaching. Kudos to those who put on the conference!!!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Charismatic Leaders

Sylvia and I went to hear Bernice Johnson Reagon speak at Stanford on Tuesday. She was fabulous. She gave a history of the civil rights movement from the point of view of song. One of the important things I learned from her talk/singing was that not all the civil rights songs were built upon hymms but some on the top 40. the youth in particular used top 40 songs, especially ray charles, substituting freedom lyrics but keeping the tune. there was a folk revival going on as well at the time. this really solved a dilemma I have been having about where is the music going to come from today? Music and Arts are so crucial to movement building -- its transformative, assuages fear, builds community. and I thought that the reason that the music worked in the sixties is because everyone went to church and knew the tunes. but the youth today don't go to church. how are freedom songs going to come out of hip hop today? Reagon's history made it clear that freedom songs could easily come out of hip hop today. the do-wop songs were never sung at mass meetings but on buses and picket lines that sncc workers filled.

She also pointed out with examples from her own history in the movemnt that those of us who are fighters will always be in the minority -- but we can bring the majority with us at certain moments. One person asked her about why she never signed with a major recording label. she said that she wanted to but wouldn't because there were too many strings attached to doing so -- they wanted to mess with their style. one company bemoaned the fact that sweet honey did fit into a category -- world music-- but that they were from the US so they couldn't market them as such -- reagon wondered tuesday night why the US doesn't consider itself part of the world!?

the next day, I met a woman who works with Bay Area Women in Black and I told her about seeing Reagon the night before. she agreed that reagon was awesome but that she was still a bit too much about herself -- "do you know the names of the other sweet honey singers?" She contrasted bernice's leadership style with that of Suzanne Phar who always brings everyone else along with her as she moves through organizing. This reminded me of Myles Horton's critique of King in chapter 10 "Charisma" of the Long Haul.

I quote from page 120: "While some of the goals of the civil rights movement were not realized, many were. But the civil rights movement as it was then cannot and should not be imitated. It was creative, and we must be creative. We must start where Martin Luther King Jr. was stopped, and move on to a more holistic world conception of the struggle for freedom and justice. The only problem I have with movements has to do with my reservations about charismatic leaders. There's something about having one that can keep democracy from working effectively. But we don't have movements without them. That's why I had no intellectual problem supporting King as a charismatic leader."

from page 126: "King....wasn't just a charismatic leader; he was many other things . . . one of the criticisms I made to him was "you are so much the powerful leader that it's hard for people who work with you to have a role they can grow into . . . from my perspective, it looked as if he and never developed anybody who could take his place after he was killed. . . . People would say, "well, what would martin have done?" and try to do the same thing. To me, this was a great weakness in the movement. . . he never did get around to really dong what he knew was needed. I think that's a very difficult thing for a charismatic leader to do. One of the things I especially like about social movements is that even though they throw up charismatic leaders, most of the people who are part of them can learn to be educators and organizers . . . there is another important thing that social movements do: they radicalize people. That is, people learn from the movement to go beyond the movement."

I love myles horton -- the long haul is an amazing book.

bernice reagon made the point last tuesday night that historians are mistaken when they don't attribute a particular policy or cultural change to a mass movement that took place many years before. movements transform people, then those people go on to make fundamental changes, the cause/effect relationship is not explicit enough for historians to pick up on.

anyway . . those are some of my thoughts

Friday, March 2, 2007

Policy, Practice, Privilege and Power

On Tuesday, February 27th, the San Francisco School Board formally adopted a specific small schools policy. This represents the culmination of over five years of organizing by teachers and parents who believe that small, autonomous schools can be the engine for creating equity and excellence in San Francisco district schools. I, too, believe this could happen, but only if some important history lessons have been or will quickly be learned by the reformers and by those who must join the movement for it to be a means to a larger end.

Lesson #1— Policy is not Practice
This lesson is aptly illustrated by the Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board, which overturned the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson precedent. In 1954, the Justices declared that separate was inherently unequal. They decided this based on five court cases that were designed to demand that black students be able to attend white schools whose facilities and curriculum materials were far superior to those of black schools. Most white school boards, so challenged, mounted effective resistance to the new law of the land, some closing their public schools rather than having integrated ones. It took an organized social movement ten years to finally break the back of segregation in the South. In other words, it took hundreds and thousands of everyday, ordinary people acting together over many years to force institutions to implement the law.

The passage of a small schools policy does not mean that the policy will be implemented. Only ongoing public pressure will allow the school board members to hold the district accountable for implementing its policy. Past district superintendents have been able to ignore board policy resolutions with impunity (e.g., Equity Impact Resolution) because the public is not organized to sustain constant scrutiny and pressure on the central office staff or even at school sites.

Lesson #2— Privilege is not Power
In 1964, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee spearheaded a coalition of Civil Rights organizations that successfully broke the back of segregation in Mississippi and in the South—Mississippi Freedom Summer effected a crack in the “middle of the iceberg.” When middle class and poor blacks united behind a Freedom Platform in 1964 and appealed to the Democratic party to be a party of sharecroppers and maids as well as businessmen and school teachers, the Democratic leadership allowed the middle class blacks into the party but rejected the working poor. Today, Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state in the union and blacks can look whites in the eyes without fear of being lynched. Yet, African Americans in all states, including Mississippi, are disproportionately underpaid, jobless, suffer from poor health and are disrespected.

The passage of the small schools policy does not guarantee that all or even most students in the district will be able to attend small schools or benefit in any way from the kind of pedagogy and structure that the policy promotes. Nor will it solve the financial crisis that SFUSD faces as a result of the 1978 passage of Prop 13. As schools increasingly depend on private corporate entities to supplement declining public funding, these entities will use such funding to ensure that schools continue to reproduce the status quo.

The new small schools policy could be used to leverage social justice for all students in SFUSD, but only if organizers have learned important lessons from social movement history. School equity is about more than just school reform, it’s about social reform.