At the start of learning about urban education, I was given the lense that urban education should not be seen as a problem that needs fixing by an outside voice. This way of looking at education informed my readings and thought process for the rest of the semester. It allowed me to step back and understand examples of how my white privilege plays a role in each day of life. My learning allowed for this because I was introduced to stories of colored voices being muffled when “saviors” stepped in, and of how someone can become more than an ally through leveraging their privilege to bring attention to others. Taking the time to reflect on my position in society allowed me a stronger ability to analyze current and past news stories as well as to think about who gets attention and funding, how that sets up future trajectories, and the central role racism plays in this disbalance of opportunity.
I also learned the importance of understanding a place’s history when trying to learn about education. Reading about redlining and the impacts that it has on neighborhoods and funding for schools helped me understand that some schools are systematically set up to achieve while others are not. It’s often heard that people say phrases such as, “oh that’s the bad part of town,” but this class showed me that those phrases are not fair to say; it must be questioned: what went into making it “bad?”
One of my favorite components of urban education that I learned this semester is the importance of communities that work together to open opportunities for a child. Both in and outside of the schools this community is important. This really shined through in Bettina Love’s book, We Want to Do More Than Survive, in which she wrote on the importance of having a teacher of color and having adults who could drive her to and from sports activities and encourage her to continue growing. Through reading various personal stories I learned, in much more depth, the incredible impact that schools can have on kids and on setting up their futures. Schools must be protected spaces for growth and they must be protected for all students; this does not come with one quick fix, but rather with community organizing.
Researching grassroots organizations has led me to understand much more thoroughly the impact that a small start can have. When reading the backgrounds of the grassroots organizations they always started with only a few people who found a problem that upset them, and after teaming up with others they were able to start to make an impact. In our readings about leadership and education, I learned about the importance of these small beginnings. By starting small and creating leaders who care about the movement, as Ella Baker stressed the importance of, the organizations can grow at a steady rate and implement change to the problem they are tackling. I really enjoyed seeing how multiple similar grassroots organizations each worked in their own local communities across the United States. This, to me, stressed the importance of having local opinions and support when trying to bring about change.
Another interesting aspect of researching grassroots organizations was seeing the differences between them. In my research, some grassroots were looking to make a change in a more legal and policy-based way, while others were focused more on spreading information about special education to parents and creating a support network. These different approaches show how people look to help with a problem in any way that they can, they learn their strengths as an organizing group and use those to benefit others. This is part of why involving people from diverse backgrounds is an important part of organizing; people of different backgrounds will bring new skills, perspectives, and insights to the work and strengthen the group.
These networks are all very active with their work, and social media allows them to spread updates easily and unite small groups in their common interest. It was interesting to see how many events, even online webinars, are held by grassroots groups, and how the groups advertise their work and other groups like them. Through my research, I was consistently impressed by the persistent dedication of people to gather their community around special education rights. The presence of grassroots organizations offer a community who understands a common struggle, and that community aspect of organizing is what drives and empowers the individual to look forward to changes.