Archives for the month of: December, 2014

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Small Change
Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted
Malcolm Gladwell The New Yorker October 2010

The civil-rights war that engulfed the South, and the lives of some 70,000 students in the 1960’s, happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter.

When the sit-in movement spread from Greensboro, it did not spread indiscriminately. It spread to those cities which had preëxisting “movement centers”—a core of dedicated and trained activists ready to turn the “fever” into action.  That meant groundwork training sessions, retreats for protesters, legal planning, in other words…high-risk, strategic activism.
Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.
Digital Media is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger.
It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are not a natural enemy of the status quo.
“Networks are passive motivators. If it doesn’t cost me much time, money or energy, I’ll “Like” your cause on Facebook. I’ll retweet your plea to sign a petition. I’ll perhaps even donate a few bucks to clean up oily pelicans.
But weak ties won’t motivate people to DEFY a government.
(CCSS, VAM, Corporate School Seizures, High On Pay Scale Firings, TFA)

Gladwell’s tome wasn’t an attack on social networking. It was merely an attempt to bring a sense of reality to the over-inflated sense of import we give it. This isn’t to say social networks aren’t powerful or meaningful or cannot help facilitate revolution, activism and social change. They can. But they help facilitate it, not drive it.” Jason Falls @ Social Media Explorer

If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this essay should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating, it ought to give you pause

 

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The Brooklyn NY Sheepshead Bay marine biology classes took place during an activity of school closures and teacher strikes.  But these picket lines were peopled by unionized, public school professionals who had most recently gone south and volunteered in the 40+ Freedom Schools that had erupted in Mississippi and elsewhere, beginning in 1964.  These teachers knew better, had witnessed and survived mob violence first hand, and as a result, were not afraid of the NYC power elite.

The idea for those CRM ’64 schools began with other classroom teachers in Boston MA and Prince Edward County VA, who responded to right wing, racist resistance to the Brown vs. Board 1954 decision by refusing to cooperate with locked door policies.  Instead, they opened their own schools in off-site locations which became the epitome of liberated learning spaces, places where discriminatory facilities, textbooks, parents/teachers/administrators/elected officials, and curriculum held no sway.

In every case, social change was the order of the day.  Freedom schools were immediate and relevant, framing activism and investigation around local conditions that cried out for confrontation and change.  Youth attended but so did parents and intergenerational citizens.  Of course math, science, literacy, history, economics, civics and geography were embedded in all of it.  How could they not be?  But these were not empty, fragmented, reductionist, test-driven, corporate routines, passing for academics.  These subjects came to life as the entry points into activism on pressure-point issues.  All teachers were crystal clear that ignorance, illiteracy and incompetence formed the institutionalized foundation of separation, exclusion and oppression.

Today, it would be the same bitter wine but in newly branded bottles where the labels might read Race To The Top, TFA, Pearson, Common Core, ALEC, NCTQ, FERPA, Broad Foundation, or Vouchers and Charters.  But the 2015 reincarnations aren’t nearly as important as the essence that continues to promote and insure social isolation and injustice.  That multi-headed hydra is more than worthy of our eternal vigilance and our instinctive resistance.

In the case of Morris’ Sheepshead Bay marine biology classes, for some teens this was simply something to do while schools went silent and faculty on-strike.  Certainly there would have been typical teen grumbling that he or she had no interest in getting wet feet down by the bay.  The sentiment was that since we’d never explored there before, why bother now?  What does marine life or the pollution of the bay, its history or its economics have anything to do with my life, or my liberation, anyway?  Peer pressure and major NUDGing may have been brought to bear.

