I took this Urban Education and Community Organizing course to really dive deeper into the issues surrounding education across the country. I come from an incredibly diverse town, with an incredibly diverse school district. Being from Essex County in New Jersey, only 12 miles outside of New York City, I feel that I am from a place that is very socially and politically active. Within my high school there were two small learning communities: The Civics and Government Institute and the Center for Social Justice. I was part of the former, as that community placed more emphasis on U.S. history, which was a topic I was very good at and interested in for high school. The interesting thing about the structure of their curriculum was that instead of your normal AP U.S. History course, CGI structured the study of history around all social movements that had occurred within the U.S. The learning and understanding of important movements throughout history was a part of school’s identity. I remember playing the role of Diane Nash for a project where we had to dress and play the part of organizer or civil rights activist.
Because of this background, I wanted to join a class where I could learn and discuss the more present issues affecting our society, more specifically involving education. I think there are two key elements to this course that have advanced my understanding of pressing issues in many different communities around the country:
The use of Twitter in this course was both an uncomfortable, but important exercise in understanding the connections that are made between individuals and specific causes today. Twitter is probably one of, or if the not the most up to date news source when it comes to communicating and following organizations and organizers. The classes interaction was through our readings, but the discussion that occurred went much deeper than anything we read. One of the most important things we did was connect with Keith Benson, Dave Steiber, and Stephen Flemming. Granted, our interaction was over Skype, the entire initiation of that conversation was still done over Twitter. While the use of social media can be somewhat controversial at times, I believe it emphasized the role of mass communication between parties for organizational and introductory purposes. I never used Twitter before, and while being nervous about it at first, came find the purpose and reason for it, especially in a digital age.
One of the most important events that happened during the middle of this course, was the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. It was February when this occurred, so I was still adjusting to the importance of Twitter. However, the aftermath of that event on Twitter was something that I never saw before. By using a simple hashtag of #neveragain, students became activists overnight, gaining millions of followers. That is when the power of social media kind struck me as important not only to society, but for students who may not have the expertise, but certainly have the voice to make a change. It was amazing to see that align with the very small things we tried to do on Twitter, as students to see the overall impact it could truly have.
Principles of Organizing and Education
Learning the philosophies of Saul Alinsky, Paolo Freire, and Ella Baker were a key part of advancing my knowledge throughout the course. I understood a fair amount about organizing, coming from family background where organizing was key part of everyday life. However, learning the principles of organizing helped me understand how these movements actually occur and what it takes to succeed. All three have different point of views, but when one looks back, it is certainly possible to identify which philosophy was used and why. Previously mentioned in the “Principles of Organizing and Education” section, Alinsky and Freire contrast in ideology, but agree on a similar end goal of making change. Ella Baker also joins the fray here, as she does not believe in the dynamic, or charismatic leader, but rather a participatory democracy and the use of grassroots organizing, in order to empower the people to make change. I feel that all of this was incorporated into our learning and daily class discussions. It provided a greater background and context in studying historical and present-day movements.
Overall, I learned new ways of classroom engagement with student-led discussions and assignments, like this website. I do not plan on pursuing a career in education, but everyone has the opportunity to organize or join a cause in their lifetime. It never hurts to learn more about the surrounding communities in the U.S. and the problems our education system faces today.