Activism means one is ACTIVE. Nimble, energetic, progressing, vital, vigorous, getting things done.

When Elsie Ripley Clapp answered John Dewey’s request and took on the Directorship of the New Deal Arthurdale Community School, she went in prepared to quite literally get her hands dirty.

There was no school building. For that matter, there was no Arthurdale Community. It was a buckwheat farm owned by Mr. Arthur which was about to be plowed under and converted into a FDR Hot Political Potato.

Critics came climbing out of the woodwork complaining that the Resettlement Administration was nothing more than thinly-disguised socialism/communism/collectivism.

A Living New Deal

The Arthurdale school and its Homestead were what we might call today a Pop-Up. An instant Emergency Relief effort on a massive scale. “Destitute or low-income families from rural and urban areas would be transferred to newly-built towns. Their employment would address the converging catastrophes of soil erosion, stream pollution, seacoast erosion, reforestation, forestation, and flooding. The government would make loans to finance the purchase of farm lands. Also money for the equipment needed by farmers, farm tenants, croppers or farm laborers.” Rexford Tugwell, the Undersecretary of Agriculture, was put in charge.

Clapp did not waste time posting on Blogs, Instagram, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, WordPress or YouTube. She had a big job to do. Arthurdale Activism was not mistaken for a string of words shouting back at hostile, bitter, virulent, venomous, fat cat critics. Her about-to-be Public School had to get up and running. The proof of the pudding really is in the eating. She knew it would start out messy, muddy, maddening and miraculous. It was all of that and more.

Coalminers’ Kids Building A New Life For Themselves In Arturdale

The coal miner families of Scott’s Run West Virginia knew they were abandoned. No work, no money, no food, no running water, no heat, no medical care, no schooling. No way out. No surprise. The boom and bust cycles of industrial mining had remained the same since before the Civil War. Once the unrestrained greedy barons departed, the human misery set in. There was no rescue in sight.

1938 Pursglove Mine
Scott’s Run

But the families of Uvalde Robb Elementary did not know they were abandoned. Yes, they had inherited a legacy from decades of bigotry against indigenous Hispanics. But all around them was the ever-present, well-armed law enforcement. Border Patrol Costumed As Hunter-Killers roaming the barrio-colonia arresting Migration People and shoving them into the rapacious For Profit Detention Centers located nearby.

It turned out that the only policing competence required in Uvalde was the ability to slide up next to Gov Abbott’s right-wing wallet and purchase as much Military Industrial Complex Tough Guy paraphernalia as the city/county budget would allow. It was simply an investment in Make Believe. A stage play, a manipulation, an illusion and a calculated strategy operating to preserve and perpetuate raw, political power. No protection. No rescue in sight.

On the bloody morning after, many Tin Soldiers rode away.

Scott’s Run was a long valley of coal seams crowded with camp after camp. As Elsie Ripley Clapp/ERC drove along she saw abandoned tipples, burning slag heaps, no trees, no gardens. Steep hillsides made barren, coal black, ugly and dangerous with flimsy, dilapidated shacks.

Some were crowded along a highway but others much worse, were perched high on hillsides. unkempt, leaning, empty storefronts, broken glass fronts, rickety porches. There were worn-out advertisements, dirty under-stocked stores, trash for as far as the eye could see.

And then there were the men. Listless, smutty-faced with their raggedy sweet-faced children and maimed curs. One single camp was built on a cinder heap. Not a tree. Families living in long shacks. Just one room or two with a foul privy behind. What passed for a school was 40 children in a room, sitting in desks from 9-4. All of it resting precariously on a hillside high above.

There was Nadia Danilevsky talking to men who were laying pipes for what might become a public water system. At long last, they were going to have running water and certainly that would help. But no amount of water could wash away the utter, awful ugliness, nor the listless/hopeless atmosphere.

This place was a rotting shell leftover from the Boom Days. It was the epitome of abyss and abandon. And one could not help feeling outraged that human beings would be obliged to exist under such miserable circumstances. This description became the POINT of the Community School.

Scavenging For Coal To Warm & Cook

The Community School that E.R. Clapp went on to create was what we might today call an activist school. It was a public school that took action.

Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas is of a similar mind and history. Clapp and her cohorts had the tragic residue of industrial/police state greed and corruption to deal with. Uvalde was afflicted with the pernicious legacy of colonizing capitalism fueled and excused by rampant racism. Robb sits in the middle of its Hispanic community.

Its families have fought tooth and nail since the late 1960’s for a safe facility, books, buses, nutritious school meals, Spanish-speaking faculty. The basics.

Genoveva Morales, mother of 11, filed the first lawsuit in 1970 that resulted in a Court integration order. That came after a massive, multiple school walkout. Six weeks of protests, pickets, armed Texas Rangers patrolling the Hispanic streets of Uvalde, Huey helicopters flying overhead and taking recon photos of marchers. The Community School responded with packed, contentious school board meetings, a Freedom School, a Free Lunch program, a newsletter, a Teatro/Theater company and much more.

In 1980 The US Department of Justice sued Uvalde schools. It charged them with racial discrimination and the persistence of policies that diluted the voting power of neighborhood Hispanics. At-large school board elections had been engineered to ensure that no Mexican Americans won.

Marching For Their Lives

If you want to STOP a Community School dead in its tracks, make sure no one from the community can get elected to governance, oversight, policy/finance/curriculum decisions or review of the parent complaints that pile up after decades of abuse and neglect and exploitation.

When Elsie Ripley Clapp first toured the ruined coal camps of Scotts Run WV, they were dangerous places. Children were dying and so were the adults. No, not dangerous like the gun massacre in Uvalde TX.

In Great Depression Era Scotts Run, no one had thousands of dollars to spend on expensive weapons of war + ammo. Even bullets for a squirrel gun were at a premium. So was the squirrel meat. Everyone was starving and perishing the old fashioned way. TB, scurvy, rickets, pellagra, typhoid, pneumonia, hunger. Slow and lethal.

Elsie Clapp came from the social and economic class of people responsible for this carnage. What she saw came as no surprise.

She knew that the Gilded Age had made their millions off the backs of laboring miners and then simply walked away once the plunder was complete. She knew this but she did not accept it. It was wrong and it could be remediated. And so she set about creating a Community School.

Snow Ice Shoeless Search For A Chunk Of Coal

There could be no Community School without living-breathing inhabitants. And conditions had been allowed to get so bad that the area most closely resembled a war zone full of 4,000-5,000 skeletal humans on their very last leg. President Hoover had been sitting on a fund of money originally designated for feeding Belgian and French children post WWI.

At long last the war relief money was ultimately handed over to Alice Davis, Nadia Danilevsky and Clarence Pickett with the American Friends Service Committee. Food rations and fuel for warmth and cooking was the first order of business. Clapp described seeing scrawny children playing in stinky, sulphur-ridden puddles by the side of the road. She walked into a long, corrugated-iron shed with #7 painted on the roof. Down the length of the shed were small cots. A wood stove was at one end and a jerry-rigged shower at the other. A young woman with an ancient air about her, bent over and toothless, introduced Elsie to the improvised, rudimentary Nursery School. “We bathes ‘em. We feeds ‘em and we sleeps ‘em,” she proudly announced. This constituted a beginning at the center of oblivion.

ERC went to the West Virginia coalfields AFTER the Energy Oligarchs had taken the money and RUN back to Wall Street. She set about creating a John Dewey-inspired Community School in the midst of rich, reactionary USA.

It looked a lot like 2022. Today in Texas, the Fat Cats are hunting down Beto O’Rourke and his campaign for Governor. BETO should see them for who they really are. Sheldon Whitehouse would like to assist with the eye opening.

Canyon Lake area is very BIG money. Lake houses, boats, expensive recreational toys, gas-guzzling SUV’s, multiple Airstreams. Weekend homes, retreats, resorts. Local, everyday middle class people there are treated to a Canyon Lake version of the oligarch playground. BETO can’t secure a campaign event venue in Comal County because the money men don’t want him or his democracy.

Breaker Boys

This is calculated, strategized, High Finance Fascism. Leading the assault on BETO are the very same people who stand to benefit from ending the filibuster for Gorsuch. FBI tanking of the Kavanaugh investigation. Inserting unqualified Amy Barrett onto The Bench. Spending $580M to OWN SCOTUS. Establishing the Federalist Society as the MAGA headhunter for SCOTUS nominees. Paying $17M to purchase the services of Right Wing Nominees. Destroying a Woman’s Right To Choose. Polluting everything/everywhere for FREE. Loading up the USA with Dark Money. Abolishing Voting Rights. Deregulating The World. Demolishing public Schools. And so much more. It is an old script and one that Clapp confronted once she arrived in Arthurdale, riding on FDR-New Deal coattails.

