Reflections on Grassroots Organizing

In the process of researching grassroots organizing in Boston, I have a developed a deeper understanding of what grassroots organizing can look like on the ground, what it does not look like, and how interconnected many of the activists and organizations are in a given city. As I tried to focus in on grassroots organizations that mobilized around Question 2 on the MA ballot in 2016, I found it challenging at times to determine whether or not an organization could be considered grassroots. Some organizations simply seemed to be too big, too well-coordinated, or too well-funded to be meet our definition of “grassroots.” However, this led me to question the definition of grassroots and really interrogate what I meant when I used the term “grassroots.”People at a protest

I have decided that, to me, grassroots organizing in its purest form is a coalition or organization of people who care about a particular issue that impacts them on a local level and who volunteer their time and energy to address this issue. Over time, the grassroots organization may adopt a more formalized structure and may acquire more resources through grants or fundraising such that it can create paid positions to help carry out its mission. As these changes happen, the voice of the individual community members may be lost. At some point, therefore, an organization may go from being a grassroots organization to, perhaps, “an organization that grew from grassroots activism.”

I must ask myself, however, why it is important to make this distinction at all. I believe that the answer lies in the potential of grassroots organizing to empower individuals in a community. When an organization is bottom-up instead of top-down, when a community can come together because they feel strongly about an issue that impacts them, when they develop a sense of political voice and personal efficacy, grassroots organizing fulfills its potential.

Reflections on Urban Education

When I began the project of researching charter schools, I was hoping to gain a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of charters so that I could have a well-informed opinion on the matter. Previously when I heard charter schools discussed, I noticed that opinions were polarized felt lost in a sea of pro and con arguments.

After reading a wide variety of literature on the subject, I feel that I can safely conclude only one thing: it’s complicated. The research on charter schools is divided, and it is easy to find literature that supports both sides. Advocates of charter schools cite a plethora of research that describes the possible benefits of charters; meanwhile, opponents of charters cite myriad studies that identify disadvantages of charter schools. There are some truly inspiring stories of innovative and successful charter schools that provide opportunities that are lacking in traditional public schools. However, there are also many examples of charters that are worse than nearby public schools, may discriminate against English language learning students and students with disabilities, and contribute to school segregation.

A person considers their choicesAs I read the literature, I felt that I could not either fully support or fully condemn charters. There are ways that they can be run well, and many ways they can be run poorly. As with most reforms in education, the outcome depends on the execution. This is, perhaps, an unsurprising conclusion, given the complexity of issues in education, but as a result of reviewing the literature, I feel that it is an informed conclusion nonetheless.

As I move on from Bowdoin and consider employment at educational nonprofits in Boston, my perspective on education reform has been greatly complicated. Before completing this research project, I thought about educational nonprofits as a single unit. On some level, I assumed that because educational nonprofits advocate for education, I would agree with the platforms of all educational nonprofits. This project has made it clear to me that I will encounter a variety of platforms within the educational nonprofit world and that I will not agree with all of them.

This realization has reminded me how important it is that I learn as much as I can about organizations as I consider positions with them. Furthermore, despite my conclusion that charter schools can be run well when done right, I have decided as a result of this project that I will not pursue a teaching position in a charter school following graduation. I am grateful to have been encouraged to dig deeper into this issue so that I could form a grounded opinion on the matter, especially because it has helped me consider my options for the coming year.

(For content and photo sources, please see the References page.)