But the trade-off was the sight of sunrise over the water, and a story about the demise of oysters which meant the loss of the sheepshead porgy, and how we once ate what we caught right amidst the seaweed and salt marshes, fresher healthier and environmentally safer for adjacent communities.  There was the investigation into what REALLY happened to the Canarsie/Canarsee native people, a bloody legacy.  Following, was the discovery that slaves, and later emancipated slaves, were original founders of bayside villages since slavery was once quite legal in New York, among many other northern states.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the city teachers were exercising their professional responsibilities in determining curriculum and social behavior and they were free to be creative, without restriction, from a bureaucratic administration.  In fact, parents and teachers OCCUPIED some schools around the clock for the duration of a 1968 strike.

Principal Sid Morrison described that episode as a beehive in which parents covered administrative duties, helped out in classrooms and “slept-in” so the doors remained open.

Never before weekly meetings were held between parents and teachers to mingle, mix and discuss problems and goals. Classes became more relaxed and informal, and lesson covered a broader scope. When the strike ended, the group that had been active continued its investigation into changing the system in order to offer an enriched and more personal educational experience for every child.

From there it was a natural step into Open Corridors type classrooms where families contributed comfortable sofas, chairs, rugs, lamps and bookcases. Parents made games and materials for classroom use.

They built and painted storage units, painted classrooms, and provided pots, pans, measuring utensils, tools for workbenches, typewriters – all those items never before found in classrooms. Wardrobe trunks were fitted with casters and filled with colorful costumes. Incubators, sandboxes and indoor ponds were built. Animal cages and feed were donated.

Parents with media background worked with classes in doing films and filmstrips. Musicians shared their talents. Actors and dancers taught in their fields. The skills of sewing, cooking, carpentry work and teaching were utilized. A mini-market was set up in the school where children did comparison shopping, went to the wholesale market bought food, and learned to run their own co-op.

That was then but this is now, where we remain one long continuum of struggle, related as a family of inexhaustible, global energy precisely because we can link arms with each other at every stage of the push-back.

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Active Learning And Activist Learning

What if Active Learning and Activist Learning came to mean the same thing at Michael Brown’s high school? Maybe Ferguson would not have been inhabited by an occupying army. Students with the support and guidance of authentic teachers, meaning not adults simply drawing down a paycheck and going along with the educational-industrial atrocities, would have called a meeting. Maybe Michael would have lumbered in to listen, curious, skeptical but reflective.
In this meeting, students would have announced that they were lives in search of an education, one they were not receiving in their current “reformist” situation. They would have made it quite clear that a rich man with theme park “budget experience” had no business being given a phony title and phony authority anywhere within their school district’s hierarchy.

They would have declared that deliberately impoverished school budgets and segregated learning centers were nothing new, just the old, stale, sick repetition of the same old bigotry.
Video, protest art, interviews, dance, drama and public media exhibitions would have begun to document what passed for high school in Ferguson. Out of control students, teachers, police and politicians would have been denounced and then put on public museum display for all to see and censor.

This is what Active and Activist Learning is capable of and it is exactly why we only catch glimpses of it on the cover of an aging newsletter from the 1970’s.

Rest In A Disturbed Peace All Ye Who Love Democracy!

As you might guess, there was no resting in the imagined Normandy HS.

Active and Activist Learning requires action, action that disturbs the peace and prosperity of right wing, reactionary eejets like a plutocratic-appointed “President Of The Ferguson Board Of Eduction”,  the Silver Dollar City Theme Park tycoon from Branson, MO and his state school board cronies.

The community of learners at Michael Brown’s high school recognized a colonial model when they saw one. Some secret somebody announced the arrangement one morning by gaining access to the Public Address system and airing an up tempo version of Gil Scott-Heron’s hit song, Johannesburg, with revised lyrics that inserted Fergusonburg. And for that week, What’s The Word? Fergusonburg! was the chorus chanted over and over in every hallway, assembly, food line and sports team warm-up routine.

Michael Brown had never heard of Johannesburg, Steve Biko or poet Dennis Brutus but his teenage school mates made certain that he began to listen up and learn. If Normandy High was to be their Robben Island, then there was a rich history of resistance that cried out for absorption.

