The last two weeks have been pretty much a blur of activity for me. On March 24th, I was part of a roundtable discussion at the 7th Annual Cesar Chavez Conference on Critical Thinking and Education put on by Rog Lucido and the Kremen School of Education at Fresno State
Then I attended the Frontline Conference (4th annual) at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (SF) on Thursday, March 29th put on by Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. I went to this because Rudy Corpuz of United Playaz told me about it.
Then last Friday and Saturday (March 30 and 31), I went down to San Jose to be part of a panel presentation at the California Council of Teacher Educators annual conference.
The Fresno conference was frustrating because everyone was arguing about what "we" should be doing to stop high-stakes testing with very little understanding, or rather, analysis of how one goes about organizing to leverage people power. I told everyone they all have to rent Monty Python's Life of Brian before they go to another "strategy session." Yet, there was progress being made in that people were engaging in the process of consensus building (in spite of the egos and wanting to be right).
The Frontline Conference was very impressive. The panelists at the plenary presentation and in the workshops were people who have personal experience being in gangs, in prison, or know family members who have been victims of violence. The panelists were addressing an audience made of of the "experts" -- the legislative analysts, social services personnel and educators who usually assert themselves as experts in that they are the "professionals."
The real experts, those who have been directly involved in gangs or victims of gangs, had turned the tables and were instructing the government officials on what was needed for members of the community, themselves, to deal constructively with the problems they faced. Among the suggestions were: more job training; youth services (e.g., park and rec programs, organized sports); and transitional housing. Much more of these things than presently existed. Those representing the Healing Circle (Mattie Scott, co-founder pictured here) were particularly eloquent about how "hurt people hurt people" so there was a tremendous need for safe places to heal the hurts caused by violence and neglect and that it all came down to lack of funding coupled with the community not taking responsibility to heal itself. (The Healing Circle meets every other Thursday at 7 - 9 PM at the Paradise Baptist Churh, 2nd floor, 2595 San Jose Avenue in San Francisco.)
The best thing the conference accomplished, it seemed, was providing (1) a place for people to network with each other, building the kinds of horizontal relationships out of which movements emerge; and (2) leadership development as those who are usually told they have to shape up were the ones telling the government and social agencies that they had to step up to the plate. The panelists got good experience in articulating their positions.
My only quibble with the conference was that, while the panelists were explaining and analysing the cause/effects of the violence in their communities, there seemed to be the expectation that all that was needed for services to improve was to get the word out to legislators and CBOs (community based organizations). Hopefully, there is a good understanding that the next step is for all involved to use their relationships with each other to begin to build the infrastructure of a movement that will leverage people power and force the city and state to respond with real programs and not just a lot of promises.
In San Jose, CCTE was struggling with its own problems of how to act and not just talk. High stakes testing has come to the teacher credential programs in the form of Teacher Performance Assessments (TPA)-- standardized and narrowing of the gatekeeping process (that has historically kept most people of color out of the teaching profession -- now it promises to get even worse). The Frontline panelists called for more teachers that "looked like them" but the TPA's will make sure even fewer teachers "look like them" in the future. Duane Campbell is organizing teacher educators to delay (for a year) TPA's from becoming mandatory, which can buy some time for real organizing to take place. Yet no specific plan for such organizing was established last weekend. There is no consensus as to what the problem is -- is it only about deprofessionalization of teachers? if so, then make common cause with doctors, nurses, firefighters and police. If it is about social injustice, maintaining the school system as a sorting and socializing mechanism for the benefit of increasing the profits of global capitalism, then we need a social movement, which will require teachers and parents and students to organize together. And the first step in that direction is building relationships across class and racial lines -- no small task!
KEY COMPONENTS OF SUCCESSFUL SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
"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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