Organizing and Education

The Principles of Education and Organization

Like any large initiative, education and organizing are governed by leaders. However, some of the most well-known organizers and educators disagree on how to lead. The title of “leader” carries both positive and negative connotations depending on the lens through which they are looking at it. To preface, leadership is not inherently bad, nor are leaders themselves. However, when a community becomes reliant on that commander or when the commander becomes infatuated with his or her state of power, then that is where the danger lies. 

Organization serves as a tool for the people to regain the power that has always been theirs. The controversy among organizers is how to best teach people how to use their power. Some organizers believe that a centralized leader is able to be a mediator and collective voice of the peoples, like Alinsky. Others believe that there are ways in which power can be distributed throughout a group and they can lead together, like Obama and Baker. 

The question is: are there rationales for different types of leadership? Barack Obama would argue that there is a correct way to lead and that Ella Baker’s philosophy aligns more closely to that ideal. Baker’s methods assure that the power is taken, maintained and grown by all members of an organization. Alternatively, Saul Alinsky finds one radical or a few people who build the power and turn it over to the people later. Even then, there are times where the power that this individual has obtained is abused and never returned to the people. Therefore, Obama would assert that the centralized leadership approach is illogical and difficult to do correctly. His rationale can all be tied back to the principle of education. If a centralized leader is the one who builds power and hands it over later, then the people will not know how to use what they are given. This results in two outcomes where the system will collapse or the power will be returned, once again, to a single individual. 

This leads to the implications of education within leadership and organization. Baker discusses that “people have to be made to understand that they cannot look for salvation anywhere but to themselves” (Payne, 1989, p. 893). Throughout Payne’s piece about Baker, he discusses her philosophy regarding the development of leadership qualities in all members of an organization. In the end, communities are reliant on themselves to lead and if they are not educated and given “a chance to learn to think things through and to make the decisions,” they will likely fail (p. 893). Therefore, education and organization must occur simultaneously so that groups can maintain power and continue growing together. According to Baker and Obama, centralized leadership has no place in organization because people are stronger together than they are apart. After all, Baker said it best: “strong people don’t need strong leaders” (p. 893).