The first rule of survival in such a degraded, Power Over Paradigm is self discipline, survival and unified action.
When Michael behaved like a bully or was spotted hanging out with the wrong crowd, he got called on it in a community meeting. He didn’t like it much. He even stomped out a time or two but in the end, he embraced the upbraiding delivered in his best interest. He was no bull in a china shop and he could not muscle his way through life in Ferguson. Though oblivion was a logical choice, his friends cautioned him not to get lost in a haze of drugs and illegal misadventures. They needed his intelligence, his humor, his loyalty, his affection and his strength. A dead hero is no good to no living body. These kids were fighting for a good life and Michael’s spiritual muscle was a Must Have.

It was in this fashion that Michael Brown might have begun to master the art of channeling his outrage at the conditions that surrounded him. He could have learned that he was not alone, an aberration, a menacing giant or a renegade. In the end, he did become a young man with a purpose, the very big purpose of revealing Ferguson to the world for what it was, an oppressive arrangement, repeated across our USA in countless communities of class and color.
Did you really think the Ferguson Teens needed to read that the White House authorized U.S. torture centers around the globe? Of course not, because militarization of the entire culture was obvious on their neighborhood streets day after day. It was crystal clear in the corridors of Normandy where students roamed freely outside of assigned classes while unable to read and comprehend the front page of USA Today. Time to take the bull by the horns.

Michael Brown first argued that he did not have time to tutor anyone but he was soon persuaded otherwise by his affirming affinity group. They would set up shop after school at the library, in a church basement or barber shop, using whatever was at hand to launch their improvised adventures into literacy. It was crazy, sometimes raucous and rowdy but these were effective sessions and they knew it. It felt absolutely RIGHT.

Numbers swelled and soon bands of teen tutors and tutees began a next logical step, mounting voter registration drives across the most under-served sections of Ferguson.

They fashioned themselves after the freedom-seeking literacy/voter movements on John’s Island SC in the 1960. They knew full well how literacy and grassroots empowerment were linked and they also knew that the cops would interfere the moment their work began to pose a challenge to the White Power Structure. What’s The Word? Fergusonburg! And in Fergusonburg it became a badge of honor to be stopped by the police and interrogated or threatened for distributing handbills that laid out the particulars on how and why to register and vote out the ruling junta.

Well, you know how youth are. They talk to each other. They post and twitter, message and selfie and before too long, surrounding public high school student bodies began to hear about the active/activist Ferguson learning movement. No one needed sanctioned internships or co-op experiences. It was not a self-serving resume citation they were seeking nor did they request official transcript credit. They knew the real deal when they saw it and they wanted in.

Soon, the P.D. was hassling the sons and daughters of hard-working county clerks, plumbers, beauticians and practical nurses. These parents were having none of it and so their dignity and influence brought an entirely new audience to the inhumane horror that was Fergusonburg.

When the private schools arrived, it really went viral. After a day of voter reg sidewalk pounding, the new recruits headed home with iPods and iPads full of video, audio, photos and Instagrams documenting the paramilitary protocols practiced in Fergusonburg.

These pampered parents were fast and furious with a response that rained official censure all over the pathological parade that passed for a community police presence in Ferguson. Talk about class warfare. The 1% were finally throwing their weight around someplace where it would do some good. A whole new world of energy, citizenship and inclusion began to take shape.

The desegregation of St. Louis County county took place spontaneously, outside the purview of court orders, as 2015 youth broke bread together, exchanged mix tapes and dance steps, played hoops and Xbox, toured each other’s homes and neighborhoods, silkscreened banners, placards, teeshirts and hosted teach-ins on how institutionalized racism is an economic arrangement benefitting only a malignant few.

Ferguson students of grassroots democracy artfully and courageously moved the details of their lives ever closer, until a seamless web was sewn that pulled everyone together in a civic embrace of inclusion and participation.  The spirit of Michael Brown was their instigator and their inspiration.

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