Before I took this class, I had very little idea of what community organizing was, let alone how much work goes into it. I hadn’t had any experience outside of tweeting #support and going to a protest to shout a few chants with a ragtag group of friends. I never thought about the process that goes into bringing communities together, finding common ground, and figuring out the best ways to make a difference. It’s so much more than finding some people to make signs and show up some place at a certain time.
Organizing also doesn’t always look the same, either. Huge protests like March for our Lives is generally what I pictured when I thought about organizing, but sometimes it’s on a much smaller scale. It could look like parents meeting with teachers about issues they see in a school, or students bringing problems to their administrators to figure out some sort of compromise. “Community” can be anything. It can be huge, like the community of students in the nation, or small, like a community of Spanish-speaking parents at a school. Then what those communities do all depends on what they can do given their abilities and numbers.
I also discovered that those smaller or local community organizations (often most grassroots organizations in general) and extremely hard to locate. They are incredibly overshadowed by large organizations that are usually astroturf. Because they have all the money, they have all of the influence and can make a much bigger impact, even if it’s not necessarily in the community’s best interest. While grassroots organizations are usually run by the community itself, those bigger astroturf organizations can be run by anyone, even if they aren’t part of the community. That means that people who aren’t living the experienced issues every day, who don’t truly understand the community needs, are the ones who are making the decisions. It’s completely unfair, and makes it nearly impossible to support the community organizations instead. Finding those little grassroots organizations in the midst of astroturf is like finding a needle in a haystack. But this time each piece of hay is claiming to be a needle.
I learned a lot of urban education through this project and the class in general, as well. Before this class, the idea that “urban = bad” was heavily ingrained in my mind. I knew it was wrong and problematic to think so, but I had a hard time finding the positive aspects of it when I only heard terrible things. Almost immediately this class challenged those ideas, and I heard from people who came from urban education and who had great things to say about it. The art and music culture is amazing, there are many different forms of entertainment, diversity is high and urban areas are generally less prejudiced, and the tight-knit layout lends itself to the building of communities.
My understanding of the actual issues with urban education was also cleared up. Whereas before I only knew generally that schools in urban areas had issues like under-funding, now I actually know the specific problems and the reasons behind them. I understand that charter schools are an issue, that school closure isn’t a good solution at all, and that the focus on schools performing well (AKA: doing well on standardized tests) is what drives a lot of this. Until we can convince people that there is more to education than testing, a lot of this isn’t going to change. Schools that are struggling to get funding for books and desks and food aren’t going to perform well, will probably inevitably be closed, and the students will be tossed around from school to school until they drop out. Then it’ll be blamed on the students or teachers or anything other than funding, because that means the system isn’t to blame itself. It’s a self-serving cycle that hurts students instead of giving them equal opportunities to education.
Similarly, there are so many different specific issues that are hurting urban education that I hadn’t thought about before. Looking at the projects from fellow classmates definitely opened my eyes to a lot of topics, like trauma, documentation status, and issues faced by specific populations like Native Americans. My own research taught me a lot more than I thought it would, as well. The school-to-prison pipeline has a much bigger history than I could have ever imagined. But there’s also a lot being done about it, so the future doesn’t look entirely bleak.