By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Last week, the Roberts Riverwalk Hotel was buzzing. Progressive teachers, professors, students, artists, organizers and philosophers from around the country came to Detroit to re-imagine education.
The talk was of teaching, learning, playing, assessing, laughing, writing, thinking, singing, developing whole people for a new time, citizenship, democracy, creating critical connections and embracing crisis as opportunity.
The group came in response to a challenge made in 2010 by the Boggs Center. In the introduction to the conference, they say “that transformative education rooted in social justice is not only necessary, but possible.” Inspired by the words of Grace Lee Boggs, “We undertook the challenge of moving the meeting to engage in place-based, social justice-oriented education. And what better location than Detroit, one of America’s most storied cities, uncritically viewed as a struggling wasteland to give up on, a place where some say another future is possible, a land of post-industrial transformation.”
More than a meeting to just talk, the gathering featured active participation as groups worked with 11 community-based learning sites. The purpose of these collaborative activities was so participants would engage with “people working tirelessly to transform communities and education for the 21st century.” By working closely with community groups, the conference hoped to “embrace Grace’s notion that we need to invent ways to prepare young people to be ‘solutionaries’ who are able and willing to participate in wide-ranging cultural and economic evolution.”
Conference goers found themselves at Allied Media Project, the Boggs Educational Center, Center For Applied Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Arts and Humanities, Catherine Ferguson Academy, Church of the Messiah, Detroit Community Schools, Earthworks, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Hope District and Nsoroma Institute. As one participant reflected about the power of these engagements, they were able to see education “where every child was welcomed for the gifts that they bring.”
The gathering was the 39th annual meeting of the North Dakota Study Group, a network of students, researchers and teachers who have led the fight against mindless standardized testing and the diminishment of public education. Their numbers included Deborah Meier, a MacArthur genius grant winner who founded East Park Secondary School in East Harlem and the Mission Hill School in Boston; Jay Featherstone, emeritus professor of education at MSU; Jonathan Carlisle, a high school student from Marion, Ala.; Scott Nine, executive director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America; John Lockhart, co-chair of the gathering and an assistant professor of education at Pacific University; Cara McCarthy, fourth grade teacher from Dorchester, Mass.; and Dr. Vincent Harding, close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and founder of the Veterans of Hope.
The conference opened with a bus tour of the city that emphasized the transformation we are experiencing from the industrial age to a new, more human, sustainable and ecological future.
Detroiters provided panel discussions about this moment in our city. Scott Kurashige, professor of history at University of Michigan and member of the Boggs Center, described the dangers we face as right-wing politicians and corporate interests scheme to disenfranchise our city and convert public assets to private wealth. At the same time, he said, people are not only resisting these assaults, but building new, alternative ways of living. This was reinforced by Charity Hicks, who described the “resilience and brilliance” of Detroiters making a way out of no way, creating new forms of education and new systems to produce food as they grow community.
Diane Nucera of the Allied Media Project said, “We believe media-based community organizing is a process of speaking and listening as a community in order to investigate the problems that shape our realities, imagine other realities and then work together to make them real.” Our theory of change, she said, is to “create, connect, transform.”
Across the country people are creating, connecting and transforming. They recognize that another Detroit is emerging. Unseen by the corporate elite, these transformations are creating a better future for all of us.
See highlights of the conference on Twitter by searching #ndsgdetroit.
Contact Shea Howell at email@example.com
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