Sheldon Whitehouse posted his 2022 list and is warning BETO and the rest of America To Buckle Up ‘Cause It’s Gonna Be A Bumpy Ride. There is no time for “engaging” with these rapacious monsters. They are Hungry Ghosts with insatiable appetites. BETO has great energy and instincts but he needs to WISE UP & toughen up. Take it from Elsie Clapp. Everything we hold dear in our Democracy is at stake.

When Elsie Ripley Clapp agreed to leave her cushy community school post in Jefferson County Kentucky and move her work to FDR’s Arthurdale, West Virginia New Deal project, this is what she faced.

Coal Miners Scotts Run, WVA
Coal Miner”Housing” Scotts Run, WVA
Scotts Run, WVA Industrially Stranded Coal Mining Family

The NMU, National Miners Union, was organizing all over the place. Our federal government honchos feared a “commie insurrection”, and with good reason given the living conditions, so the combined idea of a subsistence homestead and a community school was born.

Elsie Ripley Clapp left the luxury of the Ballard Memorial School and parachuted directly into an economic cauldron of greed, labor abuse, human neglect and starvation.

There are many good things to report about the community school developed in Kentucky but later for that. Because nothing had prepared Clapp and her team for what they encountered in WVA. The mine owners disappeared once there was no profit to be made. And left behind miner families in shacks with no food, fuel, light, water or hope. The NMU was the only organization with a presence and a platform.

Everyone could have decided just to allow the NMU’s analysis to dominate. Theirs was not so much an act of ideology or propaganda, since blind, deaf and dumb Helen Keller could have readily figured out that industrial capitalism was not working for anyone in Scotts Run.

The miners required no outside agitators because they were experiencing firsthand what transpires once the Fat Cats have cashed out. Those miners’ fury contained a transformative energy that was alternately retaliatory and relentless.

Elsie Clapp was about to try creating a community school where there was no community. Maybe where no semblance of community was even possible. Everyone she encountered was on their last leg and fresh out of hope.

Scotts Run conditions are nothing new to educators who work in Title I schools. Settlements of people where gainful employment is cancelled, exported or excluded by a prevailing paradigm of greed, do tend to go hungry, get violent, self medicate and establish bootleg economies. It is NOT Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. But it is a politically criminal construct, devoid of conscious and with a bad habit of blaming the victim. The boom had gone bust.

The about-to-be community school was only one of many ”stars” in a constellation of federal agencies suddenly vying for funding, visibility, control and prominence. It was Presidential Power Politics from the git-go and it was a huge pain in the neck for Elsie Ripley Clapp.

The Great Depression was no Shock Doctrine Surprise Disaster. In fact Herbert Hoover and his cohorts had been watching it unfold like a slow moving slasher movie. Spectators and Instigators combined, the federal government did nothing until revolution was at their doorstep. It was then that Hoover put Texan Jesse Jones and the RFC into action. A White House Conference on Child Welfare was convened and suddenly, the leftover WWI funds from feeding starving Belgian and French children were unearthed. That money was given to Clarence Pickett and the American Friends Service Committee of Philadelphia. Humanitarian relief became a good idea and an immediate, hot political potato.

Elsie Clapp rode into the devastated West Virginia mining camps on the coattails of Eleanor Roosevelt and the newly-elected FDR. Not the most auspicious moon under which to launch a subsistence homestead or a community school. Chaos reigned supreme and so did critics. By the summer of 1933 the NRA/National Recovery Act was funded and looking to relocate displaced and disgusted populations cramped and crowded into industrial centers where righteous insurrection was a certainty. John Dewey could not protect her here. Nor could waxing philosophically on the virtues of democracy. If they/she wanted a community school, it would require a seasoned educator with the skill set of a roadhouse bouncer.

A “pioneer” in the Community School Movement was 1929 Elsie Ripley Clapp when she took John Dewey’s thinking on democracy into The Ballard Memorial School in Jefferson County Kentucky. Not all that far from Mayfield, Kentucky where today the public high school is still standing after last night’s devastating series of tornadoes.

