In the process of creating this website, I have learned a lot about the importance of the arts, urban education, and grassroots organizing. Here are some of the things I learned:
- Politicians and many reformers are incredibly out of touch with the actual needs of urban schools. Most of the talk from politicians and the media about urban education (and education in general) is centered on the many flaws. Things that I seldom hear mentioned when high-up people speak about urban education, such as segregation, historical legacies of racism, and the blatant privileging of wealthy students over poorer students, are no longer foreign to me. I have also developed somewhat of a sixth sense: a BS detector which tells me when people in power are not telling the whole story or pushing culpability onto those people who are already at the losing end of things.
2. Community-based grassroots reforms work better because the reformers actually understand what is going on in the schools and what changes would be well-received by the community. Grassroots organizers are those same people in the communities that may not usually be considered or given a platform to voice concerns and create solutions. They do not simply see problems as top-down reformers do. They feel the problems. As a result of this lived experience and their unique ability to truly fight for what the people in the community want, their reforms have the potential to be far more effective. Grassroots organizations and organizers do not mimic the same colonial attitude that the powerful, out of touch, and frequently exploitative top-down reformers do. Rather, they enact the change that want to see in ways that feel appropriate and effective for the people that will be experiencing the changes.
3. Urban schools may have plenty of challenges, but they also have a lot of great things happening in them and those must be given the same amount of attention as the issues. Urban schools may have their fair share of issues. The buildings may be falling apart, there may be low graduation rates, and an extremely upsetting amount of students may leave school and end up in jail or tangled up with law enforcement in one way or another. However, as much as these issues need to be addressed and thought about, so too do the merits of these schools. We all must apply the same level of consideration to the good work being done as we do to the shortcomings of these schools and systems.The teachers who come to work every day and stay in the same schools year after year need to be considered. The students who work to support their families and still make it through school need to be considered. The unique, socially located knowledge that cannot be taught or faked and exists only in the minds of these urban students needs to be considered. The brilliance that is held by the students may not be reflected in standardized test scores or in their ability, or lack thereof, to thrive in traditional school environments. That does not mean that these students are not brilliant. The parents may not be able to fight for their child’s education because they do not receive a substantial education of their own. That does not mean that they are not committed and passionate about making urban schools better for their children. The people in communities may not have all of the academic jargon that is necessary to appeal to those in power and enact change or communicate complaints and ideas to these officials in a way that those officials deem effective. That does not mean that their ideas are not valid or that they should not be listened to. I am glad that I was able to spend an entire semester explicitly thinking about all of this and giving credit where credit is due: to the people in urban areas that are having responding to their lived experiences with the drive to create change.
4. Arts education, just like many of the individuals in urban communities, is often cast aside without attention paid to how important and potentially transformative it can be. Arts education is often the first to go when funding cuts happens. The lack of arts programs in schools creates environments in which self-expression and creativity are squandered and replaced by militaristic discipline and hearty preparation for standardized tests. Students are left without a passion for school, without the ability to think critically, and without vital and life-changing emotional processing and communication skills.
5. Grassroots organizations committed to bringing the arts to urban schools and communities are really awesome. Check them out on the “Grassroots Organizations” page!