Through the use of academic studies, peer discussions, social media, and a range of teaching resources, my perspective of urban education and grassroots organizing have greatly expanded and shifted. Urban education and grassroots organizing individually are very powerful and can add meaningfully to the wellbeing of our society. However, the intersection of the two has the potential to bring about fundamental change in education and in our democratic society more broadly. Through personal reflection and a select few tweets that summarize important realizations I had throughout the semester, I outline what I have learned on urban education and grassroots organizing this past semester.
What I Learned About Urban Education
As a hopeful urban educator, delving into the issues facing our urban public school system is of immense importance to me. Urban students are among our country’s most diverse populations, and our urban school systems are, therefore, required to educate an equally diverse set of needs. Most critically, urban student populations are very susceptible to the effects of racial and financial inequality in society more broadly. The inequalities present in communities bleeds into the school system, resulting in high teacher turnover, outdated facilities and resources, increased violence, excessive discipline, and countless other issues that inhibit intelligent and deserving students from receiving an adequate education. The substandard educational achievement levels of many underpriviledged and minority students in our large urban school systems shows this to be the case.
Education is more than the information spewed at students from 8:00AM to 3:00PM. Education is about building relationships, safety, culture, perspective, social understanding, and hope. How can a school achieve these fundamental goals if the environment in which the school is situated is divisive, unsafe, unaccepting, isolated, and hopelessness? Is the school responsible for changing the community? Or is the community responsible for changing the school? These are important questions that surfaced through my learning this semester. As a future teacher, I hope that eventually I will be in a position to contribute to aligning the expectations for urban schools with the resources and assistance that they so urgently need.
What I Learned About Grassroots Organizing
Grassroots organizing is a fundamental way in which minority and disempowered populations discover their voice within the larger national community. It serves as a means of rebalancing the scale of democracy and fulfilling the promises of freedom and opportunity pledged in the American Constitution and core to the American vision. Grassroots organizing is for the people and by the people. It can be effective at achieving specific goals, but also reinforces the power of communities to shape their own future.
The leadership structure of grassroots organizing is also of the utmost importance. Grassroots organizing is not static. It changes constantly depending on the issue, community and resources at hand. Some individuals are proponents of top-down leadership, while others, such as Ella Baker, are more supportive of community based leadership. Nonetheless, despite the style of organizing, grassroots organizing has reaffirmed for me that it is not the highly regarded, outside experts who are the most effective leaders of grass roots movements. In fact, it is the people who face discrimination, violence and disempowerment who know best how to propel this country forward and build strong and accepting communities.
Where Grassroots Organizing and Urban Education Intersect
The intersection of grassroots organizing and urban education has the power to profoundly transform the United States education system. The impact of these movements can be both positive and negative. Grassroots organizing has the potential to raise up the voices of educators, parents and and other members of the community in a meaningful way that put them at the center of their own experience. However, given its unique attributes, to be effective grassroots organizing in education has to be structured differently than grassroots organizing in different social spheres. Other forms of organizing are led by the individuals affected by the problem they are attempting to combat. In education, however, organizers often are not the individuals who will feel the direct impact of their work. Instead, organizers and reformers work to make fundamental changes that will affect a third party: students. Education is primarily for students, but students are not always able to influence decisions about the education they receive due to constraints of age, resources, level of education, and belittlement. This key difference means that grassroots organizing in education cannot be equated with grassroots organizing movements more broadly.
As I begin my career in education, I must remember to always be aware of the significant issues facing our urban schools and actively try to create a more inclusive and equitable classroom and educational system more broadly. However, as I embark on that goal, I must also remember to project student voices above my own.