Mayfield High School has been turned into a shelter. People are taking refuge there. They are being fed, treated for injuries, fed nourishing, cafeteria meals. Clothing is provided, WiFi, relocation services, even transportation to another safe destination.

It does not take much to imagine this as an example of a community school IN ACTION. No one chose this weather catastrophe but it serves to remind us of what resources community schools can coordinate when administering to The Moment.

Elsie Clapp later ran a community school in FDR’s industrially ravaged Arthurdale, West Virginia. Starving families were literally selling body & soul just to stay alive when this Great Depression era school sprang up from a buckwheat farm and began demonstrating how public schools can enter a crisis and become the HUB and the ❤️ HEART of people-directed restoration and recovery.

Charter schools are in no position to do any of this work. It is not in their “DNA”. But it is the genetic makeup of community schools and there is plenty of crisis at hand. The Pandemic is the monster opportunity but so is the climate crisis headed our way.

Elsie Ripley Clapp learned how to enter, enjoy and energize the very humane energy stream of people-powered problem-solving. Community schools walk right into the middle of the fray, facing it head-on because they are the practical embodiment of We The People.

Rotten Pumpkin Literacy Math

While Elizabeth Catlett’s apprentice was upstairs dodging the literacy hall police, the downstairs first grade wing was under an equally intense assault. After all, it is both insulting and assaultive to march into a room full of young children one does NOT KNOW and proceed to to “instruct” them.

This is the destructive fallacy behind techno/researched, data-driven, high finance interventions. They are all rooted in anonymity. The victims must remain invisible, devoid of personhood, reduced to a statistic and just another face in the crowd. The crowd must travel under some sort of label. Any of these will do: Low Income, Impoverished, Title I, Minority, Disadvantaged, Below Grade Level or how about Person of Color? The label becomes an authorization for every manner of outrage. On this day, the color was ORANGE.

An easel was hauled into the middle of a squirming, scooting, squirrelly bunch of six year olds. The fidgety ones were meant to be and designed to be moving about a classroom fingering, eyeballing, counting, weighing, comparing and investigating. That was their instinctive idea of math in practice but alas, it was not to be. Because someone was clutching the Letters of Transit that entitled her to travel into this assembly, command silent, single-minded attention and foist upon them a dog and pony show completely divorced from the most immediate, everyday life of the neighborhood.

I plopped down onto the floor, hiding criss cross applesauce behind a gaggle of gabby girls who were clearly in the thrall of a true boss. She was streetwise, you could hear it in her voice. She had secrets everyone wanted in on. But the easel idiot in charge of this convocation was too busy with her scripted presentation to detect the dynamic.

Princess Pythagoras proceeded in a conspiratorial whisper as if the babyfied, remote feltboard, imitation pumpkin program had evaporated into a magical mist. With an intimate, affirming gaze she began. “Well if I had five bucks. Really! If I had five bucks, here’s what I would do. You know those suckers the ladies sell down in the lunchroom? So they each cost a quarter. That’s 25 cents. And if I had five bucks, I would go there and I would walk right up to the cash register and I would say Please Give Me 20 Suckers. I’d hand over my five dollar bill and then I’d walk around our table and give everyone a sucker. There are 20 of us and every kid in our class would get a sucker.”

Of course she got called out for not listening, for being off-task, inattentive, disrespectful, disruptive – a distinct but distractive voice in the wilderness of pre-packaged, early literacy curriculum. She rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders, prompting a giggle from her swarm of admiring sucker sisters.

In an instant she was revealed. Perhaps the oldest child in a big family. Competent, confident and quite capable of taking ten dollars from her adult’s pin money for a grocery shop at the nearby convenience store. She was experienced at traversing sidewalks safely, negotiating ped-xings and traffic lights. In her head she routinely and roughly calculated the prices for required family staples, remaining under budget and on top of change due. She was a trusted, mission accomplished kind of kid.

But every bit of it was lost on the university instructor, parachuted behind the lines to film a literacy infused math lesson featuring pumpkin pablum. Her fruit-free exposition met a juicy grant requirement and was later featured as yet another false flag for age appropriate, child friendly, field-based and effective.

