Context-based Organizing and Educating


My project focusses on how context–time and place– must be prioritized in order to build a cohesive, strong community. When context is taken into account by educators and organizers their work it relevant. Relevance must begin by utilizing the resources already available, whether it be a classroom of student’s prior knowledge on a topic or an organization’s understanding of their own community. For organizers, relevance is a necessary invitation.

Organizers must meet the people where they are. This means they learn first about communities through members, recognizing that the people know best what they struggle with. Dewey says that those who “wear the shoes” of the masses are the only ones who can diagnose a problem, and goes on to call the process of a people naming what they struggle with and discovering their ability to do something about it “identification” ( 2016, p. 224).Organizers must first empower the people to identify themselves. Ella Baker believed in the “extraordinary power of ordinary people,” even if they did not believe in themselves yet (Payne, 1989, p. 885). Her unwavering belief in the regular person to accomplish great things was catching, and people identified themselves because they began to see themselves through her eye.

A good teacher and organizer fosters investment, which occurs when people feel what they know is their own. Dewey’s idea of identification goes beyond the people knowing their problems, it is also a state of confidence in their ability to change that which does not serve them. Dewey’s limiting of experts is an example. He refers to experts as “specialized classes,” that no longer have the knowledge needed to serve their publics because their status has distanced them from the circumstances of the people whom they may try to direct (Dewey 223). This process relates to an old adage; being useful is to teach a woman to fish (identify her to herself), but she still needs worms (resources, like the knowledge of the legal system a lawyer might offer) to fish with. Importantly, she does not rely on somebody else to feed her, as she has identified her power of self-sufficiency and knows she can self-direct.

Myles Horton says “I think our job is to help people find ways to take over their own lives”   to describe what stays constant between the peoples he has taught,(1990, p. 177). Organizers learn what works for certain times and places by allowing the people to decide for themselves how to address their lives. In the classroom, this means respecting not just a student’s prior knowledge, but also their unique critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Dewey defines successful democracy as in a constant state of flux, one where policies are thrown out nearly as soon as they are applied and revised with the input of those the previous affected (1990, p. 220). Relevance is of a time and a place, and will not last, so what is truly challenging about being a useful teacher through relevance is recognizing that everything must eventually be relearned or remade, even what is done through useful methods, because eventually what we teach and organize will no longer be relevant. However, communities empowered within their particular context will have lasting impacts that generations will feel and ascribe to movements, not specific names.