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.