He was in 3rd grade and was “failing” using every measure employed by the bureaucracy. Reduced to data points, no one bothered to look him square in his humanity. Their destructive incompetence remained sanctioned, documented and institutionalized. And that’s the way it is done these days.

He was forever running out of class, refusing to participate in his sham of a classroom. The assigned “teacher” should have been fired ages ago. Her professional record on file at district headquarters documented omission after commission after irresponsibility. So instead of placing her in remediation, she was awarded a hefty stipend and assigned to an urban academy where teachers in good standing were supposed to be demonstrating how to effectively instruct in a high poverty school. What a joke!

The room she inhabited was in shambles by design. No effort was made to create an extraordinarily beautiful and attractive place. After all, the wild ones were raised in slums and bore the destructive impulses of a slum and destroyed everything they touched, or so the narrative was constructed and widely reported.

Anyone in a right frame of mind would flee this place every hour on the hour. And so he did. I found him wandering the hallway clutching Elizabeth Catlett’s illustrated Lift Every Voice And Sing. He was carrying Elizabeth because he had copied her. His picture book was crammed full of drawings he had faithfully reproduced of every linotype Elizabeth had rendered in her collection of images.

He knew his time would be better spent working on an apprenticeship under Elizabeth Catlett’s watchful eye than attending to the fool on the hill who was presiding over his education. Naturally, he was “failing” every subject because he was disengaged with all of it. The big bosses pulled the plug on him and he responded by refusing to ingest the systemic poison or breathe the tainted air. Hence the regular escapes to the nooks and crannies of the 2nd floor corridor. As far as I was concerned, his drawings were his hall pass, a portfolio brimming with interest, concentration and competence. “He can’t read,” everyone insisted at Child Study. But James Weldon Johnson disagreed and so did Elizabeth Catlett.

Of course, this is what a READER looks like. He falls in love with a story, a poem, a song, an illustrator and he spends every free moment committing the whole adventure to memory, replicating the rhythm, the cadence, the eloquence and the artistry. Never mind that he can’t unlock every vowel and consonant combination. He is hooked on a book for the transformation it can provide. What more needs to be said? The university types, promoting their own cash cow literacy research upon the backs of impoverished children, stayed in business and in the money by declaring him illiterate. The nerve of these people! He ignored them, dismissed them and dissed them. His sword and shield was a picture book held tightly over his heart chakra for protection. A bookworm if I ever met one.

Bare Bones 1968 Style

While white boy was busy using his career connections to oust Elsa Lurie from her East Harlem principalship, here is a snapshot of what he and his cronies were supporting.

Really study this photo and deeply meditate on the dead boring destruction these kids had to endure every damn day. This is precisely what systemic racism looks like in action. It is a starvation diet and it is extremely deliberate. No one on God’s Green Earth ever thought this outrage was okay. The visitors should have removed everyone from that classroom and taken sledgehammers to those turn of the century desks bolted down to the creaking, decrepit wooden floors. This Fact Finding Committee must have seethed with righteous anger, mutating into action.

Because action finally did come their way in the form of Lillian Weber and the Open Corridors movement. Teachers and parents met, researched, thought, talked and watched films of schools where the learning life was NOT the equivalent of a Soviet Gulag. One fine day the desks were unbolted and in their place came this.

Nancy Nilson from “Parents In The Corridor” was a witness. Meaningfulness went as follows. Parents got busy bringing in the comfortable sofas and chairs. Rugs arrived as did lamps and bookcases. We all learned to walk the streets with an eye out for rubbish bins and to search friends’ apartments for likely discards. Parents helped make learning games and materials for use by students.

Parents built and painted storage units, painted classroom walls and provided pots, pans, measuring utensils, tools for workbenches, typewriters – all those many things never EVER found before in these schools.

Wardrobe trunks were fitted with casters and filled with colorful costumes. Incubators, sandboxes and indoor ponds were built. Animal cages and animal feed were donated. It is hard now to remember that an early parent victory had been to push the idea that the school’s textbook budget could also be used to purchase materials!

Teachers went south for Freedom Summer and Freedom Schools. They returned with fire in their bellies and many songs in their hearts. Most of them the songs taught and fought on the endless marches, pickets, boycotts, sit-ins and mass incarcerations. That unbridled energy devoured the opportunity offered by Open Corridors.

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